Ulysses S. Grant


Ulysses S. Grant, born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant and died July 23, 1885 in Wilton, was an American statesman, 18th president of the United States but he is also widely known for having commanded the Unionist armies during the Civil War. After a distinguished military career, he was elected president in 1868. His presidency was marked by his attempts to further integrate the former Confederate states into the Union, to eliminate vestiges of Southern nationalism and to protect the rights of African-Americans. The end of his term, however, was marred by dissension in the Republican Party, the banking panic of 1873 and corruption in his administration.

Born in Ohio, Grant quickly turned to a military career and graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1843. He fought in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 and at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he joined the Union Army. The following year he was promoted to major general and his victorious command at the Battle of Shiloh earned him a reputation as an aggressive commander. In July 1863 he captured Vicksburg and Union control of Mississippi cut the Confederacy in half. After the Battle of Chattanooga in November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to lieutenant general with authority over all Union armies. In 1864, he coordinated a series of bloody battles (Overland Campaign) that isolated Southern General Robert E. Lee at Petersburg. After the capture of the Confederate capital of Richmond, the Confederacy collapsed and Lee went to Appomattox in April 1865 to sign the famous Appomattox Surrender (or Lee’s Surrender) which marked the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, the main Confederate army.

Considered the savior of the Union and a true war hero, Grant was easily chosen by the Republican convention to run for the presidency, and he easily won the election. During this period, known as “Reconstruction,” he worked to ease the tensions caused by the Civil War. He promoted the adoption of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing civil rights for African Americans and firmly enforced its provisions in the South, including the use of the military. However, the Democrats regained control of the Southern legislatures in the 1870s, and African Americans were excluded from politics for nearly a century. In foreign policy, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish settled Alabama’s claims with the United Kingdom and prevented the Virginius Affair from escalating with Spain. In 1873 Grant’s popularity collapsed along with the U.S. economy, which was hit by the first industrial crisis in its history. His measures were largely ineffective and the depression lasted until the early 1880s. In addition to the economic difficulties, his second term was marked by scandals within his government, and two members of his cabinet were accused of corruption.

After leaving office, Grant embarked on a two-year world tour and unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the 1880 presidential election. His memoirs, written while he was suffering from throat cancer, were a critical and popular success, and more than 1.5 million people attended his funeral. Admired after his death, historical assessments of his presidency have nevertheless become highly unfavorable due to the corruption of his administration; his commitment to civil rights and his courage in the fight against the Ku Klux Klan, however, are recognized.

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822.

He was the first child of Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and businessman, and Hannah (Simpson) Grant. His paternal grandmother Suzanna Delano of Walloon origin, was the granddaughter of Jonathan Delano (1647-1720), 7th child of Philippe de La Noye (1602-1681), from the illustrious House of Lannoy of Walloon Brabant, one of the passengers on the Fortune that docked at Plymouth in November 1621, joining the first settlers of the Mayflower. The descendants of Suzanna’s paternal uncle, Thomas Delano (b. 1704), would go on to produce another U.S. president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a few decades later.

In the fall of 1823, the family moved to the village of Georgetown in Brown County. His parents were Methodists, but he was never baptized or forced to attend church. One of his biographers suggests that Grant inherited his introverted character from his reserved, if not “particularly indifferent” mother; she never visited the White House during her son’s presidency. Grant developed an early familiarity with horses and became a skilled horseman.

When Grant was 17 years old, Representative Thomas L. Hamer of Ohio offered him admission to the military academy at West Point. Hamer, however, wrote his name as “Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio” using the initial of his mother’s maiden name. Grant adopted this name anyway at the academy even though the “S” had no meaning to him. He received the nickname “Sam” because his initials “U. S.” were also Uncle Sam’s. This nickname was given to him by William T. Sherman, a cadet 3 years his senior, along with other cadets. The nickname “United States” also appeared, but it was “Sam” that would remain his nickname for life. Grant’s appointment to West Point was facilitated by his family’s connections, but he later indicated that “a military life had no attraction for” him. He also wrote that he was a poor student but excelled in mathematics and geology. He gained a reputation as an excellent horseman and set a record in show jumping that was not broken until 25 years later. He graduated in 1843 21st out of a class of 39 students. Grant was happy to leave West Point and planned to leave the army at the end of his service. Despite his riding skills, he was not assigned to a cavalry unit because assignments were determined by rank, not ability. Grant became quartermaster in charge of supplies and equipment in the 4th Infantry Regiment with the rank of second lieutenant.

After graduation, Grant was assigned in September 1844 to Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. This was the largest military camp in the West and was commanded by Colonel Stephen W. Kearny. Grant got along well with his commanding officer, but he still planned to leave the army for a career in teaching. He took advantage of his furloughs to visit the family of his former West Point comrade, Frederick Dent, in Missouri and became close to his sister, Julia; they became secretly engaged in 1844.

Tensions between the United States and Mexico over Texas escalated in 1845, and Grant’s unit was redeployed to Louisiana as part of Major General Zachary Taylor’s Army of Observation. When the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846, the U.S. Army invaded Mexico. Dissatisfied with his responsibilities as quartermaster, Grant joined the front line and participated in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. In September 1846, he demonstrated his riding skills at the Battle of Monterrey by carrying a dispatch through the city under enemy fire. The American president James K. Polk, concerned about Taylor’s growing popularity, divided the army and assigned some units, including Grant’s, to a new army commanded by Major General Winfield Scott. This army landed at Veracruz in the spring of 1847 and advanced toward the capital Mexico City. At Chapultepec, Grant deployed a howitzer in a church tower to bombard the Mexican troops. The U.S. army entered Mexico City a few days later in September 1847, and the Mexicans called a truce soon after.

In his memoirs, Grant wrote that he learned a great deal about leadership from observing his superiors and in retrospect identified with Taylor’s style. At the time, however, he considered the war unjust and felt that American territorial gains were intended to extend slavery westward; in 1883 he wrote: “I was vehemently opposed to the scheme, and to this day I regard the war as one of the most unjust ever fought by a powerful nation against a weak one. He also believed that the Civil War was punishment for American aggression against Mexico.

On August 22, 1848, Grant and Julia were married after a four-year engagement. They had four children: Frederick (1850-1912), Ulysses Jr. (“Buck”) (1852-1929), Ellen (“Nellie”) (1855-1922) and Jesse (1858-1934). Grant was assigned to various units over the next six years. His first postwar assignments were in Detroit, Michigan, and Sackets Harbor, New York, an assignment the couple particularly enjoyed. In the spring of 1852, he went to Washington, D.C., to unsuccessfully petition Congress to rescind an executive order requiring him, as quartermaster, to repay $1,000 (about $30,700 in 2012) of lost equipment for which he bore no personal responsibility. He was sent in 1852 to Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Territory at the height of the California Gold Rush. Julia could not accompany him because she was eight months pregnant with their second child. The sea journey to California was complicated by logistical difficulties and a cholera epidemic while crossing the Isthmus of Panama by land. Grant used his organizational skills to set up makeshift clinics.

To supplement his military pay, which was insufficient to support his family, Grant unsuccessfully embarked on several business ventures and was on one occasion defrauded by a partner. The failure of these ventures confirmed Jesse Grant’s opinion that his son had no future in this line of business, and it worsened the relationship between the two men. Grant became increasingly depressed by the financial troubles and separation from his family, and it began to circulate that he had taken to drinking to excess.

In the summer of 1853, Grant was promoted to captain, one of fifty on active duty, and was assigned to command Company F of the 4th Infantry Regiment at Fort Humboldt near Eureka on the California coast. The fort’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Robert C. Buchanan, a strict disciplinarian, was informed that Grant was getting drunk at the officers’ table off duty; to avoid a court-martial, he offered to leave the army. Grant accepted and resigned on July 31, 1854. The War Department noted on its records that “nothing detracts from his honorable name. Nevertheless, rumors continued to circulate about his intemperance. According to his biographer William S. McFeely, historians agree that his alcoholism was a reality at the time even though there was no eyewitness testimony. Years later, Grant wrote that “the vice of intemperance played no small part in. His father, who continued to believe in his military career, tried unsuccessfully to convince Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to rescind his resignation.

At age 32 and without a vocation in civilian life, Grant had several financially difficult years. His father offered him a job in Galena, Illinois, in one of the branches of his tannery business on the condition that Julia and her children stay with her parents in Missouri or with the Grant family in Kentucky. The couple objected to any separation and refused the proposal. In 1854, Grant set up farming on his brother-in-law’s property near St. Louis using Julia’s father’s slaves, but the operation soon failed. Two years later, Grant and his family moved onto his father-in-law’s farm and he built a rustic log cabin nicknamed Hardscrabble, which Julia detested. During this time, he bought a slave, William Jones, age 35, from his wife’s father. Still unsuccessful in farming, the couple left the farm after the birth of their fourth and last child in 1858; Grant freed his slave in 1859 instead of selling him at a time when he could have fetched a good price and was desperate for money. The following year the family bought a small house in St. Louis, and Grant worked unsuccessfully as a tax collector with one of Julia’s cousins. In 1860, Jesse again offered him a job in his Galena branch, but without conditions, and he accepted. The store, called “Grant & Perkins,” sold harness, saddles and other leather goods made from locally purchased hides.

Grant had never really been interested in politics before the Civil War. His father was a Whig abolitionist while his father-in-law was a prominent member of the Democratic Party in Missouri. In 1856 he voted for the Democratic candidate James Buchanan more out of opposition to the Republican candidate, John C. Frémont, than out of any real enthusiasm. In the next election he preferred the Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas over the Republican Abraham Lincoln and the latter over the Democratic candidate in the South, John C. Breckinridge. During the war, he became close to the Radical Republicans and fully embraced their aggressive handling of the conflict and their desire to end slavery.

The Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861 with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Two days later, Lincoln ordered the recruitment of 75,000 volunteers. As the only professional soldier in the area, Grant was asked to preside over a recruitment rally in Galena. He helped recruit a company of volunteers and accompanied them to the capital city of Springfield. Illinois Governor Richard Yates, Sr. offered him a position as a recruiter, which he accepted even though he would have preferred a command position. He unsuccessfully contacted several officers for the job, including Major General George B. McClellan. Meanwhile, Grant continued to serve in training camps and made a strong impression on the recruits. With the support of Representative Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois, he was promoted to colonel by Governor Yates on June 14, 1861 and assigned to the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Transferred to northern Missouri, Grant was appointed brigadier general by Lincoln again with Washburne’s support. At the end of August, Major General John C. Frémont assigned Grant to the Cairo District in southern Illinois. He recovered his energy and confidence at the beginning of the conflict and later recalled with great satisfaction that after the first recruiting rally at Galena, “I never went back to the tannery….” He favored an aggressive strategy to win the war, inflicting massive casualties on the Southern army.

Fort Henry and Fort Donelson

Grant’s troops were first engaged not far from Cairo near the strategic confluence of the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. Major General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate army was stationed at Columbus, Kentucky, and Frémont asked Grant to make a show of force without going on the offensive. When Lincoln dismissed Frémont after he instituted martial law in Missouri, Grant attacked Confederate positions at Fort Belmont with 3,114 men. He captured the fort but was later dislodged and driven back to Cairo by Brigadier General Gideon Pillow’s troops. Although it was a tactical defeat, the battle boosted the morale of Grant and his men. He then asked Major General Henry W. Halleck for permission to attack Fort Henry on the Tennessee River; Halleck agreed on the condition that the offensive be supervised by Admiral Andrew Hull Foote. The close cooperation of the land and naval forces allowed Grant to take Fort Henry on February 6, 1862, which was made easier by the fact that the fort was nearly submerged by the flooding river and its defenders were understaffed. The Northern troops then turned to the nearby fortification of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, where resistance was stronger. Initial assaults by Foote’s ships were repulsed by the guns of the fort, which held 12,000 defenders led by Pillow against 25,000 attackers led by Grant. Surrounded, the Southerners attempted to make a sortie and succeeded in pushing back the Northern right flank, which retreated in disorder to the east. Grant gathered his forces, restored the situation and counterattacked on Pillow’s left flank, who was forced to return to the fort where he handed over command to Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Buckner surrendered the next day and the terms of Grant’s surrender were widely echoed in the North: “No terms other than unconditional and immediate surrender shall be accepted. Grant earned the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” and Abraham Lincoln promoted him to major general.


Grant’s advance toward Fort Henry and Fort Donelson was then the North’s most significant offensive on Confederate territory. His 48,894-strong Army of Tennessee was entrenched on the west bank of the Tennessee River, and with Brigadier General William T. Sherman, Grant prepared to attack the Confederate stronghold of Corinth in Mississippi. The South expected this offensive and struck first by attacking the Northern camp at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. More than 44,000 Confederate troops led by Generals Albert S. Johnston and P. G. T. de Beauregard participated in this assault, whose objective was to annihilate the Northern troops in the region. Taken by surprise, Grant’s troops were gradually pushed back toward the river, and had the Confederate troops not been too exhausted to continue the fight, Grant’s troops would likely have been destroyed. Avoiding a stampede, Grant and Sherman counterattacked the next morning with the units of Major Generals Don Carlos Buell and Lew Wallace that had arrived during the night. Beauregard’s troops managed to escape, but the Army of Tennessee had been saved.

With a total of nearly 24,000 casualties, including 3,500 dead, this became the bloodiest battle of the conflict, with neither side gaining any strategic advantage. Grant later noted that the carnage at Shiloh made him realize that the Confederacy could only be defeated by the complete destruction of its armies. While his leadership during the battle was praised, his lack of defensive preparations was also criticized and Halleck transferred command of the Army of Tennessee to Brigadier General George H. Thomas. Grant was promoted to the powerless position of second-in-command of the armies of the West. He again considered leaving the army but was dissuaded by Sherman. Meanwhile, Halleck’s slow advance toward Corinth, 20 miles in a month, allowed the entire Confederate army to escape. Sent by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Charles A. Dana interviewed Grant and reported to Lincoln and Stanton that Grant seemed to be “holding his nerve and eager to fight. Lincoln then placed Grant back in command of the Army of Tennessee.


Lincoln was determined to take the strategic Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg on the Mississippi and authorized Major General John A. McClernand to raise an army in Illinois. Grant was very disappointed at not receiving orders to advance and even more displeased at what appeared to be an attempt to remove him. According to his biographer William S. McFeely, this frustration was one of the causes of his General Order No. 11 of December 17, 1862, which expelled all Jews from territories under his control because of the black market in cotton. Lincoln demanded that the order be rescinded, which Grant did 21 days later on the grounds that he had merely followed Washington’s instructions. According to another biographer, Jean E. Smith, this was “one of the most flagrant examples of state anti-Semitism in American history. Grant believed that gold, like cotton, was being smuggled across the front lines and that Jews could easily cross over to opposing sides. In 1868 he expressed regret for this order; apart from this incident, his views toward Jews are not known.

In December 1862, Grant advanced toward Vicksburg with Majors-General James B. McPherson and Charles S. McPherson and Charles S. Hamilton and in coordination with a maritime offensive commanded by Sherman. Southern generals Nathan B. Forrest and Earl Van Dorn delayed the Northern advance by harassing its lines of communication, while Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army repelled Sherman’s attack at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou.

For the second attempt to take Vicksburg, Grant made a series of unsuccessful maneuvers along the river. Finally in April 1863, Northern troops advanced to the west bank of the Mississippi and crossed the river with David D. Porter’s ships. This movement was facilitated by diversionary actions that kept Pemberton away. After a series of battles that captured a railroad junction near Jackson, Grant defeated Pemberton at the Battle of Champion Hill. Two assaults on the fortress of Vicksburg, however, resulted in heavy casualties, and the battle turned into a seven-week siege. As the siege began, Grant spent two days drinking. Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863. During this campaign, Grant was concerned about runaway and battle-displaced slaves who were threatened by Southern marauders; he placed them under the protection of Brigadier General John Eaton, who allowed them to work on abandoned Confederate plantations to support the war effort.

The capture of Vicksburg allowed the North to take control of the entire course of the Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in half. Although this success boosted Northern morale and the Union’s strategic position, Grant was criticized for his decisions and for his propensity to drink. Lincoln again sent Dana to keep an eye on the general’s weakness; Dana became a close friend of Grant, who later moderated this tendency. The personal rivalry between Grant and McClernand continued after Vicksburg, but ended when Grant fired him for giving an order without his approval.

Chattanooga and promotion

In October 1863, Lincoln placed Grant in command of the new Mississippi Military Division, which gave him authority over the entire western theater outside of Louisiana. After the Battle of Chickamauga in September, Confederate General Braxton Bragg forced Major General William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland to withdraw to Chattanooga, a major railroad junction, where it was surrounded; only the resistance of George H. Thomas and his XIV Corps prevented the destruction of the Northern army. Informed of the delicate situation at Chattanooga, Grant replaced Rosecrans at the head of Thomas’ encircled army and personally conducted reconnaissance in the area. Lincoln dispatched Major General Joseph Hooker and two divisions of the Army of the Potomac to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland, and these reinforcements enabled Grant and Major General William F. Smith to open a supply line to the encircled city.

On November 23, 1863, Grant assembled three armies to repel Bragg’s forces at Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland took the first Confederate positions at Missionary Ridge, while at Lookout Mountain Hoorket took 1,064 prisoners. The next day, Sherman and four divisions of the Army of Tennessee attacked Bragg’s right flank and he was forced to clear the defenses at Missionary Ridge. Realizing this, Grant ordered a general assault on the weakened positions, and the troops of Major General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier General Thomas John Wood forced the Confederates to fall back in disorder. Although the Southern army managed to escape, the battle exposed Georgia and the heart of the Confederacy to a Northern invasion. Grant’s fame grew and he was promoted to lieutenant general, a rank previously granted only to George Washington and Winfield Scott.

Disappointed by Major General George G. Meade’s inability to pursue Confederate General Robert E. Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, Lincoln appointed Grant Commanding General of the United States Army with authority over all Union armies in March 1864. He relinquished command of the Mississippi Division to Sherman and went to Washington to work out a new strategy with Lincoln. After installing Julia in a house in Georgetown, Grant established his headquarters near the headquarters of Meade’s Army of the Potomac at Culpeper, Virginia. The Northern strategy for achieving a quick victory was a series of coordinated offensives to prevent the Confederates from redeploying their forces to the struggling fronts. Sherman would attack toward Atlanta and Georgia while Meade would lead his army against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler would advance from the southwest toward the Southern capital of Virginia to the James River. At the same time, Major General Franz Sigel, would take the strategic railroad at Lynchburg before advancing east to capture the Shenandoah Valley from the Blue Mountains. Grant’s popularity was growing, and some began to believe that in the event of a quick Union victory, he could run for president in the November election. Grant was aware of this, but he had rejected the idea in exchanges with Lincoln.

From the Wilderness to Appomattox

Sigel and Butler’s advance was quickly blocked and Grant was left alone to face Lee in a series of bloody battles that became known as the Overland Campaign. After spending April 1864 regrouping the Army of the Potomac, Grant crossed the Rapidan River and engaged Lee at the Battle of the Wilderness, which lasted three days with neither side claiming victory. Lee retreated in good order but the Northern commander, unlike his predecessors, was determined to continue his offensive and attacked the Confederate right flank at the Spotsylvania junction on May 8. During the thirteen-day confrontation, Grant attempted to break through the Southern lines and launched what was one of the most violent assaults of the war against the Bloody Angle. Despite his efforts, the South held their positions and he tried again to flank them at the Battle of North Anna. The South, however, had dug in and Grant maneuvered to attack at the Cold Harbor railhead on May 31. During the first days of this battle, which lasted for thirteen days, the Union assaults broke down without effect on the Confederate defenses. The terrible losses, 52,788 in the month following the crossing of the Rapidan, earned Grant the nickname “The Butcher. Lee’s casualties were lower at 32,907, but the South was no longer able to replace them. The costly June 3 assault at Cold Harbor was the second of two confrontations of the war that Grant visibly regretted. Without Lee realizing it, Grant withdrew from Cold Harbor and advanced south to support Butler as he attempted to cross the James River at Bermuda Hundred to attack Petersburg and force Lee to clear his northern flank to protect this railroad junction connecting Richmond to the rest of the Confederacy.

P. G. T. de Beauregard succeeded in preventing the Northerners from taking the city, and the arrival of Lee’s reinforcements turned the battle into a nine-month siege. With the military situation in the eastern theater stalemated, discontent with the war grew in the North. Grant’s actions, however, tied up Southern troops in the area and prevented Lee from effectively opposing Sherman’s campaign in the South. Sherman captured Atlanta on June 22, and this success contributed to Lincoln’s victory in the 1864 presidential election over General George McClellan, who had advocated a truce with the South. To loosen the Northern hold around Petersburg, Lee sent General Jubal Early north along the Shenandoah Valley to attack Washington; after initial successes, he reached Maryland but was repulsed at the Battle of Fort Stevens in July 1864 and withdrew to Virginia. To stop the threat, Sheridan was given command of the Army of the Shenandoah with orders to give “no respite to the enemy. Grant also ordered him to ravage this rich agricultural region of strategic importance to the South, and he pursued a scorched earth policy. When Sheridan reported being harassed by John S. Mosby’s irregular cavalry, Grant recommended taking their families as hostages and imprisoning them at Fort McHenry in Maryland.

Grant attempted to destroy part of the Confederate trenches around Petersburg by blowing up a mine on July 30, but the assault was confused and the South easily repulsed it. The battle resulted in more than 3,500 Union casualties compared to just 1,500 Confederate casualties, and Grant claimed that “it was the saddest affair I ever witnessed in this war. On August 9, 1864, he narrowly escaped death when Confederate spies blew up an ammunition barge near his headquarters at City Point. In an attempt to break the siege stalemate, Grant continued to attack Lee’s defenses southwest of Petersburg to gain control of the railroads supplying the city. On August 21, Northern troops captured the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad and continued on to the South Side Railroad and the City Point Railroad. Once captured, these railroads were transferred to the United States Military Railroad, which deployed its railroad artillery to pound the Confederate positions.

After Sherman completed his March to the Sea by capturing Savannah, Georgia, on December 22, 1864, and Southern attempts to counter that offensive failed at the Battle of Nashville on December 15, the Union victory was no longer in doubt and Lincoln decided to negotiate an end to the conflict with the Confederates. He commissioned Francis P. Blair to deliver a message to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and emissaries from both sides met on February 3 aboard the ship River Queen near Fort Monroe. The conference was unsuccessful, but Grant showed his willingness and ability to take on a diplomatic role beyond his military role.

In March 1865, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and Porter met at City Point headquarters to determine Union strategy in the final days of the war; Petersburg fell on March 25 and Richmond was taken in early April. As his army disintegrated due to desertions, disease and lack of supplies, Lee attempted to rally the remaining Confederate forces under General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina, but Sheridan’s cavalry was able to prevent their meeting. Lee and his army surrendered to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. The terms were honorable because the Southern soldiers were allowed to return home without their weapons, but with their horses, on the condition that they would not fight against the United States again. Fighting continued for some time on other fronts, but the Civil War ended within weeks of Lee’s surrender.

Assassination of Lincoln

On April 14, five days after the victory at Appomattox, Lincoln was mortally wounded by a Confederate sympathizer named John W. Booth and died the next morning. The assassination was part of a plot to eliminate certain Northern leaders. Grant had attended a Cabinet meeting on April 14 and Lincoln had invited him and his wife to accompany him to Ford’s Theater; the couple declined because they intended to go to Philadelphia. This probably saved his life because Booth had planned to shoot the president with his pistol before stabbing the general. Through Dana, Secretary of War Stanton informed Grant of Lincoln’s death and asked him to return immediately to Washington. The next day he immediately ordered the arrest of all Southern paroled officers, but information from Major General Edward Ord reducing the number of suspects caused him to rescind this decision. At the funeral on April 19, Grant wept openly and said of Lincoln that “he was unquestionably the greatest man I ever met. He was more than suspicious of his successor, Andrew Johnson, and told Julia that he feared changes in the administration. He felt that the new president’s attitude toward white southerners “would make them reluctant citizens” and initially felt that with Johnson, “Reconstruction has been delayed for a time that no one can tell.

In late April, Sherman accepted Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender, offering generous terms that he thought were in keeping with Lincoln’s vision at City Point; he had not, however, referred the matter to Washington and had no authority to negotiate on behalf of the United States. The Cabinet refused to honor the terms of the surrender as too lenient, and Stanton publicly expressed his contempt for Sherman; wishing that his principal commander’s mistake would not be too damaging to him, Grant called a Cabinet meeting to discuss the matter and offered to carry the letter disavowing the agreement with Johnston himself. This deft handling saved their friendship, and Sherman agreed to renegotiate the terms of surrender in accordance with what had been decided at Appomattox.

Celebrations and Honors

In May 1865, the Union League of Philadelphia, founded in 1862 to defend Lincoln’s policies, bought a house for Grant and his family in the city, but his military duties were in Washington. He began commuting and returning on weekends, but Julia eventually moved to the capital with him in October. They bought a house in Georgetown Heights, but Grant asked Washburne to have his legal residence remain in Galena, Illinois for political reasons. During the summer of 1865, he attended receptions in Illinois and Ohio where he was enthusiastically received. On July 25, 1866, Congress promoted him to the newly created rank of General of the Army, the highest rank in the U.S. Army outside of General of the Armies, which was granted only to John J. Pershing in 1919 and posthumously to George Washington in 1976.

Grant was one of the most popular men in the country, and Johnson, then in open conflict with the Radical Republican-dominated Congress, sought to recapture that popularity by asking him to accompany him on his trips. Wishing to appear loyal, the general agreed, but he confided to his wife that the president’s speeches were a “national disgrace”; he also sought not to alienate the Republican legislators whose support he would need if he entered politics. Johnson suspected that Grant would want to run for president in 1868 and decided to appoint him as Secretary of War instead of Stanton. Grant traded this opportunity with Sherman, who advised him to refuse to join the administration of the weakened president.


After his series of speeches, Johnson sent Grant to investigate reforms in the South. He recommended the continuation of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands to help freed slaves, which Johnson wanted to abolish, and encouraged the recruitment of black soldiers to provide them with an alternative to farm work. Grant believed that the people of the war-torn South were not ready to take charge of their own lives and considered continued military occupation necessary. He was concerned about the threat posed by the disaffected poor, black and white, and recommended that local government be carried out solely by “thinking Southerners,” that is, by landowners. In this, Grant’s initial views on Reconstruction were close to Johnson’s, who wanted to pardon the Southern leaders and reinstate them to their official positions. He also indicated that he, like the president, wanted Southern legislators to be allowed to serve in Congress.

Strongly opposed to this vision of rapid reconciliation with the South, the Radical Republicans pushed through the Reconstruction Acts, which divided the southern states into five military districts where the army was to enforce and respect the civil rights of freed slaves. Grant, who was to appoint generals to head each district, was pleased with this legislation and believed it would help pacify the region. He carefully enforced these laws and ordered his generals to do the same; when Sheridan dismissed Louisiana officials who opposed Reconstruction, Johnson was particularly angered and got them fired. During the Reconstruction period, more than 1,500 African Americans were elected to government office as Grant and the military governors protected their rights by repealing the first black codes in 1867.

Mexico and Canada

As army commander, Grant had to deal with the issue of French intervention in Mexico led by the French emperor Napoleon III to establish a regime favorable to French interests in Latin America. Taking advantage of the fact that the Americans were occupied with the Civil War, the French army seized Mexico City in 1862 and established a Mexican empire with Maximilian I at its head. The U.S. government considered this a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, and Johnson asked Grant to pressure Paris by deploying 50,000 men under Sheridan to the Texas border. Sheridan was ordered to do everything possible to obtain the abdication of Maximilian I and the departure of the French while maintaining American neutrality. He offered 60,000 rifles to Benito Juárez, the former Mexican leader overthrown by the French. At a cabinet meeting, Johnson suggested that Grant be sent to the Mexican border as an attempt to remove him from the national political scene, and Grant, not to be fooled, refused. In compromise, he sent Sherman, now a lieutenant general, in his place. The French army had completely withdrawn by 1866 and Maximilian I was executed by Juárez in 1867.

Grant was also confronted with the issue of Fenian raids by Irish-Americans who wanted to take over British Canada in order to gain Irish independence. In June 1866, Johnson sent Grant to Buffalo to assess the situation. He ordered the Canadian border closed to prevent Fenian soldiers from crossing at Fort Erie and arrested over 700 men after the Battle of Ridgeway.

Impeachment of Johnson

Johnson had for some time wanted to replace Secretary of War Stanton, who favored the Reconstruction Congress wanted. The President offered the job to Grant to keep a possible rival in check, but he replied in the negative, citing the Tenure of Office Act, which required Congressional approval for any change in Johnson’s Cabinet. Johnson overrode this and dismissed Stanton while Congress was not in session as allowed by the act; Grant reluctantly agreed to become temporary Secretary of War.

When Congress reconvened, it reinstated Stanton, but Johnson asked Grant to refuse to give up his position until the matter was decided by the courts. Stanton resigned immediately, however, and was scolded by Johnson at a cabinet meeting for violating his promise not to do so; Grant denied that he had ever promised anything of the sort. The president was actually more upset that Grant had joined the radical camp. On January 14, 1868, newspapers sympathetic to Johnson published a series of articles discrediting the general and criticizing his treachery in returning his post to Stanton. Grant defended himself in an open letter to the president, and the controversy instead enhanced his popularity. He stayed out of the impeachment proceedings against Johnson, many of whose charges revolved around Stanton’s removal.

When he entered the presidential race in 1868, Grant’s already excellent popularity was enhanced among Radical Republicans by his abandonment of Johnson. He was chosen unopposed on the first ballot by the Republican convention, which also nominated Indiana Representative Schuyler Colfax, a former Whig and temperance advocate, to run for the vice presidency. Grant concluded his acceptance letter to the party with “Let us have peace,” and this phrase became the Republican campaign slogan. The Democratic convention was more competitive; Johnson failed to win, and New York Governor Horatio Seymour was chosen on the 22nd ballot even though he had previously indicated that he did not wish to run. As was the norm at the time, candidates did not campaign personally, and Grant did not deviate from this rule, staying in Galena and leaving the speeches to his supporters.

The Democratic campaign focused on their desire to end Reconstruction, but they alienated many Northern Democrats by wanting to return power in the South to the white planter class. They criticized Republican support for African American rights. For their part, Republicans focused their campaign on the bloody shirt, the idea that returning Democrats to the White House would undo the war victory and reward secessionists. They also attacked Seymour’s running mate, former Missouri Representative Francis P. Blair, for making particularly racist and outrageous statements about Grant, and emphasized that their party had kept the nation together.

On Election Day, Grant won 52.7 percent of the vote and a large lead of 214 electors to Seymour’s 80. When he became president, Grant had never held elective office and was, at 46, the youngest president in history.

Grant’s presidency began with a break with tradition because he did not want Johnson to accompany him in the carriage to his inauguration at the Capitol; the former president decided not to attend the ceremony. In his speech, Grant defended the adoption of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing civil rights for African Americans and declared that he would conduct Reconstruction “with calmness, without prejudice, hatred or partisan pride. The new president formed his Cabinet in an unorthodox manner without consulting Congress and keeping his choices secret until they were submitted to the Senate for approval. Grant purposely avoided selecting key Republican Party leaders in an attempt to limit partisan bickering and strengthen national unity. Out of friendship, he appointed his friends Elihu B. Washburne and John A. Rawlins to the State and War Departments respectively. Washburne resigned after 12 days for health reasons, but some have suggested that this was a maneuver to give more weight to his appointment as ambassador to France. Grant replaced him with the conservative New York politician Hamilton Fish, who became one of his most effective ministers. The relationship between the two men developed because of the close friendship between their wives. Rawlins died in 1869 of tuberculosis and was replaced by William W. Belknap. Grant also chose several non-political specialists such as businessmen Adolph E. Borie and A. T. Stewart with limited success; Borie served briefly as secretary of the Navy before being replaced by George M. Robeson, while Stewart’s appointment to the Treasury was prevented by a 1789 law that prohibited the secretary of the Treasury from being a practicing merchant. Grant tried to have the law repealed, but opposition from Senators Charles Sumner and Roscoe Conkling prevented him from doing so; the office was then given to George S. Boutwell, who had a reputation for integrity. Boutwell, who had a reputation for integrity. Grant’s other appointments, Jacob D. Cox to the Interior, John Creswell to the Post Office, and Ebenezer R. Hoar as attorney general, were unopposed. To escape Washington, D.C., and at the invitation of wealthy supporters, the Grant family first traveled in 1869 to what became known as the “summer capital” of Long Branch, New Jersey; Grant returned frequently for the rest of his life. During his presidency, Colorado became the 38th state of the United States on August 1, 1876. According to New Left Marxist scholars and journalists Frank Browning and John Gerassi, both of Grant’s administrations were among the most corrupt in American history. Ulysses Grant himself was given a fully furnished home in Philadelphia, a library worth $75,000, and $100,000 in cash by a group of businessmen.

Reconstruction and civil rights

Southern Reconstruction continued under Grant’s presidency, and the last four former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union in 1870. He encouraged Radical Republicans in Congress to pass the 15th Amendment guaranteeing civil rights to all citizens regardless of skin color, and it was passed on February 26, 1869, and ratified the following year. In 1870, Representative Thomas Jenckes of Rhodes Island proposed the creation of the Department of Justice to enforce federal laws even if local judges were reluctant to do so, as was the case in the South. Whereas the Attorney General had previously been a mere legal adviser to the President, he now controlled a department responsible for enforcing federal laws and was assisted by the Attorney General who represented the government before the Supreme Court. The first attorney general, Ebenezer R. Hoar, did little to prosecute white southerners who persecuted their black neighbors, but his successor, Amos T. Akerman, was much more aggressive. Akerman, was far more aggressive. Faced with increasing attacks on blacks and carpetbaggers by the Ku Klux Klan and others, Grant pushed Congress to pass the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871. These laws criminalized the disenfranchisement of citizens and authorized the president to use the army and militia to enforce the laws. In May 1871 Grant ordered federal troops to assist marshals in arresting Klan members. In October he suspended Habeas Corpus in nine South Carolina counties and deployed the army to restore order. The Klan’s influence collapsed, and in 1872, elections in the South saw a record turnout of African-Americans.

That same year, Grant signed the Amnesty Act, which restored civil rights to former Confederates. The succession of scandals in the presidential administration distracted public attention from African American difficulties, and after the collapse of the Klan in 1872, conservative whites formed paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts or the White League. Unlike the Klan, they did not act anonymously but adopted its methods of intimidation to oust Republicans and their supporters from Southern governments. Grant replaced Akerman with George H. Williams, but the latter was later implicated in a corruption case. The panic of 1873 and the ensuing economic crisis made the North less concerned with Southern Reconstruction, while Grant reduced his use of force to avoid the impression that he was acting as a military dictator. By 1875, Democratic redeemers had returned to power in all but three Southern states. As racial violence escalated, newly appointed Attorney General Edwards Pierrepont told Mississippi Governor Adelbert Ames that the people “were weary of autumnal outbursts in the South” and he refused to intervene. That same year, Grant signed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which prohibited segregation in public transportation, public places, and jury service. The act was poorly enforced and did not prevent the takeover of the South by white supremacists. Fraud in the 1876 presidential election and the controversial victory of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes led to the Compromise of 1877, in which the Democrats conceded defeat in exchange for the departure of federal troops from the South. All Southern legislatures switched to the Democratic side and the passage of the first Jim Crow laws marked the end of Reconstruction.

Indian politics

Grant’s benevolent attitude toward the Native Americans marked a radical departure from the policies of his predecessors. He appointed Ely S. Parker, a Seneca and former member of his staff, to the office of Indian Affairs and declared, “My future efforts will be conducted in a humane manner, to bring the aborigines of the country under the beneficent influences of education and civilization…Wars of extermination…are demoralizing and evil.” Grant’s “peace policy” was to replace the businessmen who served as intermediaries between the tribes and the government with missionaries. He wanted the tribes to be grouped together for their protection on Indian reservations supervised by whites so that they would give up their traditional nomadic way of life and assimilate into American society. In 1869, he created a committee to oversee spending and reduce corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and two years later he approved legislation ending the treaty system: Native Americans were now subject to the laws of the federal government, and the tribes were no longer considered sovereign entities. Although not very popular today, the “peace policy” was considered very progressive for its time and was concluded in the Dawes Act of 1887. It reduced confrontations on the frontier, but the industrialization of buffalo hunting, encouraged by local administrators, worsened relations with the Plains Indians. The Sioux and other western tribes accepted the reservation system, but the gold rush in the Black Hills and the settlement of white settlers in the area provoked a war at the end of Grant’s second term. The conflict ended the good understanding between Grant and the Red Cloud Sioux chief.

In the Southwest, the massacre of about 140 Apaches at Camp Grant, Arizona, on April 30, 1871, provoked a war led on the American side by Major General George Crook. Grant sent Major General Oliver O. Howard, former director of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, to the area to try to restore order. In 1872, Howard negotiated a peace treaty with Chief Cochise to move the tribe to a new reservation. In Oregon, the Modocs refused to join a reservation and murdered the local commander, Major General Edward Canby. Although Grant was angered by the death, he ignored Sherman’s advice to exterminate the tribe and urged local officials to show restraint. Four warriors were captured, sentenced to death for Canby’s murder, and hanged in October 1873. The rest of the tribe was deported to what is now Oklahoma Indian Territory.

In 1875, Grant clashed with Colonel George A. Custer after Custer testified about corruption in the War Department under William W. Belknap. Belknap’s War Department. The president had him arrested in Chicago and forbade him to participate in the coming war against the Sioux. Grant relented and let him fight in Brigadier General Alfred Terry’s army; he was killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, in one of the most important American defeats of the Indian Wars. In September, Grant told the press that he considered the battle “a sacrifice of soldiers, brought about by Custer himself, which was profoundly unnecessary.” The disaster at Little Bighorn shocked the nation, and the policy of peace gave way to militarism; Congress approved 2,500 troops as reinforcements, the army took control of tribal agencies, and the sale of arms to Native Americans was banned.

Foreign Affairs

Even before Grant became president, the expansionist faction was demanding the acquisition of islands in the Caribbean. In 1867, William H. Seward, who had been secretary of state under Lincoln and Johnson, had purchased Alaska from Russia. He also negotiated to obtain the Danish West Indies, but the agreement was never ratified by the Senate; the archipelago finally became American in 1917 under the name Virgin Islands. Discussions about annexing the Dominican Republic to the island of Hispaniola were initiated by Seward and pursued by Grant through Orville E. Babcock, a former member of his Civil War staff. The president was initially skeptical about the acquisition but was persuaded by Admiral Porter, who wanted a naval base in Samaná Bay, and by Joseph W. Fabens, a New England businessman employed by the Dominican government. He sent Babcock to meet with President Buenaventura Báez who favored annexation in December 1869. Grant believed in the peaceful expansion of the U.S. territory and hoped that the predominantly black island would provide opportunities for freed slaves. He believed the acquisition would reduce racial tensions in the South, speed the abolition of slavery in Cuba and Brazil, and strengthen U.S. naval power in the Caribbean. His secretary of state, Hamilton Fish, however, thought it would not be a good idea because of the political instability on the island. Senator Charles Sumner also opposed it because it would reduce the number of self-governing black nations in the Western Hemisphere, while others did not want to increase the black population of the United States. Grant became personally involved in convincing reluctant senators and even visited Sumner’s residence. Fish joined in these efforts out of loyalty, but the Senate rejected the annexation treaty. Sumner’s role in this opposition led to a lasting enmity between him and Grant.

Grant and Fish were more successful in resolving Alabama’s claims with the United Kingdom. During the Civil War, Britain had built five ships for the Confederacy, the most famous of which was the CSS Alabama. These privateers destroyed many northern trading ships while making regular stops in British Empire territories, despite the country’s official neutrality. At the end of the war, the United States demanded compensation but the United Kingdom refused to pay and negotiations continued in vain for several years. In the Senate, Sumner demanded payment of a colossal $2 billion (about $4 trillion in 2012 dollars) or the surrender of Canada, and this speech caused a scandal in Britain. Fish convinced Grant that peaceful relations with the United Kingdom were more important than the acquisition of new territory, and the two nations agreed that the matter should be resolved by an international tribunal. In the Washington Treaty of 1871, the United Kingdom apologized for the destruction, without admitting guilt, and agreed to pay $15.5 million (the treaty also settled disputes over the U.S.-Canada border and fishing rights).

Seeking new trade opportunities and to clear up the schooner General Sherman incident of 1866, an American flotilla went to the Korean peninsula in 1871. Misinterpreting American intentions, the Koreans opened fire on the ships and the diplomatic expedition turned into a punitive one. After capturing several forts on the islands of the Han River estuary, the flotilla headed for China without having succeeded in getting the Joseon Dynasty to open up. Grant defended the actions of Rear Admiral John Rogers during his State of the Union address to Congress in December 1871. Korea remained closed to foreign influence until 1876 and the Ganghwa Incident with Japan; six years later, an unequal treaty was signed with the United States.

Grant’s attention turned again to the Caribbean in 1873 when the merchant ship Virginius carrying arms and men bound for Cuba, then in revolt for independence from Spain, was boarded by Spanish ships. The crew and passengers, including eight Americans, were convicted of piracy by the Spanish authorities and sentenced to death. 53 of them were executed, and American public opinion demanded a declaration of war against Spain. Fish, with Grant’s support, succeeded in negotiating a peaceful outcome to the crisis. Spanish President Emilio Castelar y Ripoll expressed regret for the executions and agreed to pay reparations; the Virginius was returned to the United States and Spain paid $80,000 (about $152 million in 2012 dollars) to the families of the executed Americans. U.S. diplomacy was also at work in the Pacific, and in December 1874 Grant hosted a White House reception for Hawaiian King Kalakaua, who sought to have U.S. tariffs removed on sugar produced in the islands. A trade treaty was signed the following year and the Hawaiian sugar industry was integrated into the U.S. economy; U.S. interests later played an important role in the overthrow of the monarchy and the annexation of the territory by the United States in 1898.

Gold standard and Fisk-Gould scandal

Immediately after taking office, Grant set about putting the nation’s finances in order. During the Civil War, Congress had authorized the Treasury to issue bills, which unlike other money, were not backed by gold or silver. These greenbacks were necessary to finance the war effort, but they caused inflation and the new president was determined to return to pre-war monetary standards and thus to the gold standard. This vision was widely shared in Congress, and the latter passed the Public Credit Act of 1869, which guaranteed that bonds would be repaid in gold and not with greenbacks. Grant appointed Secretary of the Treasury George S. Boutwell to streamline his department and make it more efficient. Boutwell to streamline his department and improve tax collection. To strengthen the dollar, he used Treasury gold to buy back the high-interest bonds issued during the conflict; this reduced the deficit and debt but led to deflation.

These actions destabilized the small U.S. gold market, whose prices fluctuated widely, and speculators tried to anticipate how much gold Boutwell would sell to buy back the greenbacks. Abel Corbin, Grant’s brother-in-law, tried to use his connections with the president to obtain information for himself and his associates, Jay Gould, a railroad magnate, and James Fisk. Corbin convinced Grant to appoint Daniel Butterfield as his assistant treasurer, and he soon became his informant. Meanwhile, Gould and Fisk quietly accumulated gold and convinced Corbin that a high price would be good for the economy, especially for western farmers, who in turn passed this theory on to Grant. In early September the president asked Boutwell to stop buying back greenbacks, and gold prices rose, allowing Fisk and Gould to sell their stock at maximum profit and to continue speculating on the price. Grant, however, became increasingly suspicious of Corbin and realized that the price rise was unnatural and was affecting the economy. He asked Boutwell to resume gold sales, which he did on September 22. This sudden influx on what became known as Black Friday caused prices to plummet and speculators were ruined. Gould and Fisk’s corner scheme had failed, but they still made a lot of money and were never tried; Gould remained an influential Wall Street player until his death in 1892. The economy was somewhat disrupted by the scandal, but growth quickly returned.


Grant’s reputation was damaged by the many scandals involving members of his administration. In addition to the manipulation of gold prices, the corruption of the New York Harbor customs office weakened reformers’ support for the government. Grant was not implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandal involving the payment of bribes to members of Congress by the Union Pacific Railroad, but it tainted Vice President Colfax and contributed to the widespread feeling of corruption in Washington. To satisfy the progressives, the president encouraged Congress to create the Civil Service Commission in 1871 to propose reforms to the administration. Chaired by George William Curtis, the commission proposed, among other things, the establishment of competitive examinations for civil servants. Grant favoured these measures, but Congress was not very enthusiastic and refused to pass legislation to implement the proposed reforms; civil service appointments continued to be made on a spoils system.

Because of the scandals and lack of reform, some Republicans left the party to form the Liberal Republican Party. Led by former Massachusetts Representative Charles F. Adams and Senator Carl Schurz of Missouri, they denounced the administration’s system of corruption and cronyism, which they called “Grantism,” and called for amnesty for former confederates as a means of reconciling the North and South. They ran their own presidential candidate, New York Tribune publisher Horace Greeley. At the Republican convention, Grant was unanimously chosen to run for a second term, while Schuyler Colfax, plagued by scandal, was replaced by Henry Wilson for the vice presidency. In order not to split the anti-Grant vote, the Democrats quickly rallied behind Greeley even though he had been one of their fiercest opponents. This merger was insufficient, and Grant improved on his 1868 score by winning 55.6 per cent of the vote and 286 of the 352 electors. The liberal Republicans had little influence, and Greeley led only in areas that the Democrats would have won anyway.

Panic of 1873 and economic crisis

In early 1873, Grant signed the Coinage Act, which put an end to bimetallism, although silver supporters remained influential, especially in the Democratic Party, until the end of the 19th century. Grant’s second term was marked by a deep economic slump. In September 1873, businessman Jay Cooke’s investment bank Jay Cooke & Co. failed to sell shares in the Northern Pacific Railway, and went bankrupt. This bankruptcy caused a panic that affected many companies. On September 20, the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading for ten days. With little experience in finance, Grant went to New York to consult with the nation’s leading bankers and businessmen. The president believed that, as with the collapse of the gold price in 1869, the panic was only a temporary market fluctuation that would affect only the brokers and bankers. He responded cautiously, and Treasury Secretary William Adams Richardson issued about $70 million (about $130 billion in 2012 dollars) in bonds to inject money into the system. This ended the panic, but what became known as the Great Depression continued until the end of the decade.

After the panic, Congress debated an inflationary policy to stimulate the economy and passed legislation to that effect on April 14, 1874. Farmers and laborers favored the legislation, which would put $64 million (about $120 billion in 2012 dollars) in greenbacks into circulation, but the East Coast bankers were opposed. To everyone’s surprise, Grant vetoed the bill, arguing that it would wipe out the nation’s savings. This decision won him the support of the conservative faction of the Republican Party and marked the beginning of the party’s support for a strong dollar backed by gold. The president subsequently pressured Congress to strengthen the dollar by gradually reducing the number of greenbacks in circulation. The congressional elections of 1874 were disastrous for the Republicans, who lost control of the House of Representatives; the lame duck Congress passed legislation to that effect and Grant signed the Specie Payment Resumption Act on January 14, 1875.


Grant was president during the Gilded Age, a time when the economy was open to speculation and westward expansion generated widespread corruption in the administration. Scandals such as the Credit Mobilier affair affected all levels of the federal government; the Interior and Treasury Departments were particularly affected by these affairs, which led to numerous conflicts between reformers and corrupt politicians. Although personally honest, Grant had difficulty discerning the faults of his associates. His son Ulysses Jr. said that his father was “unable to believe that his friends could be dishonest. His sense of loyalty, derived from his military background, made him protect his subordinates from what he considered unfair attacks at the expense of his reputation, unless the evidence was overwhelming.

During Grant’s second term, the corruption of the Treasury Department was exposed in the Sanborn Affair, named after John D. Sanborn, a friend of Massachusetts Representative and former general Benjamin Butler, who was hired to collect unpaid taxes in exchange for half the money. While this Internal Revenue Service practice called moiety was not illegal, 50 per cent was an exorbitant percentage, and Treasury inspectors were instructed not to intervene in disputed cases so that Sanborn could “find out” about them and increase his earnings; he obtained nearly $213,000 (about $4.1 million in 2012 dollars) and shared nearly $156,000 with his associates. When the scandal was revealed, Sanborn refused to give the names of his partners, and while Butler and Treasury Secretary Richardson were suspected of having received money, there was no evidence to support these accusations. Grant replaced Richardson in 1874 with the reformer Benjamin Bristow, and to avoid further cases, the practice of moiety was abolished that same year.

Immediately after his appointment, Bristow launched a series of reforms and uncovered what came to be known as the Whiskey Ring; since the Lincoln administration, Midwestern distilleries had been bribing officials to avoid paying taxes and nearly $2 million (about $43 million in 2012 dollars) was slipping through the cracks each year. With Grant’s support, who demanded that “no one guilty get away,” Bristow took strong action to shut down the corrupt distilleries and arrest key members of the organization. Of the 238 accused, 110 were convicted and millions of dollars were recovered. When it was revealed that Babcock was involved in the scandal, Grant nevertheless tried to protect him from what he considered a witch hunt. Grant refused to grant immunity to the minor participants in the Whiskey Ring, but this complicated the work of the prosecution, led by John B. Henderson and others, because their testimony was needed to identify all the players. This, and Grant’s testimony on Babcock’s behalf at his trial, led some to suggest that the president was trying to protect his supporters, as many Republicans were implicated in the scandal. Under popular pressure, he removed Babcock from the White House after his acquittal in 1876. Several convicts were later pardoned by Grant.

Scandals in the administration mounted as Congress launched several corruption investigations, the most notable of which was the one into the western trading posts. Located in military camps, they served as trading posts with the Native Americans, and Secretary of War William W. Belknap was accused of selling these grants in return for money. Belknap was accused of selling these concessions in exchange for a share of the profits. He resigned on March 2, 1876, but the House of Representatives decided to impeach him anyway; he was not tried by the Senate, however, which felt that it was no longer within its jurisdiction because he had left office. Congress also investigated Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson after he received bribes from shipbuilders, but there were no impeachment proceedings.

The civil service reform initiative had some success and the administration introduced a merit-based appointment system to limit patronage. Congress refused to pass legislation to make the reforms permanent, however, and Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano obtained an exemption for his department from competitive examinations. Delano was later forced to resign after fraudulently granting land and getting his son to do mapping studies for which he was unqualified; the new secretary, Zachariah Chandler, moved quickly to reform the department. Grant appointed reformers Edwards Pierrepont and Marshall Jewell as attorney general and postmaster general respectively; in 1875 the former rooted out corruption among marshals and prosecutors in the South. Grant also suggested other reforms such as free education for all students and the Blaine Amendment, which would have prevented government aid to religious educational institutions.

Judicial Appointments

Grant appointed four justices to the Supreme Court. In 1869, Associate Justice Robert C. Grier retired and Congress added a ninth seat to the Court. Grant nominated former Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Attorney General Ebenezer R. Hoar, but neither took office. Stanton’s choice was approved, but he died before being sworn in, while Hoar was disliked by the Senate and his nomination was rejected. After a Cabinet meeting, Grant submitted two new names: William Strong and Joseph P. Bradley. The former was a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice who had retired to become a lawyer, while the latter was also a lawyer but in New Jersey. Both nominations were easily approved.

After Grant’s re-election, another vacancy occurred with the retirement of Associate Justice Samuel Nelson. Grant nominated Ward Hunt (en), the chief justice of the New York Court of Appeals, whose appointment was approved in 1873. When Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase died in May 1873, Grant offered the office to Senator Conkling, who declined, as did his colleague from Wisconsin, Timothy O. Howe. The president turned unsuccessfully to Hamilton Fish and considered former Massachusetts representative Caleb Cushing before submitting the name of Attorney General George H. Williams. The Senate, however, had a low opinion of his time in the Justice Department and refused to consider him; Grant maintained his choice, but Williams asked that his name be withdrawn in January 1874. Fish suggested that Hoar be renominated, but Grant decided to nominate Cushing. Cushing was a prominent and respected jurist in his field, but the revelation of his correspondence with Jefferson Davis during the Civil War doomed his nomination. The president turned to Morrison Waite, a respectable but little-known Ohio jurist who had worked on the Alabama claims case. The Senate unanimously approved the choice on January 21, 1874, and under his leadership the Court issued two decisions (United States v. Cruikshank and United States v. Reese) that struck down several laws passed during Reconstruction to protect the rights of African Americans.

In addition to these Supreme Court appointments, Grant appointed ten circuit court judges and 32 federal district court judges. With a total of 46 appointments, he was the first president to appoint more judges than George Washington.

Election of 1876

In 1876, the accumulation of scandals and the electoral success of the Democrats caused many Republicans to distance themselves from Grant. Some feared that he would seek a third term, and many wanted to end “Grantism. Grant, however, did not seek the Republican nomination, and as Representative James G. Blaine of Maine failed to win the nomination, he was forced to seek a second term. Blaine of Maine failed to win, the convention turned to Governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio; the Democrats chose Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York. The election was marred by widespread fraud in several Southern states, and the failure to break the tie led to a constitutional crisis. Grant asked Congress to settle the matter through legislation without blaming either party. He mobilized the army in Louisiana and South Carolina, but assured them that this was only to maintain order and not to press for an outcome. He approved the formation of an election commission to determine the winner of the election, but the commission was unable to decide because neither party agreed to its composition. As inauguration day approached and to prevent the situation from escalating, the leaders of both sides signed the Compromise of 1877. Hayes was proclaimed president and in exchange he withdrew the last remaining federal troops from the southern states. The Republicans had won, but Reconstruction was over.

Around the world

After leaving the White House, Grant and his family stayed with friends in New York, Ohio and Philadelphia for two months before embarking on a world tour. The two-year trip began in Liverpool, England, in May 1877, where large crowds greeted the former president and his entourage. The couple dined with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and Grant gave several speeches in London. They then traveled to Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland before returning to the United Kingdom, where they spent a few months with their daughter Nellie, who had married a British man and moved to Britain a few years earlier. Grant and his wife visited France and Italy and spent Christmas 1877 aboard the sloop USS Vandalia moored in the port of Palermo. After a winter stay in the Holy Land, they visited Greece before returning to Italy for a meeting with Pope Leo XIII. Following a trip to Spain, they traveled again to Germany; Grant met with German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and the two men exchanged views on military matters.

After another visit to England and Ireland, the couple left Europe and crossed the Suez Canal to British India. They visited Bombay, Lucknow, Benares and Delhi, where they were welcomed each time by representatives of the colonial administration. After India, they traveled to Burma, Siam where Grant met King Rama V, Singapore and Vietnam. In Hong Kong, Grant began to change his mind about colonialism, believing that British rule was not “purely selfish” but also beneficial to local subjects. The couple then entered China for real and visited Canton, Shanghai, and Peking. Grant declined a meeting with the Emperor Guangxu, then only seven years old, but exchanged views with the regent, Prince Gong (en), and General Li Hongzhang. In Japan, Grant met the Meiji Emperor, but the couple became homesick.

They crossed the Pacific and arrived in San Francisco in September 1879. After a visit to Yellowstone Park, they finally returned to Philadelphia on December 16, 1879. The trip had captured the public’s imagination, particularly through John R. Young’s articles in the New York Herald. Republicans, and especially the stalwarts excluded from the Hayes administration because of their opposition to civil service reforms, saw Grant in a new light. Because Hayes had warned that he wished to serve only one term, the Republican nomination for the 1880 presidential election was open, and many felt that Grant was a serious candidate.

Election of 1880

The Stalwarts, led by Grant’s old political ally Roscoe Conkling, saw the former president’s newfound popularity as a way for their faction to return to power. Their opponents denounced the violation of the two-term rule that had been the norm since George Washington; Grant made no public statement but encouraged his supporters privately. Elihu B. Washburne urged him to run, but he remained evasive and said he would be delighted if a Republican won even though he preferred James G. Blaine to John Sherman. Blaine over John Sherman. Conkling and John A. Logan nevertheless began gathering delegates for Grant, and by the start of the Republican convention in Chicago in June, Grant had more support than any other candidate even though he did not have a majority.

Conkling introduced Grant’s candidacy with a rousing speech, the most famous passage of which is: “When asked what state he came from, our only answer is: he came from Appomattox. The first round of voting saw Grant garner 304 votes to Blaine’s 284, Sherman’s 93, and other candidates’ 74; 370 votes were needed to secure the nomination, but subsequent rounds produced much the same results. To break the deadlock, Blaine’s delegates and the other contenders turned to a compromise candidate, Ohio Representative and Senator-elect James A. Garfield, who was chosen on the 36th ballot.

Grant made several speeches for Garfield but refused to criticize the Democratic candidate, Winfield S. Hancock, a general who had served under him in the Army of the Potomac. On Election Day, Garfield narrowly won the popular vote but had a comfortable lead in the Electoral College. Grant publicly supported the new president and asked him to include stalwarts in his administration.

Commercial adventures

Although successful, Grant’s world tour was also ruinous, and by the time he returned to the United States, he had spent most of his savings. Two of his wealthy friends, George W. Childs and Anthony J. Drexel, bought him a home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Grant worked with Jay Gould and former Mexican Secretary of Finance Matías Romero on behalf of the Mexican Southern Railroad, which planned to build a railroad from Oaxaca to Mexico City. He also used his influence to convince the new president Chester A. Arthur, who had succeeded Garfield after his assassination in 1881, to sign a free trade agreement with Mexico. Arthur and the Mexican government were in favour, but the U.S. Senate rejected the text in 1883.

At the same time, Grant’s son, Ulysses Jr., had established a merchant bank with Ferdinand Ward. Ward was considered a financial genius, and the company, Grant & Ward, quickly became successful. The former president joined the company in 1883 and personally invested $100,000 (about $2.3 million in 2012 dollars). The firm’s success attracted investors who bought collateral and then used it as collateral to borrow money and acquire new collateral. Grant & Ward then mortgaged the money as collateral to create new collateral, which was illegal. If the sales were profitable, there was no problem; if not, several loans would have to be repaid with the same collateral. Historians believe that Grant was unaware of Ward’s questionable practices, but his son’s ignorance is less certain. By May 1884, the company was in dire straits and Ward realized that it would soon go bankrupt. He informed Grant of the difficulties but suggested that it was only a temporary setback. Grant approached businessman William H. Vanderbilt, who agreed to give him a loan of $150,000. But the money was not enough to keep the bank from going under. Completely broke but driven by a sense of honor, Grant nevertheless repaid his creditor with his Civil War memorabilia; even though it was worth less than the loan, Vanderbilt insisted that the debt was settled.

Memories and death

Grant had given up his military pension when he became president, but Congress reappointed him as a general in the army with full retirement in March 1885. Around the same time, he learned that he was suffering from throat cancer. To restore his family’s finances, he wrote several articles for $500 each (about $12,300 in 2012) about his Civil War campaigns in Century Magazine. The reviews were favorable, and publisher Robert U. Johnson, suggested that he write his memoirs, which former generals, including Sherman, had successfully done.

Grant took on the task and asked his former staff officer, Adam Badeau, to check his writings. His son Frederick helped him with research and proofreading. Century Magazine made him an offer with a 10% royalty, but his friend Mark Twain presented him with another proposal in which he would receive 75% of the profits; Grant quickly signed with Twain’s Charles L. Webster & Co. publishing company. He worked frantically on his memoirs at his New York home and then at a country house near Wilton in the Adirondack Mountains, completing them shortly before his death on July 23, 1885. The book, entitled Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant was a great success and the two volumes sold several hundred thousand copies; Julia Grant received about $450,000 (about $11.7 million in 2012 dollars). Grant was a skillful and effective writer who portrayed himself as an honorable Western hero whose strengths were honesty and candor. The autobiography had an unusual structure in that his youth and presidency were only skimmed over, unlike his military career. The style, concise and clear, was also the opposite of the Victorian tendency for elaborate language. The public, literary critics, and military historians praised the book, which Twain called a “literary masterpiece” and compared to Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War. After reviewing favorable reviews by Matthew Arnold and Edmund Wilson, writer Mark Perry called the memoir “the most important work” of American nonfiction.

Retired to a place now called Grant Cottage, the former president died on July 23, 1885 at the age of 63. Sheridan, who had become Commanding General of the Army, ordered a day of tribute in his honor at all military camps and President Grover Cleveland declared thirty days of mourning. After a private ceremony, his remains were taken by train to West Point and then to New York City, where nearly 250,000 people marched in front of his coffin for two days before his burial. Tens of thousands of “veterans” accompanied the funeral procession to Riverside Park. Among the pallbearers were Union generals Sherman and Sheridan, Confederate generals Buckner and Johnston, and Admiral Porter. Grant’s remains were interred in a temporary tomb and then in a sarcophagus in the atrium of the General Grant National Memorial, completed in 1897; at 50 meters high, it is the largest mausoleum in North America. Nearly 1.5 million people attended the transfer, and ceremonies were also held in major cities across the country, while press eulogies compared him to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Few presidents have seen their reputations change as dramatically as Grant. After his death, he was considered “a symbol of national identity and American memory,” and millions attended his funeral and the dedication of his mausoleum in 1897. Some scholars, however, soon began to portray his administration as the most corrupt in American history. Northerners seeking to reconcile the nation misrepresented Grant as morally equivalent to the motivations of the Union and the Confederacy. In the 1930s, biographer William B. Hesseltine noted that Grant’s reputation declined because “his enemies wrote better than his friends. In 1931, the Dictionary of American Biography praised Grant’s military vision and his execution of that strategy to defeat the Confederacy, but the section on his political career was more nuanced. Regarding the scandals, the authors wrote that “they never affected Grant personally in any way, but they so frequently struck people close to him that it cost him his honor to admit his poor taste in choosing associates. In 1981, William S. McFeely won the Pulitzer Prize for his unflattering biography, which concluded: “He did not rise above his limited talents or inspire others so that his administration would be a credit to American politics.”

Since 1990, historians have taken a more favorable view, recognizing his involvement in protecting African Americans during Reconstruction or his “peace policy” with Native Americans, even if these measures were not followed through. This shift had begun in the 1960s with Bruce Catton’s analysis of his military career, which changed the historical consensus of Grant as a winner by brute force to that of a talented commander. John Y. Simon wrote of McFeely’s assessment: “The failure of Grant’s presidency…lay in the failure of his Native American peace policy and the collapse of Reconstruction…But if Grant had tried and failed, who could have succeeded?” He added that if Grant were evaluated only on his first term, he would be considered one of the greatest American presidents “remembered for his dedicated defense of the rights of freed slaves coupled with his conciliation with the former Confederates, for his reforms in Indian policy and civil service, for resolving Alabama’s claims, and for bringing peace and prosperity.

Similarly, Jean E. Smith wrote in his 2001 biography that the qualities that made Grant a great general carried him into politics to make him, if not a great president, an admirable one: “The bond is strength of character, an indomitable will that never yielded in the face of adversity… He sometimes made serious mistakes; he often oversimplified; yet he saw his goals clearly and moved relentlessly toward them.” In 2012, H. W. Brands’ biography was presented by historian Eric Foner as a “favorable account of President Grant’s determined and temporarily successful efforts to crush the Ku Klux Klan, which had established a reign of terror against former slaves.” Brands summarized Grant’s military and political career as follows:

“As a general during the Civil War, he defeated the Confederacy and destroyed the slavery that was the cause of secession. As president during Reconstruction, he brought the South back into the Union. By the end of his life, the Union was stronger than it had ever been. And no one did more to achieve that result than he did.”

Several memorials and sites have been named in honor of Grant, such as Grant Park in Chicago, the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and many counties in the West. Grant Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and many counties in the West. From 1890 to 1940, part of what is now Kings Canyon National Park was named General Grant National Park after General Grant, the second largest giant sequoia in the world. Some versions of the M3 Lee tank used in World War II are named after him, as is a nuclear submarine launched in 1963. Grant’s portrait has been featured on $50 bills since 1913. In May 2012, Mississippi State University was selected as the site of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library.

Ulysses S. Grant has been featured on screen in productions that depict him as either a general in the Union Army during the Civil War or as President of the United States of America.



  1. Ulysses S. Grant
  2. Ulysses S. Grant
  3. Smith 2001, p. 21-22.
  4. (en) Barbara Maranzani, « 10 Things You May Not Know About the Roosevelts », sur HISTORY (consulté le 11 septembre 2020)
  5. Longacre 2006, p. 6-7.
  6. McFeely 1981, p. 8.
  7. McFeely 1981, p. 10.
  8. ^ McFeely, 1981, p. 6.
  9. ^ McFeely, 1981, p. 3.
  10. ^ Smith, 2001, pp. 21-22.
  11. ^ White, 2016, p. 6.
  12. Életrajzírója, Edward G. Longacre, Grant szüleinek döntését annak tulajdonítja, hogy a zene iránt érzett utálatát észrevéve gyakoroltak türelmet iránta.[6]
  13. Grant szerint az S. semmit nem jelölt nevében, noha Hamer anyjának családnevére, a Simpsont jelölte vele.[12]
  14. McFeely szerint a történészek elsöprő többsége egyetért azzal, hogy a szolgálaton kívül iszákossága ebben az időszakban tényszerűen létezett, noha szemtanúk nem erősítették ezt meg.[38]
  15. Lincoln politikai jellegű manifesztuma és kaotikus, erőforrás pazarló és alacsony hatékonyságú vezetése miatt leváltotta Frémont-t a nyugati hadszíntér éléről, és helyette két, egymással vetélkedő tábornokot nevezett ki, Hallecket és Don Carlos Buellt
  16. El vicepresidente Wilson falleció en el cargo. Como ocurrió antes de la adopción de la vigesimoquinta enmienda en 1967, no se cubría una vacante en la vicepresidencia hasta la próxima elección y toma de posesión.[1]​
  17. Su abuela madrastra, Sarah Simpson, una mujer educada que leía literatura clásica francesa, apoyó la elección del nombre de Ulises, el legendario héroe griego antiguo.[14]​
  18. Edward G. Longacre postuló la teoría, sostenida por otros biógrafos, de que la decisión de los padres de Grant se basaba en reconocer la aversión de su hijo a la música. Sin embargo, Longacre también sugirió que el no forzarlo a participar en la religión pudo haber sido una forma simple de abandono de sus padres.[23]​
  19. Una fuente indica que Hamer nominó a Grant «Ulysses Sidney Grant».[35]​ Otra fuente dice que Hamer pensó que la «S» significaba Simpson, el apellido de soltera de la madre.[33]​ Según Grant, la «S» no significaba nada. Al graduarse de la academia adoptó el nombre de «Ulysses S. Grant».[31]​[32]​[33]​
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