Ulysses S. Grant touted as 'one of the great civil rights presidents'

Jan 14, 2018
Adirondacks-New York
Grant's actions as President, then ok.

Let's not "let it spin" by inference that Grant was overtly engaged in civil rights before that, in his very long prior careers. He was not known to be anti-slavery in his politics, while in the same settings some his then-peers in the regular Army or in Missouri or Illinois were known to be. He was not known to be actively assisting enslaved or free blacks or native americans in those days. If merely following army or community protocols is that so notable? During the war, were Grant's directives regarding "jews" who were trading goods in the trans-Mississippi devoid of prejudice?

I'm a huge admirer of Grant, don't ruin it for me. Please let's not be putting Grant (or Lee, or Lincoln, or Jackson) on a higher pedestal than honor dictates. We admire the real.
I agree there is little evidence that exists showing Grant actively advocated for civil rights measures prior to the Civil War. He grew up in area with both influences at play (slavery/anti-slavery) and seems to have settled in a moderate stance on the issue. My comment was meant to illustrate that he simply acknowledged racial inequalities, tyranny of stronger over weaker and racial exploitation in his earlier life. Other than emancipation of a slave in 1858 (which the motivations are not 100% understood) the record is relatively silent as far as his earlier career, though it must be noted that far less records exist from his pre-Civil War career. During the Civil War his work on towards the humane treatment of the refugee slaves, establishment of a fairer system of labor, and recruitment and fair treatment of African American soldiers were significant. I believe Order No #11 was less motivated by prejudice and more by frustration over a clandestine system involving many Jews.

I think he wanted everyone to get a fair shot to prove themselves and did not like to see imbalance with any particular groups or races. He expected the freedmen to seek education and commit themselves to becoming productive citizens worthy of the privilege. He sought the same opportunities for the Native Americans, to see them educated and become citizens. He recognized the races had the same potential given the same opportunities. They could become educated professionals like Frederick Douglas and Ely Parker.

Overall he seemed to be man of his times but with a deeper conviction than some that "all men are created equal" was a fundamental truth that was still playing out. I think he did what he thought appropriate, expedient and within his power to advance this truth. In the process he certainly did not shy away from assigning blame on the white culture where it was due. He came to embrace the reality that African American civil rights needed to progress more rapidly and traditional Native American life could not coincide with westward expansion forever. His solutions for these issues were partially influenced by common perspectives of the day but also with a level of open-minded progressiveness that is not fully appreciated.

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Cavalry Charger

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Jan 24, 2017
Interestingly Grant's parents were staunch abolitionists, and no doubt he carried their sentiments with him. I think this is proven by his later actions in manumitting the one slave he owned prior to the Civil War and never attempting to own another. This was at a time when the Grant's were desparately in need of money, but Grant manumitted the man rather than sell him for his own gain. Grant had a foot in two worlds, proven by his marriage to Julia and his parent's decision to abstain from attending their wedding. This must have created huge difficulties for him, but I believe he stayed true to the sentiments his parent's ingrained in him right up to and during the terms of his Presidency. As @GrantCottage1885 mentioned there were many factors that came into play which prevented him from doing more during those terms, but I do believe he was as true to himself and his beliefs as he could be in the circumstances. I don't disallow possible prejudice on the part of Grant at different times. He was only human after all. The fact that he recognized them and tried to reconcile those differences shows his true qualities as a human being.
Jul 24, 2017
"I have no prejudice against sect or race, but want each individual to be judged by his own merit." -US Grant

I believe if you study Grant's career this statement continually rings true. Being the owner of a slave and being married into a slave-holding family did not necessarily make him inherently prejudiced. Just as the views of his subordinates on race inequality (esp. Sherman & Sheridan) did not necessarily match his own. I think his efforts on behalf of protecting and advancing the rights of African Americans were substantial and worthy of recognition (14th, 15th Amendments, Klan Acts Etc.). Both with the former slaves and the Native Americans Grant saw that most limitations in their level of education and culture were due to the actions of the white man. This view gave him every reason to have sympathy for and take actions toward bringing them fully into the citizenry of the United States. He was realistic enough to realize his goals for these groups could not be achieved easily or quickly. Public sentiment and political corruption worked against his efforts for both groups, but he was still able to contribute to substantial improvements and precedents in federal law. His actions saved the lives of countless African Americans and Native Americans as well. It's important to remember these were not easy issues and were not his responsibility alone as President. He did the best he could with an electorate and political parties that were still dramatically polarized during Reconstruction. He was and still is criticized for things he had little or no knowledge or control of. A more enlightening context of his relationship towards African American civil rights and Native American affairs is only recently coming to light in more in depth studies being done such as Mary Stockwell's Interrupted Odyssey: U.S. Grant and the Indians and Charles Calhoun The Presidency of U. S. Grant of these. These issues in his career have been debated for many years without crucial information that is now available through modern resources (especially online digitized databases). I would encourage everyone to be open to new perspectives on multiple historical figures as ever more previously obscure data becomes available digitally.

Civil Rights measures that Grant had influence on:

-Military protective measures for the Freedmen to allow them to freely exercise their newly granted rights.
-Passage of the 14th Amendment granting citizenship for African Americans and certain Native Americans.
-Passage of the 15th Amendment securing voting rights for African American men.
-Passage of the Civil Rights (1871&75), Enforcement & Klan Acts and use of Federal force to protect African American rights.
-Support for the Freedman's Bureau as well as African American and Native American education.
-Increase for the budget of the Office of Indian Affairs and 40 Executive Orders dealing mainly with reservations.
-Efforts towards peace, territorial self-government, individual land ownership and ultimately citizenship for the Native Americans.

General Grant initially concerned with protecting the lives and rights of Freedman and Native Americans:

“…the Freedmen’s Bureau is an absolute necessity until civil law is established and enforced, securing to the freedmen their rights and full protection. It cannot be expected that the opinions held by men of the south for years can be changed in a day, and therefore the freedman require, for a few years, not only laws to protect them, but the fostering care of those who will give them good counsel, and on whom they can rely.” –USG to Sec. of War Edwin Stanton 8/28/65

"It may be that Indians require as much protection from the whites as the whites do from the Indians. My own experience has been that but little trouble would have ever been from them but for the encroachment and influence of bad whites." -USG to Gen. Pope

"In view of the… unsettled questions between the white and black races at the south, I am of opinion that a regular army of eighty thousand men is needed” –USG letter to Edwin Stanton 10/20/65

The following are some of the most powerful statements made by a U.S. President in regard to race issues up to that time:

"The proper treatment of the original occupants of this land—the Indians one deserving of careful study. I will favor any course toward them which tends to their civilization and ultimate citizenship." -USG 1st Inaugural Address

"the adoption of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution completes the greatest civil change and constitutes the most important event that has occurred since the nation came into life." -USG Message to Congress

"I advise such legislation as will forever preclude the enslavement of the Chinese upon our soil under the name of coolies, and also prevent American vessels from engaging in the transportation of coolies to any country tolerating the system." -1st State of the Union

"I do not believe that our Creator ever placed different races of men on this earth with the view of having the stronger exert all his energies in exterminating the weaker." -USG to George Stuart 1872

"A [Native American] Territorial government should... protect the Indians from the inroads of whites for a term of years, until they become sufficiently advanced in the arts and civilization to guard their own rights, and from the disposal of the lands held by them for the same period." -USG 4th Annual Message 1872

"The effects of the late civil strife have been to free the slave and make him a citizen. Yet he is not possessed of the civil rights which citizenship should carry with it. This is wrong, and should be corrected. To this correction I stand committed, so far as Executive influence can avail." -USG 2nd Inaugural Address

"by a humane course, to bring the aborigines of the country under the benign influences of education and civilization. It is either this or war of extermination: Wars of extermination... are expensive even against the weakest people, and are demoralizing and wicked. Our superiority of strength and advantages of civilization should make us lenient toward the Indian. The wrong inflicted upon him should be taken into account and the balance placed to his credit. The moral view of the question should be considered and the question asked, Can not the Indian be made a useful and productive member of society by proper teaching and treatment? If the effort is made in good faith, we will stand better before the civilized nations of the earth and in our own consciences for having made it." -USG 2nd Inaugural Address

His final reflections on race issues:

“The former [South] was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class…As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man…people who believed in the 'divinity' of human slavery…We forgive them for entertaining such notions, but forbid their practice.” –USG in Memoirs 1885

“It is possible that the question of a conflict between the races may come up in the future, as did that between freedom and slavery before. The condition of the colored man within our borders may become a source of anxiety, to say the least. But he was brought to these shores by compulsion, and he now should be considered as having as good a right to remain here as any other class of our citizens." –USG Memoirs 1885
Extremely well researched and very persuasive.


First Sergeant
Jun 16, 2016
It is one of the wonders of this board that we have people boasting about Nathan Bedford Forrest's conversion to supporting black equality, declaring that Robert E. Lee abhorred slavery, and pointing to the supposed existence of black Confederate soldiers as evidence of the Confederacy's commitment to integration and equality while denigrating Grant and Lincoln on the issues of slavery and equality.


Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Aug 17, 2011
Birmingham, Alabama
It is one of the wonders of this board that we have people boasting about Nathan Bedford Forrest's conversion to supporting black equality, declaring that Robert E. Lee abhorred slavery, and pointing to the supposed existence of black Confederate soldiers as evidence of the Confederacy's commitment to integration and equality while denigrating Grant and Lincoln on the issues of slavery and equality.
It gets folks moving early in the morning and keeps things lively. Most every time that happens their opponents post new information in response. Win Win, they get rhetoric and the members get new and interesting information.

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Jan 7, 2013
Long Island, NY
It is one of the wonders of this board that we have people boasting about Nathan Bedford Forrest's conversion to supporting black equality, declaring that Robert E. Lee abhorred slavery, and pointing to the supposed existence of black Confederate soldiers as evidence of the Confederacy's commitment to integration and equality while denigrating Grant and Lincoln on the issues of slavery and equality.
You ignore the fact that even before "emancipation" Forrest often housed and fed blacks at his own expense.

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