When was the last time you heard of history being written by the loser?
The Notorious PD, PCL
For those of you, both of you, hi Mom! who follow Today’s Rant you know we are somewhat fond of and likely to heap praise whenever possible on our 18th President Hiram Ulysses gRANT. He is, in many ways, the reluctant soldier brought into the political spotlight at a time of immense unrest to help quell the fears of a wounded, recovering nation. During the American Civil War, he secured his reputation as a war hero and heavy drinker. In those days, the two traits were very far from antithetical. In one of Abraham Lincoln’s more colorful quotes defending his Commanding General’s drinking habits he said:
“I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.” –Abraham Lincoln
For the record, Grant’s favorite brand of whisky is said to be Old Crow, a Kentucky bourbon whisky that is still sold in fine Bev Mo’s today.
After Lincoln’s assassination his Vice President, Andrew Johnson, a compromise pick to gain southern support assumed the presidency. His presidency was a disaster. Were you to research his tenure in office you would find numerous descriptions along the lines of dictatorial racist who consistently overestimated his abilities and misread the nation’s lukewarm at best support policies regarding the Era of Reconstruction. So contentious did Johnson’s failures in office become that he was impeached in the House of Representatives and barely escaped removal by senatorial trial from office by one vote.
When it came time for the Election of 1868, the Republican party wanted a strong candidate associated with the North’s victory in the Civil War. Initially, party leaders did not choose Grant. Their first choice was another Civil War General, this one responsible for the burning of Atlanta, William Tecumseh Sherman. A war hero in his own right, he shared many of the same politically attractive pluses as Grant, but without the whisky. For his part, Sherman, whose most famous quote, was this one regarding the nature of war:
“It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”
Apparently he felt at least somewhat similarly about politics saying:
“I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected.”
And so, with politics being hell, Sherman, during the remainder of his life, turned down numerous requests to run for office until his death in 1891.
Now firmly behind their second choice, the Republican Party nominated Grant for president. During the campaign, Grant toured with Sherman and a third Union General, Philip Henry Sheridan adopting as his campaign slogan “Let us have peace.” Grant won both the popular vote and the electoral college becoming for the time, at the age of 46, the youngest president ever elected.
Grant’s legacy is an odd one. Initially, he was rated as one of the worst, most ineffective presidents in our history. Yet over the years his presidency has undergone further analysis and a different picture has emerged. Reconstruction was a difficult period. A time of questioning, loyalty and conscience. Of great cultural, mostly racist animus and resentment, but also of great wealth accumulation and corruption. Against this backdrop Grant stayed the course and, if nothing else, defended the rights of the newly-freed slaves and enforced the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and prosecuted the KKK without hesitation.
For this, he was castigated as the “villain” of the Lost Cause and targeted with an unrelenting propaganda smear campaign involving mostly whisky and allegations of corruption. The Lost Cause. A time, an ideal based upon racism and the continuation of slavery. It’s effect on Grant’s legacy a testament to its all-pervasive, insidious narrative. When was the last time you heard of history being written by the loser? This is the stuff from which cultural wars are made. Lies, rumor and innuendo, written by the losers of an unjust war for an unjust cause. Only in America.