American Ulysses
American Ulysses A Life of Ulysses S. Grant By White, Ronald C. Book - 2016

Since 1865, Ulysses Grant has always been appreciated for his military prowess in the Civil War. His personal memoirs have been acclaimed for since they were issued. But his presidency? The scandals were, for decades, foremost in the thoughts of many. But Grant is now in the process of being rehabilitated. In a 2017 historians' poll he's now ranked 22nd, up from 33rd in 2000, by far the biggest leap of any of the then 44. Ronald White's engaging biography may help explain why. Although born to abolitionist parents, Grant was indifferent to this issue when the war started, possibly because the parents of his beloved wife, Julia, were slaveholders. By the end of the war, he had developed a passion to ensure that the rights of black Americans to vote and leave in peace were upheld. During his presidency, he sought to uphold those rights, sending federal troops into the South despite strong criticism that he had no right to do so. He supported the 15th Amendment, which protects the right to vote regardless of race. He created the Justice Department, in part to enable the federal govt to enforce federal laws in the South. Foreshadowing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said, "'A ticket on a railroad or other conveyance should entitle you to all that it does other men.' In that spirit he told them, 'I wish that every voter of the United States should stand in all respects alike. It must come.'” He was also a friend to Native Americans in an era when that was hardly popular. Frederick Douglass said, "“To him more than any other man the Negro owes his enfranchisement and the Indian a humane policy….He was accessible to all men….The black soldier was welcome in his tent, and the freedman in his house.” The scandals that rocked his administration, especially in his second term, did not implicate him personally, but, according to White, were largely the result of his inability to believe that his friends could be corrupted by access to power, a personal failing that would post-presidency nearly ruin him financially. Grant loved to travel and after his presidency, he embarked on a 2+ yrs trip around the world. He had already developed a love of and respect for Mexico in his earlier service in the Mexican War. Now he developed a love of and respect for China and Japan. Far ahead of his time, he knew that those countries would become economic powerhouses. When he returned from his trip, thousands of Americans gathered at the dock to meet him. Swindled by a family friend in later years, he spent his dying days (cancer of the throat, undoubtedly brought on by his love of cigars) writing his memoirs so that his family would be supported after his death (the memoirs would eventually earn the equivalent of $12 million in today's dollars for his family). During that time, friends and former foes came to pay their last respects. His pallbearers included not only his best friend from the war, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Union General Phil Sheridan, but also Confederate Generals Johnston and Buckner. The Confederate Veterans Association lauded him for his compassion at Appomattox. Fifteen years after his death, Theodore Roosevelt said, "Mightiest among the mighty dead loom the three great figures of Washington, Lincoln, and Grant.” I highly recommend this book.

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