Ulysses S. Grant may serve as a model in which a man known for bravery and military astuteness does not translate into leadership in the political arena.
Ulysses S. Grant was not born with that name but as Hiram Ulysses Grant. Due to a typographical error at the time of appointment to West Point he was enrolled as Ulysses Grant taking the middle initial as meaning nothing more than “US” Grant.
Grant was born in Ohio and not much can be said of his formative years until he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point at the age of seventeen in 1839. He was not a distinguished scholar but was known for his horsemanship.
Although an equestrian he was first assigned to a post as quartermaster managing supplies and ordnances.
During the Mexican-American War he served under Generals Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor. He later was to write how he though the war was an unjust one and that the territorial gains were merely designed to advance the spread of slavery in the South.
He remained in the military until 1854 despite the hardships on his young family. He was accused of being drunk while off duty but on base. The ultimatum delivered to him was either resign or be court-marshaled.
The years between 1854 and 1860 were very difficult for Grant. Unsuccessful as a farmer he had a number of jobs none of which proved financially successful.
The Civil War was coming to the nation and Grant’s fortunes were about to change.
Civil War Years
From an initial assignment to train volunteers, His rise through the military ranks and a field command came to Grant in 1861. Distinguishing himself at several battles at the Battles of Belmont, Fort Henry, and Fort Donelson made Grant’s mark as a military leader. The victory at Fort Donelson resulted in the capture of 12,000 Confederate soldiers as well as a bounty of war munitions.
Battles at Shiloh, Vicksburg, in 1862 and later at Chattanooga in 1863 saw Grant advance from merely being the preeminent General of the Union forces in the West but had gained him the rank of Lieutenant General, a rank only awarded in full to George Washington.
The remaining years of the war with its conclusion with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House only secured this status as a national hero.
The Political Years
The death of Abraham Lincoln at the end of the war was destined to create a political vacuum and struggle. Lincoln had been in favor of a conciliatory attitude toward a defeated South. He wanted to “bind up the nation’s wounds”.
The attitude of many Northern leaders was a desire to see the South punished for inflicting on the country four years of brutal bloodshed. The impeachment proceeding brought against Lincoln’s vice-president and now President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, indicated how much the nation need a strong leader. Grant the war hero would prove to be the man.
Election of 1868
The obvious choice for the Republicans was Grant who had favored the radical element in the party. The Democrats put forward the nomination of Horatio Seymour of New York who was against severe Reconstruction measures.
The election, though far from a landslide that one might have expected did deliver the White House to Grant.
Grant’s First Term
President Grant’s first term (and second as well) would be marked by corruption which would touch the highest members of his administration and his brother-in-law as well. In September 1869, several investors in attempt to monopolize the gold market brought about economic catastrophe.
The Congress rather than the President began exerting more and more influence over the day-to-day operations of the government including the direction of Southern Reconstruction.
Election of 1872
Grant remained popular. In the 1872 election he was the only candidate the more radical element of the Republican Party considered many liberal Republican did join with the candidacy of the Democratic nominee Horace Greely.
The popular and Electoral College vote was not much different than the 1868 result however.
Grant’s Second Term and Legacy
President Grant’s second term was again marked by scandal and corruption. Impeachment charges are brought against his Secretary of War for accepting bribes from businessmen. A conspiracy is found to exist between U.S. Treasury officials and distillers
Grant though personally popular when he left office left a weakened Presidency which would lead to a series of weak, single term Presidents.