Introduction: War in Peace
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1 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ INTRODUCTION: WAR IN PEACE In American history Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency stands as an enigma. After the death of Abraham Lincoln, the victorious and magnanimous 8QLRQJHQHUDOVWRRGÀUVWDPRQJWKHQDWLRQ·VKHURHV+HZDVDVKRRLQ at the next presidential election, won a smashing reelection to a secRQG WHUPDQGJDUQHUHGVXEVWDQWLDOVXSSRUWIRUDUHWXUQWRR΀FHIRU yet another term. And yet, the Grant presidency witnessed extraordinary controversy. In some quarters the eighteenth president was reviled rather than revered. Through most of the time after he left the White House, his administration bore a reputation for spectacular failure. A century later, historian C. Vann Woodward dismissed Grant’s two terms as “America’s sorriest Administration” and “the lowest ebb” in presidential history. Only in the last few decades have historians and others EHJXQWRFKDOOHQJHWKDWYLHZ%\WKHHDUO\WZHQW\ÀUVWFHQWXU\VRPH had pushed the pendulum so far that Sean Wilentz hailed Grant “as one of the great presidents of his era, and possibly one of the greatest in all American history.”1 Historians can never achieve a perfect congruence between their rendering of the past and the “actuality” of what has gone before, but in few cases has their task seemed more challenging than in limning the Grant presidency. Indeed, one may speak of two Grant presidenFLHV 2QHZDVWKHÁRZRIKLVWRU\LQUHDOWLPHEHWZHHQDQG the unfolding of events great and small, the policies conceived, the 2 INTRODUCTION EDWWOHVMRLQHGWKHWULXPSKVZRQWKHFRPSURPLVHVHͿHFWHGWKHGHIHDWV endured. The other is the image of the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant that has existed in the nation’s collective memory—the place his administration occupies in our understanding of the evolution of the presiGHQF \DQGLQRXUFRQFHSWLRQRIWKHR΀FH)RUQHDUO\DKXQGUHG\HDUV Grant seemed to stand for everything a chief executive should not be, and rankings of the presidents consistently placed him near the bottom. Eventually, new interpretations came to challenge hoary stereotypes, and rarely has a president undergone so stark a change in portraiture.


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