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"I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; to suffer. I signify all three."
—From a note written by him a few days before his death
"Let us have peace."
—Grant's campaign slogan.
Ulysses Simpson Grant (birth name: Hiram Ulysses Grant) is much better known as the General who won the American Civil War than as a President. Most people who remember the latter probably do so because he's on the fifty dollar bill. Which doesn't make much sense, since neither Hamilton nor Franklin were presidents, and they are prominently on the currency as well. His nickname, earned during the Civil War was "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.
His initial term as President was at the time regarded as pretty unimpressive, albeit slightly better than his much-loathed predecessor. He still won another term however, partly because of his reputation as a war hero, but moreso because the Democratic Party had temporarily collapsed. It briefly looked as if Grant would run unopposed, until a loose conglomeration of Democrats and dissident Republicans combined to put up newspaper magnate Horace Greeley as Grant's rival. Their campaign was spectacularly mismanaged, Greeley was suffering the onset of dementia, and to add insult to injury he died a few weeks after being soundly trounced in the election. No sooner had he been re-elected however than Grant was faced with the Panic of 1873, one of the biggest financial crises in the history of the country, and probably second only to The Great Depression in terms of severity. For the remainder of his time in office, Grant's name was basically mud.
Grant was the first President to make a serious bid for a third term, running for the Republican party nomination in 1880. However, the party saw him as a weak leader and felt he was unelectable after the scandals of his first two terms had come to light, and chose to nominate James Garfield instead.
For most of the time since his term ended in 1877, Grant's administration had a reputation for corruption and economic troubles, although frankly this is more because he didn't do anything (a popular joke among historians is calling him "Useless Grant"). However, he gets credit for keeping Reconstruction going and delaying the era of Jim Crow for as long as he could. His Civil Rights Acts were very similar to the one passed nearly 100 years later in the 1960s, but were overturned by the Supreme Court. Recent scholars have rated him significantly higher than in the past, largely due to increased appreciation for his efforts against racial discrimination.
Toward the end of his life he wrote his memoirs while suffering from terminal throat cancer (must have been all the cigars he smoked). He died two days after completing them, Mark Twain published them and they made a fortune for his family. They are regarded as some of the best memoirs ever written, certainly the best by any American president.
He was also one of the best horsemen in the entire army, and only lost his position in the elite cavalry after he struck a horse in an uncharacteristically angry outburst. Overall he was considered something of a Bunny Ears Lawyer, and almost never bothered with his official uniform, to the point that he showed up to the Appomattox Courthouse surrender ceremony in dirty fatigues and was only let in because the Confederates knew him by sight, and at least one observer commented that if you hadn't known better you'd have thought Lee, who was in his best dress uniform, had won the war. The sight of blood made him squeamish to the point that he couldn't eat undercooked meat, and he was so shy that he holed himself up in his room crying when he had a panic attack at his daughter's wedding, also qualifying him for The Woobie.
Examples of media depicting Grant in the Civil War include a fair number of Westerns up to the 1950s.
Examples of media depicting Grant as President include The Wild Wild West (both the original series and the movie), the 1981 movie The Legend of The Lone Ranger, the HBO movie Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and the ABC movie Son Of The Morning Star, and the table-top roleplaying game Deadlands.
Examples of media depicting Grant in the 1850s when he was a washed-up Mexican War veteran posted at the ass-end of the country (California at the time) includes The Life And Times of Grizzly Adams.
Interestingly, Grant was the first President to get a speeding ticket. He was a bit of a speedfreak, and one day he drove his carriage through Washington D.C. going upwards of forty miles an hour before he was stopped and ticketed. He also won an impromptu drag race against Andrew Johnson's carriage
George Armstrong Custer's end at the Little Bighorn happened in the Grant years.
Tropes associated with Grant:
- The Alcoholic: Though this was greatly exaggerated by his detractors, since he never drank when he knew had to command on the field, it was more likely that he was just an extreme lightweight and enjoyed pickles for breakfast while out on the battlefield.
- Badass Beard
- Badass in Charge: Was directly responsible for a string of Union victories that helped the North maintain its will to keep up the fight and win the war.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ever read his memoirs?
"Mr. Davis had an exalted opinion of his own military genius... On several occasions during the war he came to the relief of the Union Army by means of his military genius."
- Four-Star Badass: Was the greatest general the Union had during the Civil War, and his string of victories against the CSA helped reinvigorate the flagging morale of the Union. Noting that he absolutely needed Grant on the battlefield, Abraham Lincoln matter-of-factly stated "I can't spare this man. He fights."
- Heroic BSOD: Went into one at Abraham Lincoln's funeral. Grant wept profusely, and later stated unequivocally that Lincoln was the greatest man he'd ever known.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Both his Presidency and a later business venture were ruined by President Grant's getting into business with people who he thought were perfectly good, but were actually doing shady things with money and leaving him to take the blame. Grant--after catching wind of some of these incidents--lamented that it wasn't his supposed enemies he worried about, but his so-called friends. Later investigations have confirmed that Grant himself was completely innocent. His only fault was being naive about his staff members and business partners.
- The Stoic: Remarkably cool under fire.
- Warrior Poet: He was a good artist and many of his drawings survive today.
- The Woobie: Dear Lord. After the Civil War, poor Grant was absolutely tortured, first by his Presidency being ruined by nefarious staff members who wrecked the economy and left him to take the fall for it, then a later business partner cheats him out of his money and leaves him penniless, and eventually he gets cancer. What makes it really sad is the fact that by all accounts, Grant was a genuinely good man. But before he died, he managed to write what are considered to be the best memoirs of any President, and he worked through severe pain in his final months in order to finish the book so that the sales would support his family once he was gone.
- Vindicated by History: For years, Grant was saddled with the blame for what his staff members did (admittedly, he should have kept a closer eye on them), and this was the only thing historians remembered his Presidency for (the fact that a LOT of historians over the next few decades were blatant Confederate "lost cause" sympathizers who personally loathed Grant for defeating the Confederacy didn't help matters). But in retrospect, Grant's approval rating is beginning to go back up, as historians realize just how much of a hero he was for the early Civil Rights struggles during Reconstruction. Grant favored full voting rights for African-Americans, aggressively pursued the Ku Klux Klan and successfully saw several of its leaders prosecuted, and cared deeply about the plight of Native Americans. The fact that Grant held such modern views in the freaking 1800's just makes him more of a hero.
- ↑ Who would scream and rave and rant
- ↑ note what the initials spell out
- ↑ not for surrendering himself, mind, but for making others surrender to him
- ↑ Although the current recession will likely push it into third place, barring a huge improvement in the next couple of years
- ↑ With Pres. Johnson still in it.