Neglected, his efforts helped save the country
Richard F. Keevey
The United States is a country with a rich history filled with many notable political leaders, military heroes, and individuals of destiny. Ulysses S. Grant, a victorious Union Army general, accomplished American president and man of destiny, is often overlooked and underestimated, especially for his role in defeating Southern insurgents, the end of slavery and the preservation of the country after the war. Civil war.
This year marks the 200e Anniversary of the birth of Ulysses Grant, General of the Army and President of the United States. The less informed among us might wonder, “Wasn’t Grant just another general and president?” Why should we note and celebrate his birth?”
Grant reflects the true American spirit – someone who seized the opportunities presented to him and rose from the lowest ranks of society to greatness. When he died in 1885, his contemporaries recognized his many accomplishments and contributions as evidenced by his funeral procession.
Speaker Grover Cleveland led the motorcade, which included the cabinet and all Supreme Court justices; all living former presidents; many senators, congressmen and governors; four generals serving as pallbearers, including two Confederate generals; thousands of Union and Confederate veterans; thousands of black veterans (a real rarity at the time); and hundreds of thousands of admirers of Grant’s many accomplishments.
Generals Mosby and Longstreet—two of his Confederate opponents—spoke these words when praising Grant:
“The truest, bravest man that ever lived,” said Mosby
“I lost my best friend,” Longstreet said.
Black churches held sorrow meetings that praised Grant as a champion of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution and the fight to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan. Frederick Douglas wrote, “In him the Negro found a protector, the Indian a friend, the vanquished a brother – and the savior of a nation in peril”.
Like many of us, Grant had his flaws. He was a drunk at first; he granted misplaced and unrewarded loyalty to friends who would deceive and embarrass him and cost the federal government large sums of his treasury; and he lost his family wealth to Wall Street loyalists and went bankrupt in his later years.
This and more can be found in Ron Chernow’s powerful biography, titled “Grant”. Personally, I knew a little about Grant’s battlefield accomplishments and his tenure as President, but little about his character and his firmness in his approach to what was the proper, just and moral approach to the many challenges he faced. faced as a general and president of the Union Army. Two observations highlight his many accomplishments.
First, after many failed attempts, President Abraham Lincoln found the general who would end the horrific carnage of the Civil War – in which 750,000 American lives were lost, more than the combined American losses in all the other wars between the Revolutionary War and Vietnam.
After two years of success in the Western Campaign, Grant was put in charge of the entire Union army and he led Union forces to defeat General Robert E. Lee and the insurgents. Confederates. However, a “conqueror” he was not. Instead, during the Confederacy’s surrender at Appomattox, Grant provided Lee with generous surrender terms; assured Lee that he would not be prosecuted as a traitor or war criminal; and allowed rank-and-file Confederate troops to keep their handguns and horses—”they’ll need them to plow the fields,” Grant said.
As Chernow observed, “He was undoubtedly the most aggressive fighter in the full roster of world-renowned soldiers and the only general capable of combining tactics and overall strategy.”
For Grant, the Civil War validated the fundamental strength of American institutions, including the preservation of the Union and the emancipation of four million slaves, who would eventually receive both their freedom and the right to vote.
Second, as president for two terms, he brought dignity and firmness to office after the disastrous administration of Lincoln’s immediate successor, President Andrew Johnson. Johnson did everything to undermine and stop Lincoln’s goal of rebuilding and integrating the South, including supporting the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and reversing Congress’s desire to bring the South back into the nation. The terrorism and horrors of the Klan reached such an intensity that Grant sent military units back to the South to enforce laws to defend both the will of Congress and the basic freedoms and dignity of Southern black people.
Internationally, he settled long-standing disputes with Britain, including the resolution of the Alabama affair. The Alabama and other southern ships were built for the Confederates by the British to engage Union ships. The settlement of the case showed the value of international arbitration, alleviated the ill will between the two countries and launched a brotherly relationship with Britain, which would serve as the first banker for the future economic expansion of the United States. United.
Grant also had a successful policy toward Native Americans that involved treating them fairly and with dignity. On leaving office, a delegation from five Indian tribes said: “We express our gratitude to you… at all times you have been just and humane… and have had a conscientious respect for our rights…”
After a disgraceful bankruptcy that left him dependent on small monetary gifts from several benefactors to live on, Mark Twain encouraged him to write his autobiography – which Twain financed and which is sufficient to provide support for the wife and family. of Grant after his death.
In his final year, though afflicted with painful cancers of the tongue and throat and barely able to sleep or eat, he completed within weeks of his death what most critics consider his best autobiography ever written by an American. It was further proof of Grant’s courage and determination.
Historian Richard Current considered Grant the most underrated American president and observed that Grant deserved a place of honor in American history, second only to Lincoln for what he did for freed slaves.
Chernow concludes that “Grant solved all the big problems well, even if he missed the little ones”.
I would add that Grant’s military and political successes far outweigh his personal shortcomings. So, as we recognize the 200e Grant’s birthday, let’s pay tribute to one of the nations greatest generals, presidents and leaders.
Richard F. Keevey held two presidential positions as Chief Financial Officer in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and as Deputy Under Secretary in the Department of Defense. He was the general manager of a nuclear missile unit in Europe and was appointed by two New Jersey governors as state budget director. He is currently a senior policy researcher at Rutgers University and a lecturer at Princeton University.