Writing life sketches of poets, philosophers, politicians, and saints offers space for learning and honing critical thinking skills.
"Hiram Ulysses Grant" Becomes "Ulysses S. Grant"
As "Ulysses S. Grant" was growing up, his nickname was "Lyss" (1)— short for Ulysses. His mother’s maiden name was "Simpson." These two facts ultimately resulted in "Hiram Ulysses Grant" becoming "Ulysses S. Grant."
Congressman Thomas Hamer, who sponsored Grant’s enrollment in West Point, assumed that Lyss’ nickname was short for his first name, as is usually the case. And Hamer knew that Lyss’ mother’s maiden name was Simpson; thus, when he filled out the application for Grant’s West Point assignment, Hamer gave the name "Ulysses S. Grant" to the young recruit.
Upon arriving at West Point and finding that his name was registered incorrectly, Grant tried to correct it, only to be told that if he wanted to attend West Point, he would have to change his name. He was informed that the official government application could not be changed. Therefore, Grant changed his name, and "Hiram Ulysses Grant" became "Ulysses S. Grant."
Grant was well known for serving in the Union Army, which vanquished General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates. Running against Horatio Seymour, former Democrat governor of New York, Ulysses S. Grant handily won election to the presidency, beating Seymour 214-80 in the Electoral College and winning 26 of 34 states, becoming the 18th president of the United States and the second Republican president. Almost 500,000 black citizens voted for Grant to become the 18th president.
Grant did not strongly desire to hold the position as president, but the Republican Party sought someone who was moderate and popular enough to win the election. Grant also wanted to make sure peace was restored to the country after the bloody Civil War had ravaged the landscape and citizenry for nearly half a decade. Grant believed that he could lead the Reconstruction with true statesmanship.
A major problem during the Reconstruction era was violence again newly freed blacks and the Republican party members who had sought abolition of slavery. Grant took that problem seriously, and though the federal government was low on resources for fighting the violence, Grant wrote a letter to speaker of the house James G. Blaine stating that the "deplorable state of affairs" happening in the South required congressional action. He asked that legislation be enacted to alleviate the violence to protect "life and property" in those parts of the country where violence had escalated.
Congress’ response was to pass three pieces of legislation known as "The Force Acts" (2). The first prohibited groups from gathering for the purpose of violating other citizens’ constitutional rights. The second act placed federal elections under the auspices of federal judges and US marshals. The third gave the president the power to suspend habeas corpus. These acts became known as the Ku Klux Kan Acts.
On May 3, 1871, Grant announced by proclamation that terroristic acts of violence would be prosecuted. At the same time, he appealed to the South to suppress violence and to "maintain the rights of all citizens of the United States." He admonished the Southern Democrats to guaranteed equal protection of the law to all citizens. He emphatically stated that he would not hesitate to employ all powers vested in the executive branch to secure all rights of US citizens to "the peaceful enjoyment of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and laws."
To back up his threats, Grant declared martial law in the piedmont area of South Carolina, where the Klan had perpetrated it worst acts of lawlessness and violence. He stationed the 7th U.S. Cavalry in that area, where U.S. marshals along with the military began arresting and prosecuting KKK members caught engaging in unlawful violent acts.
While these bold maneuvers gave some relief to the newly established citizenry, the overall success remains debatable. Adversaries of Grant accused the president of federal overreach with the Force Acts. Attorney General Amos T. Akerman, who had strongly enforced those acts left the administration at the end of 1871. With his resignation, the strong enforcement of those acts lost its strength. The KKK members who had been arrested and convicted are given light sentences.
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As the Democrat white supremacists continued to fill state and local government positions, the work of the KKK’s violent intrusion became less necessary. The Democrat legislators and governors instituted Jim Crow Laws (3) and Black Codes, and racism became ingrained in the system, that is, the Democrats systemic racism meant that not only was integration with whites frowned upon, it was illegal.
And while Grant signed into law the Civil Right Act of 1875, the end of systemic racism (4) had to wait almost another century until the Civil Right Acts of 1964/1965 finally eliminated racism as built into the America system of government.
In 1872, Grant succeeded in winning the presidency again, this time overcoming the New York newspaper editor, Horace Greeley, who famously advised, "Go west, Young Man!" Grant’s presidency did, in fact, see much significant legislation enacted, as well as important amendments to the Constitution. The 15th amendment gave voting rights to all citizens, especially necessary for the newly freed slaves.
While suffering from cancer, Grant completed his memoirs titled Personal Memoirs, which was so well received that it sold more than 300,000 copies immediately upon publication. Since its publication, the book has remained in print. Robert McCrum (5), writing in The Guardian, has high praise for Grant’s writing ability, stating that "no other American president has told his story as powerfully as Ulysses S Grant.
The book is one of the most unflinching studies of war in our literature." Also according to McCrum, "Gore Vidal added his own assessment: 'It is simply not possible to read Grant’s memoirs without realising that the author is a man of first-rate intelligence'."
Grant’s book of memoirs was such a success that after his death, the royalties from the publication supported his widow, Julia. Mrs. Grant served as first lady of from 1869 to 1877. Both Grant and his wife are buried in New York City in the General Grant National Memorial.
Grant and the Gray Ghost
The Confederate colonel, John Singleton Mosby—whose guerrilla warfare tactics were dramatized in the 1950s TV show, "Gray Ghost"— became a Republican after the Civil War ended. He felt that the Republican Party offered the best strategies for helping the South recover from the war.
Mosby served as Grant’s Virginia campaign manager. About Mosby, Grant claimed (6), "Since the close of the war, I have come to know Colonel Mosby personally and somewhat intimately. He is a different man entirely from what I supposed. He is able and thoroughly honest and truthful."
Colonel Mosby later served as US Consul to Hong Kong from 1878 to 1885 and assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice from 1904 to 1910. His memoirs include two books, Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby, published in 1887 and Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign, published in 1908.
- Editors. "Ulysses S. Grant: Union Civil War General." American Civil War. Accessed October 28, 2021.
- Editors. "President Grant Takes on the Ku Klux Klan." National Park Service: US Department of the Interior. Last updated: January 31, 2021.
- Sam Jacobs. "Democrats & Jim Crow: A Century of Racist History the Democratic Party Prefers You’d Forget." The Libertarian Institute. June 19, 2020.
- Josh Hammer. "The Supreme Court Must Now End The 'Systemic Racism' Of Affirmative Action." Newsweek. February 26, 2021.
- Robert McCrum. "Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S Grant (1885)." The Guardian. February 20, 2017.
- John Simkin. "John Singleton Mosby." Spartacus Educational. Original: September 1997. Updated January 2020.
© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes