Ulysses S. Grant nominated for President 150 years ago this May

Brady Handy Ulysses S. GrantApril 27 will be Ulysses S. Grant’s 196th birthday. May 2018 will mark the 150th anniversary of his nomination to be the Republican candidate for President in 1868.

The transformation of Grant’s life in the Civil War roused his deeper loyalty to country. As a military officer, he had a deferential loyalty to civilian government. He had no difficulty being deferential to President Abraham Lincoln. As his political sensibilities awakened after the Civil War, he struggled with the question: did the presidency of Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, deserve his loyalty?

He became alarmed watching Johnson obstruct Congress’s reconstruction acts intended to protect the rights of newly freed African-American slaves. He became worried about Republican and Democratic politicians. He wrote his friend, General William Tecumseh Sherman,

“All the romance of feeling that men in high places are above personal considerations and act only from motives of pure patriotism, and for the general good of the public has been destroyed. An inside view proves too truly very much the reverse.”

The Republican National Union Convention convened in Chicago, the rising city on Lake Michigan, on May 20, 1868. The spirit of the martyred Lincoln, nominated only eight years earlier in Chicago, was present in conversations everywhere.

In an era of conventions with multiple ballots for presidential candidates, only one candidate was nominated. All 650 delegates voted for Grant.

While nominated in Chicago, Grant was working quietly at army headquarters in Washington. He had not sought the nomination. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rushed to notify him.

“General! I have come to tell you that you have been nominated by the Republican party for President of the United States.” At this news, Adam Badeau, Grant’s aide, observed “no shade of exultation or agitation on his face, not a flush on his check, nor a flash in his eye.”

The next evening, Grant responded,

“Being entirely unaccustomed to public speaking, and without the desire to cultivate the power, it is impossible for me to find appropriate language to thank you for this demonstration. All that I can say is, that to whatever position I may be called by your will, I shall endeavor to discharge its duties with fidelity and honesty of purpose. Of my rectitude in the performance of public duties you will have to judge for yourselves by the record before you.”

In recent years we have been judging for ourselves. I participated in the 2017 C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey. In each of the three surveys in the 21st century, Grant is rising in the presidential rankings.

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