Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ulysses S. Grant: America's Greekest* General-President

I've got a lot of respect for a guy who was a lifelong adherent of rocking the three-piece-suit + beard combo. Doesn't he look dreamy in his Union officer uniform?

Ulysses S. Grant was actually named Hiram Ulysses Grant, but some douchebag wrote his name wrong while nominating him to West Point, and the military insisted that he now be officially known as that. Lyss (as he was called as a child) was born in a log cabin in Ohio. He fought under future prez Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War, in which Grant showed heroism, but later he was like, "Yeah, that was kind of an unjust war. Too bad we did that. Also, slavery: not really that cool." At some point, Grant was married to a Julia Boggs and they had kids with silly names like "Buck," "Nellie," "Jesse," and "Fred," which maybe aren't all that silly, but taken together sound like they could be some of the Dukes cousins or something. But anyway, Grant was assigned for a while to (dum-dah-dum-DAH!) Fort Vancouver AKA the biggest thing in my hometown/destination of many a school field trip growing up. He couldn't support his family out west, though, so he just hung out and got drunk. Some say that's why he suddenly resigned from the army in 1854 (he got in trouble), others say it was depression. I say, are these two mutually exclusive? Hello! (points to self)

He moved to Missouri to work on his in-laws' farm. They had slaves. That made him feel pretty awkward, and he was not a very good farmer to boot. Then the Civil War happened. Grant re-joined the army and took on the recruitment and training of volunteers. He led some troops, gained the nickname "Unconditional Surrender," and started getting sent cigars by adoring fans. Apparently he had an amazing grasp of militiary strategery, and helped turn the war in the Union's favor. President Lincoln promoted him, like, a bunch of times until he became the General-in-Chief, which is like an Editor-in-Chief, but with more killing. Blahblahblah lots of bloody battles, eventually Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant and hooray! the war ended (a few weeks later once everybody finally got word to stop fighting). Unfortunately, Grant's biggest fan, Lincoln, was assassinated (SPOILER!), but Grant served as one of his pallbearers. He didn't get on too well with default-President Johnson, and was chosen as the Republican nominee for President in 1868. Apparently he appealed to veterans--can you say, "Waving the bloody shirt?"

As the youngest President to that date (age 46), he did his best with the whole "Reconstruction" thing, trying to secure blacks' civil rights and such. He also made Christmas a national holiday. THX for legitimizing Jesus' birthday, U.S., BTW. Re-elected in 1872, Grant did an okay job as President, but there was a bit of a currency crisis during his presidency, and lots and lots of scandals. Grant also helped push the whole Gilded Age spoils system (James A. Garfield has so many people to thank!). After going on a post-presidency world tour with his wife, he lost the nomination to Garfield in an attempt at a third term (serves him right for being greedy, eh?) in 1880. Then he went bankrupt. Then he got throat cancer.** Luckily, Mark Twain (with whom he apparently shared a love of Old Crow bourbon) offered to pay him $$$ for his memoirs, which are supposed to be really good. Then he died in 1885 of that whole cancer thing. Luckily we keep his memory in our hearts by naming lots of streets after him and putting him on the under-used $50 bill. Oh, and supposedly he was tone deaf.*** U.S. Grant: giving alcoholics everywhere a reason to dream.

  *Grant was not Greek. His parents were both of English descent. Apparently they were just creative with his middle name. 
 **Goddamn cigars. 
 ***See Wikipedia for this and every other fact contained in this post.


  1. That is a great pic of US Grant.

  2. A request for next time: Calvin Coolidge, cause he's the one 20th cent. prez i know the least about.