By Vivian Blevins
April 27, 2022, will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. He was born April 27, 1822, at Point Pleasant, Ohio, and groups in that area have planned events to celebrate this man’s legacy. What were your first thoughts when you knew I was going to write about Grant? He defeated General Robert E. Lee, loved champagne, died of throat cancer, failed in his bid for a third term as president (served from 1869-1877)?
I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Grant’s two-volume autobiography “Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant,” published in 1886 by Charles L. Webster & Company. I was interested in getting a sense of him as he detailed his life with a focus on his military engagements. And, I was particularly interested in what he wrote about the end of the Civil War and the impact of that war with the defeat of the Confederacy.
If he were alive, how would he respond to Confederate flags still flying, racism, the removal of some military statues, gun violence, the Jan. 6 incident at the Capitol and diverse groups threatening elected officials, the vicious language being spouted by candidates for state and federal offices, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, etc.?
I’ll share a bit of Grant’s work with you (The capitalization and punctuation are Grant’s):
• “The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among some politicians that ‘A state half slave and half free cannot exist.’ All must become slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.”
• Following some examples of conflicts and suppositions as well as advocacy for a strong U.S. military, Grant wrote, “It is possible that the question of a conflict between races may come up in the future, as did that between freedom and slavery before. The condition of the colored man within our borders may become a source of anxiety, to say the least. But he was brought to our shores by compulsion, and he now should be considered as having as good a right to remain here as any other class of our citizens.”
• On an optimistic note, Grant wrote in the second-to-the-last page of the conclusion in volume two of the autobiography, “I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and the Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophesy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so.”
As I review his words, I think that has he lived, he would be as troubled as so many of us are about the future of democracy with the divisions, the chants of “You will not replace us,” and the hatred that seems to permeate and threaten our very existence. In the final paragraph of his autobiography, Grant wrote, “But the war between the States was a very bloody and a very costly war. One side or the other had to yield principles they deemed dearer than life before it could be brought to an end.”
Grant showed high intellect in terms of military strategy and in terms of addressing corruption in the White House and responding to challenges in Reconstruction. How would he respond to the report released on April 12, 2022, by the National Urban League as reported by the Associated Press? “While Black people have made economic and health gains, they’ve slipped further behind white people in education, social justice and civic engagement since this index was launched in 2005. A compendium of average outcomes by race in many aspects of life, it shows just how hard it is for people of color to overcome systemic racism, the civil rights organization says.”
Here in Ohio, Kaitlin Schroeder, a staff writer for The Dayton Daily News, reported in the April 16, 2022, edition on a health issue, the expansion of coverage for Medicaid recipients for a year postpartum. She indicates that in a 2019 first report on maternal mortality that “over half of pregnancy-related deaths in Ohio were preventable. And Black women died at a rate more than two and a half times that of white women.”
As a reader of this column, you have your own ideas about any of the issues I have raised, or you might choose to discuss a peripheral issue such as free speech or whether Grant or Lee had the best military mind or causes for the lagging behind of people of color or “remedies” for a host of issues that might be discussed as a result of my choosing to call attention to the anniversary of the date of Ulysses S. Grant’s birth.
I encourage you to select a focus and research it. I also ask that you use reliable sources and not let the plethora of waste material that is storming social media sites sidetrack you and inform your arguments.
We are a complex nation, and we don’t live in an autocracy where someone is telling us what to think, say, or do. This does not mean, however, that we cannot be polite, reasonable people who work together to address our problems. In conclusion, I must say that I rely upon a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice” and the Pledge to the Flag in which you and I recite, “freedom and justice for all.” Let’s work to make that a reality as difficult as it seems at times.
Vivian B. Blevins, Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Miami Valley Today does not endorse these viewpoints nor the independent activities of the author.