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.