Ulysses S. Grant's persistent negative press

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#1
I wonder whether U.S. Grant's image will ever change, in the mind of the general public, teachers, and of many historians, from the simplistic drunkard/butcher/corrupt one. It's an image that's so deeply ingrained that very few people seem to question it, even when they're writing history.

The top results in a Google search on Grant are usually Wikipedia and the White House. It's all most people will ever read about him.

I've mentioned before on this forum that I find it weird and disgraceful that on the White House website Grant is the only president who is essentially introduced by the critiques of his contemporary political enemies. When he was elected, the American people hoped for an end to turmoil. Grant provided neither vigor nor reform. Looking to Congress for direction, he seemed bewildered. One visitor to the White House noted “a puzzled pathos, as of a man with a problem before him of which he does not understand the terms.

Contrast that to the introduction to Andrew Johnson: Although an honest and honorable man, Andrew Johnson was one of the most unfortunate of Presidents. Arrayed against him were the Radical Republicans in Congress, brilliantly led and ruthless in their tactics. Even James Buchanan gets a somewhat more respectful introduction, an acknowledgement of the difficulty of his assignment: Presiding over a rapidly dividing Nation, Buchanan grasped inadequately the political realities of the time. Relying on constitutional doctrines to close the widening rift over slavery, he failed to understand that the North would not accept constitutional arguments which favored the South. Nor could he realize how sectionalism had realigned political parties: the Democrats split; the Whigs were destroyed, giving rise to the Republicans.

The text long predates the current occupant of the White House, and is based on a 2006 book called The Presidents of the United States of America, by Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey.

Wikkipedia is a bit more balanced, a shifting battleground between people who have read some historians and people who are determined to get "corruption" in as many times as possible. The separate page on corruption in the Grant administration is closely watched by its authors, who really, really want "scandal" in bold face type at the top of the page. Contrast that with, say, Attila the Hun, whose treatment is a bit more nuanced: The historiography of Attila is faced with a major challenge, in that the only complete sources are written in Greek and Latin by the enemies of the Huns. Attila's contemporaries left many testimonials of his life, but only fragments of these remain. Genghis Khan, admittedly controversial, gets an admission that Like other notable conquerors, Genghis Khan is portrayed differently by conquered peoples than those who conquered with him. Negative views persist in histories written by many cultures from different geographical regions.

Our Sam Grant hasn't seemed to benefit from different perceptions in different geographical regions.

I've been listening to a long and extremely detailed audiobook on the history of New York City. Painstakingly researched, or so I believed, until I got to the fascinating 1870s, where Grant's presidency is mentioned occasionally. The word "corrupt" is always, I repeat, always said in conjunction with President Grant. The one time Grant does something that the author appears to agree with, trying to counter the administration's corruptions is cited as a motivation. When Gould and Fisk attempt to corner the gold market, the president is "in on it." When the Secretary of the Treasury dumps gold onto the market and precipitates Black Friday, the author says that he was responding to public pressure, never mentioning Grant's belated realization of what was happening, leaving the impression that Grant was still "in on it." While Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace published Gotham in 2003, long predating Charles Calhoun, Ronald C. White, Ron Chernow, Joan Waugh and H.W. Brands, the work of Brooks D. Simpson and (albeit lawyer) Frank Scaturro had already delved behind the facade of the corrupt oaf in the White House to find a much more complex and intelligent person.

I think U.S. Grant deserves at least as much respect among the general public as, well, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. I wonder how much longer it will take for the work of recent historians to trickle down to the White House and Wikipedia.
 

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Cavalry Charger

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#2
It is depressing, indeed, to think that the only impressions to be had of Grant for the less curious are the ones presented above.

For the White House to be on a equivalent footing with Wikipedia is even worse.

There are obviously some historians leading the charge in terms of revitalizing Grant's image, and I say 'revitalizing' because it is one that has been tarnished, not one that was lacking from the very beginning.

Thanks so much for posting your thoughts on this @Canadian. I hope it will make others sit up and think when they realize Attila the Hun garners a greater defense than Ulysses S. Grant on the world wide web.
 
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#3
Grant's Administration was among (if not the most) corrupt in American history. I don't understand the thirst to re-write this.

Sure, he bloodied Lee (with an Army twice as large) but as president, really? We can do better than this.
 
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#4
Grant did appoint people way above their pay grade in terms of comprehending the shark tank that was Washington DC. Parker was a good choice objectively, but he was a naif.
Some folks he liked, who were not as honest as they should have been, and Grant stuck by them too long. When he chopped, he chopped very well however. As is the case of his Brother in law and the gold ring.
Grant voted in only one election, and he voted for the Democrat. In terms of promotion in the army he started out as a colonel and reached the hights of lt General after three years. In terms of promotion in the political sphere, he started too high. That said, I think he did a far better job than he really should have been expected. The only other general who went from khaki to civi was Eisenhower, who had a great deal more political job than Grant.

The worst scandals were more holdovers from Lincolns administration. Blaming all the scandals when they were exposed rather than they were perpetrated is not fair
 

Bruce Vail

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#5
Well, Grant was not a very good president. His defenders seem to rely heavily on "he wasn't as bad as people say" argument without making a more positive argument for his achievements. Problem there, of course, is that his achievements were exceedingly modest.
 
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cash

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#7
I wonder whether U.S. Grant's image will ever change, in the mind of the general public, teachers, and of many historians, from the simplistic drunkard/butcher/corrupt one. It's an image that's so deeply ingrained that very few people seem to question it, even when they're writing history.

The top results in a Google search on Grant are usually Wikipedia and the White House. It's all most people will ever read about him.

I've mentioned before on this forum that I find it weird and disgraceful that on the White House website Grant is the only president who is essentially introduced by the critiques of his contemporary political enemies. When he was elected, the American people hoped for an end to turmoil. Grant provided neither vigor nor reform. Looking to Congress for direction, he seemed bewildered. One visitor to the White House noted “a puzzled pathos, as of a man with a problem before him of which he does not understand the terms.

Contrast that to the introduction to Andrew Johnson: Although an honest and honorable man, Andrew Johnson was one of the most unfortunate of Presidents. Arrayed against him were the Radical Republicans in Congress, brilliantly led and ruthless in their tactics. Even James Buchanan gets a somewhat more respectful introduction, an acknowledgement of the difficulty of his assignment: Presiding over a rapidly dividing Nation, Buchanan grasped inadequately the political realities of the time. Relying on constitutional doctrines to close the widening rift over slavery, he failed to understand that the North would not accept constitutional arguments which favored the South. Nor could he realize how sectionalism had realigned political parties: the Democrats split; the Whigs were destroyed, giving rise to the Republicans.

The text long predates the current occupant of the White House, and is based on a 2006 book called The Presidents of the United States of America, by Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey.

Wikkipedia is a bit more balanced, a shifting battleground between people who have read some historians and people who are determined to get "corruption" in as many times as possible. The separate page on corruption in the Grant administration is closely watched by its authors, who really, really want "scandal" in bold face type at the top of the page. Contrast that with, say, Attila the Hun, whose treatment is a bit more nuanced: The historiography of Attila is faced with a major challenge, in that the only complete sources are written in Greek and Latin by the enemies of the Huns. Attila's contemporaries left many testimonials of his life, but only fragments of these remain. Genghis Khan, admittedly controversial, gets an admission that Like other notable conquerors, Genghis Khan is portrayed differently by conquered peoples than those who conquered with him. Negative views persist in histories written by many cultures from different geographical regions.

Our Sam Grant hasn't seemed to benefit from different perceptions in different geographical regions.

I've been listening to a long and extremely detailed audiobook on the history of New York City. Painstakingly researched, or so I believed, until I got to the fascinating 1870s, where Grant's presidency is mentioned occasionally. The word "corrupt" is always, I repeat, always said in conjunction with President Grant. The one time Grant does something that the author appears to agree with, trying to counter the administration's corruptions is cited as a motivation. When Gould and Fisk attempt to corner the gold market, the president is "in on it." When the Secretary of the Treasury dumps gold onto the market and precipitates Black Friday, the author says that he was responding to public pressure, never mentioning Grant's belated realization of what was happening, leaving the impression that Grant was still "in on it." While Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace published Gotham in 2003, long predating Charles Calhoun, Ronald C. White, Ron Chernow, Joan Waugh and H.W. Brands, the work of Brooks D. Simpson and (albeit lawyer) Frank Scaturro had already delved behind the facade of the corrupt oaf in the White House to find a much more complex and intelligent person.

I think U.S. Grant deserves at least as much respect among the general public as, well, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. I wonder how much longer it will take for the work of recent historians to trickle down to the White House and Wikipedia.
It's a remnant of the losers writing the history. We can see the White House website text isn't written by anyone who's anywhere near competent in history. Frank Freidel died in 1993 and journalist Hugh Sidey died in 2005, so the 2006 date on the book is rather suspect. Freidel's and Sidey's knowledge was quite obviously out of date.

Burrows died last year, and neither he nor Wallace are experts in Grant's presidency or on Reconstruction. They're obviously relying on faulty works, probably Dunning school writings.
 
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#8
Well, Grant was not a very good president. His defenders seem to rely heavily on "he wasn't as bad as people say" argument without making a more positive argument for his achievements. Problem there, of course, is that his achievement's were exceedingly modest.
I think this is pretty much true. I don't think he was by any means a great president because he wasn't and his record shows it. Grant defenders hate this, but he put corrupt individuals into place to do damage so he has to own that. He's the president...the buck stops with him. No, I don't think Grant purposely permitted the scandals to happen, but again, he's in charge.

With that said, he did have some notable accomplishments. His administration kept the US out of two other foreign wars by successfully getting treaties with Britain and Spain negotiated. And his support of the 15th Amendment certainly helped (though I normally don't credit a president with amendment success or failure) and he did quite a number on the first iteration of the Klan. These are things he definitely should get props for.
 
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#9
It's a remnant of the losers writing the history. We can see the White House website text isn't written by anyone who's anywhere near competent in history. Frank Freidel died in 1993 and journalist Hugh Sidey died in 2005, so the 2006 date on the book is rather suspect. Freidel's and Sidey's knowledge was quite obviously out of date.

Burrows died last year, and neither he nor Wallace are experts in Grant's presidency or on Reconstruction. They're obviously relying on faulty works, probably Dunning school writings.
Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidel were both Northerners. Casting aspersion at either, without evidence, is deplorable.

People who died in 1993 and 2005 did not possess less knowledge of the 1860s than today's internet posters. History doesn't change, no matter how badly some may wish it to.
 

cash

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#10
Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidel were both Northerners. Casting aspersion at either, without evidence, is deplorable.
Where they were from is irrelevant, as anyone who knows anything about historical writing and research would know. Being a troll is deplorable.

People who died in 1993 and 2005 did not possess less knowledge of the 1860s than today's internet posters. History doesn't change, no matter how badly some may wish it to.
Thanks for showing this lack of understanding of scholarship and history.
 
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#11
Where they were from is irrelevant, as anyone who knows anything about historical writing and research would know. Being a troll is deplorable.
Casting aspersion, without evidence, against anyone is deplorable. You have made the assertion, it is up to you to prove that either Frank Freidel or Hugh Sidel were, "students of the Dunning School."

I'm confident it's not true and await your evidence to the contrary.

This thread is about U.S. Grant's performance as president of the United States. Anything you've got to offer on this subject will be welcome.
 

cash

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#12
Casting aspersion, without evidence, against anyone is deplorable. You have made the assertion, it is up to you to prove that either Frank Freidel or Hugh Sidel were, "students of the Dunning School."

I'm confident it's not true and await your evidence to the contrary.
Anyone who is competent enough to comprehend the written word will know I didn't say Freidel and Sidel were students of the Dunning School.

This thread is about U.S. Grant's performance as president of the United States. Anything you've got to offer on this subject will be welcome.
Wrong as usual. This thread is about inaccurate writings about Grant.
 

Cavalry Charger

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Then you agree, casting aspersion upon Grant's critics is off topic? That's what we've got here.
That's between you and Cash, but I guess if we consider where the criticisms are coming from we need to determine if they are valid or not. As you both know more about the folks you are talking about than I do, I'm going to leave that for the two of you to discuss.

Would be nice to hear about his presidency and not someone's period-based opinion about his critics.
I think I just answered that, and obviously there were downfalls during the period of his Presidency which no one would deny. How they came about is probably an issue of contention.

The gist I took from the OP was how Grant was being presented in comparison with other Presidents who potentially did no better or worse than him. And the fact that Wikipedia (not always a source to be relied on, but a first port of call for many) has what appears to be a similar take on Grant. Yet, on Wikipedia there appears to be a defense for Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. None for Grant.
 
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#16
The gist I took from the OP was how Grant was being presented in comparison with other Presidents who potentially did no better or worse than him. And the fact that Wikipedia (not always a source to be relied on, but a first port of call for many) has what appears to be a similar take on Grant. Yet, on Wikipedia there appears to be a defense for Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. None for Grant.
Grant fought the Klan and defeated general Lee. There is no defense for the man. he is worse than Atilla, worse than Ghingis, worse than Vlad the Impaler as far as they are concerned. You defeat saint Robert, you are beyond the pale.
 

Cavalry Charger

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Grant fought the Klan and defeated general Lee. There is no defense for the man. he is worse than Atilla, worse than Ghingis, worse than Vlad the Impaler as far as they are concerned. You defeat saint Robert, you are beyond the pale.
For me the issue is more around the fact this appears to be a general impression of Grant, not solely applied to Southerners. It's a general disparaging which is only now being corrected. Well, in some places, but not in all yet. People are still free to disagree, but my sense is the disagreement is across the board. So, discussion around it is important. Blaming Southerers for Grant's 'bad reputation' isn't going to fix it in my opinion.
 
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#18
Grant fought the Klan and defeated general Lee. There is no defense for the man. he is worse than Atilla, worse than Ghingis, worse than Vlad the Impaler as far as they are concerned. You defeat saint Robert, you are beyond the pale.
Wow, this is really an indictment. General Lee was worse than Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan?

I love Civil War Talk, but sometimes, we need to see specifics about these things. What did General Lee do that puts him in the same category as Attila and Khan?

Please be specific in your answer.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#19
*Sigh*. Nearly never get into Grant discussions for reasons I'll keep to myself. Threads always devolve into what a despicable person he must have been. Gee whiz, it's proving the initial point. Then Lee generally rides up, although poor Traveler is now morphed into a fiery white charger. Get the impression there's a bottom line somewhere that because Grant was so despicable and Lee so astonishingly virtuous he turned his horse white, the war was won by cheating and we're scheduling a do-over.

Grant's tombstone should read " He did his best, which was better than most ". Lee's also but he's not the topic of the thread.

Had no clue our White House web site was so off the wall. We all pay for that, seems to me we should be able to expect genuine History from it.
 

archieclement

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#20
*Sigh*. Nearly never get into Grant discussions for reasons I'll keep to myself. Threads always devolve into what a despicable person he must have been. Gee whiz, it's proving the initial point. Then Lee generally rides up, although poor Traveler is now morphed into a fiery white charger. Get the impression there's a bottom line somewhere that because Grant was so despicable and Lee so astonishingly virtuous he turned his horse white, the war was won by cheating and we're scheduling a do-over.

Grant's tombstone should read " He did his best, which was better than most ". Lee's also but he's not the topic of the thread.

Had no clue our White House web site was so off the wall. We all pay for that, seems to me we should be able to expect genuine History from it.
How is it not genuine history? Most presidential historians put Grant in the worst 10 we have had......Its odd some Civil War historians tend to disagree..….as he wasnt president during the civil war. When your ranked in bottom 10 of a field of over 40, thats generally not considered "better then most"

Reckon presidential and civil war historians are both historians......just as a proctologist and a cardiologist are both doctors.....still take the word of the cardiologist for my heart though. Both technically could offer a medical opinion, one has tended to focus on what's relevant to that focus though
 
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