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President Grant: Success or Failure?

by Elizabeth Adams

The life and presidency of the man once called "Useless" can be an interesting story. Some consider Ulysses Simpson Grant to be a failure as a President; however, as a militaristic man, he helped to end what may be the most tragic war in the history of the United States. A hero to some and a failure to others, Grant has contributed much to the history of our country.

Ulysses S. Grant was born to Jesse Root and Hannah Simpson Grant. Jesse Root Grant was a tanner, and Hannah Simpson Grant was the daughter of a wealthy farmer. Ten months after they married, in Pleasant Point, Ohio, little Ulysses was born. He was named Hiram Ulysses Grant six weeks after he was born by a drawing of names out of a hat. When he entered West Point, Congressman Thomas Harner thought that his name was Ulysses Simpson Grant and appointed him by that name to the military college. Grant did not correct the congressman because he did not like the original initials H.U.G. After speculation by classmates on what the U. S. meant in Grant's new name they decided it meant Uncle Sam and gave Grant the nickname "Sam."

Grant married one of his West Point roommate's sister, Julia Dent. He had four children: Frederick Dent, Ulysses Jr., Nellie, and Jesse Root. He and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri and began farming after Grant left the army. He failed as a farmer and joined his younger brother in the leather business.

When the Civil War began, Grant helped to train volunteers for military battles. He was made the brigadier general of volunteers. He controlled nearly 20,000 volunteers. After he successfully captured Vicksburg from the Confederates, he was given supreme command over all the Western armies. Soon President Lincoln appointed him lieutenant general of all the Federal armies. After Grant captured Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederate States, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to him at Appomattox. Grant was the first American since George Washington to be given the rank of full general.

Grant's first connection with politics was when Andrew Johnson tried to get support from him to use Lincoln's plan of reconstruction. Grant disagreed with Johnson and was nominated for Republican candidate for presidency. He won with 214 electoral votes to Democrat Horatio Seymore's 80.

Grant's first term as president was undoutedly his best. During his first term the world began to change. he reduced the national debt. The first trans-continental railroad was completed in 1869. The Suez Canal opened also in 1869. The Dominican Republic offered to sell their land to the United States, and after General Orville Babcock signed a treaty with the Dominican Republic, the Senate rejected it. The National Woman's Sufferage Association was founded in 1869 as well. In 1870 the 15th Amendment to end the denial of suffrage due to racial matters was adopted. Also in 1870, the last of the seceded states was allowed to reenter into the United States. in 1872 Congress began the first national park, Yellowstone National Park. The Amnesty Act to pardon ex-Confederates was passed in 1872.

Grant's second term was not nearly as successful as his first. He vetoed the bill to increase greenbacks after the financial panic of 1873. The Specie Resumption Act was passed in 1875. Indians were a problem at the Battle of Little Bighorn and General Custer and 225 of his troops were massacred. Colorado was admitted into the United States in 1876. The Centennial Exposition, the world's first successful fair, held to celebrate the United States' one hundred year anniversary was held in 1876. The fair contained some of the most recent inventions of the time including the typewriter, telephone, duplex telegraph, air brake, refrigerator car, continuous-web printing press, and the self-binding reaper. Another new invention during Grant's presidency was the electric light bulb.

Many scandals in Grant's administration were uncovered during his second term as president. The Whiskey Scandal, in which whiskey distillers were trying to steal government money, was uncovered by Grant's Secretary of the Treasury. Another scandal dealt with Grant's Secretary of War. An investgation by Congress revealed that the Secretary of War had been accepting bribes. The cabinet member was impeached.

Grant's specialty was foreign affairs. The United States signed the Treaty of Washington with Great Britian concerning the damage done by warship Alabama and other Confederate warships in 1871. In 1872 Great Britian signed the Geneva Tribunal with the United States and promised to pay $15,500,000 for damage.

Grant decided not to run for another term because of the scandals in his administration. Instead, he toured Europe with his family. When he returned he lost all his money in his son's brokerage firm, Grant and Ward. Then he began to write his memoirs for Mark Twain. He was diagnosed with throat cancer and died a week after he finished his memoirs on July 23, 1885. Mrs. Julia Grant received almost $450,000 for it. He was buried on Riverside Drive in New York City and his tomb has become a national monument.

In conclusion, although Grant is often perceived as a failure as a president, he was an honest man. His administration failed leaving him with a bad name. He accomplished much in the 63 years of his life including the surrender of General Lee and Appomattox, the Treaty of Washington, the Geneva Tribunal, the restoration of the seceded states, the admittance of Colorado into the Union, the Amnesty Act of 1872, and the writing of his memoirs. Although he may not go down in history as a great president, he certainly had his moments of glory.

Spring 1996. Eleventh grade; West Hall High School


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Smith, Gene. Lee and Grant. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1984.

The World Book Encyclopedia. G. Chicago, Illinois: World Book, Inc. 1990.

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