GRANT AS REMEMBERED BY HIS FATHER *** Three articles In the New York Ledger in March, 1868, presented in the form of six letters addressed by Jesse R. Grant, father of Ulysses S. Grant, to Robert Bonner, editor of the Ledger, attracted great public attention. “The Early Life of Gen. Grant” was a subject with wide popular appeal to Americans who had followed his career for six years, since his first notable Civil War victories, and were soon to elect him President. Grant’s own reticence and dislike of publicity had virtually hidden his life before the Civil War from the reading public. Biographies of Grant had treated his early life by passing over it quickly, by padding it out with general historical background, or by drawing upon imagination.
For the remainder of Grant’s own life the account by his father stood as the major source of information about these years. Even after it was displaced by Grants own Memoirs, biographers continued to draw upon Jesse Grant for points not covered by his son. Because Jesse Grant’s account has been so influential in forming a picture of his son, it deserves reprinting.
This time some words of warning are in order. As soon as he learned of the impending publication of his father’s articles, Grant telegraphed to Robert Bonner: “PLEASE NOT PUBLISH THE ARTICLE ANNOUNCED FOR FEBRUARY TWENTY FOURTH.
[pg. 2] TILL YOU SEE ME. I WILL BE IN NEW YORK SATURDAY.”1 Instead of waiting for Grant’s visit, Bonner replied by letter.
My dear General,
I have just received your telegram. I should have acquainted you before of my intention to publish the sketches, but I wished to be able to say with absolute truth that you knew nothing about them until you saw the announcement in the newspapers. They are excellent, & will add to your previously great popularity immensely. The most sagacious counsellor that Abraham Lincoln had in in this city says that it is impossible to conceive of anything else so well calculated to promote your election.
The letters are all written with great ability; & Henry Ward Beecher was so impressed with them that he told me–I quote his exact words: “the old man must be a splendid old fellow.” I send you an advance copy of which a large edition is already printed. Our edition is so large that we consume over a week in the printing.
The letters, as you will see, are very judiciously written. There is not a line in them which the most cautious friend of yours could want omitted or altered, or I should not have printed them. They make a most favorable impression in regard to you & also in regard to your father. His very portrait shows to everybody that he is a superior man.
I shall be glad to see you on Saturday, & shall, if you desire it, be happy to show you the rest of the letters, though perhaps you will prefer to be able to say of them all, as you can of the first, that you never saw them until they were in print.
Yours very truly, ROBERT BONNER.
N. B. If Edward Everett, overcautious as everybody knows him to have been, could say to me, as you will find by the enclosed extract, “I feel as if I could think aloud to you,” you may feel safe in trusting to my judgmt about these articles.
An even greater threat to the proposed publication came to Bonner in the form of a letter by the supposed author, Jesse Grant.
Covington Feb 22nd 68
Mr Bonner, of the N. Y Ledger
When Mr Bartlett was here looking after incidents in the life of Gen Grant; I furnished him freely with such as I thought would interest the public–But at that time I had no thought of the matter being published over my name–And when Mr Bartlet read the letters to me for my approval & signature, I felt, & expressed misgivings about the propriety of leting them appear before the public over my name. Mr B. however quieted my misgivings to some extent, & I signed them.
As I feared other papers & writers have […..] upon your notice of the publication and are trying to make some capital out of them, last
[pg. 3] evening I recd a letter from the Gen, asking me to have the publication stoped–Also a letter from a Gentleman in N Y to a member of his staff, suggesting the same thing–I would therefore respectfully ask that the letters be withheld from publication. If however you wish to publish the facts you can do so, by so changing the language as to be written by Mr B. or by Annonimas, & so entire withhold my name–
You know the Gen is rather modest, and does not wish it infered that he is seeking the Presidency; for really he would rather decline it, if he were to consult his own personal interest and feelings–If he consent to run, it will be through a sense of duty to the country, & not through any personal ambition–
My respects to Mr Bartlett & believe me your most
Truly J. R. GRANT3
Bonner replied to Jesse Grant in much the same flattering tone he had used with his son.
NEW YORK, Feb. 26 1868.
J. R. Grant, Esq.
I rec.d your letter of the 22nd inst. this mning. Your letters in the Ledger are very much praised by people & by the newpapers, & are doing Genl Grant a great deal of good. I have seen but one exception & that is the Cin. Com. a mean contemptible Chase paper, which lies in saying that I ever applied to Genl Grant himself to write.
I rec.d a telegram from Genl Grant a week ago yesterday at the same time be wrote to you, & I enclose you a copy of the letter I sent to him in reply. This letter I have no doubt convinced him that the articles would do him good, as, after he rec.d it he made no further objection to their publication. I suppose the trouble at Washington confines the Genl there, as he telegraphed me he would be here last Saturday. He is in the habit of calling upon me when he visits the city; & I should like to have him stop in just now, & see the files of newspapers from different parts of the country which I have, containing favorable notices of your account of his early life. The letters are all printed but two, as you will see from the enclosed advance copy; & if we did not print the last two, it wd be an injury to the Genl. The letters would not have done him a hundredth part of the good they do, if they had been published anonymously, even though dictated as they are by you. They are very satisfactory to the public, & being genuine they put an end to the silly & injurious trash which wd otherwise be printed & circulated about him. They are not liable to objection on the ground of writing him up as a Presidential candidate, for you made no reference to politics whatever, & no one could tell from your letters to which party he belongs.
The press is all in our favor, & the spiteful envious Com. even if there were a dozen such, wd amount to no more than a drop in the bucket.
Yours truly ROBERT BONNER
[pg. 4] N. B. On the opposite page, I place a few of the notices. You will see that one of the literary papers–the Evening Mail–compares your history of the Genl’s early life to Queen Victorias interesting account of her going [cancelled] journey through the Highlands, which she has recently published;–a number of people have said that your articles are the best of the two.
Though Bonner had previously shown skill as an enterprising and resourceful publisher, just how Bonner managed to remove the remaining objections of the Grants is unknown. Born in Ireland, he had come to the United States at the age of fifteen to learn the trade of printer, eventually acquired a print shop of his own, then purchased an unprofitable weekly called the Merchant’s Ledger and Statistical Record. Bonner changed the name to New York Ledger, and improved his own ledger by dropping the business news in favor of fashionable genteel fiction supplemented with autobiographies by notables of the time. Bonner built a large circulation through judicious advertising and was, alas, a pioneer in advertising irritants: sometimes he purchased full newspaper pages on which he ran one sentence in small print repeated thousands of times; or he printed a chapter from one of his serials, ended it at a suspenseful moment, and told readers to read the remainder in the Ledger. A goodly portion of the publishing profits were invested in horseflesh, for Bonner had a passion for fine racehorses. Grant, who shared Bonner’s interest in horses, remained friendly after the publication of the articles by his father.
In publishing “The Early Life of Gen. Grant,” Bonner executed a coup much admired and envied by his rivals. The account appeared to have more authority than it really possessed. The correspondence between Banner and the Grants does not clarify whether the letters represent verbatim
[pg. 5] transcriptions of Jesse Grant’s words or a reporter’s presentation of his reminiscences, though the latter is more likely. Unaware that the articles were anything other than letters written in full by Jesse Grant, biographers have combed them for information on his son’s life. In them originate stories so often repeated since that they have become virtually inseparable from Grant’s biography.
The Early Life of Gen. Grant By his Father.
COVINGTON, KY., Jan. 17, 1868.
ROBERT BONNER, Esq.–Dear Sir: You inform me that you wish to publish some articles about General Grant; and, in order that they may be perfectly correct and reliable, you request me to furnish them. I have no objection to doing so, except the difficulty which I labor under, at present, of committing them to paper. Having acquired, when very young, some facility in the use of the pen, I was, for many years, made secretary of almost every public meeting which I attended where clerical services were required; and through life I have been in the habit of doing a great deal of writing; but, lately, I have written so much that it has affected the nerves and muscles of my right arm so as to partially disable it temporarily, and make the use of it, for much length of time, inconvenient.
You inform me that you wish me to tell you something about General Grant’s ancestors, and of my own history.
The General comes of a good fighting stock. His great-grandfather, Captain Noah Grant, a native of Windsor, now Tolland, Connecticut, was killed in the battle at White Plains, in 1756; his great-grandfather’s brother, Lieutenant Solomon Grant, was killed in the same battle. I have in my possession an original muster-roll made out by Captain Noah Grant, in 1755–the year before his death. His own name heads it as captain; the names, dates of service, and “quality” of the men are duly entered in separate columns; and, as illustrative of the sentiments of those early days, one hundred and twelve years ago, on the military aspect of color, I may quote the following designations of some of the privates: “Prince, negro.” “Jupiter, negro.”
Captain Noah Grant’s son, Noah Grant, also a native of Connecticut, was my father; and, if he did not get killed in battle like his worthy sire, it was not because be did not perseveringly take all the chances of such a death, for he fought in the Revolutionary war, from beginning to end–over seven years. He was a lieutenant of militia at the battle of
[pg. 6] Lexington. This long period of soldiering spoilt him for all financial business. My mother–who was his second wife–was an excellent manager; and, while she lived, the family were always in comfortable circumstances; but after her death–in April, 1805–we had to separate, and that impressed upon the minds of all of us a lesson which we never forgot. She left seven children–the oldest only twelve. Every one of them subsequently became wealthy. My father was born rich, and was a man of education; but he died poor. His children were born poor, but all acquired a comfortable competency.
I was born in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, January 23, 1794. When I was five years of age, I was taken by my father, who emigrated with his family, to that part of the northwestern territory which is now Columbiana county, Ohio. When I was ten years of age, we moved to Portage county, in the Western Reserve. At sixteen, I was regularly apprenticed to my half-brother, to learn the tanning business, at Maysville, Kentucky. I faithfully served out my apprenticeship; and, soon after I became of age, set up business for myself, at Ravenna, Portage county, Ohio.
Here I suffered a severe and protracted illness from fever and ague, which finally compelled me to relinquish business. The savings of four years were consumed by the expenses of this sickness. In 1820, I settled temporarily at a small place called Point Pleasant, situated directly on the Ohio river, twenty-five miles above Cincinnati; and, in June 1820, I was married to Miss Hannah Simpson, and commenced housekeeping at that place.
Here, on the 27th day of April, 1822, our first child, Ulysses S. Grant, was born. The house in which this event occurred is still standing.
Five other children–three daughters, and two sons–were subsequently added to our family–one son and one daughter, both grown and both single, died of consumption, during the late war.
Industry, frugality, and perseverance made me fortunate in business and enabled me to accumulate a competency for myself and my family. In 1854, at the age of sixty, I measurably retired; that is, I withdrew from the direct personal supervision of my business.
My sons, Simpson Grant–since deceased–and Orvil L. Grant–now of Chicago–continued the business for twelve years, in my name, and made more than twice as much money as we had ever made before. We always had the reputation of making the very best of leather–we tanned with nothing but oak, and that made it superior.
About two years ago, I had made up my mind that I should enjoy more seeing the principal part of my property in the possession of my children than I should keeping it in my own. General Grant said he had done nothing towards making it, and he did not want any of it. The Government had provided for him so well that I acquiesced in his view. My son Orvil, who is in business in Chicago, received the larger share; and my daughters got about twenty-five thousand dollars apiece. I kept enough for myself.
My early opportunities for education were extremely limited. I never went to school but about five months in my life, though I took lessons in English grammar for four weeks after I was married.
I have taken a pretty active interest, generally, in the political questions of the day; though not to the neglect of my private affairs. I
[pg. 7] wrote the Platform which was adopted at the last Whig State convention that ever assembled at Columbus, and played a part in the first election of Salmon P. Chase as Governor of Ohio.
I was never what was technically known as an Abolitionist; but I never held a slave. I made up my mind, when I was a young man, that I would never have slaves. This was the reason that I left Kentucky and went to Ohio. I would not own slaves, and I would not live where there were slaves and not own them.
I voted for General Jackson for President every time he was a candidate–that is, three times.
In replying to your request for my photograph, I will adopt the response which I recently made to a similar application from a lady in Washington, who asked for my own and Mrs. Grant’s:
“Miss G.–My kind, good friend:
As you request, I herewith send
A neatly-taken photograph
Of Mistress Grant, my better-half.
The picture’s good, the likeness true,
Which I now present to you.
I also send you one of mine,
Though that, indeed, is not so fine:
This was taken four years ago,
Before I let my whiskers grow,
And to you may now look wrong,
But right to those who’ve known me long.
My best respects I herewith send
To you and to your room-mate friend.
And say to both, for what you want,
Just send your card to J. R. Grant.”
A copy of the photograph referred to, of Mrs. Grant, I will inclose in my next letter.
Very respectfully, yours, J. R. GRANT.
COVINGTON, KY., Jan. 18th, 1868.
ROBERT BONNER, Esq.–Dear Sir: It is said that every man thinks his wife is the best woman in the world; and if all men think as I do, the saying is correct.
Mrs. Grant was the second daughter of Mr. John Simpson, of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She was born and brought up in that county, about twenty miles from Philadelphia. When in her nineteenth year she removed with her father to Clermont County, Ohio. The family were very highly respected; people of veracity and integrity; but not of any particular ambition beyond that of living independent farmers.
Mrs. Grant’s father was worth some property; but it was all in land, and he kept it until he died.
It was nearly three years after their removal to Clermont that we were married. A few of the neighbors expressed their surprise that one of Mr. Simpson’s daughters should marry a young man hardly yet established in business.
[pg. 8] But this did me no harm; and as soon as it was seen how I was getting along, I heard nothing more of it. I suppose there could hardly be a marriage at which somebody would not be surprised. I was not worth a dollar when I married; but I did not stay that way long; and as soon as I was known to be prosperous the neighbors seemed to think the match was exactly the thing–just what I had thought from the beginning.
At the time of our marriage, Mrs. Grant was an unpretending country girl; handsome, but not vain. She had previously joined the Methodist church; and I can truthfully say that it has never had a more devoted and consistent member. Her steadiness, firmness and strength of character have been the stay of the family through life. She was always careful, and most watchful over her children; but never austere, and not opposed to their free participation in innocent amusements. The leading passion of Ulysses, almost from the time he could go alone, was for horses. The first time he ever drove a horse alone, he was about seven and a half years old. I had gone away from home, to Ripley, twelve miles off. I went in the morning, and did not get back until night. I owned at the time a three-year old colt, which had been ridden under the saddle to carry the mail, but had never had a collar on. While I was gone, Ulysses got the colt and put a collar and the harness on him, and hitched him up to a sled. Then he put a single line on to him and drove off, and loaded up the sled with brush and came back again. He kept at it, hauling successive loads, all day, and when I came home at night, he had a pile of brush as big as a cabin.
He used to harness horses when he had to get up in the manger to put the bridle and collar on, and then turn the half-bushel over and stand on that to throw the harness on.
At eight and a half years of age he had become a regular driver, and used to work my team all day, day after day, hauling wood. There would be a man in the woods to load, and another at the house to unload, but Ulysses would drive the team.
At about ten years of age he used to drive a pair of horses alone, from Georgetown, where we lived, forty miles, to Cincinnati, and bring back a load of passengers.
When Ulysses was a boy, if a circus or any show came along, in which there was a call for somebody to come forward and ride a pony, he was always the one to present himself, and whatever he undertook to ride he rode. This practice he kept up, until he got to be so large that he was ashamed to ride a pony.
Once, when he was a boy, a show came along in which there was a mischievous pony, trained to go round the ring like lightning, and he was expected to throw any boy that attempted to ride him.
“Will any boy come forward and ride this pony?” shouted the ring-master.
Ulysses stepped forward, and mounted the pony. The performance began. Round and round and round the ring went the pony, faster and faster, making the greatest effort to dismount the rider. But Ulysses sat as steady as if he had grown to the pony’s back. Presently out came a large monkey and sprang up behind Ulysses. The people set up a great shout of laughter, and on the pony ran; but it all produced no effect on the rider. Then the ring-master made the monkey jump up on to Ulysses’ shoulders, standing with his
[pg. 9] feet on his shoulders, and with his hands holding on to his hair. At this there was another and a still louder shout, but not a muscle of Ulysses’ face moved. There was not a tremor of his nerves. A few more rounds and the ring-master gave it up; he had come across a boy that the pony and the monkey both could not dismount.
Ulysses had the habit of riding our horses, to water, standing up on their bare backs. He began this practice when about five years old. At eight or nine he would ride them at the top of their speed, he standing upon one foot and balancing himself by the bridle reins. The ground over which he used to make these performances was a little descending towards the river; a near neighbor’s boy who undertook to rival him in speed, although without standing up, was unfortunately thrown from his horse and killed.
He always broke his own horses. I never knew a horse to balk with him. He used to get one colt perfectly broken, and then put another in by the side of him. He had a most wonderful faculty for breaking horses to pace; it became known in the neighborhood, and people used to apply to him to break their horses to pace; but he had an idea that it was degrading and would never undertake it.
One day a neighbor came to me and said: “Ulysses has a remarkable faculty to teach a horse to pace; I have a fine young horse: now how can I get Ulysses to teach him to pace?”
Said I: “You mustn’t say a word to him about it; but send him on a mission to some place, and get him, while he is gone, to teach the horse to pace.”
Said he: “I will do it.” So he came over again and said to Ulysses: “I want to send a letter, in a hurry, thirteen miles, to Decatur, and I will give you two dollars to get on my horse and carry it.”
Ulysses was then nine or ten years old. He was fond of making money, and fond of that kind of business, and he answered: “I will go.”
Just as he was starting off the owner of the horse cried out after him: “I want you to teach that horse to pace.”
The horse had never paced a step before. But Ulysses accomplished the task. He returned the horse at night a perfect pacer. The letter was all a sham; Ulysses found out the trick, and nobody after that could ever get him to break a horse to pace.
When Ulysses was in his twelfth year he was very small for his age. At that time I had taken the contract to build the jail in Brown County. The prison part was to be of logs hewn a foot square and fourteen feet long. These had to be hauled about two miles from the woods, where they were cut to the site of the jail. I, generally worked small or rather medium sized horses; but I happened to have one very large one. A neighbor had another about the same size, and Ulysses was so anxious that I should buy him that he said to me one day: “Father, if you will buy that horse I will drive team until all the logs are hauled.” I agreed to do it, but without any idea that he could possibly hold out to work the team over a week–he was such a little bit of a fellow. I even hired another man to work the team and told him to go along with Ulysses; but not to let him know, until the boy was tired out, what he was hired for. The man accompanied him for a
[pg. 10] number of days, when he came to me and said: “There is no use in my going with that boy any longer; he understands the team and can manage it as well as I can, and better too. There’s no use in my following him round.”
One day, after hauling a load, Ulysses took the team out, and said to me:
“The men are not in the woods, hewing, today, and there is no need of my going back this afternoon, as I can keep up with their hewing tomorrow; and there is nobody there to help load.”
“Nobody there to help load?” said I. “Why, how did you load this morning?”
“Oh, Dave and I loaded,” he answered.
Dave was the name of the big horse I had bought.
“You and Dave loaded! What do you mean?” said I, for I considered it absolutely impossible that a child of his size should have got such immense logs into the wagon without help.
“Yes,” said he, “Dave and I loaded. I took a chain and hitched on to the end of the logs, and we managed to get them in.”
He then explained how it was done. A large sugar tree had been felled, so that it lay aslant, one end resting on the ground and the other elevated. He had hitched the horse, Dave, to the end of a hewn log, and hauled it up on to this sugar tree, the end projecting over far enough to back the wagon under it. Three made a load; and when he had got three hauled up in this way, he backed the hind end of the wagon up under them, and hitching the powerful horse in front by means of a long chain which extended over the whole length of the wagon-body, he pulled them, one at a time, into the wagon. This was much talked of in the neighborhood, as it was considered a great achievement for a boy of his size. He worked the whole seven months and until the job was finished, hauling these logs, and other material for the building, with the exception of a single week. That week I sent him to Louisville. It was necessary for me to have a deposition taken there, to be used in a law suit in which I was engaged in the State of Connecticut. I had written more than once about it to my lawyers, but could not get the business done. “I can do it,” said Ulysses. So I sent him on the errand alone. Before he started I gave him an open letter that he might show the captain of the boat, or any one else, if he should have occasion, stating that he was my son and was going to Louisville on my business. Going down he happened to meet a neighbor with whom he was acquainted; so he had no occasion to use the letter. But when he came on board a boat to return the captain asked him who he was. He told him; but the captain answered: “I cannot take you. You may be running away.” Ulysses then produced my letter, which put everything right; and the captain not only treated him with great kindness, but took so much interest in him as to invite him to go as far as Maysville with him, where he had relatives living, free of expense. He brought back the deposition with him, and that enabled me to succeed in making a satisfactory adjustment of my suit.
Yours, very respectfully, J. R. GRANT.
1. Feb. 19, 1868, Grant Papers, Library of Congress.
2. Undated copy, ibid.
3. Feb. 22, 1868, ibid.
4. Feb. 26, 1868, ibid.
The Early Life of Gen. Grant*
COVINGTON, KY., Jan. 20th, 1868.
ROBERT BONNER–Dear Sir: Perhaps it was my son’s taste for horses, and the great pleasure which he took in riding and driving, of which I gave you some account in my last letter, that prevented his ever becoming addicted, so much as most boys, to other amusements. I do not know that he ever cared for any others at all, except playing marbles; of that he was extremely fond. I believe he never danced until he went to West Point.
John Marshall, a cousin and schoolmate of his, now a prominent lawyer in Georgetown, relates the following anecdote of him:
Ulysses came to him, one day, and offered to bet a half-a-dozen marbles that he could jump twenty-five feet, at a single jump, he to select his own jumping-ground. Marshall took him up, and they made the bet. Near by the tannery was a high, perpendicular bluff. Ulysses went to the top of this and jumped off, sinking up to his middle in the soft mud where he struck; but he won the wager.
He never seemed inclined to put himself forward at all; and was modest, retiring, and reticent, as he is now. But he never appeared to have any distrust of himself, or any misgiving about his ability to do anything which could be expected of a boy of his size and age.
Self-possession was always one of his leading characteristics. An example of it occurred when he was about twelve years of age. He drove a pair of horses to Augusta, Ky., twelve miles from Georgetown, and was persuaded to remain over night, in order to bring back two young ladies, who would not be ready to leave until the next morning. The route lay across White Oak Creek. The Ohio river had been rising in the night, and the back water in the Creek was so high, when they came to cross it in returning, that the first thing they knew the horses were swimming and the water wee up to their own waists. The ladies were terribly frightened, and began to scream. In the midst of the excitement, Ulysses, who was on a forward seat, looked back to the ladies, and with an air perfectly undisturbed, merely said: “Don’t speak–I will take you through safe.” With
[pg. 12] whatever class of boys he associated he was always held and regarded among them as a leader; but his natural disposition was, without ever putting himself forward, to seek the company of men instead of boys, and of boys older than himself rather than those of his own age. This quality, I think, he took from his mother; for her stepmother, by whom she was brought up, used often to say that at seven years of age she had as much the deportment of a woman as most girls at twenty.
The first book he ever read was the Life of George Washington. He was then six or seven years of age. He was fond of school, but particularly so of the study of mathematics. His first teacher was an old gentleman, named Barney–a graduate of an Eastern college, and a man of excellent education, but of no stamina. Ulysses was then about four years old. I do not remember that he ever went to school to a woman.
When Ulysses was about twelve years old, the first phrenologist who ever made his appearance in that part of the country came to our neighborhood. He awakened a good deal of interest in the science, and was prevailed upon to remain there some time. One Dr. Buckner, who was rather inclined to be officious on most occasions, in order to test the accuracy of the phrenologist, asked him if he would be blindfolded, and then examine a head. This was at one of his public lectures. The phrenologist replied that he would. So they blindfolded him, and then brought Ulysses forward to have his head examined. He felt it over for some time, saying scarcely anything more than to mutter to himself, “It is no very common head. It is an extraordinary head.” At length Dr. Buckner broke in with the inquiry whether the boy would be likely to distinguish himself in mathematics? “Yes,” said the phrenologist, “in mathematics or anything else; it would not be strange if we should see him President of the United States.”
Ulysses had a very peaceable, equable disposition, and had no inclination to quarrel, but he would not be imposed upon. On one occasion, when he was quite small, he rescued an inoffensive boy, who worked for us, from a trick which a large number of his companions were about to perpetrate upon him. The whole crowd then made for Ulysses, and he came home for a gun to defend himself. But he was never known to pick a quarrel with any one. Neither was he in the habit of swearing. Indeed–notwithstanding he has served so long in the army–I never knew or heard of his using a profane word.
He was always industrious, and he came honestly by the disposition to be so, for he inherited it from both sides. In respect to looks he was a most beautiful child; but I thought he did not grow up as handsome as our other boys.
Very respectfully, yours, J. R. GRANT.
COVINGTON, KY., Jan. 21st, 1868.
ROBERT BONNER, Esq.–Dear Sir: Work in the tannery was something which Ulysses never fancied. He would avoid it whenever he could by driving the team; or by going to get a load of passengers and hiring a boy to work in his stead.
He would rather do anything else under the sun than work in the tannery. We lived in a sort of hollow, and the village was on the hill. When
[pg. 13] I said to him, “We shall have to go to grinding bark,” he would get right up without saying a word and start straight for the village, and get a load to haul, or passengers to carry, or something or other to do, and hire a boy to come and grind the bark.
One day we were short of hands, and I told him he would have to go into the beam room and help me. He had never worked in the beam room any. The beam room is so called because in it the hides are worked over beams when the flesh and hair are taken off with knives, after they are taken out of the lime-vat. He came along and went to work, remarking, however: “Father, this tanning is not the kind of work I like. I’ll work at it though, if you wish me to, until I am one-and-twenty; but you may depend upon it, I’ll never work a day at it after that.” I said to him: “No, I don’t want you to work at it now, if you don’t like it, and mean to stick to it. I want you to be at work at whatever you like and intend to follow. Now what do you think you would like?” He replied that he would like to be a farmer; a down-the-river trader; or get an education.
I had no farm except the one which my wife inherited, and that was rented out; I had no idea of letting him be a down-the-river trader; I had money, but I required it in my business, for it took capital to carry that on, and I could not withdraw enough to educate him without crippling my business. I thought of West Point; so I said to him, “How would you like West Point? You know the education is free there, and the Government supports the cadets.” “First rate,” said he.1
I immediately wrote to Mr. Morris, one of our Senators in Congress, from Ohio, and asked him if he knew of any vacancy at West Point, the appointment to which he could control. He replied promptly that there was a vacancy from our own Congressional district. This surprised me; for I knew that there had been an appointment to fill that vacancy a year before. It turned out, however, that the young man who had been appointed had failed to pass examination. His father, who was a proud-spirited man, kept it a secret, and did not let his son return to the neighborhood, but placed him at the private military school of Captain Partridge. After spending six months at that school the young man made another attempt to enter West Point; but failed a second time to pass the examination. This young man failed, not from a want of talent, but because he did not apply himself to study. He entered the army as a volunteer after the war broke out, and perished in the war; whether at the hand of the enemy, or by an accident, was never known, his body having been found in a river into which he had fallen from a bridge.2 His mother became and remains a devoted friend of General Grant. She has always watched his career with the deepest interest.
Our Representative in Congress at that time was the Hon. Thomas L. Hamer. I wrote right on to him stating that Senator Morris had informed me that there was a vacancy, and requesting him to appoint Ulysses. My letter reached him on the night of the 3d of March; on the next day, the 4th, his term of office expired. He knew Ulysses, and was glad to have an opportunity to appoint such a boy, after the bad luck which had attended his previous appointee; so he made the appointment at once. A day’s delay in the mail that carried my letter would have made some difference in the
[pg. 14] history of one man, if not of the country. Ulysses was entirely unprepared by any previous study, pursued with special reference to fitting for West Point, but he got through the examination and was admitted. I never saw him while at West Point, except on the occasion of one visit, which he made to his home during the furlough at the end of his second year. It was said of him that while there he was not one who took pains to make himself popular, but that all the boys liked him. I believe he went by the name of “Uncle Sam,” on account of his initials, “U. S.” A superstitious person might almost think there was something Providential about these significant initials being stuck on to him, for they were not given to him at his christening. When the question arose after his birth what he should be called, his mother and one of his aunts proposed Albert, for Albert Gallatin; another aunt proposed Theodore; his grandfather proposed Hiram, because he thought that was a handsome name. His grandmother–grandmother by courtesy–that is his mother’s step-mother–was a great student of history–and had an enthusiastic admiration for the ancient commander, Ulysses; and she urged that the babe should be named Ulysses. I seconded that, and he was christened Hiram Ulysses; but he was always called by the latter name, which he himself preferred, when he got old enough to know about it. But Mr. Hamer, knowing Mrs. Grant’s name was Simpson, and that we had a son named Simpson, somehow got the matter a little mixed in making the nomination, and sent the name in, Ulysses S. Grant, instead of Hiram Ulysses Grant. My son tried in vain, afterwards, to get it set right by the authorities; and I suppose he is now content with his name as it stands.
Mr. Hamer, who appointed him, was afterward a general in the Mexican war, and somewhat distinguished himself at Monterey. He was taken sick in Mexico, and Grant, then a lieutenant, took care of him, and finally closed his eyes in death.
As is well known, it is the practice at West Point to get some rig, run, or joke on every new-comer. Ulysses took a letter of introduction to a cadet, who told him all this, and put him on his guard. In the course of the first night, one of the cadets, dressed as an officer, entered the room where Ulysses and his chum were sleeping, and told them that one of the rules of the institution required that a task should be given them, to see how they would get through it–while laboring under the excitement consequent upon their first admission. He, then, producing a book, ordered that, before morning, they should each commit to memory a lesson of twenty pages. “All right, all right, responded Ulysses; and as soon as the pretended officer had withdrawn, he went quietly back to bed, while his companion sat up and studied all night. Of course, the recitation has not yet been called for.
Yours, very respectfully, J. R. GRANT.
COVINGTON, KY., Jan. 22, 1868.
ROBERT BONNER, Esq.–Dear Sir: The class which Grant entered at West Point contained eighty-seven members. Of thirty-nine who graduated he stood the twenty-first. All the others had enjoyed better opportunities than he for preparatory studies; and several were graduates of college
[pg. 15] before they entered West Point. Most of Grant’s demerits were of a trivial character; such as not having his coat buttoned, or his shoes tied right, or something of that kind.
Experience shows how uncertain an indication the rank at the Military Academy affords of the future success and usefulness of the officer. The present General Franklin graduated at the head of Grant’s class; and Grant himself predicted to me, at the beginning of the rebellion, that Franklin would distinguish himself in the war.
Four of his class, French, Roger, Ripley, Holloway, and Gardner, fought on the Confederate side in the rebellion.3
Grant graduated in 1843, and entered the 4th Regiment of United States Infantry as Brevet Second Lieutenant. In the fall of that year he joined his regiment at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. About four miles from the Barracks lived young Dent, a classmate to whom Grant had been very kind at West Point, and who in return invited him to his home.
Dent had two unmarried sisters;4 and to one of them Grant became engaged. But the consummation of this engagement was long postponed by the breaking out of the Mexican war. He served throughout that war, and fought in every battle under General Taylor, except Buena Vista. Before that occurred his regiment had been taken away from Taylor by General Scott.
He was in all Scott’s battles–fourteen in number–in Mexico, and was highly complimented for skill and gallantry, and twice breveted for meritorious services.
Grant participated in the crowning victory, the capture of the city of Mexico, September 13th and 14th, 1847; and Major Francis Lee, commanding the fourth infantry in that battle, in his official report says:
“At the first barrier the enemy was in strong force, which rendered it necessary to advance with caution. This was done; and when the head of the battalion was within short musket range of the barrier, Lieutenant Grant, 4th infantry, and Captain Brooks, 2d artillery, with a few men of their respective regiments, by a handsome movement to the left, turned the right flank of the enemy, and the barrier was carried.” And he mentions Lieutenant Grant as “among the most distinguished for their zeal and activity.”
While he was gone to the Mexican war, he wrote home to us often, until they reached Vera Cruz. Then we did not hear from him again until they returned there. During this time his mother’s hair turned white from her anxiety about him.
At the close of the war he returned home and was married in 1848 to Miss Julia S. [B.] Dent, to whom, as has already been remarked, he was engaged before he went to Mexico. Her brother, who was his classmate, is now General Dent; and her father, Mr. Frederick Dent, formerly of St. Louis, now eighty-one years of age, resides with General Grant at Washington.
The regiment to which Grant belonged was stationed on the Lake Shore, with headquarters at Detroit. He was Quarter-Master. Subsequently they were removed to Sackett’s Harbor, where they remained for some time; and then to Governor’s Island–for only a few days, however. In 1852 they were ordered nominally to California, but really to Oregon. They made scarcely any stop in California, but proceeded on to Astoria. Grant was obliged to
[pg. 16] leave his family–consisting of his wife and little child–behind. They came to our house, where, soon after, his second child was born.
In 1853 he was promoted to a full captaincy, the rank which he had held by brevet before, and assigned to the command of a company away in the interior of Oregon.5 In 1854, seeing no prospect of having his family with him if he remained in the army, he resigned and came home.
His wish to become a farmer was now realized. Mr. Dent, his father-in-law, gave his wife a farm about nine miles from St. Louis, in Missouri, and I stocked it. Grant farmed it for about four years, at the end of which he was not so well off pecuniarily as when he began. To be sure, he had made some improvements on the place; he, had built a new house–in part with his own hands–of hewn logs, for himself to live in. During all this time he worked like a slave. No man ever worked harder. He used to market wood. He kept men to chop it in the woods, and he hauled it to St. Louis. He had two teams; he drove one himself, and his little son drove the other. Grant was a thorough farmer, and an excellent ploughman–though he never ploughed a great deal.
Although Grant made no money on his farm, yet I think he derived great benefit from his experience in civil life, when he came to re-enter the army; for the practical conduct of complicated military affairs, I consider that he was far better qualified to take the command of our great armies than he would have been If he had remained continuously in the service.
Very respectfully yours, J. R. GRANT.
COVINGTON, KY., Jan. 23, 1868.
ROBERT BONNER, Esq.–Dear Sir: At the end of four years of unremitting labor, finding that farming didn’t pay, Grant concluded to quit it, and moved into St. Louis, and went into the real-estate business with a man named Boggs. After trying this a few months, he saw that the profits were not sufficient to support two families, and he told his partner, “You may take the whole of this, and I’ll look up something else to do.” He next obtained a place in the Custom-house, which he held for about two months, when the Collector who appointed him died, and he left.
I owned a leather store at Galena, Ill., which was conducted by my two other Sons. Grant went to Galena and joined them in that.
He took right hold of the business with his accustomed industry, and was a very good salesman. He had a faculty to entertain people in conversation, although he talked but little himself. But he never would take any pains to extend his acquaintance in Galena; and after he joined the army, and had begun to be distinguished, citizens of the town would stop in front of our store, within six feet of the windows, and look in to see which of the Grants it was that was absent and had suddenly become famous.
After the fall of Fort Sumter, Grant wrote to me at Covington, asking me if I did not think, as he had been educated at the expense of the Government, he had better go into the army? I wrote back that I thought he had better. But before he received my answer, and within six days after the fall of Fort Sumter, he was drilling a company.
This company offered to elect him captain; but a gentleman who desired a higher military position, and thought this would serve as a stepping-stone
[pg. 17] to it, frankly confessed his aspirations to Grant, who told hime that he should not be a candidate himself, and also told the company that he should decline; but he agreed to go with them to Springfield, the capital of the State.
On this mission he was accompanied by the Hon. E. B. Washburne, the Representative in Congress from the Galena district, who introduced him to Gov. Yates, the Governor of the State. Mr. Yates did not appear to take much notice of him at the time; but, a day or two afterwards, sent for him and asked him:
“Do you understand how many men it takes to make a company? And how many to make a regiment? And what officers each must have?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Grant, “I understand all about such matters; I was educated at West Point, and served eleven years in the regular army.”
“Well, then,” said the Governor, “I want you to take a chair, here in my office, as Adjutant-General of the State.”6
Grant remained in this capacity several weeks, when he made a short visit to us at Covington. While he was absent from Springfield, Mr. Burk[e], a young man employed in our house at Galena, called on Gov. Yates, and, in the course of the interview, the Governor said to him:
“What kind of a man is this Grant? He has been educated at West Point and says he wants to go into the army; several regiments have offered to elect him colonel, but he says, ‘No;’ and declines to be a candidate. What does he want?”
“You see, Governor,” says Burk, “Grant has only served in the regular army, where they have no elections, but officers are promoted according to seniority. Whatever place you want him for, just appoint him without consulting him at all beforehand, and you will find he will accept whatever he is appointed to.”
Acting on this suggestion, the Governor telegraphed to me that he had appointed Ulysses Colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry. But Grant had left for Springfield before the telegram was received, by way of Terre Haute, where Reynolds, a favorite classmate of his, was living. On his arrival at Springfield he was notified of his appointment, and assumed command of his regiment, which entered at once into active service in Missouri, under Brigadier-General Pope.
At the beginning of the war, Grant, or rather Mrs. Grant, owned three very likely slaves in Missouri; but he told them before any Proclamation of Emancipation was issued to go free and look out for themselves.
The history of General Grant’s subsequent military career, of his great Western and Eastern campaigns, and of his respective promotions up to his present rank, is a part of the familiar history of the country; and I do not propose to enter upon that. When the great outcry was made against him after the battle of Pittsburgh Landing, one of his aids wrote several letters in his defence, and sent them to me for publication.7 I published one, which seemed to have a very salutary effect on public sentiment in this part of the country; but as soon as General Grant learned of it, he telegraphed me not to publish any more.
General Grant wrote to me once from the West, during the war, that the Government had asked a good deal of him, but they had never asked any
[pg. 18] more than he felt himself equal to. He always wrote in good spirits.
On his way to Washington to take command of the Army of the Potomac, he stopped an hour to see us. His mother asked him if he was not “afraid to attack Lee.” “Not at all,” he replied. “I know Lee as well as he knows himself. I know all his strong points, and all his weak ones. I intend to attack his weak points, and flank his strong ones.”
He wrote to us occasionally throughout the war; but his time was too much occupied for him to write frequently or at much length. His mother suffered much less anxiety about him than she did during the Mexican War. She seemed to feel throughout the Rebellion, that he had been raised up for the particular purpose of that war, and that the same Power that had raised him up, would protect him.
His family were with us for about six months. They came up from Cairo just after the battle of Fort Donelson. There is an incident connected with their arrival at Covington which may be worth mentioning; for in a few years it will probably hardly seem possible that such an event could have occurred in the United States.
They reached Cincinnati, just across the Ohio river, opposite Covington, on Sunday morning. Mrs. Grant hired a hackman to take tier and her family over the river to our house. The hackman happened to be a mulatto–a thrifty fellow, who owned a good pair of horses and a carriage himself. He took his passengers to our house, received their fare, and started back, and had reached the bank of the river–in fact, he was actually on the float leading to the boat, and was driving on to the ferry-boat–to cross over. Just then, our enterprising city Marshal happened to espy him, and under the act prohibiting colored persons from entering the State without a pass, he arrested him. His horses and carriage were left standing in the street to take care of themselves, and the man was hurried off to prison. A stable-keeper, seeing the horses and carriage, kindly took care of them.
The colored man sent for me, and I called on Mr. Nixon, a lawyer; but it was Sunday, and nothing could be done about getting him out until Monday. On Monday we had to give bail in the sum of one hundred dollars for his appearance before the grand jury, to answer any indictment which they might find against him. The grand jury indicted him for coming into the State without a permit. Under the advice of his counsel he forfeited his bail; as that was a much less punishment than he would undoubtedly have had to suffer if he had appeared. Governor Bramlette, on being applied to, released a portion of the penalty, which was in his discretion, and the remainder had to be paid. It seems strange that when a general was absent, fighting for his country, a man should undergo this punishment, simply for taking that general’s family in a carriage to their place of destination.
In the latter part of the Mississippi campaign, the General’s oldest boy, then thirteen, accompanied him, and was with him under fire at Vicksburg. He is now a cadet at West Point.
When Gov. Yates, of Illinois, was a candidate for the United States Senate, some of the friends of Washburne, who was a rival candidate for the same office, made the point in his favor that he was the man who had brought forward General Grant; and they urged that a man who had given such a General to the country deserved to be Senator. Yates, in reply, said, that
[pg. 19] it was not true that Washburne had given Grant to the country. “God,” said he, “gave General Grant to the country, and I signed his first commission.” Then, stretching upward his right hand, he exclaimed, “and it was the most glorious day of my life when these fingers signed that commission.”
This closing letter bears the date of my seventy-fourth birthday; and wishing every reader of the Ledger a seventy-fourth birthday equally happy, I remain
Very respectfully, yours, J. R. GRANT.
[from pg. 11] * This is the conclusion of an article begun in the last issue.
1. Ulysses S. Grant later recalled his first negative reaction to the idea of attending West Point. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York, 1885-6), I, 32.
2. For the connection between George Bartlett Bailey and Grant’s admission to West Point, see The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill., 1967- ), I, 3. Bailey served as captain, 1st Ohio, in the Civil War, and lost his life, as Jesse Grant described, around Nov. 10, 1861, at Guyandotte Bridge, Va. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901), I, v, 412.
3. Of the West Point class of 1843, Samuel G. French, Roswell S. Ripley, Edmunds S. Holloway, and Franklin Gardner fought for the Confederacy. The name “Roger” is an error.
4. There were three Dent sisters, all unmarried when Grant first met them.
5. Actually Fort Humboldt, Calif.
6. Grant never served as adjutant general, though he worked in that office. He was paid as “aid to the Governer & Mustering Officer.” The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, II, 17n.
7. See M. J. Cramer, Ulysses S. Grant: Conversations and Unpublished Letters (New York and Cincinnati, 1897), 184-203, for the material prepared by Jesse Grant for publication.
NEWS NOTES *** The second volume of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant has received an award of merit for state history from the Illinois State Historical Society. The award was presented at a meeting at Springfield on October 30. *** General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, a distinguished British soldier who fought in both world wars, and the author of two books on the Napoleonic wars, has recently published Grant as Military Commander (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1970). This 244 page book,
[pg. 20] crowded with handsome maps and Illustrations, follows quite closely the path taken by Grant himself in discussing the Civil War in his Memoirs. The sources are limited, mostly secondary, and the books of Bruce Catton have apparently not been consulted. The story of Grant’s Civil War campaigns is retold in readable fashion, with a few interesting asides based upon the author’s own military experience. *** Howard S. Okie’s General U. S. Grant: A Defense (New York, Washington, Hollywood: Vantage Press, 1970), is a curious analysis of Grant as a general which ends abruptly on page 72 about ten days short of Lee’s surrender. The charges against Grant are not clearly defined or explicitly refuted by the author, and most of the book consists of an account of the Civil War which closely follows Grant’s Memoirs.
[pg. 21] ALLAN NEVINS *** The distinguished American historian Allan Nevins died on March 5, 1971, at the age of eighty. A prolific writer, Nevins published his first book in 1914 and the two concluding volumes of Ordeal of the Union are scheduled for publication later this year. Two books, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, and Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration, won the Pulitzer Prize. His numerous publications were all the more remarkable because he always gave generously of his time to assist other scholars.
As chairman of the U. S. Civil War Centennial Commission, Nevins participated in the organization of the Ulysses S. Grant Association in 1962, and maintained his connection with the project by serving on the board of directors and as chairman of the editorial board. Believing that an edition of the Grant papers was “a much-needed work of the greatest potential value to all students, scholars, and writers concerned with the military, political, and administrative history of the country,” Nevins gave advice, encouragement, and assistance throughout the crucial early years of the project, and contributed a valuable preface to the first volume. Volume 5 of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant will be dedicated to Nevins as a token of intent that future volumes will reflect his example and inspiration.
[pg. 22] GRANT AT FORT HUMBOLDT *** The last three months Ulysses S. Grant served in the U. S. Army before the Civil War have always held great Interest for his biographers. While stationed at Fort Humboldt, California, beginning on January 5, 1854, Grant decided to resign his commission, and did so on April 11. The explanation that the resignation was connected with excessive drinking, and perhaps was not voluntary, has long held an honored place in popular belief despite, or because of, the absence of any reliable evidence concerning the matter.
Certainly there was no lack of other reasons for Grant to resign. Poor army pay, along with the failure of his farming and business ventures, meant that his separation from his family (since mid-1852) might continue indefinitely. Grant gave this reason for his resignation in his Memoirs. Life in a small, isolated fort, under an uncongenial commanding officer, with no active service in prospect, no doubt influenced his decision. Ill health was the final blow.
Others stationed at Fort Humboldt while Grant was there did not comment on his resignation until many years later. In 1912, Clara McGeorge Shields gathered together the remaining local recollections of Grant’s stay at Fort Humboldt, which were then printed in the Humboldt Times of Eureka, California, on November 10, 1912. Although the late Major General Ulysses S. Grant 3rd drew on this article for his book, Ulysses S. Grant: Warrior and Statesman (New York, 1969), the obscurity of the source has hidden it from other Grant biographers. The Shields article is printed below as it originally appeared, with the exception of an introductory section discussing Grant’s transfer to the Pacific Coast. With all the faults to be expected in
[pg. 23] reminiscences gathered many years after events, the article still has the advantage of casting a flickering light on a dark corner of Grant’s career.
General Grant At Fort Humboldt In The Early Days
Soon after the settlement of Humboldt County, differences arose between the natives and the aggressive white settlers. A few sharp lessons from the guns of the latter impressed the Indian with a wholesome respect for the white man and his methods. There was little to fear from attacks on the settlements, but to the lone herder, hunter and rancher, the lurking savage was a constant menace. A heavy belt of redwood timber encircled Humboldt bay and back of this was a large area of grazing land, rolling hills and fertile valleys. Naturally cattle raising became the chief industry of the settler and cattle stealing a profitable employment for the Indians.
So great were the depredations committed that many hundreds of cattle were killed and not a few people murdered.
In answer to an urgent appeal, the Government at Washington established a small fort on Humboldt Heights and soon after the arrival of the troops at Benecia companies B and F were ordered to this post.
The fort was built on a bluff overlooking the bay. Behind it stretched miles of unbroken forests of giant sequoias, the dense shade of which was never penetrated by any ray of sunshine. The lofty tops were never at rest. Even in the calmest days of summer, they were swaying and sighing in dreary sadness while under the stress of winter gales they would almost scream in madness. A dusty ribbon of road ran along the foot of the bluff and beyond it mud flats reached to the waters of the bay.
The companies arrives at Fort Humboldt late in January, 1853, Col. R. C. Buchannan1 commanding. In August of that year, the death of Captain Bliss caused a vacancy to fill which Lieutenant Grant was promoted to the rank of captain and ordered to Humboldt. In October, the beginning of the rainy season, Grant reached this out-post of civilization where, with leaden skies overhead, mud and flood underfoot, the gray bay in front and the dismal forest behind, with ever the vision before him of the cruel miles between him and his loved ones, he took up the petty duties and spirit-killing routine of garrison life.
Among Grant’s associates at the fort were Quartermaster Rundell,2 Lieutenants Crook,3 Collins4 and Underwood.5 Underwood was accompanied by his wife, and a little son was born at the fort, who was about the age of Grant’s second son, whom he had never seen.
But a few years ago there lived in Eureka a Major Howard, who before his death some years ago, talked freely with the writer of Grant’s service in Humboldt.
When asked for reminiscences, he said, “You must bear in mind that however great he afterwards became, at the time of his residence here, he
[pg. 24] was comparatively unknown except to his military associates. We had never heard of him and the only thing that may have attracted attention was the death of Captain Bliss and the promotion of his successor.
“I lived, at that time, on a ranch two miles from the fort and was acquainted with all the officers and they frequently visited my house. The first time that I met Captain Grant was early one foggy morning soon after his arrival. Lieutenant Collins called at my home to borrow my gun to shoot ducks and he was accompanied by Captain Grant.6 Collins seemed to be showing the new comer around and making him acquainted with the limited sports of the country.
They had driven down to the ranch and Grant sat in the bugy while Collins came in for the gun. I went out to the road and was introduced to Captain Grant.
He was an ordinary looking man with firmly set mouth and deep, searching eyes that seemed to take me in at a glance and then turned indifferently away. He was a very quiet man in strong contrast to the joking, fun-loving Collins. For all that Grant was so quiet himself, I think he enjoyed the lively company of Collins, as he seemed to favor his society more than any of the other officers.
There were few amusements at the fort, but sometimes I would receive an invitation which read ‘Come up to the post this evening to a gutta-percha banquet.’ On account of my young family and their unprotected condition, I could not always accept these invitations, yet when I did the entertainment was quite enjoyable.
A ‘gutta-percha’ banquet was so called from the chief article of the refreshments, which was a delicacy consisting of small bay mussels pickled in vinegar and served in a wide-mouthed bottle from which they were harpooned with an iron fork.
Cards was the only entertainment and nothing more exciting than ‘Old Sledge’ was played. On one particular evening the card quartette included Quartermaster Rundell, Lieutenants Underwood, Collins and myself. Grant did not play but reclined on the bed smoking a cigar. He seldom volunteered a remark yet when addressed always answered pleasantly.
We were all laughing heartily at something I have forgotten what, when Grant said, ‘Well boys, you can see a deal more fun in that than I can.’
Rundell replied, ‘Grant, I am afraid that you were born without a sense of humor.’
‘Perhaps I was, but that is not the only sense that I lack.’
The bed on which Grant lay was something of a curiosity. It was an immense structure made by one of the men for Rundell who was six feet, six inches in height. The bed was seven feet long and the same in width, having a headboard which reached the ceiling and was carved in leaf and scroll design with considerable skill. I afterward came into the possession of the bed and removed it to my home but after I left the ranch and it was in the hands of a tenant, my house and its contents were destroyed by fire.
The last that I saw Grant was just before his departure. One morning I was going to Eureka and at the foot of the hill where the road turns toward the post, I met Captain Grant and Lieutenant Collins. They were in a buggy and Grant’s face was partly hidden by a high coat-collar. He did
[pg. 25] not notice my salutation which was returned by Collins. I did not know at the time that he contemplated a change. I always found him gentlemanly in manner, treating all with quiet courtesy.”
Another old friend and admirer of Grant was F. S. Duff, from whom reminiscences were obtained. At the time of Grant’s service in Humboldt, there were not over two-score houses in Eureka. Mr. Duff owned a saw-mill, lodging house, and store, and furnished the lumber and many supplies for the fort. All the officers frequented the Duff home and put up at his lodging house when in Eureka. Mr. Duff was one of the very few intimate friends which Grant made during his stay at the garrison.
“Many a stormy night when it was too dark to ride back to the fort, did Captain Grant share my bed,” said Mr. Duff. “I furnished the lumber to build many of the houses at the fort and I have enjoyed many evenings with the officers there. In fact, it was my usual custom to drive down to the post Sundays and dine with them.
The officers’ quarters and the furniture in them were hand made, rude and rough. There was no society in the ordinary sense of the word; hunting and fishing become tiresome even with the most enthusiastic sportsmen, which Grant was not.
I never heard him complain, yet I could see that he was filled with an intense desire to be with his family. One day he lost his wife’s ring, which he wore.7 The intrepid soldier, who preserved his coolness in the bloodiest battles, was completely unstrung. The next morning half of the command was turned out and the parade ground was ‘panned’ until the ring was found.”
Grant’s relations with his commanding officer were inharmonious, to say the least. Colonel Buchannan was extremely punctilious and something of a martinet. Grant was a plain, practical, thoroughly drilled soldier, and he had little use for the fuss and frills of military etiquet. His easy methods and carelessness of dress were constant sources of irritation to his superior officer. Little inconsequent trifles of dress and ceremony became ever occurring causes for remarks and unpleasantness. Yet whatever faults the critical colonel may have found, neglect of duty was not among them. The conscientious performance of insignificant duties of a line captain was duplicated when he had the great Federal army in his keeping.
When Grant reached Humboldt he had an octagonal shaped gold piece which was called a “slug” and was worth fifty dollars. With this he bought a plow and vegetable seeds and made a large garden which supplied the post with fresh vegetables. Fresh beef was not always to be had but Grant made a contract with Seth Kinman, a famous hunter of those days, to supply the commissary department with elk meat. After Grant became President of the United States, old Seth Kinman traveled to Washington and presented his oldtime friend with a chair made of polished elk horns.
The welfare of the men was ever kept in view; he made frequent visits to their quarters, tasting their food and inspecting sanitary conditions. The men felt free to go to him with complaints and grievances knowing that they would be given a hearing and their claims considered with fairness.
Life at the post was insufferably dull. The Indians gave little trouble and months intervened between the arrival of the mails. There were
[pg. 26] days and days of rigid drilling and discipline until officers and men became stalled and wearied. Commissary whisky of the vilest kind was to be had in unlimited quantities and all partook more or less. The combination of whisky and idleness was followed by the usual results.
Under conditions like this trifles become causes of great moment. One day Captain Grant went duck shooting in the northern part of the bay some distance from the fort. Being absorbed in his sport he did not notice the ebbing tide until his boat was stuck hard and fast in the mud, a distance from the shore, and he was obliged to stay there until the next tide released him. Colonel Buchannan made his usual fuss over the incident but Grant simply ignored his fretting and bluster. Grant’s indifference to the Colonel’s scoldings and faultfindings was one cause of the friction between the two men.
In regard to the cause of Grant tendering his resignation, about which much comment has been made, the statements of A. P. Marble, with whom the writer converned shortly before that old soldier’s death, throws some light on the matter. Mr. Marble was Captain Grant’s body servant and accompanied him across the isthmus. He was loud in praise of Grant in those trying times. The old servant denied that there was any special cause for Grant’s resignation, other than that he was not satisfied with existing conditions. Cognizant of his own power and ability, he felt that his life was being wasted. His military ambitions were blasted and his captain’s pay inadequate for the support of his family. Besides his environments were decidedly unpleasant.
“Colonel Buchannan was an efficient officer but strict in petty details to the verge of absurdity,” said Mr. Marble. “I will relate an incident proving this. General Crook, of Indian fighting fame, was a lieutenant in Grant’s company. He was a sweet-tempered fellow, about twenty years old and brimful of fun and laughter.
One morning Colonel Buchannan was standing in front of his headquarters and, looking across the parade grounds, saw Lieutenant Crook standing in an easy position with his hands in his pockets.
The Colonel addressed me, ‘Orderly!’
‘Present my compliments to Lieutenant Crook and tell him to take his hands out of his pockets.’
I approached the lieutenant and, suppressing a smile, delivered the message. Crook was not on duty at the time and with a pleasant smile, he replied, ‘Orderly, present my compliments to Colonel Buchannan and tell him that my pockets are my own.'”
The writer saw in the possession of Mr. Marble a form of Grant’s resignation which had been thrown aside by him and picked up by the servant while putting the room in order. It probably was a first draught written out and discarded, as the wording is different from the one he did send and it is addressed to the commanding officer at San Francisco rather than at Washington. It read as follows:
“April 11, 1854.
Major-Gen. John A. Wool, San Francisco.
Signed, U. S. Grant.”
The resignation which was sent by Grant was as follows:
Humboldt Bay, April 11, 1854.
I very respectfully tender my resignation of my commission as an officer of the army and request that it may take effect from the 21st [3lst] of July next.
I am, Col.
Your obt. svt.
U. S. Grant.
Capt. 4th Infantry
To Col. S. Cooper,
Adj. Gen. U. S. A.
Washington, D. C.”
The resignation went to the department at Washington at the hands of Colonel Buchanan, was accepted and took effect at the date requested, and soon after Grant left for San Francisco leaving behind him all hopes of military glory and a year of wasted life.
The following letter, written by S. S. Todd and published in a Kansas City paper in April, 1895, hints at pressure being brought to bear on Grant to wring from him his commission. This theory is, in the opinion of the writer, erroneous, as the most careful investigation among those associated with him at Fort Humboldt, fails to find causes other than those herein ascribed.
Mr. Todd wrote, “The story of U. S. Grant’s retirement from the army when a captain in 1854, and his reinstatement at the breaking out of the civil war in 1861; his unhappy exit and fortuitious return to military duty, is dramatic and pathetic.
In 1861, I was a practicing physician in San Francisco and was commissioned surgeon of one of the regiments that California furnished. While in charge of the government hospital at Presidio, Cal., during the autumn of 1862, I was much in the company of Fred Dent, a brother-in-law of Grant, and a major in the Ninth Infantry. We often talked of Grant. The ex-captain was now a brigadier under hot fire from enemies, secret and open. His growing popularity was hatching detractors, some of whom were pleased to say: ‘Oh, he is at it again,’ meaning that the convivial habits of the captain had reappeared in the general.
Major Dent did not deny that ‘U. S.’ as he called him, had been in past days in the habit of using intoxicating liquors. The habit was almost universal in the army, but he assured me again and again of his utter disbelief in the stories that were being circulated of General Grant’s intemperance.
A few weeks later I was ordered to Fort Humboldt where Colonel Francis Lippett and a part of his regiment, the Second Cal. Volunteers, were stationed. While there I made the acquaintance of Dr. Jonothan Clark, a prominent physician of Eureka, who had in former years been frequently in
[pg. 28] charge of the hospital of the post in the absence of a regular army surgeon.
Forts Henry and Donelson had just fallen and the public was beginning to recognize the skill and daring of the silent brigadier. My quarters at the fort adjoined those of Colonel Lippett’s and Dr. Clark was a frequent visitor.
‘Let me tell you,’ said Clark one day as he sat in my room, knocking the ashes from his cigar and laying down his paper, which contained an account of the surrender of Fort Donelson, ‘Let me tell you something about Grant. We were old friends you know. He resigned his captaincy while here in 1854. Well, his quarters were the same that you now occupy.’ Then the doctor went on to tell me that when Captain Grant was on duty at Fort Humboldt, he and the doctor were on friendly and confidential terms. During this period Grant had two severe attacks of illness through which Dr. Clark attended him. It was after the recovery of the first illness that he tendered his resignation and he had just recovered from the the second when the knowledge of its acceptance reached him.8
When the doctor met him again he said rather sadly, ‘Well, doctor, I am out,’ then added, ‘But I will tell you something and you mark my words: my day will come, they will hear from me yet.’
These words, spoken so deliberately almost solemnly, impressed his hearer as a prophecy.”
Dr. Clark saw his friend again. When Ex-President Grant made his famous journey around the world, Clark made a special trip to San Francisco to see his former patient. Grant was in the drawing room of the Palace hotel surrounded by a throng of visitors when Dr. Clark entered. The great man recognized his friend immediately and came briskly forward, greeting the doctor with cordiality and inquired after many of the people of Eureka. Unhappy as had been his year at Fort Humboldt Grant had nothing but the kindest words for his associates there and from the pinnacle of his fame regarded them with the same quiet kindliness with which he had held them in the dark days of his residence at that dreary western garrison.
1. Bvt. Lt. Col. Robert C. Buchanan of Md., USMA 1830, commanded Fort Humboldt.
2. According to regimental returns, 2nd Lt. Charles H. Rundell of N. Y., USMA 1852, had not yet joined his new post at Fort Humboldt by the time Grant left.
3. 2nd Lt. George Crook of Ohio, USMA 1852, later a celebrated commander in the Civil War and Indian campaigns, had been at Fort Humboldt in 1853, but served at Fort Jones, Calif., all the time Grant was at Fort Humboldt.
4. 1st Lt. Joseph B. Collins of Washington, D. C., served at Fort Humboldt with Grant.
5. 1st Lt. Edmund Underwood of Pa. was stationed at Fort Reading, Calif., all the time Grant was at Fort Humboldt.
6. In writing to his wife on Feb. 2, 1854, Grant said that other officers enjoyed hunting ducks and geese but that he did not join them. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill., 1967- ), I, 316. See Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York, 1885-6), I, 75-76.
7. Julia Dent gave Grant a ring with her name engraved inside at the time of their engagement. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, I, 55. Grant once misplaced the ring while stationed at Detroit. Ibid., 201, 221-222.
8. Grant was reported sick on the post returns of Fort Humboldt for Feb. and April, 1854. On May 1, Buchanan wrote that Grant was “too unwell to travel just yet.” Ibid., 332n. He left Fort Humboldt in May before his resignation had been accepted.
A CONFLICT OF PERCEPTIONS:
by Thomas G. Alexander
Almost from its inception, conflict followed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After the Mormons fled to Utah to escape persecution, controversy with federal officials culminated in the sending of an army under Col. Albert Sidney Johnston in 1857-58. When Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861, it appeared that the conflict would be renewed and that Lincoln would keep his party’s pledge to eradicate “the twin relics of barbarism,” slavery and polygamy. The first relic, however, proved too difficult, and Lincoln was forced to concentrate on the Civil War. He is reported to have told Mormon Elder Thomas B. H. Stenhouse that he would “let them alone if they will let me alone.”1 Andrew Johnson was as reluctant to move against the Mormons as against the South, but when Ulysses S. Grant became President, a new era of conflict with the Mormons opened.
In their own words, the Mormons were “a peculiar people.” Perhaps the most obvious deviation from nineteenth century American society was their practice of polygamy, plural or celestial marriage as they preferred to call it. Though shared only with a select few at the time Joseph Smith committed
[pg. 30] the revelation to paper in 1843, it was openly preached in 1852 and vigorously defended thereafter. At the October, 1869, conference of the Church, seven months after Grant’s inauguration, Apostle Orson Pratt, high in Mormon councils, preached a sermon in which he argued the scriptural soundness of the doctrine and averred that the Mormons intended “to live according to the law of God as we have received it, Congress or no Congress.”2
Beyond this, nineteenth century Mormon political theory left little room for separation of church and state. Anticipating the Millennium when Christ would rule personally on the earth, Mormons began in 1844 to prepare a political organization through which He would govern. Though only a shadow government during Grant’s administration, its temporal manifestations were very real. The militia or Nauvoo Legion, theoretically answerable to the territorial governor, was actually under the command of Lt. Gen. Daniel H. Wells, Mayor of Salt Lake City and counselor to President Brigham Young, the Church’s Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.3
By virtue of their twenty-to-one majority in the territory, the Mormons were firmly in control of city and county government. Apostles served as speaker of the house of representatives and president of the council, and through control of the local juriciary, Mormons were in a position to thwart any attempts to punish polygamy. The territorial legislature had granted jurisdiction, concurrent with the federal district courts, in civil and criminal matters to the county probate courts, whose judges were elected by joint vote of both houses of the legislature.
[pg. 31] Jury lists for both the probate and federal courts were drawn by local authorities from rolls of property holders. In addition, the legislature had created the offices of territorial attorney and marshal, also elected by the legislature, to act in the federal courts in all cases arising under territorial law.4
Outside the political realm, the Mormons emphasized exclusiveness, and this emphasis was heightened In 1868 when the cooperative movement was inaugurated. Mormons were encouraged to boycott all Gentiles, as non-Mormons were called, and to purchase from local cooperative stores. In 1874, this tendency was further strengthened by the inauguration of the United Order, an ambitious share-the-wealth-movement.
At the same time a numerically small Gentile community lived principally in the larger cities and the mining districts. The non-Mormons were mainly engaged in commerce, transportation, mining, and the professions. While the Saints controlled the locally elected offices, the Gentiles, by virtue of federal appointments, monopolized the executive and judicial departments of the territorial government. In fact, only a month after he took office, Grant removed the only Mormon In either branch, the collector of internal revenue.5
Mormons were firmly convinced that they were loyal to the letter and spirit of the Constitution of the United States and to the revealed will of God. The First Amendment, after all, prohibited Congress from passing any law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” They believed that the Morrill Anti-bigamy Act of 1862, which prohibited the practice of polygamy In the territories,
[pg. 32] was unconstitutional.6
The Mormons considered their institutions both divine and progressive. Polygamy, ecclesiastical control of government, and woman suffrage were all defended on the ground of their progressive nature.7 Communitarianism, small unit land-holding, and public control of resources such as timber and water, were designed to allow everyone the right to earn his own way and to help those unable to care for themselves. Any believing Mormon would have rejected as absurd an offer of spiritual without temporal salvation. Based upon a broad consensus of its members, Church members expected their society to grow until it filled the whole earth.
Needless to say, Gentile perception of Momon society was much different. About a month before Grant’s inauguration, the New York Times called Mormonism an “extraordinary politico-religious vagary.” Utah, it said, was a union of church and state ruled by Brigham Young. Later, the Times suggested that the question of polygamy in Utah would be settled by the inevitable progress caused by the railroad and the Influx of Gentiles.8
In interviews, novels, congressional testimony, and newspapers, the image of Mormonism in nineteenth century America was one of licentious despotism. Opposition to the Church and to Utah’s possible admission to statehood was opposition not only to polygamy, but to Mormon political domination and to alleged harrassment and murder of Gentiles. The people of the United States seem to have generally believed that the Mormon people were ignorant and gullible immigrants who followed the dictates of a rapacious leadership and who would not hesitate to commit murder or ensnare an unsuspecting maiden at the command of Brigham Young.9 That Utah’s
[pg. 33] literacy rate ranked with those of Massachusetts and Illinois, and that the celebrated murders had more to do with frontier conditions like claim-jumping or the Utah War than with Mormonism, seems to have escaped most contemporary observers.10
Robert N. Baskin, for part of Grant’s Presidency assistant U. S. district attorney for Utah, testified that it was virtually impossible to enforce laws against polygamy. Utah had no civil registration of marriages, and the prosecution found it difficult to prove that a plural marriage had taken place. He did say, however, that the question of religion did not appear in ordinary cases and that the Mormons were impartial jurors in such cases.11
Misconceptions were buttressed by published reports of discussions between Mormon leaders and prominent citizens. In July, 1869, Brigham Young is reported to have told Senator Lyman Trumbull that “he might hear of some persons being put out of the Territory, and, if done, he might be sure it would be for just and good reasons.”12 In a speech to citizens of Salt Lake City from the portico of the Townsend House in the fall of 1869, Vice President Schuyler Colfax enjoined the Mormons to obey the law and told them that it was fallacious to view the question of polygamy as exclusively religious. When Apostle John Taylor, who was then in Boston, heard of Colfax’s speech, he wrote an open letter insisting that his religion was no concern of the state and that polygamy was “a matter between God and myself alone.”13
The absurd degree to which some Gentiles thought Brigham Young controlled Utah was indicated in August, 1870, when the Reverend John P.
[pg. 34] Newman, Methodist clergyman and friend of President Grant, appeared in Salt Lake City. He came in response to an editorial in the Salt Lake Telegraph which suggested instead of preaching against polygamy in the East, he ought to come to Utah where some Mormon elder could debate him on the subject. On August 6, Newman sent Brigham Young a note saying that he was there to accept Young’s challenge to debate the subject of whether the Bible sanctioned polygamy. After Young responded with surprise, Newman said that he had assumed Young’s control in Utah meant that anything printed in the papers was done at his behest. The New York Times commented that Newman’s quest made him look like “Don Quixote in Utah,” and after a debate with Orson Pratt, the Times thought the whole venture ludicrous. The question of the biblical sanction of polygamy or of revelation to the Mormons was irrelevant because no
civilized community of the present day, except that which he attacks, accepts polygamy as an institution, for many reasons, religious and moral; but the argument for rejecting it is more based upon the irrefragable demonstrations of social science than upon specific Divine command.14
The activities and reports of Grant’s appointees make it clear that they not only accepted the generally held image of Utah, but hoped to change conditions there. Grant first appointed John Wilson Shaffer of Illinois as governor. A former adjutant to Benjamin F. Butler and an Illinois businessman, Shaffer emphasized the need for vigorous enforcement of federal authority. He requested the removal of Territorial Secretary Samuel A. Mann, a Nevada lawyer, who was somewhat favorably inclined to the Mormons. He expected Utah Chief Justice James B. McKean, a New York lawyer and former army officer, to deal with problems such as conflicts
[pg. 35] of jurisdiction between federal and territorial officials.15
Little by little, these appointees began to wrest part of the control of Utah affairs from Mormon hands and place it in the hands of the federal government. Shaffer and Acting Governor, George A. Black, a Utah Gentile, with the help of United States troops, succeeded in gaining some control of the territorial militia.
By ignoring the territorial law on empaneling juries and having jurors selected by the U. S. marshal, McKean secured indictments against Brigham Young and a number of Mormon leaders for lewd and lascivious cohabitation and for murders allegedly committed during the Utah War. Shaffer’s successor, George L. Woods, formerly governor of Oregon, feared that the indictments might cause a general uprising and Grant alerted the War Department for possible military assistance.16 The indictments were
invalidated, however, when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in April, 1872, that U. S. courts in the territories were obliged to follow rules set up by territorial legislatures.17 Nevertheless, difficulty with the courts continued because the judges refused to recognize the territorial marshal and attorney, who had been appointed by the legislature, and the local authorities refused to pay the cost of cases prosecuted in the court by U. S. officers.
Behind all of this stood Ulysses S. Grant whose appointment power could make or break the efforts to assert federal authority in Utah. The Mormons believed that outsiders knew very little of what was really happening in the territory; on occasion they asked for an investigation of conditions.18 It is clear from existing correspondence that, though
[pg. 36] Grant tried to learn what was happening in Utah, his sources of information were generally either schismatics or federal officials. He was not as interested in Utah affairs as in foreign affairs, reconstruction, or federal monetary policy, but his scrapbooks, which his wife Julia probably kept for him, contain some clippings on Utah.19
In 1870, during the agitation over the passage of a bill unfavorable to the Mormons, Grant talked with William S. Godbe, leader of a group of businessmen and literary people of Salt Lake City who opposed Church control of secular affairs. Godbe raised the question of sending more troops to Utah, which he deplored. Grant is reported to have said that if “more troops were sent to Utah they would be merely designed as a moral force.” He wanted Godbe to know, however, that though he was, “as solicitous as you can possibly be to preserve the Mormon people,” he intended Mormon leaders, “to understand that the Nation intended to enforce her laws in Utah.”20 In November, 1871, while Mormon leaders stood under indictment, Grant wrote the Reverend Mr. Newman that the “civil authorities in Utah need not fear but they will have ample support from here in executing all the laws.”21
Grant’s annual messages and a special message to Congress in 1873 make it clear that his views coincided with those of his appointees. In his third annual message in December, 1871, he indicated that while the Mormons would be “protected in the worship of God according to the dictates of their consciences,” the law would be enforced to secure the eradication of “a remnant of barbarism repugnant to civilization, decency and the laws of the United States.”22
[pg. 37] After his reelection, in his annual message of December, 1872, Grant called upon Congress to end the impasse which had befallen the courts; to revise “the present laws of the territory”; and to enact laws to ensure “the equality of all citizens before the law, and the ultimate extinguishment of polygamy.”23 His special message of February 14, 1873, on Utah, made it clear that he expected a law which would grant more power to the federal officials, though he Insisted that impartial juries were necessary. The New York Times called the message “timely,” because conditions in Utah had “become a public scandal,” but the Salt Lake Herald, a pro-Mormon paper, insisted that Grant’s porposals were unnecessary because polygamy was a religious, not a legal matter. The Deseret News, organ of the Church, insisted that if a collision took place it would not be the choice of the people of Utah.24
Already, numerous bills had poured into congressional hoppers, but it was not until after the impasse in the courts and Grant’s messages that any passed the Senate. In June, 1872, Congress passed the Poland Act which provided for the cooperative selection of juries by federal and local authorities, abolished the offices of territorial marshal and attorney, and ended civil and criminal jurisdiction of the probate courts. Principal opposition to the bill came in the Senate from conservatives like Aaron A. Sargent of California who feared a religious war would result from passage of the bill. He succeeded in having stricken from the bill provisions making it unnecessary to have documentary proof of a marriage in polygamy prosecutions, allowing alimony pending the outcome of litigation on divorce proceedings for polygamous wives, and allowing
[pg. 38] challenges of jurors on the ground that they believed in polygamy.25
Shortly after the passage of the act, an indictment was brought against George Reynolds, Brigham Young’s secretary, for polygamy. Daniel H. Wells testified that he had performed the marriage, and Reynolds was convicted. After some preliminary manueuvering, the case eventually reached the U. S. Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of the Morrill Anti-bigamy Act on the ground that though the First Amendment permitted citizens to believe anything they wanted in the name of religion, Congress had the power to restrict anti-social activities.26
That Grant was sincere in desiring to have the law enforced fairly seems evident from his actions in 1875, following Judge McKean’s attempt to award alimony to Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young’s plural wives. When Brigham Young refused to pay the alimony, because his attorney had filed notice of appeal, McKean ordered him to spend a day in the penitentiary. Apparently Grant removed McKean, partly owing to political pressure from Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field and Senator Timothy O. Howe of Wisconsin, and partly because he disapproved of McKean’s ruling.27
In addition, Grant sent Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Benjamin R. Cowen, to Utah to investigate the situation. After the investigation, Grant concluded that there was no immediate need for other removals. The case of Young v. Young was finally decided in April, 1877, when Chief Justice Michael Schaeffer ruled that Ann Eliza was merely a menial servant, never legally married to Young, and hence, entitled to no more than servant’s wages.28
In October, 1875, Grant came to Utah, making a detour on a trip to Denver, apparently to confer with his new appointee, Governor George W.
[pg. 39] Emery of Tennessee. He was the first President to visit the territory. Federal officials and Church leaders competed to serve as hosts for the chief executive. After a rather clumsy meeting in Ogden, both President Young and Governor Emery rode from Ogden to Salt Lake City in Grant’s private car, where they conversed with both Grant and his wife, Julia. Julia told Young that she admired the accomplishments of the Mormons, though she objected to the practice of polygamy. The route from the railroad station to Grant’s hotel In Salt Lake City was lined with children who were singing and throwing flowers before the President’s carriage. The party visited the Tabernacle, where Julia offered a prayer for the Mormons.29
It was reported that as Grant rode from the railroad station, he asked Emery who the children were. When he learned they were Mormon children, he said that he had been deceived. Just what he meant by the statement, if he ever said it at all, is not certain. He reportedly urged Emery to identify himself with the Gentile community and not to try to curry favor with the Mormons as his predecessor, Samuel B. Axtell, had done. In addition, about two months after the visit, In his seventh annual message, he again called the attention of Congress “to the anomalous, not to say scandalous, condition of affairs existing in the Territory of Utah,” where the government seemed unable “to punish so flagrant a crime against decency and morality.”30 Later, as he sat at death’s door writing his memoirs, he wrote that, “there are now people who believe Mormonism and Polygamy to be ordained by the Most High. We forgive them for entertaining such notions, but forbid their practice.”31 It is possible, that after his experience in Utah, he became convinced that the Mormons were not
[pg. 40] disloyal, though he continued to press for vigorous enforcement of the laws.
At any rate, Emery was unlike Grant’s previous appointees. He neither went out of his way to antagonize the Mormons, nor took the Mormons’ side in disputes with the Gentiles. His administration was characterized by a successful and productive relationship with the legislature, which passed a great number of new laws, including an election law, a civil practice act, and a penal code.
Despite the rather moderate ending, the eight years of Grant’s administration had been trying for both the Mormons and the federal government. Not since the Utah War of 1857-58 had conditions been so tense; and not until 1885, when the final push to eradicate polygamy and Church control began, were they to become so again.
The motivation for Grant’s Utah policy was firmly rooted in contemporary American cultural attitudes.32 Grant and his contemporaries were Victorians who regarded monogamy as morally imperative. Moreover, Grant firmly believed in separation of church and state. His opposition to public aid to religious schools was well known, and was reiterated in a speech which he gave in Des Moines, on his trip to Utah.
On the other hand, the Mormons were neither disloyal nor were they dupes. Their actions sprang from deep religious convictions. They believed the Constitution to be divinely inspired, and that the First Amendment guaranteed both their right to practice polygamy and to vote together If they wanted to.
The obvious point which ought to be made in regard to the Mormons and their conflict with Victorian society is that they were “a peculiar
[pg. 41] people” not only to themselves, but to other Americans of that age. Both societies operated from different premises, the one from a sense of Victorian propriety, the other from a deeply felt religious conviction. Under such conditions, conflict was probably inevitable.
The methods used by the Grant administration to handle this conflict and to implement the policy of eradicating polygamy passed through two phases. During the period down to March, 1875, and the removal of Judge McKean, Grant was generally influenced by the Gentile element to favor vigorous enforcement of the law–through the use of troops if necessary. Thereafter, though unwilling to accept the Mormons’ desire to be left alone, he seems to have opposed confrontations. The appointment of the moderate Emery as governor, and Grant’s own visit to Utah were indicative of the new tone. His stated desire for impartial enforcement of the law was not always reflected in the acts of his appointees, but he removed, however belatedly, some appointees who seemed to lack that impartiality. Whether Grant’s policy was wise or not would, today as then, elicit a conflict of opinions, owing undoubtedly to a difference of perceptions.
1. Brigham H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, 1930), V, 70.
2. New York Times (hereafter Times), Oct. 23, 1869.
3. Everett L. Cooley, “Carpetbag Rule: Territorial Government in Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 26 (1958), 116-117.
4. Leonard J. Arrington, ed. “Crusade Against Theocracy: the Reminiscences of Judge Jacob Smith Boreman of Utah, 1872-1877,” Huntington Library Quarterly, XXIV (1960), 11, 15.
5. Times, July 14, 1869. The Mormon was Robert T. Burton.
6. House Miscellaneous Document (hereafter HMD), 44th Cong., 1st Sess., no. 42, 1-2; Times, Jan. 15, 17, 21, 1876.
[pg. 42] 7. Thomas G. Alexander, “An Experiment in Progressive Legislation: The Granting of Woman Suffrage in Utah in 1870,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 38 (1970), 22-23; Stanley S. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” Western Humanities Review, X (1956), 235-237.
8. Times, Feb. 8, March 17, 1869, Feb. 18, 1870, June 5, 1871.
9. Ibid., April 14, 1872, July 11, 16, 1874; House Report (hereafter HR), 41st Cong., 2nd Sess., no. 21, part 2, 1-3; Leonard J. Arrington and Jon Haupt, “Intolerable Zion: The Image of Mormonism in Nineteenth Century American Literature,” Western Humanities Review, XXII (1968), 243-260.
10. Roberts, Comprehensive History, V, 202-203; Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadow Massacre (New ed., Norman, 1962), 219; U.S. Census Office, Statistics of the Population of the United States at the Tenth Census (June 1, 1880) (Washington, 1883), I, 919.
11. HR, 41st Cong., 2nd Sess., no. 21, part 2, 11-13, 15-18.
12. Times, July 14, 1869.
13. Edward W. Tullidge, History of Salt Lake City and its Founders (Salt Lake City, [ca. 1886]), 399, 403-407; Times, Oct. 17, 1869.
14. Ibid., Aug. 8, 23, 1870.
15. J. Wilson Shaffer to Benjamin F. Butler, May 10, 1870, Butler Papers, Library of Congress (hereafter DLC); Shaffer to Ulysses S. Grant, July 7, 1870, ibid.
16. Times, July 1, 6, 1871; Horace Porter to Charles Hale, July 3, 1872, Grant Papers, ibid.; George L. Woods to Grant, Oct. 2, 1870, Sheridan Papers
17. Clinton v. Englebrecht, 80 U.S., 434 (1872).
18. HMD, 43rd Cong., 1st Sess., no. 139.
19. Scrapbooks in Grant Papers, Series 7, DLC.
20. Tullidge, Salt Lake City, 469.
21. Grant to John P. Newman, Nov. 6, 1871, J. H. Benton Sale, American Art Association, March 12, 1920, no. 352.
22. Third Annual Message, MS, Grant Papers, DLC.
23. Fourth Annual Message, MS, ibid.
24. Senate Executive Document, 43rd Cong., 3rd Sess., no. 44; Times, Feb. 16, 1873.
25. Congressional Record, 43rd Cong., 1st Sess., 1874, 5417; 18 Statutes at Large, 253.
26. Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S., 145 (1878).
27. Arrington, ed., Huntington Library Quarterly, XXIV, 34.
28. Times, April 10, 1875, April 28, 1877.
29. Deseret Evening News, Oct. 6, 1875; Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 5, 1875; Ogden Junction, Oct. 4, 1875; Julia Dent Grant unpublished memoirs [ca. 1891], U. S. Grant 3rd Collection, U. S. Grant Association, 336-339.
30. James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1902 ([Washington, D. C.], 1907), VII, 355.
31. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York, 1885-6), I, 217-218.
32. See, however, Roberts, Comprehensive History, V, 322, 391-392, 433.