Friday, March 26, 2010

Ulysses S. Grant: Bad President!

March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1877, two terms!

Grant was actually not that horrible of a President, to his credit, he was an advocate of civil rights for African Americans and Native Americans, in a time when most people, and especially most politicians, weren’t. Grant actually worked to curb the power and violence of the Ku Klux Klan, and he pushed into law the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave freedmen the right to vote: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged... on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude." Um, unless you’re a woman, of course, in which case you’ll have to wait another few decades for that right.

He was however, just a bit of an inept Hiring Manager. He routinely installed inept and/or corrupt cronies into cabinet positions, and then allowed them to run fairly rampant. His administration was widely thought to be one of the most corrupt in history, mostly because Grant wasn’t really paying attention to what his cabinet was up to. There were lots of financial scandals involving close associates of Grant, (the 1869 Gold Ring Scandal; the 1872 Credit Mobilier Scandal; the 1874 tax collection scandal; the 1875 Whiskey Ring) though he himself was widely considered honest, the overall aroma coming from the White House during his two terms was Eau de Corruption.

Oh yeah and also, Grant was probably a flaming anti-Semite, if his General Order Number 11 of 1862 is any indication. Although issued when he was a general in Lincoln’s army, the order expelled all Jews from the Department of the Treasury because, as it stated: “The Jews, as a class, [are] violating every regulation of trade” – in other words: “Aw come on! Everybody knows the Jews control all the money!” That’s a bit “Third Reich-y”, don’t you think? (Lincoln rescinded the order after protests from Jewish leaders) Granted, Grant (ha ha, I know, right?) tried to make up for it when he ran for President, making a point of wooing Jewish voters and even offering the post of Secretary of the Treasury to a Jewish friend of his, Joseph Seligman. But the taint of anti-Semitism remained, even though Grant liked to insist that “Some of my best friends are Jewish!”

By the time his second term was winding down, Grant and his administration just couldn’t shake the popular impression that he and his people were irredeemably corrupt, and that, combined with the deteriorating conditions for blacks in the South cemented Grant’s place in history as a Bad President.

I always thought it was extremely impressive that at the end of his life, Grant, who was penniless and dying of throat cancer, threw himself into completing his autobiography, which he finished literally days before his death. The book was a massive bestseller and earned enough money for his family to live comfortably after his death. That certainly earns Grant a large measure of respect, inept Presidency or not.

Fun Facts: Apparently Grant was tone deaf (certainly when it came to the Jewish thing) and hated music. When you consider that popular songs of the period had titles like “The Dying Californian” (“now climbing the charts with a bullet – lodged in his spine!”) “The Oxen Song” (awesome video) and “The Jam on Gerry’s Rocks” (which sounds like a 19th century euphemism for something dirty) that doesn’t seem all that strange.

As a child, Grant was nicknamed "Useless" by his father, apparently because of his ineptitude at everyday tasks. Thank Dad, for the gift that keeps on giving: Low Self Esteem!

Grant smoked 20 cigars a day, for which his throat thanked him by killing him with throat cancer.

1 comment:

Charles said...

The army Grant commanded won the Civil War for the Union. But he believed the war could have been avoided if the ‘poor white trash’ of the South, with no interest in slavery and nothing to gain from secession, had not been incited into fighting by that class who did have interests and felt they had ‘a sort of divine right to control public affairs’. Grant concluded that there would have been no secession ‘if there had been a fair and calm expression of opinion, unbiased by threats, and if the ballot of one legal voter had counted for as much as any other. But there was no calm discussion of the question.’

Why is it that in the US there's rarely calm discussion of important questions? Does freedom mean 'freedom from responsibility'? 'Freedom from maturity'?