Useful Notes: Ulysses S. Grant

"In general, 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."
—Grant's campaign slogan.

Ulysses S. Grant (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 .

As the country's biggest military hero since George Washington himself, it was considered only natural that he run for President at the earliest available opportunity, and he won the 1868 election despite being pushed surprisingly close by Democrat candidate Horatio Seymour. Grant's 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 more so 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 instead.

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), because he was in financial difficulties and wanted to provide for his wife and heirs after he was gone. He died two days after completing them, Mark Twain published them and they made a fortune for his family. They are still regarded as some of the best memoirs ever written, certainly the best by any American president, and are well worth reading.

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's Lincoln, 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's carriagenote 

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.

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.

Alternative Title(s):

Ulysses S Grant