Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
- Jan 7, 2013
- Long Island, NY
The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant (American Presidency Series) by Charles W. Calhoun published by the University Press of Kansas (2017) 39.95 Hardcover 24.88 Kindle.
The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant is a massive work of scholarship weighing in at over 700 richly researched pages. The product of years of scholarship by Professor Charles W. Calhoun of East Carolina University, this is the most complete modern treatment of the eight years of Grant’s presidency.
Fraught years those were. The period from 1868 to 1877 saw the impeachment of a president, the election of Grant, violent resistance to Reconstruction, a crippling financial panic, scandals within Grant’s administration, the loss of Republican control of Congress for the first time since Sumter was attacked, and a hung presidential election. Unfortunately, a lot of that seems to get crowded out by Calhoun’s disproportionate focus on foreign policy.
After briefly discussing the rise of Grant, relying on (and fully acknowledging) Brooks Simpson’s seminal interpretation of Grant’s “Triumph Over Adversity,” Calhoun spends roughly half of the next couple of hundred pages discussing foreign policy issues. Someone could spend three or four hours reading The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant and wonder if this was really The Diplomatic History of the Grant Presidency.
Don’t get me wrong. The foreign policy discussions are masterful and loaded with detail that I was previously unaware of. There are, for example, interesting discussions about the problems created by Grant’s desire to support Cuban rebels without the United States being liable for damages done to Spain because of that support. The United States was, at the time, trying to press the claim in international arbitration that Britain owed the republic money for damage done to United States shipping by the raider Alabama and her sisters. In fact, at one point the U.S. wanted recompense from Britain for prolonging the war. If Britain was liable to the U.S. for allowing the outfitting of the Alabama, then what would the U.S. wind up owing to Spain?
Just as much attention is given by Calhoun to Grant’s attempt to annex what is now the Dominican Republic as to the Alabama claims and Cuban independance. The United States did not annex the Dominican Republic. This incident is so unimportant that few Americans have even heard of it. Similarly, Grant did not secure Cuban independence. The U.S. war for the island was still three decades off.
Because of its length, this review will appear in three installments.