AHC: Make Ulysses Grant a Great President

Ulysses S. Grant is usually judged as a fantastic general but a mediocre President. He won the Civil War, but his administration was plagued by economic problems and scandals. In his day Grant was hailed as the equal of Washington and Lincoln, but after his death many historians portrayed him as a drunken butcher and incompetent President. In recent years his legacy has been reappraised yet again, as scholars emphasize his administration's many achievements and Grant's personal integrity. Still, even Grant's admirers admit that he made important mistakes that prevent him from earning the reputation of Presidential greatness.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to make Ulysses Grant a great American President.
 

GeographyDude

Gone Fishin'
Reconstruction which takes.

And by that, I mean first and foremost that newly freed slaves continue to be treated as regular, first-class citizens.
 
If I remember correctly, a more recent biographer said that Grant was too trusting of the wrong people. His pre-war record shows that he was not good at determining good business associates or activities. Maybe having a more business-savvy and ethical top advisor or VP would be helpful, but I'm at a loss as to who would serve well in that spot. I wonder if someone could prepare him better, maybe even during the campaign, to help him utilize his obvious strengths and compensate for his weaknesses.

I know that a lot of the post-war things about Grant were rooted in Lost Cause-ism, the whole "Lee was a gentleman, Grant was such a butcher, oh the poor Southern boys" kind of thing. Grant was an innovative general (first military campaign conducted entirely by rail, I believe), and from a lot of recent things I have read his drunkenness was exaggerated. I'm kinda a Grant fan for a lot of the same reasons I'm a Lincoln fan, so I'm hoping someone has a great idea around this.
 
You'd have to get him to make better friends. Grant believed wholeheartedly in the spoils system, he even ran again in 1880 on a pro-bossism platform. So you're not going to get him to become a civil service reform advocate. Grant's pre-war life in business was a disaster, but his attempts at getting public employment were entirely based in a system in which jobs like being revenue collector or assistant supervisor of railroad for the country (petty bureaucratic offices, basically) were appointed on the basis of political party. Grant both gained and lost jobs in the late 1850s because of this; it is very unlikely he would see civil service reform even as a possibility.

So really, Grant needs to appoint better, less corrupt people, to positions in his administration. I don't really see any alternatives.

As for how he could have been a great President, he could have tried to assert more political control over the Republican Party in the South, where it was frequently a corrupt disaster that appointed carpetbaggers and freedmen to positions they had no experience or potential for, leading to avoidable failures in governance (the corruption in railroad bond distribution in particular was galling) and to intense resentment among a voting populace that was, pre-war, far from being unanimously Democratic. The old Whig vote was never courted successfully, which was an enormous oversight among these parties, who relied almost entirely on the votes of freedmen and never tried to build upon that base, outside of perhaps Tennessee and Arkansas. The Solid South was not something that just happened to come to be; it was created, and the Republicans in the South helped it along every step of the way. Use of federal troops for political reasons outside of the purview of fighting the Klan and protecting civil rights, was not a Dunningite fiction; it happened, and was egregiously alienating.

Outside of Reconstruction, where it must be said that Grant actually wasn't a total failure as he did stop riots and the Klan with military force, Grant probably should have vetoed the Coinage Act of 1873, which was excessively tight in terms of monetary policy. Grant's monetary policy in general, while understandable in that runaway inflation was a risk with all of the speculative railroad investment going on, was in general too tight and helped exacerbate the Panic of 1873.

I think if Grant somehow mitigates the effects of the panic, and cuts down on administration scandals by appointing better, more honest people, he is considered a quite good President.
 
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If I remember correctly, a more recent biographer said that Grant was too trusting of the wrong people. His pre-war record shows that he was not good at determining good business associates or activities. Maybe having a more business-savvy and ethical top advisor or VP would be helpful, but I'm at a loss as to who would serve well in that spot. I wonder if someone could prepare him better, maybe even during the campaign, to help him utilize his obvious strengths and compensate for his weaknesses.

I know that a lot of the post-war things about Grant were rooted in Lost Cause-ism, the whole "Lee was a gentleman, Grant was such a butcher, oh the poor Southern boys" kind of thing. Grant was an innovative general (first military campaign conducted entirely by rail, I believe), and from a lot of recent things I have read his drunkenness was exaggerated. I'm kinda a Grant fan for a lot of the same reasons I'm a Lincoln fan, so I'm hoping someone has a great idea around this.
Making Grant a better judge of character and a better businessman might have butterflied him out of rejoining the army, becoming a great general, and eventually president :)
 
Grant believed in Loyalty way too much, and that was definitely his pitfall. Or maybe its not so much overall loyalty but that he was a bad judge of character, especially when it came to Schyler Colfax, then Gould and Fisk. His own brothers backstabbed him a lot....hell Sherman even waged a private war against him because he supported the SecOfWar over the Commanding General of the United States Army.

If anything he really needed a better understanding of the Political scene.
Making Grant a better judge of character and a better businessman might have butterflied him out of rejoining the army, becoming a great general, and eventually president :)

True. But given the people who smeared him in the Civil War, he could easily attain that character though.

Granted he learned more after the Civil War (and Sherman, Rawlins and Charles Dana all hid it a lot), but McClearnard was doing it in his bloody face.
 
One problem with reconstruction was that Johnson had already screwed it up.

Making Grant a better judge of character and a better businessman might have butterflied him out of rejoining the army, becoming a great general, and eventually president :)

Have him have a friend nearby who he trusts working in the White House who is a little better at recognizing phonies, who he knew and trusted since West Point, the one whose cousin he's married to. Who has ties to the South (and hasn't been had then destroyed yet by the Lost Cause types) but is also a Republican. He wouldn't have an official position, but he'd be there.

Let's face it, it has some political difficulties but it makes a fun idea for a to, especially if he succeeds Grant in the White House.
 
Have him have a friend nearby who he trusts working in the White House who is a little better at recognizing phonies, who he knew and trusted since West Point, the one whose cousin he's married to. Who has ties to the South (and hasn't been had then destroyed yet by the Lost Cause types) but is also a Republican. He wouldn't have an official position, but he'd be there.

Let's face it, it has some political difficulties but it makes a fun idea for a to, especially if he succeeds Grant in the White House.

Longstreet huh! Interesting.

Longstreet and Buckner were his two closest friends - both Southerners, IIRC. Could be interesting development wise on the whole "reunification/reconstruction" approach if certain Southerners are allowed in. but even in Grants days the Radicals were still calling many of the shots. Sumner especially. THe Radicals/Northerners may dump Grant when it comes to 1872, you never know.
 
Grant believed in Loyalty way too much, and that was definitely his pitfall. Or maybe its not so much overall loyalty but that he was a bad judge of character, especially when it came to Schyler Colfax, then Gould and Fisk. His own brothers backstabbed him a lot....hell Sherman even waged a private war against him because he supported the SecOfWar over the Commanding General of the United States Army.

If anything he really needed a better understanding of the Political scene.


True. But given the people who smeared him in the Civil War, he could easily attain that character though.

Granted he learned more after the Civil War (and Sherman, Rawlins and Charles Dana all hid it a lot), but McClearnard was doing it in his bloody face.
If the Dominican Republic gets statehood, like he wanted, some of the racism which damned the freed slaves as corrupt will be challenged.
 
I would argue a lot of Grant’s reputation could be restored post-presidency - if successive presidents had better secured the legacy of Reconstruction, or if he had been elected to a third term in 1880.
 
I would argue a lot of Grant’s reputation could be restored post-presidency - if successive presidents had better secured the legacy of Reconstruction, or if he had been elected to a third term in 1880.

Yeah, the common myth is that Reconstruction failed in 1876 as soon as the troops pulled out, but biracial governments lasted until the 1890's. And when Jim Crow came to the South, it was largely supported in a North that had largely adopted scientific racism.

If anything, Reconstruction had succeeded, but then the North changed its mind after the fact.
 
I would argue a lot of Grant’s reputation could be restored post-presidency - if successive presidents had better secured the legacy of Reconstruction, or if he had been elected to a third term in 1880.
Would he be able to beat Winfield Scott Hancock, though? 1880 was the closest election popular vote wise, and there's also the fact that Charles Guiteau's delusions would have him try to shoot whoever is in office. Or what his cancer might do with the stress of the job
 
... and there's also the fact that Charles Guiteau's delusions would have him try to shoot whoever is in office. Or what his cancer might do with the stress of the job
I agree he more likely than not wouldn't survive his third term, but the fact of being elected three times (or being the first president to do so) would purely by itself have an impact on how history remembers him.
 
I agree he more likely than not wouldn't survive his third term, but the fact of being elected three times (or being the first president to do so) would purely by itself have an impact on how history remembers him.
Would people want it though, 12 years of Republican control would make Americans chafe somewhat.
 
Would people want it though, 12 years of Republican control would make Americans chafe somewhat.
Apparently not too much, since IOTL Americans elected Republican presidents in all but four elections between 1860 and 1932. And at least one of those victories, by Wilson in 1912, was primarily because the Republicans had split in twain between Roosevelt and Taft (the two of whom combined handily outpolled Wilson).
 
I would argue a lot of Grant’s reputation could be restored post-presidency - if successive presidents had better secured the legacy of Reconstruction, or if he had been elected to a third term in 1880.

Could just make him run and win in 1876. Regardless of the problems he was still significantly popular.

Thing is though he didn't want to stay.
 
He did run again in 1880.

I am aware.

My point is that he was still puplically popular enough in 1876 that if he wanted he could run. He didn't want too though. The Pennsylvania Republican Party issued a opposition statement that they would oppose a Third Term on principal, thinking it would injure the party standard, and he then issued a statement saying he would not run. Added to that Sherman also issued his critical opinion of the Grant Presidency as a failure. Grant was not happy in Washington in 1876 and wanted to go.

The fact that the trip around the world made him popular again is phenomenal though.

The fact though is that you don't need a third term to make Grant a good President. You just need to fix a few problems with his personality and choices in the two terms he has.
 
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