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Ulysses S. Grant - 18th President of the United States

Portrait of U.S. Grant, President of the United States 
 (National Archives)
Portrait of U.S. Grant, President of the United States (National Archives)

Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822-1885), American soldier, and eighteenth president of the United States, was born at Point Pleasant, Ohio, on the 27th of April 1822. He was a descendant of Matthew Grant, a Scotchman, who settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1630. His earlier years were spent in helping his father, Jesse R. Grant, upon his farm in Ohio. In 1839 he was appointed to a place in the military academy at West Point. He was christened Hiram, after an ancestor, with Ulysses for a middle name. As he was usually called by his middle name, the congressman who recommended him for West Point supposed it to be his first name, and added thereto the name of his mother's family, Simpson.

Grant was the best horseman of his class, and took a respectable place in mathematics, but at his graduation in 1843 he only ranked twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine. In September 1845 he went with his regiment to join the forces of General Taylor in Mexico; there he took part in the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma and Monterey, and, after his transfer to General Scott's army, which he joined in March 1847, served at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, Molino del Rey and at the storming of Chapultepec. He was breveted first lieutenant for gallantry at Molino del Rey and captain for gallantry at Chapultepec. In August 1848, after the close of the war, he married Julia T. Dent (1826-1902), and was for a while stationed in California and Oregon, but in 1854 he resigned his commission. His reputation in the service had suffered from allegations of intemperate drinking, which, whether well founded or not, certainly impaired his usefulness as a soldier.

For the next six years he lived in St Louis, Missouri, earning a scanty subsistence by farming and dealings in real estate. In 1860 he removed to Galena, Illinois, and became a clerk in a leather store kept by his father. At that time his earning capacity seems not to have exceeded $800 a year, and he was regarded by his friends as a broken and disappointed man. He was living at Galena at the outbreak of hostilities between the North and South.

During the Civil War, Grant had the buoyant energy that led Grant to Shiloh but also the grim plodding determination that led him to Vicksburg and to Appomattox. Shiloh revealed to Grant the intensity of the struggle, and after that battle, appreciating to the full the material and moral factors with which he had to deal, he gradually trained his military character on those lines which alone could conduce to ultimate success. Singleness of purpose, and relentless vigour in the execution of the purpose, were the qualities necessary to the conduct of the vast enterprise of subduing the Confederacy. Grant possessed or acquired both to such a degree that he proved fully equal to the emergency. If in technical finesse he was surpassed by many of his predecessors and his subordinates, he had the most important qualities of a great captain, courage that rose higher with each obstacle, and the clear judgment to distinguish the essential from the minor issues in war.

After the assassination of President Lincoln a disposition was shown by his successor, Andrew Johnson, to deal severely with the Confederate leaders, and it was understood that indictments for treason were to be brought against General Lee and others. Grant, however, insisted that the United States government was bound by the terms accorded to Lee and his army at Appomattox. He went so far as to threaten to resign his commission if the president disregarded his protest.

In July 1866 the grade of general was created, for the first time since the organization of the government, and Grant was promoted to that position. In the following year he became involved in the deadly quarrel between President Johnson and Congress. To tie the president's hands Congress had passed the Tenure of Office Act, forbidding the president to remove any cabinet officer without the consent of the Senate; but in August 1867 President Johnson suspended Secretary Stanton and appointed Grant secretary of war ad interim until the pleasure of the Senate should be ascertained. Grant accepted the appointment under protest, and held it until the following January, when the Senate refused to confirm the president's action, and Secretary Stanton resumed his office.

President Johnson was much disgusted at the readiness with which Grant turned over the office to Stanton, and a bitter controversy ensued between Johnson and Grant. Hitherto Grant had taken little part in politics. The only vote which he had ever cast for a presidential candidate was in 1856 for James Buchanan; and leading Democrats, so late as the beginning of 1868, hoped to make him their candidate in the election of that year; but the effect of the controversy with President Johnson was to bring Grant forward as the candidate of the Republican party.

At the convention in Chicago on the 20th of May 1868 he was unanimously nominated on the first ballot. The Democratic party nominated the one available Democrat who had the smallest chance of beating him-Horatio Seymour, lately governor of New York, an excellent statesman, but at that time hopeless as a candidate because of his attitude during the war. The result of the contest was at no time in doubt; Grant received 214 electoral votes and Seymour 80.

The most important domestic event of Grant's first term as president was the adoption of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution on the 30th of March 1870, providing that suffrage throughout the United States should not be restricted on account of race, colour or previous condition of servitude. The most important event in foreign policy was the treaty with Great Britain of the 8th of May 1871, commonly known as the Treaty of Washington, whereby several controversies between the United States and Great Britain, including the bitter questions as to damage inflicted upon the United States by the "Alabama" and other Confederate cruisers built and equipped in England, were referred to arbitration. In 1869 the government of Santo Domingo (or the Dominican Republic) expressed a wish for annexation by the United States, and such a step was favored by Grant, but a treaty negotiated with this end in view failed to obtain the requisite two-thirds vote in the Senate.

In May 1872 something was done towards changing the Reconstruction laws for affecting the South, which had been passed by Congress in spite of the vetoes of President Johnson. The Amnesty Bill restored civil rights to all persons in the South, save from 300 to 500 who had held high positions under the Confederacy. As early as 1870, President Grant recommended measures of civil service reform, and succeeded in obtaining an act authorizing him to appoint a Civil Service commission. A commission was created, but owing to the hostility of the politicians in Congress it accomplished little.

During the fifty years since Crawford's Tenure of Office Act was passed in 1820, the country had been growing more and more familiar with the spectacle of corruption in high places. The evil rose to alarming proportions during Grant's presidency, partly because of the immense extension of the civil service and partly because the public attention was still so much absorbed in Southern affairs that little energy was left for curbing corruption in the North.

The scandals, indeed, were rife in Washington, and affected persons in close relations with the president. Grant was ill-fitted for coping with the difficulties of such a situation. Along with high intellectual powers in certain directions, he had a simplicity of nature charming in itself, but often calculated to render him the easy prey. He found it almost impossible to believe that anything could be wrong in persons to whom he had given his friendship, and on several occasions such friends proved themselves unworthy of him.

The feeling was widely prevalent in the spring of I872 that the interests of pure government in the United States demanded that President Grant should not be elected to a second term. This feeling led a number of high-minded gentlemen to form themselves into an organization under the name of Liberal Republicans. They held a convention at Cincinnati in May with the intention of nominating for the presidency Charles Francis Adams, who had ably represented the United States at the court of St James's during the Civil War. The convention, was, however, captured by politicians who converted the whole affair into a farce by nominating Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who represented almost anything rather than the object for which the convention had been called together.

The Democrats had despaired of electing a candidate of their own, and hoped to achieve success by adopting the Cincinnati nominee, should he prove to be an eligible person. The event showed that while their defeat in 1868 had taught them despondency, it had not taught them wisdom; it was still in their power to make a gallant fight by nominating a person for whom Republican reformers could vote. But with almost incredible fatuity, they adopted Greeley as their candidate. As a natural result Grant was re-elected by an overwhelming majority.

The most important event of his second term was his veto of the Inflation Bill in 1874 followed by the passage of the Resumption Act in the following year. The country was still using inconvertible paper currency originating with the Legal Tender Act of 1862. There was a considerable party in favor of debasing the currency indefinitely by inflation, and a bill with that object was passed by Congress in April 1874. It was promptly vetoed by President Grant, and two months later he wrote a very sensible letter to Senator J. P. Jones of Nevada advocating a speedy return to specie payments. The passage of the Resumption Act in January 1875 was largely due to his consisrent advocacy, and for these measures he deserves as high credit as for his victories in the field.

In spite of these great services, popular dissatisfaction with the Republican party rapidly increased during the years 1874-1876. The scandals at Washington, comprising wholesale frauds on the public revenue, awakened lively disgust. In some cases the culprits were so near to President Grant that many persons found it difficult to avoid the suspicion that he was himself implicated, and never perhaps was his hold upon popular favour so slight as in the summer and autumn of 1876.

After the close of his presidency in the spring of 1877 Grant started on a journey round the world, accompanied by his wife and one son. He was received with distinguished honours in England and on the continent of Europe, whence he made his way to India, China and Japan.

After his return to America in September 1880 he went back to his old home in Galena, Illinois. A faction among the managers of the Republican party attempted to secure his nomination for a third term as president, and'in the convention at Chicago in June 1880 he received a vote exceeding 300 during 36 consecutive ballots. Nevertheless, his opponents made such effective use of the popular prejudice against third terms that the scheme was defeated, and Garfield was named in his stead.

In August 1881 General Grant bought a house in the city of New York. his income was insufficient for the proper support of his family, and accordingly he had become partner in a banking house in which one of his sons was interested along with other persons. The name of the firm was Grant and Ward. The ex-president invested in it all his available property, but paid no attention to the management of the business. His facility in giving his confidence to unworthy people was now being repeated with dire calamity. In 1884 the firm became bankrupt, and it was discovered that two of the partners had been perpetrating systematic and gigantic frauds. This severe blow left General Grant penniless, just at the time when he was beginning to suffer acutely from the disease which finally caused his death.

Down to this time he had never made any pretensions to literary skill or talent, but on being approached by the Century Magazine with a request for some articles he undertook the work in order to keep the wolf from the door. It proved a congenial task, and led to the writing of his Personal Memoirs, a frank, modest and charming book, which ranks among the best standard military biographies. The sales earned for the general and his family something like half a million dollars. The circumstances in which it was written made it an act of heroism comparable with any that Grant ever showed as a soldier. During most of the time he was suffering tortures from cancer in the throat, and it was only four days before his death that he finished the manuscript.

In the spring of 1885 Congress passed a bill creating him a general on the retired list; and in the summer he was removed to a cottage at Mount McGregor, near Saratoga, where he passed the last five weeks of his life, and where he died on the 23rd of July 1885. His body was placed in a temporary tomb in Riverside Drive, in New York City, overlooking the Hudson river.

Grant showed many admirable and lovable traits. There was a charming side to his trustful simplicity, which was at times almost like that of a sailor set ashore. He abounded in kindliness and generosity, and if there was anything especially difficult for him to endure, it was the sight of human suffering, as was shown on the night at Shiloh, where he lay out of doors in the icy rain rather than stay in a comfortable room where the surgeons were at work. His good sense was strong, as well as his sense of justice, and these qualities stood him in good service as president.

Grant's permanent tomb is of white granite and white marble, The tomb is 150 ft. high with a circular cupola topping a square buildinl 90 ft. on the side and 72 ft. high; the sarcophagus, in the center of the building, is of red Wisconsin porphyry. The cornerstone was laid by President Harrison in 1892, and the tomb was dedicated on the 27th of April 1897 with a splendid parade and addresses by President McKinley and General Horace Porter, president of the Grant Monument Association, which raised the funds for the tomb.

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Photographs and Documents of President Ulysses S. Grant

Inauguration of President Grant 
 (National Archives)
Inauguration of President Grant (National Archives)

Parole of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Six of his Staff Officers, 04/09/1865
 (National Archives)
Parole of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Six of his Staff Officers, 04/09/1865. By signing this form, Robert E. Lee and six of his staff officers became paroled prisoners of war and pledged not to take up arms against the United States. The surrender formalities lasted 4 days. On April 9, 1865, Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met in the parlor of a house in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, to discuss the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. The terms were generous: the men of Lee's army could return home in safety if they pledged to end the fighting and deliver their arms to the Union Army. On April 12, 1865, in a quiet but emotional ceremony, the infantry of Lee's army surrendered their arms, folded their battle flags, and received their parole papers, which guaranteed them safe passage home. (National Archives)

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and horse. 
 (National Archives)
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and horse. (National Archives)

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant standing by a tree in front of a tent, Cold Harbor, Va., ca. 06/1864 
 (National Archives)
Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant standing by a tree in front of a tent, Cold Harbor, Va., ca. 06/1864 (National Archives)

Presidential Proclamation 229 of June 26, 1876, by Ulysses S. Grant calling for a special observance of July 4, 1876 as the Centennial Anniversary of the nation's declaration of “their rights to a separate and equal station among the powers of the earth.” 06/26/1876
 (National Archives)
Presidential Proclamation 229 of June 26, 1876, by Ulysses S. Grant calling for a special observance of July 4, 1876 as the Centennial Anniversary of the nation's declaration of “their rights to a separate and equal station among the powers of the earth.” 06/26/1876 (National Archives)

General Ulysses S. Grant
 (National Archives)
General Ulysses S. Grant (National Archives)

Grant, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S.; three-quarter-length, standing
 (National Archives)
Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant; three-quarter-length, standing (National Archives)

Quick Facts about President Ulysses S. Grant

Rank: 18th (1869-1877)
Followed: Andrew Johnson
Succeeded by: Rutherford B. Hayes 
Date of Birth April 27, 1822
Place of Birth: Point Pleasant, Ohio
Date of Death: July 23, 1885
Place of Death: Mount McGregor, New York
First Lady: Julia Boggs Dent
Occupation: soldier
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Schuyler Colfax (1869-1873)
                Henry Wilson (1873-1875)

Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822 - 1885) was an American Civil War General and 18th President of the United States.

Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant) was born April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio (25 miles above Cincinnati on the Ohio River) to Jesse R. and Hannah Simpson Grant. His father and also his mother's father were born in Pennsylvania. His father was a tanner. At the age of 17, he received a cadetship to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York through his Congressman. The Congressman erroneously registered him as Ulysses S. Grant, and so he is still known. He graduated from West Point in 1843, No. 21 in a class of 39.

He married Julia Boggs Dent (1826-1902) on August 22, 1843 and they had four children: Frederick Dent, Ulysses Simpson, Jr., Ellen Wrenshall, and Jesse Root.

After service in the Mexican-American War he was promoted to captain in 1853. The following summer, on July 31, 1854, he resigned from the army. Seven years of civilian life following, in which he was a farmer, a real estate agent in St. Louis, and finally an assistant at his father and brother's leather business.

On April 24, 1861, ten days after the fall of Fort Sumter, Captain Grant arrived in Springfield, Illinois with a company of men he had raised. The Governor however felt that a West Point man could be put to better use and appointed him Colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Infantry (effective June 17, 1861). On August 7th he was appointed a Brigadier-General of volunteers.

Following the Battle of Chattanooga, he was appointed Lieutenant-General on March 2, 1864, and on the 17th he assumed command of all of the armies of the United States.

Grant was chosen as the Republican presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Chicago on May 20 1868 with no real opposition. On election day he won with a majority of 309,684 out of a total of 5,716,082 votes cast.

He was the 18th (1869-1877) President of the United States and served two terms from March 4,1869 to March 3, 1877. After the end of his second term Grant spent two years travelling around the world.

He died on July 23, 1885 in Mount McGregor, New York. His body lies in New York City, with that of his wife, in Grant's Tomb, the largest mausoleum in North America.

Professed Religion: Methodist

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