The Great American Riddle: Ulysses S. Grant and Civil Rights
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The prevailing scholarship on Ulysses S. Grant and Reconstruction was established by authors who wrote on the subjects in the aftermath of Reconstruction. Scholars of the “Lost Cause,” include the likes of John Burgess and William Dunning and many pupils. The arguments set forth by these writers and scholars created the notions that Grant was a butcher general during the Civil War who sent thousands of Union soldiers to needlessly die during his military campaigns, and that he was one of the nation’s worst presidents. Furthermore, they have argued that Grant was intellectually incompentent, corrupt, and unable to handle the political aspects of the Civil War and Reconstruction. These arguments have created a social construction of the past that has dominated American thinking on Grant, and have been carried on by modern scholars in the field. Because Grant rarely shared his views, publicly or privately, he did not leave behind the large volumes of historical evidence one expects from esteemed generals and former presidents. Since he was silent on most issues, extensive analysis of what is available is required. Most historical scholars have not been able, or willing, to remove themselves from established writings on Grant and have failed to fully analyze the historical sources left by the general, leading to sweeping generalizations about his views an character. This thesis seeks to challenge the established historiography on Grant by arguing the he was more than capable of comprehending the political and military aspects of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Grant demonstrated this, as he progrssed from fighting for the Union first, to accepting and protecting emancipation and black civil rights. Moreover, as both Commanding General of the United States Army and President, Grant was willing to expand his use of the U.S. Army as the proper means of upholding cvil equality for free blacks and protecting the Union from further violence. It is necessary to understand the complex, yet evolutionary nature of Grant, as doing so will lead to a more nuanced understanding of how his policies aided in transforming American society.