Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "Ulysses S. Grant"
[Vice President Wilson claims] Grant is now more unpopular than Andrew Johnson was in his darkest days; that Grant’s appointments [have] been getting worse and worse; that he is still struggling for a third term; in short, that he is the millstone around the neck of our party that would sink it out of sight.

Congressman James Garfield (R-OH), on the declining popularity of President Ulysses S. Grant, a fellow Republican and Ohio native, during the latter half of Grant’s second term in the White House, according to information Grant’s Vice President Henry Wilson shared with Garfield in January 1875.

While President Grant remained personally honest, scandals and corruption had tainted his Administration due to the Civil War hero’s poor judgment when it came to his political appointments. As the upcoming 1876 Presidential election approached it appeared as if Grant would break with tradition and seek an unprecedented third term in the White House. Vice President Wilson was one of the members of Grant’s party interested in succeeding him, but Wilson died in office in November 1875.

Eventually, Grant stepped aside and Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes won the Republican nominee for President in 1876. A controversial and bitterly-disputed election between Hayes and Democrat nominee Samuel J. Tilden was only decided by a 15-person Electoral Commission which awarded the Presidency to Hayes on a straight party-line vote (8 Republicans to 7 Democrats) just two days before Inauguration Day 1877. Garfield was one of the eight Republican members of the Electoral Commission.

In 1880, President Hayes delivered on an early pledge to only serve one term in the White House and the Republican National Convention kicked off in Chicago with General Grant the favorite for the nomination as he sought a third term in office. Garfield attended the convention as the leader of the delegation supporting the candidacy of Treasury Secretary John Sherman, a longtime Ohio Senator and the younger brother of Grant’s Civil War colleague and friend, General William Tecumseh Sherman. The convention soon became deadlocked as supporters of Grant and James G. Blaine unsuccessfully attempted to break through the logjam from ballot-to-ballot. Although Garfield had not intended to seek the nomination for himself, his name began to pop up as balloting continued but didn’t gain a foothold until nearly three dozen ballots had taken place.

Garfield continued to insist that he was not a candidate and remained loyal to Sherman’s efforts, but the convention’s 34th ballot witnessed movement in Garfield’s favor as delegates began to see the dark horse as an acceptable compromise candidate who might be able to bring the paralyzed convention to a conclusion. On the 36th ballot, James G. Blaine’s supporters, eager to stymie Grant’s hopes, threw their support behind Garfield, making him the unexpected Presidential nominee in the longest GOP convention up to that point in history. Garfield would go on to be elected President in November 1880, was inaugurated on March 4, 1881, was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, and lingered for weeks before finally dying on September 19, 1881, at the age of 49 and just 199 days into his Presidency.

It was about two hours after midnight on September 20, 1881, and not unusual for the resident of 123 Lexington Avenue in New York City to be up at such a late hour, or to have plenty of guests.  In fact, he preferred to keep late hours, entertaining friends deep into the night with late-night dinners, drinks, and endless conversation.  Yet, on this night, 123 Lexington Avenue was somber and the mood was grave.  Just a few hours earlier — at 11:30 PM — a messenger knocked on the door of Vice President Chester Alan Arthur’s Manhattan brownstone and handed Arthur a telegram.  Surrounded by a few friends and colleagues, Arthur read that President James Garfield, just 49 years old and in office for barely six months, had died in a beach cottage at Elberon, New Jersey.  Turning to his friends in his sitting room, Arthur said, “I hope — my God, I do hope it is a mistake.”   

On July 2nd, President Garfield was shot twice and seriously wounded by Charles Guiteau as he walked through the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. with Secretary of State James G. Blaine and Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (son of Abraham Lincoln) en route to a speaking engagement at his alma mater, Williams College in Massachusetts.  Guiteau was a disgruntled, disturbed, and delusional office-seeker who had been pleading for an appointment as consul to Paris despite an absence of diplomatic and political experience and a complete lack of qualifications.  Hounding Garfield throughout the early months of an administration that had just begun on March 4, 1881, Guiteau’s constant harassment of the new President finally resulted in Secretary Blaine ordering Guiteau to never return to the White House again.  Guiteau felt that he had been entitled to some office, particularly an ambassadorship, and was terribly upset that Garfield and his cabinet members refused to consider his requests.  Blaine’s order to stay away drove Guiteau to purchase an ivory-handled .44 British Bulldog revolver (specifically chosen because Guiteau felt that particular firearm would look good in a museum) and he began stalking Garfield throughout Washington before finally shooting him in the rail station two days before Independence Day 1881.  As police arrested him, Guiteau shouted, “I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts…Arthur is President now!”.

But, Arthur wasn’t President; not yet at least.  Garfield was a physically robust man and relatively young in comparison to most Presidents.  While one bullet had lodged in Garfield’s spine, the other bullet grazed his arm and caused no significant damage.  While it appeared that he was gravely ill immediately following the shooting, Garfield’s vital signs soon started to improve and the American people began to get their hopes up about a full recovery.  A vigil of sorts was underway as President Garfield convalesced in the White House, and his doctors issued regular bulletins updating his condition.  Garfield’s doctors also poked and prodded with unsterilized instruments and dirty fingers to attempt to locate the bullet still inside of his body.  Had they left it alone, Garfield almost certainly would have survived; his wounds were significantly less dangerous than those survived by Ronald Reagan 100 years later.  However, the unnecessary poking and prodding resulted in a serious infection that ravaged Garfield’s body, weakened his heart, left the muscular, 215-pound President emaciated, weighing less than 135 pounds, and turned the 49-year-old Garfield’s dark brown beard and hair a ghastly white color.  Fighting for his life in the sweltering summer heat of Washington, on September 6th it was finally agreed upon to transport Garfield to a cottage on the Jersey Shore in hopes that he could benefit from the fresh ocean air.  Sadly, it was too late.  The infections were accompanied by blood poisoning and pneumonia, among other ailments.  On September 19th at 10:35 PM, Garfield suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead.  An hour later the messenger arrived at 123 Lexington Avenue.


•••

The Vice Presidency was a stretch.  Chet Arthur of New York as Vice President?  When offered the Republican Vice Presidential nomination by James Garfield in 1880, Chester Arthur was urged by his political mentor, Stalwart leader Roscoe Conkling, to decline the appointment.  Arthur, a man who had never spent a day in Congress or been elected to any office at any level, refused.  The Vice Presidency was certainly a stretch, but President of the United States?  That was an almost frightening thought to a nation still recovering from Civil War and desperately seeking civil service reform, especially now that a disgruntled office seeker had assassinated the President.  Arthur as President left a lot of Americans worried — some because Arthur’s political background was as the powerful and somewhat shady Collector of the Port of New York, appointed during the corrupt administration of President Ulysses S. Grant and eventually fired by President Rutherford B. Hayes during a housecleaning of corrupt institutions; and some because James Garfield’s murderer had claimed to be a Stalwart and, by his own words, insinuated that Garfield’s shooting might be a conspiracy on behalf of Arthur’s side of the divided Republican Party.

Chester Arthur was a creature of the era known as the “Gilded Age” and was the symbolic mascot for the widespread political corruption of the 1870’s due to his position at the Port of New York.  Born in Vermont in 1829, Arthur was the son of a preacher and grew up mostly in upstate New York, graduated from Schenectady’s Union College in 1848, briefly taught school while studying law, and was admitted to the bar in 1854.  As his law practice grew in the 1850’s, Arthur immersed himself in New York Republican politics yet never ran for office.  A political appointee to the New York State Militia, he found himself serving during the Civil War and his superb organizational skills led to quick promotions all the way to quartermaster general in 1862, a position which carried the rank of brigadier.  As a political appointee to the militia, however, Arthur served at the pleasure of the Governor of New York and was forced to resign in 1862 when a Democratic Governor took office.  Returning to New York City, Arthur resumed his law practice and political gamesmanship.  More appointments came his way as he supported Republican candidates throughout the state and worked on national campaigns such as President Lincoln’s 1864 bid for re-election and Ulysses S. Grant’s 1868 Presidential campaign. 

In 1871, President Grant appointed Arthur as Collector of customs at the Port of New York which gave Arthur responsibility for about 75% of the nation’s customs duties and was one of the most powerful patronage positions available in the United States government.  Arthur used his office to efficiently raise money for Republican campaigns and candidates, supporting President Grant’s 1872 re-election campaign by seeking contributions from his employees at the customhouse.  In 1876, Arthur championed his political mentor, Roscoe Conkling, for the Republican Presidential nomination, but supported Rutherford B. Hayes in the general election, once again using the employees at the customhouse to help raise money to finance the successful Republican campaign.  However, once Hayes was elected, the new President made it clear that he was serious about civil service reform and that meant reforming Arthur’s customhouse, too.  In 1877, Arthur testified before the Jay Commission, which was formed to investigate charges of corruption and eventually recommended that President Hayes reduce the workforce of the customhouse and eliminate the corrupt elements that had worked there for so long.  Due to Arthur’s longtime support of the Republican Party, President Hayes offered him an appointment as consul in Paris in order to quietly remove him from the Port of New York.  When Arthur refused the appointment, the President fired him and Arthur resumed his law practice in New York City.

When Arthur headed to the 1880 Republican National Convention at the Interstate Exposition Building in Chicago, it was as a New York delegate supporting the aspirations of former President Ulysses S. Grant who was coming out of retirement to seek an unprecedented third term.  However, neither of the front-runners for the nomination — Grant and Senator James G. Blaine of Maine — could capture enough votes from delegates to clinch the nomination.  After thirty-five ballots, Blaine and another prospective candidate, John Sherman of Ohio, threw their support behind a dark horse candidate — Ohio Congressman James A. Garfield.  On the next ballot, Garfield clinched the nomination and reached out to the opposing wing of the Republican party for his Vice Presidential choice.  The first choice, Levi P. Morton of New York (who would later serve as President Benjamin Harrison’s Vice President), declined Garfield’s offer, and Arthur — who had never previously held an elective office — excitedly accepted, much to the chagrin of his angry political mentor, Roscoe Conkling.  Not confident in Garfield’s chances for election, Conkling told Arthur, “You should drop it as you would a red hot shot from the forge.”  Arthur replied, “There is something else to be said,” and Conkling asked in disbelief, “What, sir, you think of accepting?”.  Despite the complaints and anger of Conkling, Arthur told him, “The office of Vice President is a greater honor than I have ever dreamed of attaining.  I shall accept.  In a calmer moment you will look at this differently.” 

Following the election, Arthur prepared to settle into the quiet role of Vice President during the 19th century.  The Vice President of the United States has only one real responsibility — to preside over the Senate and even that responsibility is normally delegated to Senators who rotate as presiding officer almost daily.  The powerful or even influential American Vice Presidency is a fairly recent evolution, not even 40 years old.  While some Vice Presidents were relied on for advice or counsel or given larger duties than others, most Vice Presidents were so far removed from the Executive Branch that they were not only kept out of the decision-making process, but also kept in the dark about certain information.  For example, when President Roosevelt died towards the end of World War II in 1945 and was succeeded by his Vice President, Harry Truman, he had to be quickly briefed about the existence of the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weaponry.  Still, the first Vice President to have an office in the White House was Walter Mondale and that didn’t occur until 1977, so in 1881, a Vice President was expected to preside over the Senate on special occasions, cast a tie-breaking vote when necessary, and be available to take the oath of office if the President happened to die or resign. 

Like most 19th century Vice Presidents, Chester Arthur didn’t spend much time in Washington, and he was returning to his regular home in New York City on July 2, 1881 when he stepped off a steamship with Roscoe Conkling and was told that President Garfield had been shot.  In fact, the message that Arthur received first erroneously reported that Garfield was already dead and at the request of Garfield’s Cabinet, the stunned Vice President immediately returned to Washington, D.C. to proceed with the next steps necessary to maintaining the continuity of government.  When Arthur arrived in Washington, President Garfield’s condition had improved and his recovery continued to show signs of promise as the Vice President and the nation prayed for him and held vigil throughout the summer.  Shaken by rumors that he and his “Stalwart” wing of the Republican Party conspired to assassinate Garfield, Arthur returned home to New York City, hesitant to invite criticism that his continued presence in Washington was merely an eager deathwatch so that he could grab power. 

Garfield clung to life for eighty excruciating days with doctors probing him in an effort to remove the bullet in his body, causing infections and leaving the President suffering from blood poisoning which led him to hallucinate at times.  The Navy helped rig together an early form of air conditioning in Garfield’s White House sickroom in order to give him relief from Washington’s stifling summer conditions.  When Garfield was taken by train to New Jersey in early-September, it was clear to many that the long vigil was nearly over.  More infections set in, along with pneumonia and painful spasms of angina.  When the messenger arrived at 123 Lexington Avenue just before midnight on September 20, 1881 to inform Arthur that President Garfield had died just 60 miles away, the new President wasn’t suprised, but he also wasn’t quite prepared.  The nation worried about the lifetime political operative stepping into the position being vacated by the promising President assassinated before he could enact the civil service reforms promised in his Inaugural Address.  What would Arthur — the quintessential patronage politician — do as President?  Nobody knew, but Chester Alan Arthur had an idea.

•••

It was fitting that Arthur was surrounded by friends when he took the oath of office at his home in Manhattan at 2:15 AM on September 20, 1881.  Arthur’s beautiful wife, Nell, died of pneumonia in January 1880 and he was inconsolable for months, regretting for the rest of his life the fact that she never saw his election as Vice President or ascendancy to the Presidency.  People who knew Arthur stated that he clearly never fully recovered from her death, and that as a “deeply emotional…romantic person”, it was no surprise that he ordered that fresh flowers were placed before her portrait in the White House every day while he was President. 

Chester Arthur had a lot of friends.  That’s what happens when you control as many patronage positions as Arthur controlled for as long as Arthur controlled them.  But it wasn’t just his political position that gained him friends.  Arthur was a great storyteller, a man who loved to hunt and fish, kind, easy-going, charming, graceful, and smooth.  During his life he was nicknamed “Elegant Arthur” and is considered one of the most stylish of Presidents.  Photographs of Presidents from the 19th Century show us men no different than statues.  They dressed the same, the looked the same, and when portrayed in the black and white photos of the time, we feel no differently when we see their pictures than when we see a slab of marble carved in their image.  Arthur leaps out of his photographs, however.  He was a very large man for his era, standing 6’2” and weighing around 220 pounds during his Presidency.  Large muttonchops connected to a bushy mustache and his close-cropped, wavy brown hair seemed to pull back his forehead and place more emphasis on expressive black eyes that easily reflected his moods.  While it seems that most Presidents of the 19th century wore the same boring black suit and black tie like a uniform, Arthur’s ties are patterned, jewelry is visible, collars are crisp, handkerchiefs are folded creatively, and his lapels shine as if they were polished along with his shoes.  We see photographs of Arthur in fashionable overcoats, a wide variety of hats, and he employed a personal valet who helped the President change clothes for every occasion — he was said to have over 80 pairs of pants.

Most apparent of all is that Arthur was a gentleman — an interesting man with superb social skills and fastidious manners.  Even as one of the top operatives in New York’s Republican political machine of the corrupt 1870’s, he was nicknamed the “Gentleman Boss”.  As President, he brought entertainment back to the White House — something that had been missing on a large scale since before the Civil War twenty years earlier.  His predecessor, Rutherford B. Hayes, was one of the few critics of this development, stating that there was “nothing like it before in the Executive Mansion — liquor, snobbery, and worse.”  Arthur also redecorated the White House, hiring Louis Comfort Tiffany to help with the design.  To help raise money for the redecoration, Arthur basically held a White House yard sale.  On the lawn of the mansion, twenty-four wagons full of history (including a pair of Abraham Lincoln’s pants that were left behind in a closet) were sold to citizens.  To some, the items were priceless; to President Arthur, they were ugly and a man like Chester Arthur did not live in an ugly home.  Several weeks after Garfield died, Arthur got his first look at his new home and quickly stated, “I will not live in a house like this.”  He didn’t end up moving into the White House until three months into his Presidency.

•••

After taking the oath of office at home in Manhattan in the early hours of September 20, 1881, now-President Arthur proceeded to Washington, D.C., stopping in Long Branch, New Jersey to pay respects to the late President Garfield and his grieving family.  Once Arthur succeeded to the Presidency upon Garfield’s death, there was no Vice President, no president pro tempore of the Senate, and no Speaker of the House (Congress had not elected its leadership yet), thus, there was no Constitutional line of succession.  If something had happened to Arthur at that moment, the United States would have faced an unprecedented Constitutional crisis.  As his first act as President, Arthur immediately called the Senate into session in order to select their leadership positions and place someone in the line of succession.  Upon arriving in Washington, Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh suggested that Arthur take a second oath of office and he did so at the U.S. Capitol on September 22nd in the presence of Garfield’s Cabinet, members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, and former Presidents Grant and Hayes.

Americans worried about the former machine politician’s integrity were transformed quickly as Chester Arthur underwent somewhat of a transformation himself.  Widely considered a lapdog of New York’s Roscoe Conkling, Arthur broke ranks with the party boss and pushed for the same civil service reform championed by James Garfield prior to the assassination.  Arthur’s former associates in the New York Republican Party were disappointed when he declined their requests for political favors.  One former colleague sadly reported, “He isn’t ‘Chet’ Arthur anymore.  He’s the President.”  Arthur found that the transformation was almost automatic and out of his control, noting that “Since I came here I have learned that Chester A. Arthur is one man and the President of the United States is another.”  His old benefactor, Conkling was one critic of the new President, complaining “I have but one annoyance with the Administration of President Arthur and that is, in contrast with it, the Administration of Hayes becomes respectable, if not heroic.”  Arthur signed the Pendleton Act in 1883 with created a modern civil service system and eliminated the spoils system that had long dominated American politics.  This reform, which Conkling called “snivel service” was the final break between the longtime friends and colleagues.

To the American people, the great surprise of an Arthur Administration was the fact that it was clean, honest, and efficient.  Arthur helped lift the gloomy moods that had shadowed Washington through the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, Reconstruction, the corruption of the Gilded Age, and Garfield’s assassination.  His popularity rose throughout his term and most critics focused on his lavish entertainment or the fact that he was notoriously late for meetings and seemed bored or lethargic at times.  He often procrastinated — as a White House clerk once said, “President Arthur never did today what he could put off until tomorrow.”  Still, most Americans were happy with President Arthur and echoed the thoughts of Mark Twain who said, “I am but one in 55 million; still, in the opinion of those one-fifty-five-millionth of the country’s population, it would be hard to better President Arthur’s Administration.”

He was bored, though.  President Arthur didn’t like being President.  He enjoyed the entertaining dinners that he could throw and loved public events or ceremonies that allowed him to meet the people of the United States, but the desk work was tedious and he wasn’t interested in policy.  Arthur stayed up late and seemed to vacation often, which perplexed many people because it was said that he was constantly exhausted.  What they didn’t know was that from almost the time he become President, Chester Arthur was dying.  In 1882, he was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a fatal kidney ailment at the time.  Despite reports that he was suffering from the disease, Arthur hid it from the public, desperately protecting his privacy, as always.  Arthur’s distaste for the Presidency probably stemmed in part from depression triggered by the Bright’s disease.  At times, Arthur suffered from debilitating illness and it was always covered with a story about the President catching a cold during a fishing trip or spending too much time in the sun while hunting.  In a letter to his son Alan in 1883, the President confided, “I have been so ill that I have hardly been able to dispose of the…business before me.”

Despite his popularity, Republican leaders opposed Arthur’s renomination as President in 1884.  The man who opposed it most, however, was the President himself, who stated “I do not want to be reelected.”  Not only was he disinterested in a second term, but he knew very well that there was a possibility he might not even survive to the end of his current term.  He did, and after attending the inauguration of his successor, Grover Cleveland, on March 4, 1885, Arthur returned home to New York City where his health rapidly declined.  The former President was aware that he was dying and made plans for a relatively quiet retirement, deciding to practice law, but doing very little work due to his health.  When asked about his future, Arthur said, “There doesn’t seem anything for an ex-President to do but to go out in the country and raise big pumpkins.”  On November 16, 1886, Arthur suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side.  Gravely ill, he called his son to his bedside the day before his death and had all of his public and private papers stuffed into trash cans and burned.  On November 18, 1886, the 57-year-old former President died in the same place he became President just five years earlier, 123 Lexington Avenue in New York City.  After a quiet funeral at the Church of Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue in New York, Arthur’s remains were buried next to his beloved wife at Rural Cemetery in Albany, New York.         

•••

When President Arthur had many of his personal papers burned prior to his death, he eliminated one of the best sources of information for future historians.  With a thin resume and a fairly uneventful Presidency, there wasn’t much public information about his career, either.  This leaves us with very little to remember Chester Alan Arthur by.  Research on his life — particularly his personal life — is difficult, and Arthur would have appreciated that.  During his Presidency, leaders of the temperance movement called on Arthur and urged him to follow the non-alcoholic lifestyle led by President Hayes and his teetotaler wife, who was known as “Lemonade Lucy” . 

Arthur’s response:  “Madam, I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damn business.” 

And so it isn’t.

HENRY WILSON (1812-1875)
18th Vice President of the United States (1873-1875)



Full Name: Henry Wilson (Birth Name: Jeremiah Jones Colbath)
Born: February 16, 1812, Farmington, Strafford County, New Hampshire
Religion: Congregationalist
College: Did not graduate from college
Career Before the Vice Presidency: Farm laborer, Farmington, New Hampshire (1822-1833); Shoemaker, Natick, Massachusetts (1833-1841); Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1840-1844); Massachusetts State Senator (1844-1846); Publisher and Editor of the Boston Republican, Boston, Massachusetts (1848-1851); Massachusetts State Senator (1850-1852); Chairman of the Free Soil National Convention, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1852); Unsuccessful Free Soil candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts (1852); Delegate, Massachusetts State Constitutional Convention (1853); Unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor of Massachusetts (1853); United States Senator (R-MA, January 31, 1855-March 4, 1873); Raised and commanded the 22nd Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry briefly during the Civil War (September 27, 1861-October 29, 1861)
Political Party as Vice President: Republican
State Represented as Vice President: Massachusetts
Term as Vice President: March 4, 1873-November 22, 1875 (Died in office)
Length of Vice Presidency: 2 years, 263 days
Age at Inauguration: 61 years, 16 days
Served: President Grant (2nd term)/22nd Administration/43rd Congress & 44th Congress
Post-Vice Presidential Career: None (Vice President Wilson died in office)
Died: November 22, 1875, Vice President’s Room, United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 63 years, 279 days
Cause of Death: Stroke
Buried: Old Dell Park Cemetery, Natick, Massachusetts



Random facts about Vice President Wilson:
•Henry Wilson was actually born into poverty as “Jeremiah Jones Colbath”. Even when trying to be respectful, the kindest words that could be used to describe his father were “shiftless” and “intemperate”. Mr. Colbath gave his son the name of a wealthy neighbor who had never married or had children of his own in hopes that the “honor” would result in the Colbath family inheriting the man’s money when he died. The future Vice President hated his name and had it changed to “Henry Wilson” when he was 20 years old; he chose that particular name after reading it in a book while he was apprenticed to a shoemaker.
•Since the plan to inherit a neighbor’s money by naming his son after him didn’t work, Wilson’s father apprenticed him to a cobbler when he was 10 years old. An “apprenticeship” sounds better than it was. Like Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Johnson, Wilson was a “bound apprentice” which was actually close to being an indentured servant; Mr. Colbath probably received the equivalent of a “finder’s fee” for committing his son to work in conditions only a little better than slavery. Wilson gained experience as a shoemaker, but was apprenticed to the cobbler for 11 years, meaning he spent more of his early life working for the shoemaker than living under his family’s roof. He was earned his freedom when he was 21 years old after over a decade of work.
•Wilson was supposed to be given rudimentary education during his bound apprenticeship, but received virtually no schooling. He largely taught himself how to read and devoured any book that he could find or borrow.
•At the beginning of his political career, Wilson was a member of the Whig Party, and was one of the architects of the Free Soil Party after the Mexican-American War. The Free Soil Party didn’t last long and Wilson briefly joined the American or Know-Nothing Party, but was turned off by their nativist advocacy and became a Republican for the rest of his life. From early in his career in public service, Wilson was a passionate opponent of slavery, unsurprising considering his own involuntary servitude while bound to a shoemaker.
•Like George Washington, Henry Wilson had to borrow money to get to his inauguration. Members of Congress had recently been granted a 50% raise, so Wilson, a Senator at the time, received $5,000 shortly before being elected Vice President. However, Wilson had been loosely (and innocently, it seems) connected to the Credit Mobilier scandal which had caused problems for quite a few Congressmen, and was probably the reason that Wilson’s Vice Presidential predecessor, Schuyler Colfax, decided to “retire” and leave a spot open on the ticket when Ulysses S. Grant sought re-election in 1872. To be extra careful, Wilson gave his $5,000 raise directly back to the U.S. Treasury. After the 1872 election, Wilson, now the Vice President-elect, told his close friend, Senator Charles Sumner, “I have not got enough money to be inaugurated on,” and borrowed $100.
•Vice President Wilson and his fellow Radical Republicans were worried that President Grant was positioning himself for a third term and dragging the Republican Party down due to scandals in his Administration and a reluctance to go further with the progressive reforms urged by the Radicals during Reconstruction. James Garfield, a fellow Radical Republican who was a member of the House of Representatives and would be elected President himself in 1880, wrote that Vice President Wilson thought “Grant is now more unpopular than Andrew Johnson was in his darkest days; that his appointments had been getting worse and worse; that he is still struggling for a third term; in short that he is a the millstone around the neck of our party that would sink it out of sight.”
•Many Republicans saw Wilson as a potential Presidential candidate in 1876 who could bring the needed reforms and would have the courage to push a progressive agenda. But Wilson’s health was rapidly declining. He suffered a stroke within two months of being inaugurated as Vice President, but in the spring of 1875, he spent six weeks touring the South and speaking to all types of people. Some thought it was a preview to a bid for the Presidency the next year, but his health began failing again in the fall. After bathing at the spa facilities in the basement of the Capitol building on November 10, 1875, Wilson had another stroke. He was carried to the Vice President’s Room upstairs, a large office near the Senate chamber, to recover, but died on November 22,1875. A bronze plaque in the Vice President’s Room honors Wilson and notes that it was where the 18th Vice President actually died.
•Wilson was the first Vice President to be honored by lying in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.
•Henry Wilson was the great-great uncle (or great-grand uncle) of 1988 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee and longtime Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen.

He has done more than any other President to degrade the character of Cabinet officers by choosing them on the model of the military staff, because of their pleasant personal relation to him and not because of their national reputation and the public needs…His imperturbability is amazing. I am in doubt whether to call it greatness or stupidity.
James Garfield, criticizing Ulysses S. Grant for his poor judgment of the quality of many of the officials of his Administration which was ravaged by scandals despite President Grant’s personal honesty and lack of complicity, 1874.
ULYSSES S. GRANT

18th President of the United States (1869-1877)

Full Name: Ulysses Simpson Grant (Born: Hiram Ulysses Grant)
Born: April 27, 1822, Point Pleasant, Ohio
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: Illinois
Term: March 4, 1869-March 4, 1877
Age at Inauguration: 46 years, 311 days
Administration: 21st and 22nd
Congresses: 41st, 42nd, 43rd, and 44th
Vice Presidents: Schuyler Colfax (1st term: 1869-1873) and Henry Wilson (2nd term: 1873-1875; Died in office)
Died: July 23, 1885, Mount McGregor, New York
Age at Death: 63 years, 87 days
Buried: Grant’s Tomb, General Grant National Memorial, New York City, New York

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 30 of 43 [↑2]

Ulysses S. Grant has long occupied space near the bottom of most rankings of Presidents, but in recent years he is one of those leaders who seems to be inching his way up the ladder as historians begin to view his Presidency differently.  Grant will never be considered a great, or probably even a good President.  His portrait is on the $50 bill because of what he did during the Civil War, not what he did in the White House.  President Grant was a victim of the corruption that infected Washington during his Administration; in no way was he complicit other than perhaps being too loyal or too trustworthy with people who never hesitated to take advantage of the great General’s generosity.  The United States at the time of Grant’s Inauguration was by no means United.  The Civil War had only ended four years earlier and the country had struggled since Appomattox with Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, and a painful Reconstruction.  Where Grant shines in retrospect is Civil Rights.  When historians look at instances where Presidents used the power of their office to the fullest, they usually stop at Lincoln during the Civil War, specifically with his suspension of habeas corpus.  Many tend to overlook the fact that Grant also suspended habeas corpus as President in his effort (largely successful) to crush the Ku Klux Klan.  Grant protected the rights of African-Americans, especially those recently emancipated and living free in the South.  Not only did the Grant Administration shepherd the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, but they also used the power of the Presidency and the military to enforce Civil Rights laws and ensure voting rights for blacks.  President Grant was the last President to sign major Civil Rights legislation until another great American General-turned-President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1957. As I mentioned, Grant’s progressive streak has helped inched him a little higher in the rankings over the years, but this is probably about as high as the General will end up climbing.

PREVIOUS RANKINGS:
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  28 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  30 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  30 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  37 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  34 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  33 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  29 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  29 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  23 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  26 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  29 of 40

It is hard to realize that a State or States should commit so suicidal an act as to secede from the Union. Though from all the reports I have no doubt but that at least five of them will do it. And then, with the present granny of an executive [James Buchanan] some foolish policy will doubtless be pursued which will give the seceding States the support and sympathy of the Southern states that don’t go out.

Ulysses S. Grant, on the possibility of Southern states seceding from the Union and his doubts about how (or “if”) President James Buchanan might respond, personal letter, December 1860.

Grant had not always had such a harsh opinion of the “granny of an executive”, President Buchanan. While writing his Memoirs in 1885, Grant remembered that, “In 1856…I preferred the success of a candidate whose election would prevent or postpone secession, to seeing the country plunged into a war the end of which no many could foretell. With a Democrat elected by unanimous vote of the Slave States, there could be no pretext for secession for four years…I therefore voted for James Buchanan for President.”

Asker thedaygoesby Asks:
a tea partier running for congress in my district claimed in a recent post that the obama administration is the most corrupt in us history- ignoring the crazy, any thoughts on which administration was actually the most corrupt?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’d have to say that the Nixon Administration was the most corrupt Presidential Administration in American history.  Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding both had their reputations tainted by scandals during their Administration, but that was mainly due to the fact that they were poor judges of character when it came to their political appointments.  Grant wasn’t personally corrupt, and while Harding’s many infidelities (and active efforts to keep those matters private) were wrong, he wasn’t personally responsible for the scandals that took place while he was President.  That shouldn’t excuse either Grant or Harding — they were either naive and too trustworthy of shady characters and friends, or they were too ignorant about the opportunities for corruption and criminality that they were providing to those shady characters and friends.  That’s why Grant and Harding are almost universally ranked amongst the worst Presidents in history.

Richard Nixon, however, can’t claim that he just hired some crappy officials. He did that, too, but he was also deeply involved in scandalous activities and then allowed his Presidency to be dominated by his efforts at covering up his Administration’s scandals.  Watergate, of course, is the centerpiece of the Nixon Administration’s scandals, but there were shady things happening as he was running for President in 1968.  As Election Day approached in 1968, Nixon’s opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, was closing the gap between the two of them and making Nixon worry that ‘68 might be a repeat of Nixon’s razor-thin loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960.  When it appeared that negotiations to end the Vietnam War were coming close to being a reality, Nixon used secret contacts to inform the South Vietnamese that if they stopped negotiating with LBJ and held out until after the election, Nixon would give them a better deal than President Johnson would.  This happened just days before Election Day — an “October Surprise” — and probably ensured a Nixon victory.  LBJ found out what Nixon and his aides were doing, but he decided against exposing Nixon even though he said privately that Nixon had “blood on his hands” and was committing “treason”.

All that happened before Nixon was even ELECTED, so being privately accused of treason by the President of the United States was probably not the best signal that the country was embarking upon a golden era of the Presidency.  The details of the Watergate scandal are well-known, so I won’t rehash them, but Nixon’s direct involvement and the fact that several high-ranking members of Nixon’s Administration tied to the Watergate break-in and cover-up ended up in prison definitely puts him at the top of the list, in my opinion.  

There are also other reasons why Nixon belongs at the top of the list of most corrupt Administrations.  Nixon, of course, didn’t start the Vietnam War, but the bombings and incursions of Cambodia and Laos were and are controversial escalations of the conflict.  There was also the “Enemies List” and other abuses of power, like directing the IRS, CIA, and FBI to go after his opponents (to be fair, Nixon wasn’t the first President to do that, either, but it was still wrong) or simply target them for harassment via a domestic surveillance apparatus that was used solely for political purposes.  The Saturday Night Massacre was part of the Watergate scandal, but if that happened today, the cable news networks would explode.  I mean, imagine if President Obama appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether something illegal involved in the release of Bowe Bergdahl and then just fired him when it seemed that the direction was going in a direction that he didn’t like.  That’s what happened in the Saturday Night Massacre, but worse — Nixon ordered the Attorney General to fire the special prosecutor, but the Attorney General refused, so Nixon fired the special prosecutor himself and then fired the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General.  If that happened now, it would break the internet.  

The scandals of the Grant and Harding Administrations resulted in a few officials going to prison.  Nixon’s scandals resulted in the indictments of nearly 100 Administration officials (mainly due to Watergate) and legal actions against many organizations and corporations (largely related to illegal contributions and violations of campaign finance laws).  Indicted officials from Nixon’s Administration included Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had to resign in disgrace after striking a plea deal to avoid prison on bribery charges, Treasury Secretary John Connally (the same John Connally who was shot when JFK was assassinated), Attorney General John Mitchell (spent nearly two years in prison), Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst (yes, two of the people appointed by Nixon to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer were convicted of criminal charges and Nixon fired another AG for not helping him out during the Watergate battle), Commerce Secretary Maurice H. Stans, White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman (spent 18 months in prison), and numerous other high-ranking White House aides, many of whom spent time in prison, paid large fines, or both.

President Nixon probably would have ended up being indicted himself if President Ford had not pardoned him.  His reputation took a hit and history will never judge him without including the word “Watergate” in the first paragraph, but in many ways he was lucky because he avoided the massive legal fees and threat of imprisonment that he could have faced without a pardon.  And Nixon was lucky in other ways, too.  There have always been questions about whether Nixon avoided paying taxes that he might have owed because some of his income tax returns seemed fuzzy to a lot of people.  Nixon was also accused of ordering “security improvements” at his homes that were paid for and constructed by the government and either unnecessary, improper or flat-out illegal. Eventually, Nixon reimbursed the government for the expenditures at his homes in San Clemente, California and Key Biscayne, Florida, but there were even questions about how he obtained his homes.

Since this has been an attempt at giving a quick rundown of the Nixon Administration’s scandals instead of a definitive history, you can probably see why I think his Presidency was the most corrupt.  It’s frustrating to imagine how good of a President that Nixon might be remembered as without any of these scandals because even with them, he’s still not at the very bottom of the list.  He did accomplish some very important things and he was incredibly capable, so it’s really a shame that it’s impossible to look at Nixon without seeing that giant stain that he stamped on his own legacy.       

The honest, simple-hearted soldier had not added prestige to the Presidential office. He himself knew that he had failed…that he ought never to have been made President. He combined great gifts with great mediocrity.
Woodrow Wilson, on Ulysses S. Grant, 1902.

On April 9, 1865, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant of the United States Army and General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America’s Army of Northern Virginia gathered along with their officers in the parlor of the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. After four bloody, tragic years and several punishing months that saw General Lee’s movements shadowed at every turn by General Grant’s Army, the venerable Confederate commander realized that further resistance was futile and began the long process of healing the broken nation by surrendering his beloved Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant.

When dramatic, world-changing events in history take place, we rarely get firsthand accounts from the principals involved. Fortunately for us, Ulysses S. Grant spent the last weeks of his life putting the finishing touches on his autobiography, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (BOOKKINDLE), which spotlight many of the most important moments of the Civil War through the eyes of one of that war’s biggest heroes. Grant finished writing his book just a few days before he died in 1885, but what’s most amazing about Grant’s Memoirs is that, nearly 130 years later, they remain one of the most readable books ever written by an American President. Grant’s insight into the proceedings at Appomattox are valuable because it isn’t secondary material from a journalist, or the memories and a junior officer with opinion and prejudices that might cloud reality. Instead, the Memoirs are Grant’s remembrances of a monumental event in American History, and Grant’s honesty — for better and worse — has rarely been challenged.

In the Memoirs, Grant remembers suffering from a blinding migraine headache in the hours before his meeting with General Lee as representatives attempted to set conditions for the meeting between the two generals. As Grant later wrote, when an officer brought a note to from Lee that confirmed the Confederate general’s interest in meeting and setting terms for surrender, “the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured.”

As Grant prepared to meet Lee at Wilmer McLean’s home, the Union commander almost certainly thought about the vast differences between him and his Confederate counterpart. Lee was 15 years older than Grant, and while they both attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, their records couldn’t have been more different. Lee wanted nothing more than to be a great career soldier, graduated 2nd in his class, and made it through four years at West Point without a single demerit. Grant had dozens of demerits, many of which came from refusing to attend church services, and graduated 21st out of 39 cadets in his class. That he graduated at all was an accomplishment in Grant’s eyes. As he later wrote, “A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the Army even if I should be graduated.”

After the men graduated from West Point (Lee in 1829, Grant in 1843), they embarked on military careers that took them to very different places, but on April 9, 1865, General Grant was thinking about the first time he had actually met General Lee. Their paths had crossed in the Mexican War (1846-1848) when they served together for some time under General Winfield Scott. Later in life, Grant was particularly outspoken about the injustice of the Mexican War, but he fought bravely during his time in Mexico under General Scott and, especially, under General Zachary Taylor. Grant and Lee were both decorated for their service in Mexico, along with many fellow junior soldiers whose names would become famous in the North and South during the Civil War. In his Memoirs, Grant wrote about his memories of his earlier meeting with Robert E. Lee, but doubted Lee would remember him:

"I had known General Lee in the old army, and had served with him in the Mexican War; but did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me; while I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the chief of staff of General Scott in the Mexican War."

Ulysses S. Grant wouldn’t make it easy for General Lee to recognize him, either. One of the only positives to come out of the Mexican War for Ulysses S. Grant was his admiration of Zachary Taylor, who was Grant’s commanding general for most of the war. Taylor — later the 12th President — was nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready” and remembered fondly by his soldiers for his casual, comfortable manner. General Taylor was a sloppy dresser who often wore an odd mix of military dress and civilian clothing, loved to shade his face a large sun hat, and was unorthodox in almost every manner. While Grant may not have been a good student at West Point, he had no problem picking up on the lessons he learned from General Taylor. Robert E. Lee was always impeccably dressed, much like his Mexican War commander, General Winfield Scott. In fact, Grant’s comparison of Scott and Taylor would just as easily work with Lee and Grant:

"I had now been in battle with two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General Taylor never wore uniform, but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed. He was very much given to sit his horse side-ways — with both feet on one side — particularly on the battlefield. General Scott was the reverse in all these particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed. On these occasions he wore his dress uniform, cocked hat, aiguillettes, sabre and spurs. His staff proper, besides all officers constructively on his staff — engineers, inspectors, quartermasters, etc., that could be spared — followed, also in uniform and in prescribed order. Orders were prepared with great care and evidently with the view that they should be a history of what followed…But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Both were pleasant to serve under — Taylor was pleasant to serve with. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history."

While Robert E. Lee was not insufferable like Winfield Scott, he was still, even after several brutal weeks of fighting, dressed in a way that would have led any outside observer to believe he was receiving the surrender on that day. The messages that Grant and Lee had exchanged that day had resulted in a meeting quicker than Grant had expected, so the Union general was wearing his usual battlefield dress as he prepared to meet the dashing General Lee. In his Memoirs, Grant acknowledges feeling a bit self-conscious about his “rough garb”. “I was without a sword,” Grant remembered, “as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with (only) the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was.” If the war had been decided with a fashion contest between Grant and Lee, we’d all be singing “Dixie”. According to Grant:

"General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form."

Upon entering McLean’s home, Grant and Lee shook hands and the officers who accompanied the two generals were silent. Grant, who had been elated earlier to meet with Lee and bring the war to a close, found himself feeling “sad and depressed”. “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.” Grant had so much respect for Lee that simply meeting him face-to-face in such a moment left the Union general nervous. As they sat in the silent and still parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home, Grant tried to break the ice by mentioning their previous service — on the same side — in Mexico. To Grant’s surprise, Lee remembered him well:

"We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting."

General Lee didn’t forget, however. Lee steered the conversation back towards the terms of his army’s surrender. Grant’s initials “U.S.” had gained him the nickname of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant throughout the war, but the truth was that he didn’t have a template for the conditions required of his vanquished opponents. Grant was aware of President Abraham Lincoln’s hope for a smooth reconciliation as the country began healing in the wake of the Civil War. With this in mind and his deep respect for General Lee’s leadership, Grant set terms so generous that Lee was surprised. Lee’s soldiers would have their names recorded, surrender any weapons that were supplied by the Confederate government, and take an oath to not take up arms against the United States. After doing that, they would be free to return to their homes peacefully and without threat of prosecution for insurrection or treason. When Lee mentioned that most of the horses in his army were the personal property of the soldiers who rode them, Grant allowed soldiers to take any horses or personal belongings back home with them. Grant even allowed the defeated Confederate soldiers keep their sidearms. When General Lee saw the generous terms set forth by General Grant, he was astonished. With emotion, he thanked Grant for his generosity, telling the Union commander, “This will have a very happy effect on my army.”

With the surrender signed, General Lee mentioned to Grant that many of his soldiers had gone without food except for dried corn for several days and were in bad shape. Grant immediately authorized enough food to feed 25,000 men and gave orders to a nearby quartermaster to provide Lee’s army with as much food as they needed for their return to their homes. After exiting the McLean home, Lee climbed on to his beloved horse, Traveller, and observers noted that Lee, for the first time anyone could remember, looked as if he was having a hard time controlling his emotions. Grant was preparing to mount his horse, Cincinnati, when the two generals locked eyes once more. In a show of deep respect, Grant removed his hat and saluted Lee — and every Union soldier in proximity followed their commander’s example. Lee raised his hat and saluted Grant and rode off.

Shortly after Grant and Lee parted ways, the news of Lee’s surrender began to spread throughout the Union encampments. Union soldiers began cheering and firing salutes while their defeated Confederate opponents were well within earshot. Grant immediately ordered an end to the celebration. “The Confederates were now our prisoners,” wrote Grant, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

The next day, General Lee sent a brief, but eloquent, order to his Army of Northern Virginia in which he acknowledged that they had “been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources” and that he was “determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen”. Lee’s order informed the men of their freedom to return to their homes, and closed by thanking his soldiers for their service and bidding them “an affectionate farewell.” Before Grant returned to Washington, D.C. on April 10th for a meeting with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the Union commander stopped by where Lee’s army had set up camp. Grant and Lee sat atop their horses between the lines of their respective armies and talked for nearly an hour, both generals expressing their hope that the Confederate armies still in the field in pockets of the South would follow Lee’s lead so the nation could begin the difficult work of healing. Within a few hours, they were on their way home, heading in opposite directions, Grant to the North and Lee to the South.

Robert E. Lee died in 1870, and despite the cause that most people think he fought for (Lee abhorred slavery; the State of Virginia came before the Union in Lee’s mind), the Confederacy’s commanding general has largely become an American hero throughout the entire country. Maybe it was due to Lee’s support of the abolition of slavery or maybe it is because Lee is considered an American ideal of an honest and honorable warrior with quiet strength, but somehow Lee has made it to the Pantheon of American leaders that Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson will likely never reach. In the last five years of his life, General Lee served as the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia — a school that was renamed Washington and Lee University after Lee’s death.

Grant lived until 1885, but his later life was a bit more star-crossed than Lee’s. Grant turned down a request to accompany President Lincoln to the theater less than a week after Appomattox. Lincoln was killed that night. Grant feuded with Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, after the Civil War, and sought the Presidency himself in 1868. Grant served two terms as President (1869-1877), and his Administration was riddled with corruption, although Grant himself was not personally corrupt. Grant’s reputation as President has begun to improve over the past few years due to his work on the only meaningful Civil Rights legislation passed until the mid-20th Century. After his Presidency, Grant went on a 2-year-long world tour with his wife and was greeted around the world by adoring fans interested in seeing an American President who also happened to be the hero of the Civil War. In 1880, Grant sought an unprecedented third term as President, but narrowly lost the Republican nomination to James Garfield. Sadly, Grant’s finances were liquidated by crooked financial partners in the 1880’s and he was forced to sell historic artifacts from his Civil War service in order to survive. In 1884, Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer, and became determined to make money for his wife’s benefit in case of his death. Mark Twain signed a deal with Grant to write his Memoirs, and Grant finished the book just a few days before his death in July 1885. Grant’s book was a critical and commercial success, and left his wife with financial stability.

We have so much information on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee that we can piece together nearly every aspect of their lives, and often in their own words. Few Americans have affected the lives of so many people while also having such an influence on one another. There are hundreds of books about Grant, Lee, the Civil War, and dozens of combinations of subjects featuring those two great military leaders and their times. What most people don’t know is that Appomattox wasn’t the last time Grant and Lee saw each other.

On May 1, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the president of Washington College, Robert E. Lee, to the White House. Lee had considered inviting President-elect Grant to visit Washington College before Grant was inaugurated, but Lee didn’t want to make a request that his busy former adversary felt obligated to accept. After Grant was inaugurated in March 1869, he learned of Lee’s interest in visiting with him, and the President invited Lee to the White House. Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to what was said between President Grant and General Lee. They two men only spent about 15 minutes together, and one observer suggested that there was a bit of sadness when the two men saw each other. Perhaps it was because of what they put each other through five years earlier, but perhaps it was the fact that the two former generals were older and in much different places.

What’s remarkable about the short meeting is that Robert E. Lee may have been the only American in history to visit the White House after being stripped of his citizenship. A bill to restore General Lee’s American citizenship was passed by Congress in 1975 — 110 years after the Civil War ended — and President Gerald Ford signed off on the restoration of Lee’s citizenship in a ceremony at Arlington House, the home that Lee lived in before it was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War and turned into a National Cemetery.

After just fifteen minutes on May 1, 1869, President Grant and General Lee once again parted ways. We don’t know what they said or how they felt or what they thought as they parted. The two men who had been such a huge part of each other’s lives would never see each other again. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Grant and Lee could come together at all after chasing each other throughout the country and killing thousands of Americans while trying to destroy each other. It’s a tribute to the two men that they were living in a country still needing time to heal, and they stepped forward — leading the way just like they did while waging war — to model for Americans how to wage peace.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Did Grant and Lee ever meet after Appomattox?? Either socially or at an official function? Thanks!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, Grant and Lee had one brief encounter after Appomattox, when Grant was President, and I wrote about it in an essay that I titled “Grant and Lee" becomes I’m obviously a creative genius.  Here’s the part about their post-Appomattox encounter:

We have so much information on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee that we can piece together nearly every aspect of their lives, and often in their own words.  Few Americans have affected the lives of so many people while also having such an influence on one another.  There are hundreds of books about Grant, Lee, the Civil War, and dozens of combinations of subjects featuring those two great military leaders and their times.  What most people don’t know is that Appomattox wasn’t the last time Grant and Lee saw each other.

On May 1, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the president of Washington College, Robert E. Lee, to the White House.  Lee had considered inviting President-elect Grant to visit Washington College before Grant was inaugurated, but Lee didn’t want to make a request that his busy former adversary felt obligated to accept.  After Grant was inaugurated in March 1869, he learned of Lee’s interest in visiting with him, and the President invited Lee to the White House.  Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to what was said between President Grant and General Lee.  They two men only spent about 15 minutes together, and one observer suggested that there was a bit of sadness when the two men saw each other.  Perhaps it was because of what they put each other through five years earlier, but perhaps it was the fact that the two former generals were older and in much different places.

What’s remarkable about the short meeting is that Robert E. Lee may have been the only American in history to visit the White House after being stripped of his citizenship.  A bill to restore General Lee’s American citizenship was passed by Congress in 1975 — 110 years after the Civil War ended — and President Gerald Ford signed off on the restoration of Lee’s citizenship in a ceremony at Arlington House, the home that Lee lived in before it was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War and turned into a National Cemetery.

After just fifteen minutes on May 1, 1869, President Grant and General Lee once again parted ways.  We don’t know what they said or how they felt or what they thought as they parted.  The two men who had been such a huge part of each other’s lives would never see each other again.  Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Grant and Lee could come together at all after chasing each other throughout the country and killing thousands of Americans while trying to destroy each other.  It’s a tribute to the two men that they were living in a country still needing time to heal, and they stepped forward — leading the way just like they did while waging war — to model for Americans how to wage peace.

I had now been in battle with two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General [Zachary] Taylor never wore uniforms, but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed. He was very much given to sit on his horse side-ways — with both feet on one side — particularly on the battle-field.

General [Winfield] Scott was the reverse in all these particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed.

In their modes of expressing thought, these two generals contrasted quite as strongly as in their other characteristics. General Scott was precise in language, cultivated a style peculiarly his own; was proud of his rhetoric; not averse to speaking of himself, often in the third person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking without the least embarrassment. Taylor was not a conversationalist, but on paper he could put his meaning so plainly that there could be no mistaking it. He knew how to express what he wanted to say in the fewest well-chosen words, but would not sacrifice meaning to the construction of high-sounding sentences.

But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history.

Ulysses S. Grant, contrasting his two commanders during the Mexican-American War, General Winfield Scott and General Zachary Taylor, in his autobiography, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, 1885.

During the Civil War, Grant’s own style as a military commander was far more similar to that of General Taylor’s, particularly when it came to his simplicity and lack of vanity in respect to his uniform and his direct, straightforward method of communication.

Grant had come out of the war the greatest of all. It is true that the rebels were on their last legs, and that the Southern ports were pretty effectually blockaded, and that Grant was furnished with all the men that were needed or could be spared after he took command of the Army of the Potomac. But Grant helped more than any one else to bring about this condition. His great victories at Donelson, Vicksburg, and Missionary Ridge all contributed to Appomattox…Grant has treated me badly; but he was the right man in the right place during the war, and no matter what his faults were or are, the whole world can never write him down.
Andrew Johnson, paying tribute to Ulysses S. Grant despite the notoriously difficult relationship that the two men had with each other.
General Franklin Pierce had joined the army in Mexico, at Puebla, a short time before the advance upon the capital commenced. He had consequently not been in any of the engagements of the war up to the Battle of Contreras. By an unfortunate fall of his horse on the afternoon of the 19th he was painfully injured. The next day, when his brigade, with the other troops engaged on the same field, was ordered against the flank and rear of the enemy guarding the different points of the road from San Augustin Tlalplan to the city, General Pierce attempted to accompany them. He was not sufficiently recovered to do so, and fainted. This circumstance gave rise to exceedingly unfair and unjust criticisms of him when he became a candidate for the Presidency. Whatever General Pierce’s qualifications may have been for the Presidency, he was a gentleman and a man of courage. I was not a supporter of him politically, but I knew him more intimately than I did any other of the volunteer generals.

Ulysses S. Grant, writing about his experience with Franklin Pierce during the Mexican-American War in his autobiography, The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, 1885.

Grant’s defense of Pierce’s courage was in response to rumors that had dogged Pierce following the Mexican-American War and were amplified during Pierce’s successful campaign for the Presidency in 1852. Pierce’s opponent in 1852 was Winfield Scott, who won glory as a military hero due to his service commanding the army in Mexico, and Scott’s supporters claimed that Pierce fainted in combat due to cowardice. In reality, Pierce had suffered a serious knee injury at the Battle of Contreras that was reinjured at Churubusco. To make matters worse, Pierce was also stricken by dysentery in the closing weeks of the war.

While the charges of cowardice (inaccurate) and alcoholism (significantly more accurate) leveled against Pierce by Scott’s supporters were painful and embarrassing, Pierce routed his former commanding general in the Electoral College to win the 1852 Presidential election.