Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My favorite president is Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant was born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, and raised in the village of Georgetown in Brown County, Ohio. He entered the U.S. Army military academy at West Point, graduating in 1843. He served in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), and later on the West Coast. But he was unhappy being separated from his family, and he resigned his commission in 1854. With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Grant joined the Illinois Volunteers and was later re-commissioned in the regular Army. He was elected President in 1868, and served two terms. Grant was a weak administrator, however, and tended to reward loyalty rather than merit. Many of his appointees were corrupt, and Grant left office personally popular but politically a laughingstock.

The Grants had no home after leaving the White House. So Grant and his family stayed with friends in New York, Ohio, and Philadelphia for two months. Presidents did not receive a pension at the time, and Grant had little in the way of savings and no job prospects. His friends convinced Grant to embark on a world speaking tour -- even though it would take most of Grant's funds. The trip lasted two years, and began in Liverpool in May 1877. The Grants traveled to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Palestine, Greece, Spain, Ireland, India, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, and Japan.

Grant's reputation, savaged during his administration, soared after his tour ended. In 1876, Republicans sought to draft Grant to run again for President, and Grant privately admitted he wanted the job. At the Republican National Convention, Grant had 304 out of the 370 delegates needed to win the nomination in 1876, but James G. Blaine had 284. After 36 ballots, Blaine's delegates nominated a compromise candidate, Representative James A. Garfield, who then won the nomination by acclamation.

Grant's friends, George William Childs and Anthony Joseph Drexel, bought the former president a home on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Grant invested his little remaining funds in 1881 with railroad baron Jay Gould, who formed the Mexican Southern Railroad to build a railroad from Oaxaca to Mexico City. The railroad went bankrupt in 1884.

Grant's son, Ulysses Jr. ("Buck"), had in the meantime opened a Wall Street brokerage house with Ferdinand Ward. In 1883, Grant invested $100,000 of his own money in the firm. Ward, however, was corrupt and used the firm's assets over and over as collateral for multiple loans. The firm neared bankruptcy. Grant asked railroad businessman William Henry Vanderbilt for a personal loan of $150,000. Vanderbilt gave him the money, but it did not save the firm. To repay the Vanderbilt loan, Grant sold his Civil War memorabilia and all his remaining assets. (It hardly covered the debt, but Vanderbilt considered it paid.)

To generate income for his family, Grant wrote several articles about the Civil War for "The Century Magazine" at $500 each. Magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson suggested Grant write his memoirs.

And then, in the summer of 1884, Grant learned he had throat cancer.

Grant's friend, Mark Twain, made an offer for Grant's memoirs and proposed a 75 percent royalty. Grant worked diligently on his memoirs at his home in New York City, and then at a cottage on the slopes of Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, New York.

Grant underwent several surgeries to try to stop the cancer, but they were not successful. He was in severe pain, and in the final three months of his life he could not swallow. A tracheotomy was performed to allow him to breathe, but he was starving to death.

Grant forfeited his military pension when he was elected president. But his friends convinced Congress to restore him to the rank of General of the Army with full retirement pay on March 4, 1885.

Ulysses S. Grant died on July 23, 1885 -- having finished his memoirs just weeks earlier. He was 63 years old.

His book, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, was a huge success. Julia Grant received about $450,000 from the sales (a royalty of about 30 percent). The memoir remains highly regarded by the public, military historians, and literary critics. Twain called the Memoirs a "literary masterpiece".

When Grant died, President Grover Cleveland ordered a 30-day nationwide period of mourning. A private funeral for Grant was held at his Mount McGregor cottage. A special funeral train then transported the body to West Point and then New York City. A quarter of a million people viewed it over the next two days. Tens of thousands of men accompanied Grant's casket to Riverside Park. His pallbearers included Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and General John A. Logan. Attendance at the New York funeral topped 1.5 million. Grant's body was laid to rest in Riverside Park in a temporary tomb.

On April 27, 1897, a new mausoleum to house Grant's remains was opened in Manhattan. It was Grant's 75th birthday. Architect John Hemenway Duncan designed the structure. Grant's remains were laid to rest in a sarcophagus in a circular atrium at the General Grant National Memorial ("Grant's Tomb"). The tomb remains the largest mausoleum in North America to this day.

Julia Dent Grant, Grant's wife of nearly 40 years, died five years later in 1902 and was laid to rest in a matching sarcophagus beside her husband.

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