Useful Notes: Ulysses S. Grant
, I preferred the days before my presidency."
"I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; to suffer. I signify all three."
—Ulysses S. Grant
, from a note written a few days before his death
"Let us have peace." Ulysses S. Grant
—Grant's campaign slogan.
(April 27, 1822 — July 23, 1885), born as Hiram Ulysses Grantnote
, is much better known as the General
who won The American Civil War
than as a President. Most people who remember the latter probably do so because he's on the fifty dollar bill. Which doesn't make much sense
, since neither Alexander Hamilton
nor Benjamin Franklin
were presidents, and they are prominently on the currency as well. His nickname, earned during the Civil War was "Unconditional Surrender" Grantnote
His initial term as President, from 1869 to 1877
, just before Rutherford B. Hayes
, was at the time regarded as pretty unimpressive, albeit slightly better than his much-loathed predecessor, Andrew Johnson
. He still won another term however, partly because of his reputation as a war hero, but moreso because the Democratic Party had temporarily collapsed. It briefly looked as if Grant would run unopposed, until a loose conglomeration of Democrats and dissident Republicans combined to put up newspaper magnate Horace Greeley as Grant's rival. Their campaign was spectacularly mismanaged, Greeley was suffering the onset of dementia, and to add insult to injury he died a few weeks after being soundly trounced in the election. No sooner had he been re-elected however than Grant was faced with the Panic of 1873, one of the biggest financial crises in the history of the country, and probably second only to The Great Depression
in terms of severitynote
. For the remainder of his time in office, Grant's name was basically mud.
Grant was the first President to make a serious bid for a third term, running for the Republican party nomination in 1880. However, the party saw him as a weak leader and felt he was unelectable after the scandals of his first two terms had come to light, and chose to nominate James Garfield
For most of the time since his term ended in 1877, Grant's administration had a reputation for corruption and economic troubles, although frankly this is more because he didn't
do anything (a popular joke among historians is calling him "Useless Grant"). However, he gets credit for keeping Reconstruction going and delaying the era of Jim Crow for as long as he could. His Civil Rights Acts were very similar to the one passed nearly 100 years later in the 1960s, but were overturned by the Supreme Court. Recent scholars have rated him significantly higher than in the past, largely due to increased appreciation for his efforts against racial discrimination (he effectively destroyed the Ku Klux Klan
in 1871). He's also notable for creating Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the first national park in American history and, arguably, world history (though Lincoln had already set aside Yosemite Valley for "public use, resort, and recreation," essentially making it a national park in all but name).
Toward the end of his life he wrote his memoirs while suffering from terminal throat cancer (must have been all the cigars and alcohol). He died two days after completing them, Mark Twain
published them and they made a fortune for his family. They are regarded as some of the best memoirs ever written, certainly the best by any American president.
He was also one of the best horsemen in the entire army, and only lost his position in the elite cavalry after he struck a horse in an uncharacteristically angry outburst. Overall he was considered something of a Bunny-Ears Lawyer
, and almost never bothered with his official uniform, to the point that he showed up to the Appomattox Courthouse surrender ceremony in dirty fatigues and was only let in because the Confederates knew him by sight, and at least one observer commented that if you hadn't known better you'd have thought Lee, who was in his best dress uniform, had won the war. The sight of blood made him squeamish to the point that he couldn't eat undercooked meat, and he was so shy that he holed himself up in his room crying when he had a panic attack at his daughter's wedding, also qualifying him for The Woobie
Examples of media depicting Grant in the Civil War include a fair number of Westerns up to the 1950s. He also appears in Steven Spielberg
, played by Jared Harris
Examples of media depicting Grant as President include The Wild Wild West
(both the original series and the movie
), the 1981 movie The Legend Of The Lone Ranger
, the HBO
movie Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
and the ABC movie Son Of The Morning Star
, and the table-top roleplaying game Deadlands
Examples of media depicting Grant in the 1850s when he was a washed-up Mexican War veteran posted at the ass-end of the country (California
at the time) includes The Life And Times of Grizzly Adams
Interestingly, Grant was the first President to get a speeding ticket. He was a bit of a speedfreak, and one day he drove his carriage through Washington D.C. going upwards of forty miles an hour before he was stopped and ticketed. He also won an impromptu drag race against Andrew Johnson
George Armstrong Custer's end at the Little Bighorn happened in the Grant years.
Any talk of his Civil War days will probably mention the fact that he was Heterosexual Life-Partners
with General William Tecumseh Sherman
. Less known to the general public is that Sherman's working relationship as Grant's Number Two
continued into Grant's presidency, with Sherman taking the post of Commanding General of the U.S. Army after Grant vacated it to become President and holding the post through all of Grant's tenure.
Tropes associated with Grant:
- Afraid of Blood: Ironically enough, he was quite squeamish, and would take to drink when having to deal up close with the horrors of war.
- The Alcoholic: Though this was greatly exaggerated by his detractors, since he never drank when he knew had to command on the field, it was more likely that he was just an extreme lightweight.
- He was also noted only to drink when he was lonely or there was nothing much else to do, as in the siege of Vicksburg.
- When his detractors brought up his alcoholism to President Lincoln, Lincoln allegedly responded by telling them to find out what brand of liquor it was, so he could send it to his other generalsnote .
- Badass Baritone
- Badass Beard
- Badass Horseman: As a quartermaster in the Mexican War, he once rode on the side of a horse through blistering fire in a city square, a feat viewed with awe by everyone who saw it. Grant himself devotes about two sentences to it in his memoirs.
- Badass In Charge: Was directly responsible for a string of Union victories that helped the North maintain its will to keep up the fight and win the war.
- Four-Star Badass: Was the greatest general the Union had during the Civil War, and his string of victories against the CSA helped reinvigorate the flagging morale of the Union. Noting that he absolutely needed Grant on the battlefield, Abraham Lincoln matter-of-factly stated "I can't spare this man. He fights."
- He was also the first ever four-star general in the US Army.
- Berserk Button: He once had a soldier beaten for cruelty to a horse, given his love of animals, and had no good opinion of bullfighting.
- Better The Devil You Know: Grant inverted this when casting his vote in the 1856 presidential election for Democrat James Buchanan:
"I didn't know him and voted against Fremont because I did know him."
- Cigar Chomper: He smoked heavily, an estimated up to 12 a day. He was once photographed smoking a cigar while president, which resulted in people sending him boxes of cigars as gifts for the rest of his life. This caused the oral cancer he eventually died of.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ever read his memoirs?
"Mr. Davis had an exalted opinion of his own military genius... On several occasions during the war he came to the relief of the Union Army by means of his military genius
- The Determinator: This was Grant's strength. When it came to running a battle he would put the opponent on the defensive and keep his opponent on the defensive, never relenting on the attack. This had the added bonus of building a great deal of confidence in his men. As Colonel Theodore Lyman, one of Grant's subordinates, put it:
"Grant habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it."
- Friendly Enemy: With Lee. When they met at Appomattox, Grant told Lee how much he admired his military leadership since the Mexican war, and was surprised to hear Lee had actually taken note of him fighting in the same war and was equally impressed. They soon got along like old friends.
- Happily Married: Was absolutely devoted to his wife, Julia. It's been said he was The Alcoholic only when he couldn't be with her for extended periods of time.
- Heroic BSOD: Went into one at Abraham Lincoln's funeral. Grant had been supposed to go with Lincoln to the theater but changed his plans at the last minute. The general was certain that if he had been there, he would have heard the assassin come in and been able to prevent Lincoln's murder. At the funeral Grant wept profusely, and later stated unequivocally that Lincoln was the greatest man he'd ever known.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With General William T. Sherman. Sherman once said "I stood by him when he was drunk and he stood by me when I was crazy, and now we stand together."
- Horrible Judge of Character: Both his Presidency and a later business venture were ruined by President Grant's getting into business with people who he thought were perfectly good, but were actually doing shady things with money and leaving him to take the blame. Grant—after catching wind of some of these incidents—lamented that it wasn't his supposed enemies he worried about, but his so-called friends. Later investigations have confirmed that Grant himself was completely innocent. His only fault was being naive about his staff members and business partners.
- Landslide Election: Surprisingly enough, averted in his first election in 1868, where he won by a convincing margin in the electoral college, but was actually pushed fairly close by Democrat candidate Horatio Seymour in the popular vote. It would probably have been even closer, if not for the fact that several former Confederate states hadn't been fully re-admitted, and all former Confederate soldiers and government officials were still banned from voting. Played straight in his re-election in 1872 where, as mentioned above, he just steamrollered Horace Greeley in both the popular and electoral vote, even with all the former Confederate states and voters being fully re-absorbed.
- Meaningful Name: The initials of his birth name, Hiram Ulysses Grant, spell "hug." Grant was, in all honesty, a total softie for most of his adult life.
- Also the initials of the name he went by as an adult, Ulysses S. Grant: U.S. Grant. Considering that he was one of America's greatest generals and a true patriot, the name fits.
- Not Good with People: Famously seemed to get along better with horses than with people.
- The Stoic: Remarkably cool under fire.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: When Congressman Thomas L. Hamer got his name wrong on his nomination to West Point, thinking Ulysses was his first name, he decided he liked that better anyway and just went with it.
- Red Baron: Unconditional Surrender Grant.
- Trademark Favorite Food: He enjoyed pickles for breakfast while out on the battlefield.
- Vindicated by History: For years, Grant was saddled with the blame for what his staff members did (admittedly, he should have kept a closer eye on them), and this was the only thing historians remembered his Presidency for (the fact that a LOT of those historians over the next few decades were blatant Confederate "Lost Cause" sympathizers who personally loathed Grant for walloping the Confederacy didn't help matters). But in retrospect, Grant's approval rating is beginning to go back up, as historians realize just how much of a hero he was for the early Civil Rights struggles during Reconstruction. Grant favored full voting rights for African Americans, aggressively pursued the Ku Klux Klan and successfully saw several of its leaders prosecuted, and cared deeply about the plight of Native Americans. The fact that Grant held such modern views in the freaking 1800s just makes him more of a hero.
- Warrior Poet: He was a good artist and many of his drawings survive today.note His memoirs are among the best ever written by a former President, although they focus mainly on his Civil War service as opposed to his time in office.
- The Woobie: Dear Lord. After the Civil War, poor Grant was absolutely tortured, first by his Presidency being ruined by nefarious staff members who wrecked the economy and left him to take the fall for it, then a later business partner cheats him out of his money and leaves him penniless, and eventually he gets cancer. What makes it really sad is the fact that by all accounts, Grant was a genuinely good man. But before he died, he managed to write what are considered to be the best memoirs of any President, and he worked through severe pain in his final months in order to finish the book so that the sales would support his family once he was gone. And after he died, bitter Lost Cause sympathizers would drag his name through the mud for well over a century.
- Even better, Mark Twain, who helped him publish the memoirs, got him to receive 75% of the profits because he respected Grant so much.
- Congress did restore Grant's rank—and the retirement pay that went with it—shortly before his death, but it was far too late to really make a dent in his liabilities. The memoirs gained his widow Julia $450,000 (over $10 million in today's money) and reestablished the family fortune.
- Worthy Opponent: Held the highest respect for General Lee. The feeling was mutual.
Grant in fiction:
- The Wild Wild West was set during Grant's presidency, and he occasionally appeared as a character.
- Likewise he appears in the film loosely based on the TV series, Wild Wild West. For a movie that took such liberties with basically everything, Grant's actor, Kevin Kline, actually consulted Grant scholars and took great efforts to portray the president accurately.