Why Ulysses Grant Matters


The anarchists who destroyed the statue of Ulysses Grant in Golden Gate Park have a long list of grievances against the 18th President of the United States.

He was a slave owner. Actually he inherited one slave from his wife’s family who he quickly freed, even though he was in dire need of money at the time. This puts him well above Thomas Jefferson, who actively traded slaves to pay off his debts on Monticello.

He waged a war of extermination against the Plains Indians. This much is true. It’s also a powerful illustration of how quickly history moves. The liberal Republican Party of the 1850s and 1860s quickly become the party of the land grabbing American oligarchy.

He issued General Order 11 banning Jews from the area of the west under Union occupation. This is also true. But Grant was no hardcore antisemite. General Order 11, which he eventually apologized for, was a practical measure designed to suppress hording and profiteering. In general Grant hated all religion. Most of his demerits at West Point came from his refusal to participate in mandatory religious services, which he correctly saw as unconstitutional on federal property. Grant also, correctly, kept the Catholic Church out of the public school system, an act made easier by the anti-Irish bigotry of the 1870s but still the right thing to do.

The main criticism of Grant, and Lincoln, however, is that they weren’t radicals like John Brown or Thaddeus Stevens, that by the standards of 2020 they were insufficiently woke. Therein lies the problem. Slavery in the United States wasn’t destroyed by radicals. It was destroyed by mainstream liberals. The Union Army wasn’t commanded by German socialists or Italian anarchists. It was commanded by West Point graduates, professional soldiers who knew, and were often good friends with their southern counterparts. The new order they eventually founded after 1865 wasn’t socialist, anti-racist, or by any definition radical. It was capitalist.

It’s easy to look at Haitian Revolution and say “why couldn’t the United States Civil War have been more like that?” But it’s an ahistorical comparison. Haiti was a small agrarian country where blacks were the overwhelming majority. All the rebels had to do was destroy the small French elite. The United States in 1865 was a vast, powerful industrial state with an overwhelmingly white majority that was getting bigger every year thanks to Irish and German immigration. Even the South, the most backward part of the United States, managed to field a great industrial army that held out for over 4 years against a nation several times its size with many times its economic power. There weren’t many generals who could have cut the Confederacy in half at Vicksurg and bulled their way to Richmond across Virginia’s wide rivers and through Robert E. Lee’s fiendishly clever, expertly constructed, and murderous system of trenches and fortifications. But Grant was one of them.

The leaders of the Confederacy, the Robert E. Lees, Stonewall Jacksons, Nathan Bedford Forrests and John Longstreets were expert killers with large, well-supplied armies of fanatics willing to die for the cause. The idea that a few radical abolitionists in Boston were going to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia is no more believable than the idea that Black Lives Matter and a few dozen anarchists could tear down the Pentagon or the FBI building. But if the people who tore down the statue of Ulysses Grant in Golden Gate Park honestly believe that Lincoln and Grant weren’t sufficiently woke, that somehow the slaves liberated themselves without the aid of the Union Army,  that the white man should have just gotten out of the way of a revolution that was going to happen anyway, then the fortresses of American state power are easy enough to find. Let them show us all how it’s done. One, two many Minneapolis police stations, only this time in Washington.

My guess is they’ll all wind up in jail desperately praying that the National Lawyers Guild has enough manpower to handle their case.

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