Ulysses S. Grant: the Forgotten President

Image Credits: Britannica

Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th president of the United States. Not many people now know about him compared to presidents like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. However, it is President’s Day, so it is a great time to learn about one of the former presidents of the United States. 

Ulysses S. Grant was the highest-ranking US general since George Washington. He was a national hero, as well. Even President Abraham Lincoln was impressed by how he fought. His popular appeal helped him become president in the first post-Civil War national election. Unfortunately, as Ann Bausum wrote, “mastery of military tactics did not prepare him for the world of politics … (and) his administration (came to be) remembered more for its scandals than for its accomplishments.” His election helped usher in a new era, which would become known as the Gilded Age. It featured lavish spending that was more admired than criticized. 

The president who was once boasted to have his initials stand for “Unconditional Surrender” would become forgotten. How? There is no doubt that President Grant did great things during his presidency. He established the first national park (Yellowstone, founded in 1872), avoided war with Great Britain about Civil War damage claims, established the Department of Justice, and passed the 15th amendment, granting voting rights regardless of “race, color, or previous conditions of servitude”.

However, these accomplishments did not receive as much attention compared to the controversies that happened during President Grant’s presidency. The federal government was unable to prevent white Southerners from doing certain things to limit the rights of former slaves. The financial Panic of 1873 put millions of laborers out of work. The Panic of 1873 was known as the “Great Depression” until the early 1930s set a new standard. The scandals of Grant’s administration were also horrid, as they involved corrupt banking, currency deals, the stealing of federal liquor taxes by manufacturers and public officials, and more. Although President Grant was not directly involved with these crimes, his reputation suffered greatly, causing him to not win a third term. (The 22nd amendment had not passed yet, making it so that there was not a limit of terms for presidents.)

After leaving the White House, President Grant went on a 30-month world tour along with his wife. In 1880, he failed to win the Republican nomination for president and invested in a family business venture in NYC. However, a dishonest business partner caused the project to be ruined. Congress provided Grant with income by putting him back on the Army payroll as a general, even though he was not on active duty. Because of Mark Twain’s suggestion, President Grant wrote his autobiography, The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. He finished only days before his death, caused by throat cancer. President Grant was buried in the NYC landmark, Grant’s Tomb. Later on, First Lady Julia Grant would publish her autobiography, The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant, the earliest First Lady memoir to be seen in print. 

It is quite unfortunate how President Grant’s presidency became known for corruption and wasteful spending, as President Grant, himself, did not directly cause any of the controversies his time in power would become known for. On the contrary, President Grant was determined to advance the civil rights of African-Americans and opposed white supremacists. He made sure that African-Americans and other people of color were given the right to vote. President Ulysses S. Grant also had a crucial role in keeping the Union together and made it his priority to prevent another Civil War. Moreover, he advocated for humane treatment for Native Americans.

As Dan Green wrote, President Ulysses S. Grant was a no-nonsense Republican president and a blockbuster Union general during the Civil War. He believed that “laws are to govern all alike – those opposed as well as those who favor them.” Maybe it is time we stop forgetting about President Ulysses S. Grant. Thank you for reading, and stay safe!


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