Ulysses S. Grant The American Presidents Series: The 18th President, 1869-1877

The American Presidents

Josiah Bunting III; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

Times Books




208 Pages



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Ulysses S. Grant is commonly remembered as a general of fierce determination and strategic vision—the military leader who turned the tide of the Civil War and led the Union armies to victory, and who showed magnanimity and vision at Appomattox. His presidency is another matter. Here, the most common word used to characterize it is "scandal." Grant is routinely portrayed as a man out of his depth in the world of politics, whose eight years in office were without useful achievement and whose trusting nature and hands-off management style opened the federal coffers to plunder.

But this assessment, Josiah Bunting III argues, is both caricature and cliché. Grant came to Washington in March 1869 to lead a country still bitterly divided by the legacy of the Civil War. Andrew Johnson, his predecessor, had been impeached and almost driven from office, and radical Republicans in Congress had imposed harsh conditions on the states of the former Confederacy. Grant committed himself to reunite and reforge the Union, and to resurrect and strengthen Abraham Lincoln's greatest legacy: full citizenship for the former slaves and their posterity. In these missions he succeeded.

Bunting shows that Grant's presidency has been undervalued for generations; only now are his achievements being recognized for what they are.


Praise for Ulysses S. Grant

"I am fascinated by U.S. Grant for several reasons. First, because he seems to me the essential American of his time: a Westerner by birth and a doer, not an explainer; independent; inner-directed; always resourceful in adversity; canny and wise. Second, because his abilities were tested both as a military and a political leader of the Republic. Third, because with but two exceptions no American president faced more formidable challenges at his inauguration then Grant. Last, because generations of historians, out of bias or prejudice, have condescended to him and have generally gotten him all wrong."—Josiah Bunting III on Ulysses S. Grant

"Vivid, enjoyable, and well-written."—Kevin Baker, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] perceptive, well-written brief [study] . . . Understandably pays more attention to Grant's White House years [than his military service, and thus] probably puts Grant's life into more accurate perspective . . . Deeply sympathetic to Grant the human being . . . [The author] clearly (and properly) admires him . . . Bunting, who served in Vietnam and later was superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, says that 'Grant was willing to make decisions and live with their consequences, sustained, as William Tecumseh Sherman once said, by a constant faith in victory . . . Grant understood how to get men to do what he wanted them to do, and this quality led him to the victories that propelled him to his early fame' . . . [Bunting's book] analyses [Grant's presidency] far more thoroughly than [the recent biography by Michael] Korda does . . . [Bunting also] argues that 'after the war, during Reconstruction, and in the eight years of his presidency, Grant's commitment to the freedom of black Americans—and the hard-won privileges and rights of citizenship that such freedom implied for all Americans—sustained his work to preserve these gains long after most citizens in the North had lost interest in them or had given in to an indulged exasperation with their costs and difficulties' . . . The evidence leaves little doubt that Bunting is right."—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World

"Bunting's book, part of the American Presidents series, presents a more detailed portrait [than Michael Korda's biography of Grant does] in equally polished prose."—Mark Dunkelman, The Providence Journal

"Bunting's Grant rehabilitates a reputation commonly besmirched with scandal, and also, in Grant's case, with drunkenness and military butchery. Grant did drink too much—almost exclusively, however, when, after the Mexican War, he was stationed on the West Coast, far from his family. Grant waged war with unstinting force, which Bunting says was necessary against an enemy fighting on their home ground; this led to increased Union losses, but Confederate casualty rates were greater. Finally, neither Grant nor most of his officials were involved in any contemporary scandals, some of the biggest of which were congressional or entirely extragovernmental. He was a gifted, fearless soldier; a politician more dedicated to black citizenship and welfare than any other in the wake of Lincoln; a fiscal conservative; a humanitarian toward the Indians; the author of the finest memoirs by a public figure in American literature; and, at home and abroad, the most beloved American of his time. [This is] a richly written blow against ill-informed historical cynicism."—Ray Olson, Booklist

"Grant was renowned as a hero and savior of the Union in his day. Yet modern historians are likely to recall him as a president who barely survived one scandal after another. Call it a profile in courage: in this contribution to Arthur Schlesinger's American Presidents series (and the best written of the 32 volumes to have appeared thus far), novelist and historian Bunting attempts to rescue Grant from 'the clichés of the Grant Myth' by examining their origins . . . A splendid, short-form introduction to Grant's life and career."—Kirkus Reviews

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Ulysses S. Grant

A Son of the West
For most of his life Ulysses S. Grant thought of himself as a westerner. He was a child of the great Valley of Democracy, born on April 27, 1822, a hundred yards from the north...

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  • Josiah Bunting III; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

  • Josiah Bunting III is a former army officer who for eight years served as superintendent of his alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute. His other books include The Lionheads, The Advent of Frederick Giles, An Education for Our Time, and All Loves Excelling. He serves currently as chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Delaware. He lives with his family in Newport, Rhode Island.

    Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is the preeminent political historian of our time. The recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Humanities Medal, he published the first volume of his autobiography, A Life in the Twentieth Century, in 2000.

  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov