April 27 - Happy Birthday, Ulysses S. Grant

 Posted on April 27, 2017

Earlier this week we talked about President James Buchanan having a really common first name.

Well, today's presidential birthday has an unusual first name: Ulysses.

Except that wasn't actually his first name! Even though Grant was called "Ulysses" even as a child, his real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. 

Okay, yeah, Hiram is pretty unusual, too.

I've also talked about the importance of middle names or middle initials to distinguish oneself from others with the same first and last name (giving examples such as John Adams and John Quincy Adams)....But if Ulysses was actually Grant's middle name, where did the initial "S." come from?

From a mistake!

An Ohio Congressman nominated Grant to West Point, and in doing so, he mistakenly repeated the last letter of Ulysses as if it were a middle initial. When he got to West Point, Grant tried to correct the errors - but somehow the middle initial stuck! Even though it stood for absolutely nothing!

Here is some not-too-cool stuff about Grant:

He struggled with addiction to alcohol.

He was pretty terrible at business.

He often looked messy - and he hated uniforms (even though he was the top general in the Union Army!).

Here is some mostly-cool stuff about Grant:

  • He was brilliant at military strategy., according to most historians. And of course he won the Civil War against another brilliant strategist, Robert E. Lee. 
  • When he could, he utilized displaced, formerly-enslaved people into an effort to win against the Confederacy.

  • He regretted not being by Lincoln's side when the latter was assassinated. You see, Grant was supposed to go to the theatre with President Lincoln that night but had to cancel because his wife made other plans. Even though he would himself have been a target, too, Grant felt terrible that he hadn't been there, because he was convinced that he would have stopped John Wilkes Booth.
  • He implemented Reconstruction efforts, even though that meant working against then-President Andrew Johnson.
  • He enforced civil rights and voting acts and prosecuted the KuKluxKlan, attempting to right as many of the wrongs inflicted by slavery as he could.
  • He followed a peace policy with the rest of the world, ending tensions with Britain and avoiding war with Spain, and he tried to follow a peace policy with Native Americans as well.
  • He responded more to charges of corruption than any other president of his century - but he still got saddled with a reputation for tons of corruption and scandals. Let's put it this way: apparently he himself was not guilty of corruption, but there was a lot of it around him - and although he worked on and succeeded in enacting reforms, he was the chief executive during this high point of corruption.
  • He wrote his memoirs after two terms as president, and they turned out to be a very important literary work that brought financial success to his heirs.
  • Another thing Grant did after leaving the presidency is traveling around the world for two years and seven months on a "diplomatic tour." This was not something a president or former president had ever done before, and it was a positive thing for Grant's reputation and for the nation's reputation.

Historians ranking Grant gave his presidency very bad "grades" back when I was a child, reading about the presidents, but since then historians have noted all the successes he had in regards to civil rights, and so he earns more praise from today's historians.

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