Ulysses S. Grant
18th President, 1869-1877
Early Life and Pre-presidency
- Born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio.
- Parents: Jesse Root Grant and Hannah Simpson. Siblings: Samuel Simpson,
Clara Rachel, Virginia Paine, Orvil Lynch,
and Mary Frances.
- Attended local schools before being accepted to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point at 17 years old.
- Graduated from West Point in 1843 and was assigned to the 4th U.S. Infantry.
- Served in the Mexican–American war from 1846 to 1848 under General Zachary Taylor.
- Married Julia Boggs (1826–1902) on August 22, 1848. Children: Frederick Dent (1850–1912), Ulysses Simpson (1852–1929), Ellen Wrenshall (1855–1922), and Jesse Root (1858–1934).
- From 1848 to 1854, he was assigned to different posts in Detroit, New York, the Oregon Territory, and California. He suddenly resigned from the Army on July 31, 1854.
- Fell into financial difficulties in the ensuing years until 1860 when his father offered him a job in his tannery business in Galena, Illinois. Soon after, the American Civil War broke out.
- When Lincoln put out a call for volunteers in 1861, Grant was asked to get back into service. He trained volunteers in Springfield, Illinois and was promoted to colonel by the governor.
- After his initial success in taking over Fort Henry, then Fort Donelson, in Tennessee in February 1862, President Lincoln promoted him to major general of the Army of the Tennessee.
- Subsequent victories in Vicksburg, Mississippi helped put him in charge of the Western Theater. More victories led to his being lieutenant general and commander of all Union armies in 1864 by President Lincoln.
- Was put in charge of the defeat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army in Northern Virginia. He eventually cornered Lee and forced his surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, thus ending the Civil War.
- Became a war hero and was promoted to General of the Army of the United States by Congress in July 1866.
- President Johnson gave Grant the important task of overseeing the reconstruction of the Southern states from 1865 to 1867 and was even temporarily appointed Secretary of War. But Grant increasingly differed with Johnson in his views on reconstruction.
- Grant joined the Republican Party and won the nomination for the party’s Presidential candidate for the 1868 election. He won the election by a landslide victory.
- Took his oath of office on March 4, 1869 at the East Portico, U.S. Capitol.
- Continued with the reconstruction efforts in the South. Four more former Confederate states (Virginia, Mississippi, Texas, and Georgia) were readmitted after ensuring that their constitutions protected voting rights for all citizens with the help of the military.
- Grant and Congress passed several legislative measures throughout his first term to prevent the Ku Klux Klan from harassing freed slaves.
- On September 24, 1869, the price of gold on the New York Stock Exchange crashed when Grant ordered the sale of $4 million-worth of gold. The sale was ordered to counter the plot of two speculators to manipulate the gold market. Many investors suffered. This day came to be known as Black Friday.
- Pushed for the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave citizens, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the right to vote. The Amendment was passed on Febraury 3, 1870.
- Signed into law the Naturalization Act of 1870, which naturalized persons of African descent and aliens born in Africa.
- The Treaty of Washington between the United States and Great Britain was approved by Grant and the Senate in 1871. The treaty sought international arbitration in the dispute over the Alabama Claims in which the U.S. wanted Britain to pay for damages caused to American merchant ships during the Civil War by Confederate vessels built in England. The U.S. won the arbitration and was awarded $15.5 million in gold.
- Grant was re-elected for a second term in the 1872 election. He won by a large margin of electoral votes and 56% of the popular vote.
- The Credit Mobilier scandal was uncovered in 1872. It implicated several congressmen and the Vice President. Two congressmen were censured and the Vice President was replaced in the nomination ticket for the next election.
- A worldwide depression in 1873 caused the Panic of 1873 in the U.S. that lasted five years. Grant vetoed the Legal Tender Act but signed into law the Resumption Act that brought back the specie payment.
- Signed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which guaranteed equal treatment of African–Americans in public accomodations and transportation, as well as in jury selection. The Act was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883.
- The Whiskey Ring scandal in 1875 was uncovered by the Secretary of Treasury. It involved distillers in the Midwest who were diverting excise taxes with the help of federal agents. Grant’s personal secretary, Orville E. Babcock was implicated, indicted, and forced to resign his position.
- Signed the Hawaiian Preferential Treaty in 1875. This treaty gave preferential trade status between the two countries. Hawaii also becomes a protectorate of the U.S.
- Among the government agencies that were created by Grant are the Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General, National Weather Service, U.S. Civil Service Commission, and Office of the Surgeon General.
- His Presidency is remembered more for its corruption and scandals. Eleven scandals are attributed to the Grant Administration during his two terms. Grant was never implicated in any of the scandals but his reputation suffered because of his inability to choose the right people to work for him.
- Grant and his wife embarked on a world tour soon after his Presidential term.
- His world tour lasted two years and they visited Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. He was well-received in each country they visited.
- During his visit to Japan in 1879, he was asked to intervene in its dispute with China over the Ryukyu Islands.
- Despite his insistence that he would not run again for a third consecutive term in the 1876 elections, Grant wanted to run for a third term in the 1880 elections. However, he failed to get the Republican Party’s nomination, which went to James Garfield.
- Invested most of his assets into Grant & Ward, an investment banking firm owned by his son Jesse and his friend Ferdinand Ward. In 1884, Ward bankrupted the company and fled, leaving Grant destitute.
- In order to repay a debt, Grant gave many of his Civil War mementos to William Vanderbilt.
- Century Magazine offered Grant an opportunity to write about his Civil War experiences. He accepted the offer as a means to earn income and his articles were received very well.
- In 1884, while writing for the magazine, Grant learned that he had throat cancer. He decided to write his memoir in part because he had no inheritance to leave his wife and children.
- When the magazine offered to publish his memoir, Grant’s friend Mark Twain made a counter offer with a higher royalty. Grant decided to have his book published by Mark Twain’s company.
- Died on July 23, 1885 of throat cancer just days after finishing his memoir.
- His body was carried on a funeral train from his home in Mount McGregor, New York to New York City via West Point. His funeral procession in New York City drew more than 1 million people.
- Mark Twain outlined a marketing campaign to sell Grant’s book mainly to veterans while the nation was in mourning. The book earned $450,000 in royalties, which was paid to his wife.
- He is interred in what is now the General Grant National Memorial in New York City. His mausoleum is the largest one in North America.
- Grant is also honored with the Ulyssses S. Grant Memorial in Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
- The Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library is located at Mississippi State University. Various artifacts, photographs, and his letters during his term as president are housed at the Mitchell Memorial Library.