The Presidents of the USA


 
 
 

Biography

 
18
Ulysses S. Grant
R R R R R
 
1869-1877
 
An excellent general but a mediocre politician. He won the Civil War, but his Presidency was rather a failure because surrounded himself with corrupt men and his tenure was marred by scandals and economic depression. There were improvements in domestic policy though.


Born Apr. 27, 1822, Point Pleasant, Ohio
Political partyRepublican
EducationU.S. Military Academy, B.S., 1843
Military service ♦ U.S. Army: lieutenant, 1843
♦ 1st Illinois Volunteers: colonel, 1861
♦  Galena Illinois Company: brigadier general, 1861
♦  major general, 1862-63
♦  lieut. general & commander of all Union armies, 1864-65
♦  general of the armies of the United States, 1866
Previous public office interim U.S. Secretary of War, 1867-68
Died July 23, 1885, Mount McGregor, N.Y.
picture of Ulysses S. Grant





Early Life

Grant was born on a farm and studied at local schools until obtaining an appointment to West Point, where he graduated 23rd in a class of 39.

He fought under Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War, winning citations for bravery in several battles. He compiled a solid record of service in the Mexican War, but his army career collapsed in the peacetime boredom of a long isolated tour of duty in northern California and Oregon. A drinking problem hastened his resignation from the army as a captain of infantry in 1854 and went back to farming, this time in Missouri. .

Grant was a plain, unassuming product of the Midwest. His life was one of pathetically ordinary failure in everything save the waging or writing of war.

In 1860 he was a clerk at a leather goods store run by his father and brothers. When the Civil War broke out, he organized a local militia, then became colonel of an Illinois militia regiment, rising to the rank of major general.



Military Career

Grant found his calling in the Civil War. The conflict energized him and restored his confidence. First commissioned as a colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteer Infantry, he was promoted in August 1861 to brigadier general of volunteers. He commanded the land forces that captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in February 1862. This was his first important battle and the first major Union victory of the war. Confederate armies counterattacked at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. Aided by timely reinforcements, a surprised and initially outgeneraled Grant was able to hold his position and force a Confederate retreat into Mississippi.

Grant's most stunning victory in the West came out of the Vicksburg campaign in the spring of 1863. In a brilliant display of strategic audacity, he outflanked the Confederate defenders of Vicksburg by using the Union navy to run his army downriver from the city. He then defeated surprised and scattered Confederate armies and successfully besieged Vicksburg from the east. The city, the last major Confederate position on the Mississippi River, surrendered on July 4, 1863.

Having been given the top Union command in the West in October, Grant lifted the Confederate siege of Chattanooga the next month and routed Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee. The way was now open for the Union campaign against Atlanta.

Congress revived the rank of lieutenant general specifically for Grant, and President Abraham Lincoln appointed him supreme commander of the Union armies in March 1864. In a series of bloody, grinding encounters Grant finally wore down Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia between May 1864 and April 1865. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

At first it seemed as if Grant were an astute politician at the end of the Civil War: he supported a strong military presence in the South to protect the rights of newly freed blacks, endearing himself to the radical Republicans in Congress. When President Andrew Johnson tried to replace Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in order to wrest Reconstruction policy from Congress, Grant accepted an appointment as interim secretary of war. But when Congress restored Stanton to the position, Grant turned his office back over to Stanton. Grant's refusal to support Johnson's actions gained him the unanimous first-ballot Republican nomination for President in 1868, and he won a narrow popular vote victory over Democrat Horatio Seymour in the election.



Presidency

But Grant was not politically astute. His first mistake was in naming several cronies from his home state to his cabinet. Several cabinet secretaries and other high-level officials became implicated in financial scandals. Resignations included those of his secretary of the Treasury (for irregularities in revenue collection), his secretary of war (for corruption in purchasing contracts), and his attorney general and secretary of the interior (for the Credit Mobilier railroad scandal).

Grant knew nothing of high finance, and he was taken advantage of by his brother-in-law, who worked with financiers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk in a scheme to corner the market in gold. They convinced Grant not to sell any government gold on financial markets, no matter how high the price went, so that their own gold would become more valuable. Grant eventually realized that his relative was using him and ordered the sale of $4 million in Treasury gold. This action caused a crash in the price of gold and financial ruin for many investors, though Gould and Fisk made a great deal of money.

Grant managed to defuse criticism of the corruption in his administration by establishing the Civil Service Commission in 1871. He was renominated in 1872, again by a unanimous first ballot at the convention, and he defeated Democrat Horace Greeley by a landslide.

Grant had a tougher time in his second term. The financial crisis of 1873 helped Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in 1874. However, Congress cut taxes and repealed an income tax law, which proved to be popular actions.

Nonetheless, his presidency did have some solid accomplishments. The Treaty of Washington in 1872 resolved a major dispute with Great Britain over damages inflicted on American shipping by Confederate raiders built in British shipyards during the Civil War. The Enforcement Acts of 1870-1871 broke the power of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction South, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 marked an unprecedented attempt to extend federal protection of black civil rights to areas of public accommodations.

In foreign affairs, Grant's attempts to annex the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo were defeated by the Senate. The President's policy of remaining strictly neutral in the conflict between Cuban nationalists and the Spanish occupiers was upheld by Congress, when it voted down a resolution recognizing the revolutionary government proclaimed by the Cuban belligerents.

He tried for a third term in 1880 but lost the Republican nomination to James Garfield.



Retirement

After the end of his second term in the White House, Grant spent over two years traveling the world with his wife. In Britain and Ireland the crowds were enormous. The Grants dined with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, and with Chancellor Bismarck in Germany, met Pope Leo XIII at the Vatican then ventured east to Russia, Egypt, the Holy Land, Siam (Thailand), Burma, Japan and China

After returning to the United States from their world tour in the late 1870s, Grant went bankrupt as a result of foolish investments in the fraudulent banking firm of Grant & Ward. Though once again a failure in civilian life, Grant did much to redeem his place in history by writing his Personal Memoirs. Finished just before his death from throat cancer in 1885, his memoirs stand as one of the clearest and most powerful military narratives ever written.

Mark Twain published Grant's best-selling memoirs just weeks after the ex-President's death on July 23, 1885.



Legacy

Ulysses S. Grant, during the latter 19th Century, was popularly viewed as "a symbol of the American national identity and memory.

But at the turn of the 20th Century, historians began to minimize Grant's accomplishments as commanding general and President.

From the 1920s through the 1980s Grant was viewed as a brutal warrior general and an inept President. In the words of Woodrow Wilson, President Ulysses Simpson Grant “combined great gifts with great mediocrity.”

However, though Grant's legacy as a military leader and President will always be entwined with the American Civil War and Reconstruction, modern historians have since begun to look at Grant from a new approach having appreciated his genius as general, his protection of African Americans during Reconstruction as commanding general and President, and his peace policy towards American Indians.




 
 
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