Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Ulysses S. Grant: Warrior/President


After watching Lewis and Clark, I was happy the next documentary to arrive from Netflix was Ulysses S. Grant: Warrior/President: American Experience. This is another case where I thought I knew some things about the man but found out it was not so much in actuality. The film goes into his childhood, how he got where he was in the military, his tactics when he fought battles, how he became president, and the aftermath of his being president.

What made it even more interesting was how it depicted the historic period into which he was thrust. We all know he was the leader of the North during the Civil War and got elected president, had a drinking problem and had a lot of graft during his time in office. Many reckoned his presidency to be a failure, and he took the blame for many things that were part of the period.

For one thing the country was as divided as it is today. Have we ever been truly one people? Seems unlikely if you look at history. Are all nations so divided? I don't know to what you can attribute our fractiousness, but it's sure there in the run up and then aftermath of the Civil War. It's what Grant inherited.

How many of us knew how many blacks were massacred in the South as vengeance by the whites who blamed them for their downfall? They did not want to let the blacks vote or gain their freedom in any real sense. Naturally the North felt otherwise, right? Nope, not right.

Grant tried to put a stop to the Southern vengeance taking, but the North didn't support him. They were afraid of blacks too and did what they did in less open and violent ways but no less determined to keep blacks in their places. Remember this is a nation that likes haves and have-nots despite the lip service it gives to wanting it to be otherwise. Oregon was pro North while it also passed a law forbidding blacks to own property.

Grant really never even had to run for the presidency as they wanted him and they simply chose him while he only had to say yes. If he'd had to campaign for it, he'd likely have said no. He was a very private man but felt a duty to try and reunite the country. He did want to give his family security, but he didn't live in a time that offered economic security to anyone.

The corruption attached to him though was about his inability to wisely judge people. He didn't personally profit from it. To say he was a poor judge of character is probably accurate and many took advantage of that.

The main thing you get out of this documentary is the portrait of a nation at war, a man who strode through it determined to always finish what he started, and then a man who earned the respect of a nation despite his failings. It seems even then people really liked best to vote for those who seemed like them. In that Grant both was and was not a good example.

The other thing it reminds us is the impact of those massacres right after the war. That was done to intimidate and frighten blacks into staying submissive. Some say blacks didn't do enough to claim their freedom. Try knowing that you could just be standing on a street corner and be gunned down, that the law wasn't for you; then tell me how assertive you'd be. Between that, the arbitrary hangings, and then Jim Crow laws, it took a lot to get us to where as a nation we'd be ashamed of what we'd done and finally make a united stand for Civil Rights. 

I liked this two part documentary from Netflix a lot as it showed how much of what we face today is still here because we never really dealt with it.

16 comments:

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

I can see why you are excited about this documentary about Ulysses S. Grant. So much attention is given to Lincoln, we forget we could learn from the history that followed. Thank yopu for calling this to our attention.

Anonymous said...

Wow! That truly hit the mark, and this comment would be to say thanks!

Anonymous said...

If i gave a dollar for the amount of excellent articles you might have written you'd be rich. Just thought i would let you know how grateful i am.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Indeedto your last sentence, Rain! Including the racism that underlies just about everything, STILL!

Another interesting documentary...I LOVE the American Experience shows....They always do things in great depth and with so much thought and heart.

Anonymous said...

Two thumbs up my friend, what a great post and worthy of my comment of praise.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! A post definitly worth a worthy comment, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Been reading this blog for awhile but i have been lazy to drop a comment and say thanks. That ends today: Thanks mate!

Ingineer66 said...

I recently finished reading Killing Lincoln. It gave me a new perspective on the end of the Civil and Grant and others during that time period. I recommend the book.

Ingineer66 said...

Lincoln was very much against vengeance for the war, but Johnson was for it, so when Johnson took over all of the hopes for reconciliation were put on the back burner. Many in the North wanted revenge for their sacrifice and their lost sons.

Rain said...

Ingineer, did it show how much Grant cared for Lincoln. He had a huge loss when Lincoln was killed as he thought Lincoln would be the one to unite the country. It's hard to say if anybody could have though given the bitterness, some of which linger to today. They really were friends. He had invited Grant to be there that night at the theater but his wife didn't want to go.

I've heard historians say theree are a lot of historic errors in that book though if it's the one O'Reilly wrote with somebody else. How did you feel it was historically? It has looked interesting to me also but I can't bring myself to profit O'Reilly ;)

Rain said...

That about Johnson was in the film. I bet you'd enjoy it after reading the book. A lot of old photos, letters, and some reenactment but minimal on that.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

I've put this two part series in my Netflix cue. Thanks for the heads up.

Ingineer66 said...

Yes the book talked a little about that. Grant was supposed to be in the box that night, but his wife insisted that he needed to go home. Booth was planning to kill Grant too so if he had been in the box he may have been shot as well.

Oh and I borrowed the book so I did not spend anything.

Rain said...

well I admit it has tempted me every time I see it in the bookstore. Maybe I'll find it used eventually ;) It is a classic story of fate.

Snowbrush said...

Grant was also famous for declaring Indian nations to be non-nations. That way, he didn't even have to break any treaties when he took away their lands.

Rain said...

I don't think you can blame Grant for the American pursuit of Indian lands. Jefferson also had good intentions toward them but there really isn't a solution when one people take another people's land. From what I have read, Grant spoke of a desire to see the Indians part of our culture. That wasn't going to happen on either side. There were some scandals in Indian Affairs also. Grant was though a man of mixed qualities as are so many people and it doesn't usually end up that anybody can fix it all or even is all good. The more you read of the Indian stories in our country, the more you see it was almost impossible to make it work out even with good intentions. He set up a big chunk of land for the Sioux only to have gold discovered in the Black Hills and basically negated the treaty due to people rushing in-- including my own ancestors.