1. Political Apprenticeship
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13 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 1 POLITICAL APPRENTICESHIP In 1868 the Republican Party conferred its presidential nomination on General Ulysses S. Grant, by far the most popular man in America. The convention’s choice was long expected and unanimous. It nonetheless represented a remarkable turn of events for a man who, seven years earlier, had languished in obscurity before securing a place in the Union army. Indeed, but for the war, Grant in all likelihood would have never entered politics and no doubt would have remained unknown to history. Grant was born in southern Ohio, the son of a garrulous tanner and farmer, Jesse Root Grant, whose drive to escape poverty won him success in the leather-goods business and enough political capital with his neighbors to become mayor of the town of Georgetown. Little is known of Grant’s mother, Hannah Simpson Grant, except that she was as taciturn as her husband was loquacious. Ulysses took after his mother. As a boy, he showed a remarkable talent for training and managing horses. ,QPRUHRUOHVVDWKLVIDWKHU·VLQVLVWHQFHKHVHWRͿIRU:HVW3RLQW )RXU\HDUVODWHUKHJUDGXDWHGWZHQW\ÀUVWLQDFODVVRIWKLUW\QLQHDQG entered the infantry. In these years Grant did not share his father’s enthusiasm for politics, though he generally imbibed Jesse’s Whig views and agreed with his opposition to the expansion of slavery.1 ,URQLFDOO\LQWKHÀUVWVHULRXVHQGHDYRURIKLVPLOLWDU\FDUHHU*UDQW IRXQGKLPVHOIÀJKWLQJLQDZDUODXQFKHGWRDFTXLUHWHUULWRU\IRUWKH spread of slavery. In 1846 the James K. Polk administration picked a CHAPTER 1 14 ÀJKWZLWK0H[LFRRVWHQVLEO\RYHUDERUGHUGLVSXWHEXWZLWKWKHXOWHULRU purpose of annexing a sizable chunk of the southern neighbor’s land. *UDQWFRQVLGHUHGWKHUHVXOWLQJFRQÁLFW´RQHRIWKHPRVWXQMXVWZDUVHYHU waged by a stronger against a weaker nation,” and he later confessed his regret that, as a “youngster,” he “had not moral courage enough to resign” his army commission. But a sense of duty trumped his misgivings , and he served ably. As a quartermaster, he quickly learned the indispensability of well-managed supply, and on the occasions when he saw combat, he impressed his superiors by his bravery, his tactical Julia Dent Grant. (Library of Congress) POLITICAL APPRENTICESHIP 15 LQVLJKWKLVMXGJPHQWRIPHQDQGKLVEXOOGRJGHWHUPLQDWLRQ+LVHͿRUWV earned him promotion to brevet captain. After the war ended in 1848, he married his West Point roommate’s sister, Julia Dent.2 Despite his successes in the Mexican-American War, Grant retained his position in the army primarily as a means to support his family. Like RWKHUR΀FHUVLQSHDFHWLPHKHPRYHGIURPRQHSRVWWRDQRWKHUVRPHtimes with Julia at his side. During the war, some acquaintances whispered that he had shown a weakness for drink, but his performance WKHQ DQGODWHU VHHPHGWREHOLHWKHQRWLRQWKDWKHVXͿHUHGDSK\VLFDO addiction to alcohol. More likely, his metabolism and relatively slight IUDPHZHUHVXFKWKDWDVPDOOTXDQWLW\RIDOFRKROKDGDJUHDWHUHͿHFWRQ KLPWKDQRQKLVELEXORXVEURWKHUR΀FHUV6WLOOLQWKHSHUIHUYLGPRUDOistic atmosphere of Victorian America, Grant apparently acknowledged a need for personal reform. While he was stationed at Sackets Harbor, 1HZ+HQU\@&OD\µEXWE\WKHWLPHKHOHIWWKHDUP\DQGZDVUHDG\ to exercise the franchise as a civilian, the Whig Party had fatally split over the slavery question. Like other Americans who were fearful of DVHFWLRQDOO\GLYLGHGSROLWLFV*UDQWEULHÁ\ IRURQHZHHN WR\HGZLWK the Know-Nothings, but he bridled at their nativist agenda. In 1856 he voted for Democrat James Buchanan for president, “not because he was P\ÀUVWFKRLFHµEXWWRGHIHDW5HSXEOLFDQ-RKQ&)UpPRQWZKRP*UDQW had known in the army and held in low esteem. Grant later recalled his DSSUHKHQVLRQWKDWWKHHOHFWLRQRI)UpPRQWZKRVHSDUW\RSSRVHGWKH expansion of slavery, would lead to southern secession and war. But Grant had no love for the institution of slavery, and the only enslaved person he ever owned, acquired from his father-in-law, he quickly manumitted . This was an extraordinary act, given that he might have sold WKHWKLUW\ÀYH\HDUROGPDQIRUDVPXFKDVZKLFKZRXOGKDYH JRQHIDUWRVKRUHXSKLVÀQDQFHV6WLOO*UDQWGLGQRWHPEUDFHDEROLWLRQLVW DJLWDWLRQZKLFKKHEHOLHYHGZRXOGGULYHDGHÀDQW6RXWKWRGHVSHUate acts. “I...