Ulysses S. Grant was renowned as a hero and savior of the Union in
his day. Yet modern historians are likely to recall him as a
president who barely survived one scandal after another. Call it a
profile in courage: in this contribution to Arthur Schlesinger's
American Presidents series (and the best written of the 32 volumes
to have appeared thus far), novelist and historian Bunting (All
Loves Excelling, 2001, etc.) attempts to rescue Grant from "the
cliches of the Grant Myth" by examining their origins. Unlike many
politicians and commanders of his era, Grant was inclined to a
commonsensical, economical attitude that was easily mistaken for
taciturnity and opacity; his fellow students at West Point, for
example, remembered him a silent and awkward, though one praised
him as having "the most perfect regard for truth . . . not a
prominent man in the Corps, but respected by all." No one back home
expected him to survive the Military Academy, much less to become a
hero of the Mexican War, a conflict he regarded from the outset as
unjust but served in nonetheless, writing to a friend, "Experience
proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his country is
engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable
place in life or history." Not that Grant was particularly
ambitious to earn glory in life or history; rather, he seems to
have thrived in doing his duty quietly and efficiently, moving,
like Caesar, to the next task when one was finished. Such qualities
endeared him to Abraham Lincoln, whose champion he became; indeed,
writes Bunting, as president, "Grant would labor to fulfill what he
took to be Abraham Lincoln's vision for a nation made whole." And
what of his failure to stem corruption in his government? Bunting
explains, quite reasonably, that Grant accepted some of it as
political necessity-and argues as well that some of what we regard
as corruption today was not judged as such in Grant's own time,
adding that "the best-known scandal of the Grant era had nothing to
do with Ulysses Grant." A splendid, short-form introduction to
Grant's life and career. (Kirkus Reviews)
As a general, Ulysses S. Grant is routinely described in glowing
terms - the man who turned the tide of the Civil War, who accepted
Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and who had the stomach to see the
war through to final victory. But his presidency is another matter
- the most common word used to characterize it is "scandal." Grant
is routinely portrayed as a man out of his depth, whose trusting
nature and hands-off management style opened the federal coffers to
unprecedented plunder. But that caricature does not do justice to
the realities of Grant's term in office, as Josiah Bunting III
shows in this provocative assessment of our eighteenth president.
Grant came to Washington in 1869 to lead a capital and a country
still bitterly divided by four years of civil war. His predecessor,
Andrew Johnson, had been impeached and nearly driven from office,
and the radical Republicans in Congress were intent on imposing
harsh conditions on the Southern states before allowing them back
into the Union. Grant made it his priority to forge the states into
a single nation, and Bunting shows that despite the troubles that
characterized Grant's terms in office, he was able to accomplish
this most important task-very often through the skillful use of his
own popularity with the American people. Grant was indeed a
military man of the highest order, and he was a better president
than he is often given credit for.
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