A reappraisal of that guy in Grant's Tomb
July 4, 2006 10:09 PM   Subscribe

President Ulysses S. Grant: Civil Rights Hero. A reappraisal of a president considered ineffective and mired in scandal.
posted by pandaharma (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Also, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and his second inagural address and some interesting quotes on the subject of race.
posted by pandaharma at 10:13 PM on July 4, 2006

Here's the proper quotes link.
posted by pandaharma at 10:20 PM on July 4, 2006

The labels are not mutually exclusive-- he can have high ideals, an awesome civil-rights record, and still be on the take so flagrantly that you wouldn't want to embrace him.

Imagine that you could slap some effective high-mindedness onto the current president. He's still so slimy that you don't want to go near him.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:51 PM on July 4, 2006

Grant's memoirs are fantastic. I've always liked him -- in part because my dad wrote a history of Galena, where Grant resided from just before the War.

And Grant is entombed in Grant's Tomb. Not buried ....
posted by dhartung at 10:57 PM on July 4, 2006

True that he's entombed but the old joke (at least when I heard it as a kit) involved burying. Not that I mentioned burying in the title so I suspect you heard the joke in the same way too.

While its true that the labels aren't exclusive, I was surprised to find he was so relatively passionate about civil rights and fought so hard for their passage and enforcement. I think the good of that overwhelms the bad of the scandals and laid an effective foundation for the reforms of the 50's and 60's.
posted by pandaharma at 11:21 PM on July 4, 2006

True that he's entombed but the old joke (at least when I heard it as a kit) involved burying. Not that I mentioned burying in the title so I suspect you heard the joke in the same way too.

I always thought that "no one" was the punchline to that question. Isn't that one of Groucho's?
posted by brundlefly at 11:29 PM on July 4, 2006

This Ulysses was definently a hero. I dunno so much about the other one.
posted by Second Account For Making Jokey Comments at 1:16 AM on July 5, 2006

I always heard it was a trick question: his wife is there, too.
posted by kimota at 3:51 AM on July 5, 2006

I believe it is unfair to compare Grant to our current President Bush. Its widely accepted that Grant was not involved in the corruption that plagued his administration, while Bush has been entirely complicit with all that has occurred during his own.

Grant has always seemed to me a good person, a good general, but not a particularly great president. He failed to keep control of his administration and allowed it to ruin his presidency. I always recall this anecdote about Grant, and I believe from during his presidency:

Grant was in the company of men, who began to make off color and ribald jokes. Grant stepped in and told the men to cease making such crude jokes as it was inappropiate. One man replied, "But sir, there are no ladies present." Grant returned, "But there are gentlemen."
posted by Atreides at 4:39 AM on July 5, 2006

BushCo makes a lot of characters look better by comparison:

Joe McCarthy
Ulysses Grant
Boss Tweed
Josef Stalin
Judas Iscariot
Richard Nixon
Pol Pot
Chairman Mao
Saddam Hussein
Sylvester the cat
Al Yankovich
[your entry here]
posted by nofundy at 6:54 AM on July 5, 2006

What is not sufficientgly noted about Grant: He was very much opposed to the Mexican "adventure" by his country...a bad and wrong war, he said.
posted by Postroad at 7:00 AM on July 5, 2006

It is high time for a reevaluation of Grant. His bad reputation is partly a result of the rewriting of the history of the Civil War that southern historians spearheaded in the late 1800s. They glorified Lee, states' rights, and the Lost Cause and downplayed Grant, slavery, and especially the truth of Reconstruction. They were extremely effective and we are only just now recovering the truth of that whole era.
posted by LarryC at 7:14 AM on July 5, 2006

Labeling him the president most friendly to civil rights for eighty years is not exactly high praise, you know. I certainly think he's an interesting historical character, but there is little to recommend him as a great president by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by norm at 8:32 AM on July 5, 2006

Funny, I never thought of Sylvester as nefarious, but maybe that's just me .....

Heard an interview with Howard Zinn recently in which he said he's always asked who the worst president was. He said something to the effect that it was easier for him to pull together a list of worsts than a list of bests because there have been so few great presidents. Controversial, but interesting to think about.
posted by blucevalo at 9:36 AM on July 5, 2006

A great read, made me rethink a lot of what I've been taught, thanks for sharing it.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:38 AM on July 5, 2006

dhartung, I've been meaning to read Grant's memoirs for a while now. I've heard many good things about them (and I had no idea Twain put them together. Doubleplusgood).

Grant's star has been on the rise for at least the past ten years. He'll never be considered one of the greats in presidential hagiography (Washington, Lincoln, FDR) but perhaps a strong contender for second-tier excellence some day (Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan). As LarryC points out, pretty much anyone and anything having to do with the Reconstruction period in America is tainted with recrimination--it takes a fair amount of reading to get to the truth, but it is there.

His drinking probably didn't help, but then again, he was hardly the disaster that many historians (especially southern and Confederate apologist ones) have tried to make him.

Interesting stuff.
posted by bardic at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2006

Lincoln opposed the Mexican War, too.

Grant was a brilliant general. The Grant-as-butcher assessment has been reconsidered by recent historians. He "lost fewer men in his successful effort to take Richmond and end the war than his predecessors lost in making the same attempt and failing," and Lee lost a higher percantage of his own troops than Grant did. Grant emphasized maneuver over direct assault in his Vicksburg Campaign, which was brilliant, and his Overland Campaign, which resulted in a lot of battles because Lee was effective at matching Grant's maneuvers until Grant pinned him down at Petersburg.

Lee beat Grant at the the Wilderness, the first battle of the Overland Campaign, like he had beaten all of the Union generals before Grant. Instead of repeating the pattern of the earlier generals and withdrawing for months, Grant kept coming. The only way to win the war was to get hold of Lee's army and not let go until the war was over, and that's what Grant did.

Grant's account of Lee's surrender is very interesting.
Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:54 AM on July 5, 2006

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