January 23, 2013

Taken for Granted

I just finished listening to an unabridged biography of general and President Ulysses Grant titled The Man Who Saved The Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace and I've come away with a renewed appreciation of Grant as president. As a lifelong Civil War dork, I was quite familiar with his achievements in the war but not so much with what came later.

This isn't something a lot of us learned in schools, where Grant's presidency, if addressed at all, is often remembered for this or that scandal. But on the most important issues of his day, defending the rights of former slaves and humane treatment of the American Indians, he was head and shoulders above his contemporaries. There is something remarkable about his unshakable character, both in war and peace. (He even relied on Quakers to help implement his efforts to promote peace with Native Americans, something I missed despite 20+ years of working for AFSC.)

I must have missed this too, but apparently conservatives have recently made an effort to take Grant's face off the $50 bill and replace it with Ronald Reagan (!). While the spirit of fairness compels me to admit that the Gipper may have had his moments,  I can't imagine bumping the savior of the Union in favor of the buster of a union. Here's  a great op-ed in defense of Grant by Sean Wilentz. And here's a sample paragraph of the same about what may be behind the effort to dump grant:

In reality, what fueled the personal defamation of Grant was contempt for his Reconstruction policies, which supposedly sacrificed a prostrate South, as one critic put it, "on the altar of Radicalism." That he accomplished as much for the freed slaves as he did within the constitutional limits of the presidency was remarkable. Without question, his was the most impressive record on civil rights and equality of any president from Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson.

There is also something heroic about his last battle, against lung cancer and time, when, with the help of Samuel Clemens, he discovered his gift for writing as he completed his memoirs in an effort to provide for his family.

If you get the chance, try to learn a little more about this decent but unassuming person. I hope Grant once again assumes his rightful place in the American pantheon. And stays on the $50.

THEY SHOOK THEIR GROOVE THING. I'm referring to stubby tailed feathered dinosaurs, of course.


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