15 Out of This World Facts About Ulysses S. Grant!

Today, Ulysses S. Grant is remembered for being the 18th President of the United States, between 1869 and 1877. This got me thinking, what are some interesting facts about Ulysses S. Grant? Grant’s presidency presided over a rather tumultuous time in US history – reconstruction. As far as his presidency is concerned, Grant’s has historically […]

15 Out of This World Facts About Ulysses S. Grant!
Facts about Ulysses S. Grant: The official presidential of President Grant, with him wearing a suit and staring into the camera

Today, Ulysses S. Grant is remembered for being the 18th President of the United States, between 1869 and 1877. This got me thinking, what are some interesting facts about Ulysses S. Grant?

Grant’s presidency presided over a rather tumultuous time in US history – reconstruction.

As far as his presidency is concerned, Grant’s has historically been viewed as one of the worst, yet, recent years have seen the public come to view his presidency as one of the better ones we’ve had to date!

15. Gifted With Horses

The man who’d eventually become President Ulysses S. Grant, would be born to a tanner (a leather maker) and his wife in Ohio, on April 22 1827.

As with many children of his day, a young Ulysses was taught how to be a tanner by his father, with the expectation that he’d one day become a tanner like his father. There was only one problem: Ulysses hated tannery.

To punish his son, Grant’s father would make a young Ulysses look after the family’s many horses. It was here, where Grant would discover that he had a unique gift for riding and managing horses.

Over the course of his childhood, Grant’s father would notice this, and put his son’s talent to good work, with Ulysses being tasked with transporting tannery supplies or people via horse to earn extra income for the family.

As a military man, Grant’s unique ability with horses would help him in the midst of battle, often being able to calm his own horse and the horses around him, whilst canons were going off left and right, thus saving him from being trampled by a runaway horse.

14. A Reluctant Military Man

Speaking of Grant’s military career, you’d probably be surprised to hear that Grant never actually wanted to be a soldier at all – even if that’s what eventually helped him become president!

In 1839, Grant’s father, Jesse, wrote to Congressman Thomas L. Hamer, in the hopes of convincing the congressman to nominate his young son to go to West Point. Despite Hamer and Grant’s political differences, Hamer would nominate Grant in the Spring of 1839.

However, Jesse Grant did this all without his son’s knowledge, with a young Ulysses being rather shocked to learn about his father’s plot to get him into the military.

Although he initially hoped to leave (or get thrown out of) the academy, Ulysses soon re-evaluated his position, instead choosing to serve his four-year term of duty, before leaving the military entirely.

Eventually, due to mounting pressures from his wife, and his growing fond of the military, Grant would stay in the military, rising to become one of its top generals within 20 years.

13. His Father Didn’t Attend His Wedding

In 1844, whilst still a cadet at West Point, Ulysses S. Grant would meet the sister of his roommate, Julia Dent. Within a few months, the pair would begin courting (dating), with both Grant and Dent falling madly in love with one another.

After a four-year courtship (which would mostly see the pair separated due to Grant’s military service), a 26 year-old Grant would propose to Julia, with her agreeing.

The pair would get married in St Louis on August 22 1848, with all Julia’s relatives attending. Indeed, most of Grant’s would too, except his father, Jesse, who refused to attend the ceremony.

And it wasn’t because he didn’t like Julia – in fact, quite the opposite, with him loving the affection that Julia and Ulysses had for one another.

Instead, Jesse refused to attend his son’s wedding because he despised Julia’s slave-owning family, as he only foresaw this leading to ferocious debates on the merits of slavery between Jesse, and his son’s new in-laws, as Jesse was a staunch abolitionist.

12. He Caught Malaria

In a time before modern medicine, catching any kind of disease was often deadly. Diseases like dysentery, typhus and tuberculosis were endemic during Grant’s day, yet none were as feared as malaria.

Despite never catching any official “military” diseases like tuberculosis during his military career, Grant would catch malaria in the fall of 1858 and the beginning of 1859.

Having left the army four years earlier, in 1854, Grant had settled down to run a farm. Upon catching malaria, however, Grant would be bedridden, and unable to tend to his family’s farm (which he’d started after leaving the army in 1854).

Whilst most men of Grant’s day often died of malaria, Grant would survive (which was more than he could say for his farm, which went out of business whilst Grant was bedridden).

Having no income, Grant would bounce around from job to job, before rejoining the army at the start of the Civil War, thus putting his family on somewhat stable financial grounds.

11. Wore a Private’s Uniform to End The Civil War

Rejoining the army, Grant would soon work his way up to become a general, earning distinction for his successes during the Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns.

By 1865, it was clear to many that the Confederacy were going to lose the war, but all they needed was one fluke and they could win the entire war.

Wanting to prevent this, General Grant would dispatch his armies to assault General Lee’s entrenched forces, on April 2 that year. Using his superior tactics and troops, Grant would surround Lee, choosing to allow him to surrender, rather than massacre Lee’s troops.

Choosing to surrender, Lee would send a message to Grant, agreeing to peace talks at the local Appotomax Court House, with the two generals meeting to discuss peace terms.

However, there was a stark difference between the two men.

For Lee, he was surrounded by his entourage of high-ranking Confederacy officer, wearing perfect dress uniform. Grant, however, wore a standard private’s uniform, with the rank of Lieutenant General stitched onto the shoulders.

The surrender of Lee’s army marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War, with Johnston’s army surrendering on April 26, Richard Taylor’s army on May 4 and Kirby Smith’s on May 26, thus ending the war.

10. Secretary of War

On March 9 1864, President Lincoln appointed General Ulysses S. Grant as the Commanding General of the US Army, as a reward for his victories at the Battle of Vicksburg and the Chattanooga campaign.

Grant would continue to hold this position after Lincoln’s assassination, serving well into the Johnson Administration. On August 12 1867, Johnson would promote Grant to the position of Secretary of War, holding both positions at the same time.

(At the time, the Commanding General of the US Army reported directly to the Secretary of War).

Holding both the positions of Commanding General of the US Army and the Secretary of War, essentially gave Grant full oversight over not only the Army, but the entire US military!

Grant would give up the role as Secretary of War for his predecessor, Edwin Stanton, on January 14 1848, to focus on his presidential campaign.

Grant would hold the position of Commanding General of the US Army until he became president in March 1869.

9. Sole Republican Candidate in 1868

As their first president, Abraham Lincoln had been beloved by his party (and still is today!) Following his assassination, however, Lincoln’s vice-president, Andrew Johnson, would become president.

However, Johnson was a Democrat, whose views rarely aligned with those of the Republicans, causing an effective shutdown of the government during Reconstruction. In fact, it got so bad that Johnson ended up getting impeached!

Despite his impeachment, Johnson was able to stay in the White House, and as president.

Knowing that the only thing standing in between them and the White House was supporting a weak candidate, the GOP went searching for one strong candidate with an impeccable reputation and relationship with the American people.

The candidate they’d find, would be General Ulysses S. Grant.

Offering him the Republican nomination for president, Grant would accept, before facing off against former Governor of New York, Horatio Seymour. By the time the votes were counted, Grant had 214 electoral votes to Seymour’s 80.

8. His Inauguration

After winning the 1868 Presidential Election, preparations for Grant’s inauguration, which would take place on March 4 1869, with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding over the inauguration.

Whilst in many ways Grant’s inauguration was much like all of the ones that had come before it, and all the ones that would come after it, there’d be one *slight* hiccup…

You see, Grant’s inauguration would see the first mass gathering of African Americans at the inauguration of a US president. Although it sounds weird today, this was huge at the time, with many in the south despising the idea of it, whilst many in the north praised it.

Seeing the huge African American presence at his inauguration, Grant would use the opportunity to push for the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which was designed to give all African American men the right to vote.

7. Strong Relations With Ethnic Minorities

Although the 15th Amendment would ultimately prove to be ineffective, especially in the south, Grant had earned a reputation with the African American community as someone who was willing to fight for them.

Whilst many African Americans wouldn’t be able to safely vote until the 1960’s, the 15th Amendment succeeded in one aspect: Crushing the KKK, whose major power base was in the former Confederate south.

(Sadly, the 1920’s would see a resurgence in the KKK, as would the 1980’s, although they would never rise to become as large a political force as they’d once been.)

However, this would not just be limited to the African American community either. Indeed, Grant would also help pass legislation that benefitted Native Americans, primarily takes 370 separate treaties and placing them into one concise document.

Sadly, this wouldn’t last, but Grant would further US-Native American relations by appointing Ely Samuel Parker (a member of the Seneca tribe) as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, which also helped to cool tensions.

6. Wary of European Antisemitism

Anyone who’s looked at European history will know that the Jews have often been mistreated by the Christian monarchs of Europe.

Wanting to show the world that the US didn’t have the same anti-Semitic tendencies that its European counterparts did, Grant would embark on a mission to appoint Jews to high positions within his administration.

In December 1869, Grant would appoint a Jewish journalist to be Consul to Romania in response to the mistreatment of Jews in the country. On March 4 1870, Grant would appoint German-Jewish immigrant, Edward S. Salomon, as the Governor of Washington Territory.

When Tsar Alexander II would expel 2,000 Jewish families to the interior of the country in November 1869, Grant would also publicly denounce the Tsar and announce his support for the B’nai B’rith petition against the Tsar.

In many ways, this started the trend of Jewish migration from Europe to US, which would continue until FDR and the end of WWII and the creation of the state of Israel (although Jewish migration to the US had been common years before Grant’s presidency!)

5. He Put The US Back on The Gold Standard

It should go without saying but the Civil War was devastating. Not only did it create a rift in the US that continues to this day, but it also devastated the US economically, with both sides borrowing millions of dollars from foreign powers to win the war. 

Due to the immense borrowing that took place, both the Union and Confederacy had to suspend the use of the Gold Standard, that historically served as the basis of international trade. 

Hoping to stabilize the US economy, President Grant would sign the Public Credit Act of 1869.

Although the main purpose of the bill was to repay bond holders who’d bought Union or Confederacy bonds during the war, a clause in the bill would pledge to put the US back on the Gold Standard by 1879. 

Whilst Grant would not be serving as president in 1879 (that would be Rutherford B. Hayes) the US would rejoin the Gold Standard by 1879, the promise President Grant had made in 1869. 

Despite helping millions of Americans after the Civil War, Grant would be crucified in the court of public opinion for this, as US golds had fluctuated greatly in between the Civil War and 1879, thus pulling millions out of poverty. 

4. Foreign Allies

Following his presidency, Ulysses S. Grant began to entertain the idea of liquidating some of his assets to finance a much needed vacation, traveling the world for the next two and a half years.

Setting sail from Philadelphia, Grant would first go to England, becoming the first president to travel abroad after leaving office. Whilst in England, Grant would travel to London, where he’d meet Queen Victoria.

From London, Grant would make his way to Paris, and then Berlin, where Grant would meet (and subsequently become good friends with) German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.

After striking a friendship with Bismarck, Grant would head to Rome, where he’d visit Pope Leo XIII in the Vatican, before moving on to several other European countries, before heading East to Asia.

Making his way to China, Grant would meet with high-ranking Qing official, Li Hongzhang. From China, he’d go to Hong Kong, before eventually going to Japan, where he’d meet with Emperor Meiji.

Whilst officially a personal vacation for Grant, this trip helped the US establish itself in these countries, which eventually led to a number of treaties that benefitted the US greatly in the decades and centuries to come.

3. Tried to Run a Third Time

After leaving the presidency in 1877, President Grant would be replaced by fellow Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Grant would describe the day he left the White House in 1877 as one of the two best days of his life – along with the day he left West Point in 1848. 

Whilst Grant personally thanked Hayes for taking over from him as president, Grant hated Hayes’s presidency, viewing him as an inept leader, at a time when the US could not afford to have one. 

Realizing that many in his own party and the American public shared Grant’s views, Hayes declined to run for a second term.

Seeing this as his opportunity, Grant would gather support for a third term, seeking the Republican nomination in the 1880 presidential election (as the 22nd Amendment prohibiting presidents from having more than two terms wouldn’t be ratified until February 1951). 

To begin with, President Grant and former Speaker of the House, James G. Blaine, we’re the clear favorites.

However, the “dark horse” candidate, James Garfield, would soon overtake both Grant and Blaine to win the nomination, eventually coming up against the Democrat’s choice, Winfield Scott Hancock, where Garfield would beat Hancock to become president. 

2. Indebted to The Vanderbilts

A pretty well-known fact about President Grant is that he was a terrible businessman. What you didn’t know, however, was that he was once backed by some of the richest men in the United States.

In 1883, Grant’s son, Buck, got into business with Ferdinand Ward (known as the “Napoleon of Wall Street”), with the pair establishing Wall Street brokerage house, Grant & Ward.

To begin with, the firm was quite successful, with Ulysses S. Grant joining the firm a few months later, also investing his life savings in the company, totaling around $100,000.

Using his status as a former president, Grant would approach many of the US’s wealthiest individuals to invest in the company, in particular William Henry Vanderbilt (then-head of the Vanderbilt family and richest man in the world), who invested $150,000.

However, what the Grants didn’t know, was that Grant & Ward was actually a Ponzi scheme, which collapsed in 1884.

Losing a lot of money, Vanderbilt took Ulysses S. Grant to court, with the judge ordering that Grant had to pay Vanderbilt back his $150,000. To do this, Grant was forced to mortgage his Civil War memorabilia, including his sword.

Accepting his memorabilia as payment, Vanderbilt would keep hold of them until Grant’s death in 1885, where a guilt-ridden Vanderbilt would give them back to Grant’s now destitute wife, Julia.

1. He Invented Lobbying

Today, lobbying is one of those things in politics that everyone seems to love to hate, yet nothing can be done about it. And I’m sorry to say, but Ulysses S. Grant (sort of) invented it.

Whilst lobbying in some form or another had been around since the foundation of the United States, it was often an informal practice, with wealthy families financing one of their sons to become a high-ranking senator, and thus introduce legislation that helped the family.

During Grant’s presidency, however, the art of lobbying became more formal (even if not by much).

You see, after finishing his day’s work, Grant would go from the White House to the Willard Hotel a few blocks away, where he’d sit in hotel lobby and enjoy a brandy and a cigar or two.

Hoping to influence the president’s decisions, well-to-do businessmen would offer to buy the president a drink and strike conversation with the president. Whilst not always effective, it usually was.

Doing it in a lobby, newspapers soon began to call the act “lobbying” with it soon becoming an integral part of the US political system (whether we like it or not!)

Which are your favorite facts about Ulysses S. Grant? Tell me in the comments!