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Ulysses S. Grant, Nativist Tyler Anbinder As Americans become increasingly conscious of the multiethnic nature of American society, we are also gaining more familiarity with the role ofnativism in our nation's history. Grade-school children in New York City, for example, once sheltered from these aspects of our past, are now regularly taught about Know Nothingism and other famous outbreaks ofanti-immigrant sentiment. The instances of nativism selected for inclusion in the New York curriculum, such as the burning of convents and the lynching of Jews, mirror those most often studied by academics as well, for scholars too tend to focus on dramatic examples of nativism. Such a focus may be misleading, however, because it conditions us to associate nativism with a fanaticism that is usually assumed to be marginal and atypical.1 By documenting the bigotry of those who played little or no active role in nativist organizations, we can better appreciate how and why nativism has become so deeply ingrained in theAmerican psyche. One such nativist was Ulysses S. Grant.2 Grant was not an obsessive nativist. He expressed his resentment of immigrants and animus toward Catholicism only rarely. But these sentiments reveal themselves frequently enough in his writings and major actions as general and I would like to thank James McPherson, John Y. Simon, Brooks Simpson, Patrick Williams, and the Washington Seminar on American History and Culture for critiquing earlier versions ofthis paper. 1 "New York City Seventh-Grade Social Studies Curriculum Workbook" [1991], Unit Five, in the possession ofthe author. Excerpts from the workbook are in New York Times, Sept. 15, 1991. Dale Knobel's study of antebellum Americans' attitudes toward the Irish, in which he explicitly excludes from consideration the views ofnativist activists, is a notable but singular exception to the general trend of scholarship on nativism. See Knobel, Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity andNationality in Antebellum America (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1986). 2 "Nativism" can be defined in a number of ways. Sociologists and anthropologists tend to describe nativism as a mixture of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, racism, and ultranationalism. My use of the term connotes someone who fears, hates, or resents most immigrants and believes that immigrants pose a threat that must be actively resisted. In addition, because the vast majority of Catholics and Jews in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century were immigrants, I believe it is appropriate to use the term "nativism" to describe Civil War-era anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism as well. Civil War History, Vol. xuu. No. 2 © 1997 by The Kent State University Press I20CIVIL WAR HISTORY president that the failure of Grant's biographers to mention this aspect of his worldview is surprising, especially since it recurs from early adulthood until his death. Nativism tinged the letters he wrote from Mexico while a young soldier there in the 1840s. In the 1850s he joined a Know Nothing lodge and irrationally blamed immigrants for setbacks in his career. In the 1860s he promulgated one of the most infamous acts of state-sponsored anti-Semitism in American history. The most talked-about speech ofhis presidency, delivered in 1875 and all but forgotten today, had a clearly anti-Catholic message. And in the 1880s, as Grant looked backupon his careerwhile composing his memoirs, he still seemed to believe that immigrants (especially Catholics) posed a threat to the nation. The first hint of Grant's enmity toward Catholicism is revealed in his letters from Mexico during the Mexican-American War. After Grant's death, unfortunately , family members did not want his less flattering writings to become public, so they excised from the letters almost every potentially embarrassing comment that Grant had written while in Mexico. From what remains, however, one can piece together Grant's views. Grant believed that Mexico, with its abundant natural resources, would have been a great nation were its population not "degraded" by Catholicism. In Puebla, the twenty-five year-old Grant reported that "the mass ofthe people are the same poor degraded looking beings that we have seen all over the country. At a certain ring of the church bell or when the senior Priest of the place passes you might see them...


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