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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Working (Words) Out in the Nude

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Confused? This actually is a grammatically correct sentence. There are three meanings of the word Buffalo…

  1. The proper noun referring to the city Buffalo, New York
  2. The verb to buffalo, which means “to bully, harass, or intimidate”
  3. The noun referring to the animal – buffalo (biologically a Bison).

This sentence translated would read: “Buffalo (the place) bison (the animal), whom other Buffalo bison bully, themselves bully Buffalo bison.” Take a deep breath and don’t give up on this post quite yet. This oddity of the English language is a great example of etymology – the study of word origins and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. The average person usually doesn’t think before they speak; it is even rarer to find someone who questions the very foundations of speech itself. Mark Forsyth is one of those people – the author of the #1 International Bestseller – The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. The title “Etymologicon” is a real word that means a book written about etymology. Forsyth is a word master, and his work became a #1 International Bestseller. All words have a history, and those histories are fascinating. Below I am going to highlight the origin of ten words that were detailed by Forsyth in his book. These are just a few examples of what is in the book, and if your curiosity is piqued, I highly recommend you reading it for yourself.

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  1. A long time ago there was a tribe named the “Franks.” The Franks invaded the Gauls whose occupied area became known as “France” – the K replaced with a C. The Franks “disenfranchised” the Gauls and hence were themselves “enfranchised.” This oppression by the Franks allowed them to speak freely or “frankly.”
  2. A long time ago, there was a significant swath of persecuted people in Eastern Europe known as the Slavs. The Slavs were slain and subjugated by the Byzantine Empire to the south and the Holy Roman Empire to the north. Eventually, the word Slav became synonymous with forced labor – or Slave.
  3. A long time ago, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were lords and peasants. The peasant was required to work the lords’ land and a small portion of his own which was granted to him. This mindless labor system was called Robot.giphy3
  4. A long time ago, Englishmen had trouble with persistent coughs. They could take morphine – a standard treatment at the time – but they didn’t want to become addicted. Scientists came to the rescue and invented a morphine substitute. This new medicine needed a brand name so the marketers asked the test participants how it made them feel. They all unanimously said it made them feel great and like “heroes.” Heroe was turned into the brand name Heroin.
  5. A long time ago, Hitler formed the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei); the official identification of all Hitler followers in Germany. This Party name was unfortunate because in Germany there were many jokes about Bavarian peasants who were seen as stupid and lazy. The identifier of this class of peasant was the typical male name Ignatius – or its shortened version – Nazi. Hitler’s opponents jumped at the insult and abbreviated Hitler’s party name.
  6. A long time ago, medieval doctors believed the vein on the fourth finger ran directly to the heart. This anatomical connection eventually proved false, but the tradition of encircling the heart through the vein continued on – with the ring finger and the wedding band.giphy4
  7. A long time ago, monks were a common sight in Catholic Europe – hooded men who were far from models of chastity and virtue. Many saw them as filthy sinners who were no better than animals. When explorers decided to name hairy-man-like animals, they used a similar name – Monkeys.
  8. A long time ago, America decided to test a new hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. This weapon was more potent than previous – incidentally exposing Japanese fisherman to radiation. This event inspired the movie Godzilla and a French clothes designer who needed a name for his scandalous swimwear – which would cause an explosion of lust in all Frenchmen. This explosion would be named after the bomb test site – Bikini Atoll.
  9. A long time ago, Greek men enjoyed exercising outside in the nude. This arena of flesh was frequented by old and young alike – the older participants came primarily for sightseeing. The Greek word for naked is “gymnós” which eventually gave us Gyms and Gymnasiums. 
  10. A long time ago, people wanted to buy a house and hence needed a loan. There were two ways this loan could be fulfilled or said in another way – be put to “death”: it was paid off over a lifetime, or it was canceled after a missed payment. In many cases, it was doubtful that the person would make all these lifetime payments and so the loan would be dead to him. In either outcome, there was the likelihood of death, and hence the loan was called a death pledge – Mortgage. giphy5

So does this make you more curious about the words you use every day? I for sure look at diction differently now. Just remember that word meanings change over time and that new words are continually being invented. Don’t get too stringent with etymology and hop on the treadmill in the buff.

MLK Day as a White Man

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Let’s be honest for a second. Have you ever done anything to celebrate Martin Luther King Day? I for one have done squat nothing. Usually for me, MLK Day in the past entailed no school and a visit to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet with my Mom. As a privileged white youth, I didn’t have a lot of personal connection with a black pastor from the 1960’s. To me it was difficult to relate to the struggle of African Americans throughout the history of the United States. I was taught that after the 1960’s, everything was essentially peachy in respects to race relations. There was no longer slavery. There was no longer “separate but equal.” There was no longer systemic institutions that oppressed a race. What made my ignorance worse, was the fact that I thought racism only existed in the south. Michiganders weren’t racist. We helped free slaves during the Civil War. We never had Jim Crow Laws. We were the safe haven- Pure Michigan.

Of course, you are probably thinking to yourself, “…what the frick, this guy is the whitest man alive! Did he really think that racism was over? Was he that obsessed about the Pizza Hut buffet that the hate of the world never hit him in the face? I for one was not ignorant and always watched Roots on MLK Day.” Yes, I was a sheltered fat kid who had rose-tinted glasses of the world. Please refrain from your Roots ego trip to hear me out for a second. My ignorance has been decreased through my journey of seeking wisdom. Racism is still an ever-present thing in America. Racism was not reversed after the Civil War. Racism had no borders between North and South. Racism was not extinguished by Martin Luther King Jr. I know now that the United States has systematically targeted the black population through policing measures and mass incarceration (click here). I know now that there were and still are policies in place that keep black and white children from intermingling in schools (click here). I know now that we are psychologically predisposed to fear black men because of cultural imagery (click here). To put it another way, I know now the importance of MLK Day.

As a white man, I feel responsible to acknowledge these wrongs and to do my part in identifying ways to reduce racism in today’s world. How can I personally reduce racism? I think one key way is to educate others about the systems in place that oppress African Americans. As a white man I do not fear getting pulled over by a police officer (click here). I do not fear imprisonment because I lack the money for a reputable lawyer (click here). I do not fear for the quality of my future child’s public education (click here). These systems are in the spotlight currently and I am glad that people are talking about them. What I think we shouldn’t do is downsize them and imagine that all things are equal. Growing up as a white male in a suburb, all things being equal, provides a much greater advantage in life compared to growing up as a black male in the ghetto. Is it possible to become a doctor as a black woman raised in Detroit? Of course it is. But the path to get there is so much harder because of the general environmental differences between white and black. That woman may not have had access to the college prep high school because of her address. She may not have had a Dad because of “search and frisk” quotas. She may not have had access to summer education because a lack of funding.

The individual is always responsible for decisions but the United States is responsible for making the playing field fair. My aim today is to inform everyone that there is still a lot of work left to do on a system wide level. We shouldn’t be like my younger Pizza Hut self and think everything is just dandy. We should never say, “I overcame challenges so they should stop whining and work harder.” It is that logic that was once used to argue for “separate but equal.” It is that logic that makes people passive observers to everyday racism. So, as a White man I for one thank you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for making the world more understanding and fair for all Americans. To celebrate this day, I honor you through this post and will make it a goal to educate those about the present-day inequities of the world so that one day a Pizza Hut boy may be correct in wearing his rose-colored glasses.

 

America’s First Father-Celebrity-President-Extraordinar

-“Alright class can someone tell me who the first president was?”

-Martin Luther King!…

-“No, children, Martin Luther King freed the slaves. Our first president was George Washington. Mr. Washington is the president on the one dollar bill and he cut down a cherry tree with his wooden teeth. That’s all for history, lets move on to finishing your paper machete projects of Kim Kardashian.”

This dialogue, albeit a joke, is close to the extent kids are taught about George Washington and history in general. In honor of President’s Day tomorrow, and my insatiable desire to build upon my poor-formal education, I decided to read Washinton: A Life by Ron Chernow. George Washington was raised by his widowed mother who was very strict and spartan-like. His mother was hypercritical and was probably the main source of Washington’s stoic personality that was prone to intermittent displays of anger. By age 20 he had inherited 2,315 acres and countless slaves after the death of his older brother. His quick rise to prosperity on the back of family deaths propelled him into the upper society of Virginian planters. This pseudo-aristocracy allowed him to meet the right people which lead to a recommendation for military-leadership in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Washington would be commended for his courage and valor in combat; in one battle he had four bullets go through his jacket and two horses shot from beneath him-all while recovering from a severe bout of hemorrhoids brought upon by dysentery. It seemed Washington was never fazed by the possibility of death and was protected by divine providence. Overall, his tour in the French and Indian War was short lived and he began to experience the inequalities laid upon colonists by the British. He was not given an equal rank or pay compared to his “purebred” compatriots across the Atlantic. Following his duty in the war, he married the widow Martha Custis and inherited even more property. This windfall of new wealth is what allowed him the flexibility and social rank needed in part to become the Commander of the Continental Army.

In subsequent years, animosity towards the British began to grow in Washington for many reasons: British restriction of claiming land past the Allegheny mountains, unfair taxes, and lack of political power held by the colonists. The 2nd continental congress made George Washington the Commander of the Army due to his experience in the French and Indian War, aura of leadership, and aforementioned connections with southern society. The Continental Army was a ragtag group of civilians who had limited weapons, food, clothing, and especially military experience. Washington was not a military genius but his strengths lied in planning, communicating, and building an effective leadership team. He would have many blunders in military strategy and had just as many defeats as victories in the war. Actually, during most of the war his army in the northern colonies saw far less action compared to the southern theater. Primarily, during the revolution, he had to endure countless winters of begging a weak congress to provide money for his starving, sick, unclothed, and haggard soldiers-creating his future political desire for a strong central government. Thanks to the French, the Battle of Yorktown was the defining end to the war and would concrete George Washington’s national celebrity.

Washington wanted to retire from the public life but he reluctantly became the first president and subsequently the Father of the United States. While president he …”restored American credit and assumed state debt; introduced the first accounting tax, and budgetary procedures; maintained peace at home and abroad; inaugurated a navy, bolstered the army, and shored up coastal defenses and infrastructures; proved that the country could regulate commerce and negotiate binding treaties; protected frontier settlers, subdued Indian uprisings, and established law and order amid rebellion, scrupulously adhering all the while to the letter of the constitution (pg 770 para 4).”  Holy Crap! George Washington was the only president unanimously voted into office and without his leadership, patience, and desire to always to be a gentlemen (even against his foes) the United States may never have matured past its republican infancy. In the end, I appreciate my country more then ever and how far we have come because of the sacrifices of our forefathers. This President’s Day read a biography of one of our past leaders-the knowledge gleaned will give you beneficial wisdom now and into the future.

“We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.”

-George Washington