Fifty years of school histories have lied about Ulysses S. Grant, who was a gifted man and consequential president. Not being a career politician helped.
I’m reading Ron Chernow’s Grant. As I only started the book this morning, and have been reading in tiny bits and bytes, I’m only 3% into the book. Grant is just out of West Point and the U.S. is hoping to acquire Texas — with the slave states looking to tip the Congressional balance of power in their favor.
Three percent of a book about a man who was a towering figure in the mid-19th century America isn’t much, but it’s been enough to tell me that everything I’ve ever learned in American history classes about Ulysses S. Grant is wrong. According to those classes, he was an intellectually weak, drunken, ineffectual, plodding man, who rose as a general by being a blood-thirsty butcher on the field of war, and he was an ignoramus once in politics.
Chernow has already informed me that Grant did have a binge-drinking problem, but he fought valiantly; that he was brilliant at math and military strategy; that he was an intelligent man; that he was highly principled and utterly reliable; that he was a middling (not failing) student at West Point; that he had a horror of blood and violence that led him to fighting war rigorously to end it swiftly; and that he was a consequential and effective president. Some of this Chernow has already proven in writing about Grant’s youth and young adulthood; other parts Chernow promises in his introduction that he will prove in the book and I believe him.
The mismatch between my education about Grant and the reality has led me to two thoughts. [Read more…]