To Jacob Dolson Cox

14 October 1870


[MS in Jacob Dolson Cox Papers, Oberlin College Archives, 30/3]


Jacob Dolson Cox was appointed Secretary of the Interior by Grant in 1869. According to his biographer:

In the Interior Department, Cox had a greater amount of department matters than most of the rest [of the Cabinet] because he was now head of what many people called the "catch-all" department. It had been established in 1849 to fill the need for a home department to cover internal affairs, which had greatly increased after the Mexican War had brought new lands and new problems. From that time, when it was given control of the Patent, Land, Pensions, and Indian Affairs Offices, the Census, and supervision of marshals, officials of federal courts, mines, and certain other officials, it added even more duties to the list. Thus, in 1869, Cox was also in charge of checking construction and maintenance and giving grants to the transcontinental railroads, supervising the National Hospital for the Insane, and the construction and maintenance of all government buildings in Washington, discharging the functions of Mayor of Washington, supervising all territorial and federal penitentiaries, controlling the Bureau of Education, and paying the salaries of all federal judges. Truly it was a catch-all group which the Secretary of the Interior had to administer (Eugene David Schmiel, "The Career of Jacob Dolson Cox, 1828-1900: Soldier, Scholar, Statesman" PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 1969, pp. 232-33).



Oberlin 14th Oct. 1870

My Dear Son Dolson.

Yesterday I wrote congratulating

you upon the course you have

taken in the administration of

your department. A letter from

Ange last evening informed me

that you had resigned. Whether

this has resulted from disgust

or from the inadequacy of your

salary. Or because the Pres. did

not sustain your honorable

cou[r]se I know not. Anges

mother used to relate an anec

dote of an old crazy woman

who went about asking

"would you work for nothing

& board yourself & be lied

about"? Prehaps you a sick

of doing this. But this is

about what an honest man

[page 2]

must expect as things are.

Whatever your reasons were

I think you had well done

to decline to bear that burden

to the crushing both soul &

body & to the great injury of

your family. From Anges

letter I judge that you intend

to return to your profession

in Cincinnati. Do you

return to the same business

connection. The country will

honor you for the course you

have taken, & all the more

should the impression go

abroad that you have been

sacrificed for taking it.

Ere this you have learned

that James is elected by an

unusually large majority

to Congress. He will regret

your retirement. The democrats

[page 3]

attacked him & lied about

him until he became so

thoroughly disgusted as to

be almost ashamed that

he accepted the nomination.

Political life is such a filthy

pool that a pure mind

can hardly endure it.

We must have the civil

service reform or we are

surely undone. A nation

of liars, Drunkards & unsc[r]

upulous scoundrels can

not hold together long.

Ange writes that Willy is

sick & that many are sick.

Will Willy go with you.

Can he not come here &

recruit. Can you not all

come this way when you go

to Cincinnati? Mother joins

in much love to you all.

God bless you C. G. Finney. over

[page 4]

From Anges letter I conclude

that you hold on until

your successor is on the




Finney will have read the following report in The Nation of October 6, p. 265:

There is a movement going on now at Washington for the removal of Secretary Cox. Mr. Cox was one of the very best of the President's early appointments--in fact, a model government officer as regarded both character and acquirements. He took the earliest opportunity of introducing the principle of civil service reform into his department as far as circumstances would admit, dismissing only for incompetency, promoting for merit, and appointing only after examination. The result is, he has for instance in the Census Bureau a body of officers, selected in this way, such as has not been seen in the United States service, except in the Coast Survey, for many a long day. As might have been expected, he speedily became obnoxious to the political managers, and they are engaged at this moment in a vigorous effort to procure his removal. The immediate cause of the attack on him is his refusal to allow the poor clerks in his department to be levied on for the expenses of the Pennsylvania election. He is willing to have them asked for voluntary contributions, but "the Association" which has the extortion in charge insists on fixing the amount each clerk must pay out of his scanty wages, and asking for his dismissal in case he refuses. Mr. Cox's resistance has led the band to hold a meeting and pass resolutions denouncing him, and it now remains to be seen whether the President will stand by him. Judging only from what is happening in Missouri, we should not be sanguine as to the results; but Mr. Cox, if he falls, will fall just as much in the service of the country as if he had perished at the head of his troops in the war. We may add that not one of the Pennsylvania gang questions Mr. Cox's integrity or ability.

When Cox's resignation was first announced his political opponents "began declaring with great vehemence that it had been sent in for 'personal reasons' solely, and notably on account of the smallness of his salary and the high cost of living at Washington" ("The 'Explanation' in Reply to Mr. Cox" The Nation, vol. 11, no. 281 [November 17, 1870], p. 324)

According to Ari Hoogenboom, the historian of civil service reform:

Politicians had many grievances against Cox. He had instituted genuine tests for appointees in the Interior Department, particularly in the Patent Office and in the Census Bureau, had kept spoilsmen out of the Indian Bureau (a prodigious feat), had published a letter attacking political assessments, and had refused clerks a second paid vacation to go home to vote in the fall elections. After Grant forced Cox to revoke his order regarding clerks' absences and spoilsman Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan boasted in the Interior Department offices that Cox would be removed, Cox resigned. "I saw symptoms," he later explained, "of lack of backing at headquarters" (Ari Hoogenboom, Outlawing The Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement 1865-1883 [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961], p. 79).

Hoogenboom points out that conflicting views have been given as to why Cox resigned. "But whatever was the reason, reformers believed that civil service reform was the cause of Cox's resignation" (p. 79, n. 18).

Finney will have read, a few days later in The Nation, an article lamenting Cox's resignation. The writer concludes that it was "simply and solely the result of the President's failure to support him in the maintenance and prosecution of the reforms which he has introduced into the Department of the Interior" ("Mr. Cox's Resignation" The Nation, vol 11, no. 277 [20 October 1870], pp. 252-53).

Finney spelt perhaps this way in his letter to Gerrit Judd, 4 November 1836.

The letters "re" have been inserted after "a" here, probably by Cox.


Cox had formed a partnership with Henry L. Burnett, a young attorney whom he had known in Warren before the war. The firm of Cox and Burnet began the practice of law in Cincinnati in August 1868.

Cox's biographer summed up the situation that Cox was in when he decided to resign:

Cox had become one of those "disagreers" early in the administration, but he and the President were still in good terms even until the end of October, 1870. By then he had decided the President had gone too far. Cox had been deeply hurt by Hoar's resignation, and the distressing actions of the President in going over Cox's head in the McGarrahan, Indian agent, and political assessment affairs had finally driven him to the ultimate step of resignation. Even then, however, though he was rapidly becoming more and more financially and socially embarrassed by his inability to handle the proper social functions of a Cabinet officer on a salary ($8,000) far below what he needed to support his large family, he was still willing to stay on at personal sacrifice if Grant seemed willing to change his ways. But the President did not and could not see that he needed to do so, hence the resignation was accepted (Schmiel, "Jacob Dolson Cox," p. 286).


James Monroe's daughter, Emma, recalled the following incident:

In 1870 my father was elected to be our new Congressman. That Sunday morning after the election we were all in the old Monroe pew. Mr. Finney prayed as follows: "Lord our dear brother Monroe has just been elected to Congress. We think him a good man but we fear for his Xian character in Washington - We know Washington is an evil city and Congress full of deceit. Oh, God help our dear brother that he may not yield to the evil ways of Washington, but come back to us the Christian that we believe that he is. Preserve him, Oh. Lord, preserve him." There were tears in my father's eyes. No one seemed to think the prayer strange. What a big family of brothers and sisters that audience was (Manuscript notes, No. 2. in Emma Monroe Fitch Folder, Box 1, Frances Hosford Papers, 30/35, Oberlin College Archives).

A bracket has been inserted here, possibly by Cox, to mark off the next section.

Cox's resignation letter to the President was dated October 3, and was accepted by Grant in a letter dated October 5. Cox stayed on until he had given his annual report of the department on October 31. His successor was Columbus Delano.