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Ulysses S. Grant
18th U.S. President
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States. As Commanding General of the United States Army, Grant worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln to lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War.
Born: April 27, 1822, Point Pleasant, OH
Died: July 23, 1885, Wilton, NY
Predecessor: Andrew Johnson
Successor: Rutherford B. Hayes
Spouse: Julia Grant (m. 1848–1885)

Ulysses Grant (1822-1885) commanded the victorious Union army during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and served as the 18th U.S. president from 1869 to 1877. An Ohio native, Grant graduated from West Point and fought in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). During the Civil War, Grant, an aggressive and determined leader, was given command of all the U.S. armies. After the war, he became a national hero, and the Republicans nominated him for president in 1868. A primary focus of Grant’s administration was Reconstruction, and he worked to reconcile the North and South while also attempting to protect the civil rights of newly freed black slaves. While Grant was personally honest, some of his associates were corrupt, and his administration was tarnished by various scandals. After retiring, Grant invested in a brokerage firm that went bankrupt, costing him his life savings. He spent his final days penning his memoirs, which were published the year he died and proved a critical and financial success.

Ulysses Grant entered the White House in the middle of the Reconstruction era, a tumultuous period in which the 11 Southern states that seceded before or at the start of the Civil War were brought back into the Union. As president, Grant tried to foster a peaceful reconciliation between the North and South. He supported pardons for former Confederate leaders while also attempting to protect the civil rights of freed slaves. In 1870, the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote, was ratified. Grant signed legislation aimed at limiting the activities of white terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan that used violence to intimidate blacks and prevent them from voting. At various times, the president stationed federal troops throughout the South to maintain law and order. Critics charged that Grant’s actions violated states’ rights while others contended that the president did not do enough to protect freedmen.

In addition to focusing on Reconstruction, Grant signed legislation establishing the Department of Justice, the Weather Bureau (now known as the National Weather Service) and Yellowstone National Park, America’s first national park. He also tried, with limited success, to improve conditions for Native Americans. Grant’s administration made strides in foreign policy by negotiating the 1871 Treaty of Washington, which settled U.S. claims against England stemming from the activities of British-built Confederate warships that disrupted Northern shipping during the Civil War. The treaty resulted in improved relations between the United Kingdom and the United States. Less successful was Grant’s failed attempt to annex the Caribbean nation of Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic).

In 1872, a group of Republicans who opposed Grant’s policies and believed he was corrupt formed the Liberal Republican Party. The group nominated New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811-1872) as their presidential candidate. The Democrats also nominated Greeley, hoping the combined support would defeat Grant. Instead, the president and his running mate Henry Wilson (1812-1875), a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, won the general election by an electoral margin of 286-66 and received close to 56 percent of the popular vote.

During Grant’s second term, he had to contend with a lengthy and severe depression that struck the nation in 1873 as well as various scandals that plagued his administration. He also continued to grapple with issues related to Reconstruction. Grant did not seek a third term, and Republican Rutherford Hayes (1822-1893), the governor of Ohio, won the presidency in 1876.

Ulysses Grant’s time in office was marked by scandal and corruption, although he did not participate in or profit from the misdeeds perpetrated by some of his associates and appointees. During his first term, a group of speculators led by James Fisk (1835-1872) and Jay Gould (1836-1892) attempted to influence the government and manipulate the gold market. The failed plot resulted in a financial panic on September 24, 1869, known as Black Friday. Even though Grant was not directly involved in the scheme, his reputation suffered because he had become personally associated with Fisk and Gould before the scandal.

Another major scandal was the Whiskey Ring, which was exposed in 1875 and involved a network of distillers, distributors and public officials who conspired to defraud the federal government of millions in liquor tax revenue. Grant’s private secretary, Orville Babcock (1835-1884), was indicted in the scandal; however, the president defended him, and he was acquitted.

Grant’s presidency occurred during an era dominated by machine politics and the patronage system of political appointments, in which politicians rewarded their supporters with government jobs and the employees, in turn, kicked back part of their salaries to the political party. To combat the corruption and inefficiency that resulted from this system, Grant established a civil service commission to develop more equitable methods of hiring and promoting government workers. However, civil service reform faced opposition from Congress and members of Grant’s administration, and by 1876 the commission’s funding was cut off, and reform rules such as standardized exams were discontinued. Lasting reform did not take hold until 1883 when President Chester Arthur (1829-1886) signed the Pendleton Civil Service Act.

After leaving the White House in March 1877, Ulysses Grant and his family embarked on a two-year trip around the world, during which they met with dignitaries and cheering crowds in many of the countries they visited. At the 1880 Republican National Convention, a group of delegates voted to nominate Grant for president again; however, James Garfield (1831-1881), a U.S. congressman from Ohio, ultimately earned the nomination. He would go on to win the general election and become the 20th U.S. president.

In 1881, Grant bought a brownstone on New York City’s Upper East Side. He invested his savings in a financial firm in which his son was a partner; however, the firm’s other partner swindled its investors in 1884, causing the business to collapse and bankrupting Grant. To provide for his family, the former president decided to write his memoirs. In late 1884, he was diagnosed with throat cancer.

Grant died at age 63 on July 23, 1885, in Mount McGregor, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains, where he and his family were spending the summer. His memoirs, published that same year by his friend Mark Twain (1835-1910), became a major financial success.

More than a million people gathered in New York City to witness Grant’s funeral procession. The former president was laid to rest in a tomb in New York City’s Riverside Park. When Julia Grant died in 1902, she was buried beside her husband.