US Grant – America’s Unlikely Hero – Part 2

I want to give a shout out to one particular reader for sticking with me through all these Presidential posts. Thank you, Allie Nye, for your loyal following and steadfast interest in a subject I find extremely relevant. Last week I posted about Ulysses S. Grant and for some reason, not many people wanted to read about one of America’s most popular presidents. For those who did read part one – I’m sure you had a sleepless night anticipating the release of Part 2. To all my readers who are sick of dead white men, I assure you this is the last post for quite some time concerning the subject. Let’s get back to where we last left Grant – a downtrodden man with a smeared reputation trying to bake bread for the Union Army.

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Before Grant could put his first loaf of bread in the oven, he was given a new lease on life from a longtime friend – Congressman Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois. Thanks to Washburne – who was a close acquaintance to Lincoln – Grant moved up the military ladder from simple aid to Brigadier General of volunteers. This meteoric rise was partially due to Grant’s talent in organizing men and his tenacious leadership. The now military leader would go on to win the Union’s first major victory at Fort Donaldson and the bloodiest battle in American history up until that point – Shiloh.  Grant became a national figure after these two events and was admired by Lincoln as an “offensive” general not scared of his Confederate counterparts. This executive admiration was contrasted by cries from the press that Grant was a “Butcher” and a reckless campaigner. To worsen Grant’s image, there were reports of him getting drunk on regular occasions – these being half-truths and whole exaggerations.

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By the end of the war, Grant would have decisive victories in Vicksburg and Petersburg; all the while devastating the south through his command of Sheridan’s cavalry and Sherman’s March to the Sea. He was promoted to Lieutenant General – which was the highest rank in America only held once before by George Washington. His military power reached its zenith at Appomattox Courthouse where he forced the magnanimous surrender of Robert E. Lee – pardoning all Confederate soldiers and allowing them to go back home without further prosecution. Grant by far was the most responsible person for winning the Civil War: free of vanity, generous to friends,  and patriotic to the core.

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Grant’s accomplishments in the Civil War catapulted him into the national psyche – on a level equal to Abraham Lincoln. He immediately enforced Reconstruction and ordered troops into the south to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves. For the first time in history, blacks were able to vote and Grant was elected as President in a landslide victory at the young age of 46. He championed the enforcement of the 13th amendment and helped pass the 14th and 15th amendments which ensured equal citizenship and voting rights for former slaves. It was said that Lincoln was responsible for freeing the slaves but Grant was responsible for fostering their humanity. He formed the Justice Department to prosecute the newly formed and powerful terrorist organization – the Ku Klux Klan.  Grant promoted a record number of blacks to public office and freely welcomed black activists like Frederick Douglas into the White House. He helped found the first National Park at Yellowstone and pushed for public education like no other president before. His popularity was so great that he was elected to a second presidency and the famous feminist Susan B. Anthony campaigned in his name.  Grant won his second term and was the first two-term president since Andrew Jackson.

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Of course, Grant was not perfect and he had several problems in his cabinet from nepotism and trying to lead the country with a military mindset. Politics were not Grant’s forte and he didn’t know when to back down from a political fight – a trait that helped him on the battlefield but hurt him in Congress. He was loyal to friends to the point of foolishness and this burned him many times when uncovering corruption schemes. By the end of his second term, Reconstruction was a dead issue and he felt helpless in his ability to defend blacks – a moral fatigue inundated the north. Upon retiring from office, he went on a two-year world tour where he met the most famous leaders of the gilded age – from Queen Victoria of England to Emperor Meiji of Japan. He was pushed towards a third term as president but due to George Washinton’s tradition of two terms, he failed to achieve the nomination.

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The end of Grant’s life is a sad tale of betrayal and suffering. Shortly after reentering civilian life, Grant trusted his financial health to a supposed friend. This swindling Wall Street man stole all of Grant’s family and friends’ money through the use of a pyramid scheme. He was left penniless and only sustained himself through donations from admirers across the country. One day, Grant experienced a sharp pain in his mouth – the annoyance was actually throat cancer. To prevent his family from complete poverty upon his death, Grant wrote a memoir that Mark Twain would go on to publish. He wrote his memoir in excruciating pain and barely finished it before dying in 1885 – his body only weighed 90 lbs from his inability to drink and eat. His memoir gained $450,000 dollars in royalties ($11,000,000 in today’s value) and his funeral in New York was attended by 1.5 million people – eulogized as a man equal to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He was a man of character and virtue who overcame his vices of drink and stood up for society’s downtrodden – making him one of my favorite presidents. Next time you have a $50 bill, use Grant’s face to go buy Ron Chernow’s book and some baked goods in commemoration.
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The Confederate Battle “Cry”-ing

On Friday, I went to see the fireworks in Baroda, Michigan to celebrate the Fourth of July. To my dismay, I saw several large Confederate flags flying in the back of excessively large pickup trucks. I found this perplexing because these were Michiganders who, during the Civil War, fought against the south; in one example, the entirety of males in Flint, MI, with the mayor as their commander, signed up do defend the union during America’s bloodiest war. What does the Confederate Flag represent in today’s age? State’s rights? Racism? Heritage? Pride? I believe it is a combination of all those things with groups emphasizing certain meanings to suit their agendas (think the KKK with racism and the state of South Carolina with heritage).  I wanted to know more about the Confederacy and the Civil War in general so I read The Civil War by Geoffrey Ward. I highly recommend this book because it not only goes over the war in understandable detail but it also has essays that explain why the war came about, who freed the slaves,the politics of war, the views of the men who fought, and what the war did to shape US history.

The Civil War began on April 12th, 1861 when Fort Sumter in South Carolina was taken by the Confederacy. The first shot of the war occurred in the first state that seceded from the Union. Actually, South Carolina seceded on December 20th, 1860 as a direct result of Abraham Lincoln being elected one month prior; seven states would secede before Lincoln was even inaugurated. Why did these state’s hate Abraham Lincoln so much? The answer is complex but Lincoln was the first president in the history of the United States who had a political agenda to prevent the spread of slavery. He did not want to initially abolish slavery but he did not want it to spread to the new territories acquired by the Mexican-American War. Lincoln believed that slavery would eventually extinguish itself in the south and that there was no need to abolish it during his term. The South, felt threatened by this very moderate platform and believed that a Republican administration would lead to a world where slave holding would be stigmatized as morally wrong, slaves would be encouraged to rise up against their masters, and racial equality would exist. The newly formed Confederate States of America adopted the US constitution but made one major amendment-slavery could never be abolished. This one fact makes it quite obvious that the Confederacy was formed because of slavery and nothing else. The argument of State’s Rights is a hard sale because the Confederate government made no concessions in their adopted US constitution to increase State’s Rights and it actually infringed upon State’s Rights by enforcing the first draft in history. Furthermore, the North had just as many “State’s Rights” transgressions related to slavery with the enforcement of the Fugitive-Slave Act and the Dred Scott decision which essentially said slavery could not be prohibited in any of the “Free States.”

To simply put it, 11 southern states ran away from the union, crying like spoiled children, because they “believed” they wouldn’t be allowed to enslave people anymore. This tantrum led to the death of over 600,000 people to restore the Union and to finally force the end of slavery. So what does the Confederate flag represent? It represents the continuation of slavery at all costs-including the death of it’s citizens and the once great Union that it broke from. Is this the “Heritage” that Confederate flag supporters are talking about? Are you proud of a heritage of ignorance, political paranoia, and innumerable-citizen deaths for the continuation of slavery? I’m not, and that is why the Confederate flag should not be associated with any government institution today. We are the United States of America and the only flag we should be flying is the one with 50 stars-promoting the idea that we are a synergistic union of states which strives for freedom and equal treatment of all its citizens. Happy Fourth of July 🙂