Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
General Ulysses S. Grant is one of the most renown of the Civil War leaders. His success has been studied and marveled since the war began. It was no surprise when the war was over that he would be placed in the White House. What did surprise everyone was the rollercoaster ride he brought with him.
Grant’s popularity was riding high when he was elected. Sadly, like many people in leadership, the ones he brought with him were not the best reflection on him as most of his “administration was riddled with corruption, and scandal.” (1) So much hope was placed in his election that disappointment was quickly found. The citizens of the newly reunited nation looked for him to end the chaos but received neither “vigor nor reform.” (2) He was a soldier out of his element and looked upon to bring about change that he was incapable of.
During his time as president, Grant opened the door to enough controversy that the time of his presidency and for the years immediately afterwards, he was only known for the scandals instead of the military victories he achieved in the Civil War. He was not one to turn down expensive gifts though his intent upon acceptance was not corrupt. He was also one who did not stop and think about the company he kept as he “allowed himself to be seen with two speculators”. (3) It was not that he was corrupt or was inept as much as he did not think with a political mindset.
In 1875, the Whiskey Ring scandal was exposed. Millions of dollars had been lost that should have gone to the individual states. Politicians discovered they could come up with their own revenue sources from distillers. Once the scandal erupted under Grant’s administration, “indictments were found against 152 liquor men …., and against 86 government officials, notably the chief clerk in the Treasury Department, and President Ulysses S. Grant’s private secretary.” (4) Grant himself was not part of the scandal, but the men he put around him to advise and run the nation were.
I think that over time, Grant’s scandals and controversies have been diminished as his accomplishments have begun to shine brighter. During a president’s administration and in the years immediately after, the scandals do outweigh the accomplishments. It is only over time do the historical aspects even out and the events can be judged more objectively.
(1) “Ulysses S. Grant,” Civil War Trust, http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/ulysses-s-grant.html.
(2) “Ulysses S. Grant,” The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/ulyssessgrant.
(4) “Whiskey Ring Scandal,” American Presidents, http://www.american-presidents.org/2007/10/whiskey-ring-scandal.html.