The administration of President Ulysses S. Grant is one of the most misunderstood and myth-encrusted in all of American history. The only president to serve two full consecutive terms between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson, the former Union General enjoyed a wide popularity in his day. As chief executive, he fought vigorously for the rights of African Americans, initiated reform of the civil service, instituted improvements in the Indian service, negotiated a landmark treaty with Great Britain that averted war, and pursued an array of economic policies designed to lower taxes, reduce the national debt, stabilize the money supply, and restore the country to a specie-backed currency. Yet throughout his two terms, Grant encountered fierce, sometimes malicious, criticism — not only from enemies in the opposing political party, but also from men he had bested in his own.
Following his presidency, the disparagement continued, exerting an outsized influence on historians’ assessment of his time in office. The highly negative portrait persisted for a century, until the last few decades when historians have undertaken a thorough reexamination of Grant’s career — especially with new insights regarding his performance in the White House. In this talk, Professor Charles W. Calhoun will examine the evolving historiography of Grant’s presidency, the assets and skills he brought to the job, the problems and issues he encountered, and the achievements of his two terms.
The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, by Charles W. Calhoun
S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth, by Joan Waugh
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant, by Ronald C. White
The Reconstruction Presidents, by Brooks D. Simpson
- How does Grant’s performance in the White House compare with that of other presidents?
- What contributions did Grant make to the development of the office of president?
- How do the two major parties of Grant’s day (Republicans and Democrats) compare with those of today?