He was such a great general that two disastrous terms as president did little to dim his star.
The career of Ulysses S. Grant has been in every way so closely identified with the history of the country for nearly five-and-twenty years that no citizen of the United States, no intelligent citizen of the civilized world, will hear of his death with indifference. His great military services are so universally appreciated by his countrymen that he has become, by a natural and beautiful operation of popular faith, the very embodiment of the idea of successful assertion of the national unity against disunion. The popular instinct is right in assuming that great achievements imply great character. The popular faith which sprang from Grant’s first great success at Fort Donelson became stronger from day to day, until the confidence of a whole nation in the national existence centred in and hung upon the unfaltering faith, the unbending will, and the undismayed courage of one quiet man “fighting it out” on the line of the Potomac and the James not only through the summer of 1864, but the autumn and the following winter too. As President of the United States he disappointed and grieved a large part of the best element of his fellow-citizens; but the memory of the war-time was so strong and deep that they were ready with-excuses for his political mistakes and condonation for his political faults. To them he remained the General, and their sincere and even tender respect made them seek to ignore everything which displeased them, and to prove, by a spontaneous and disinterested impulse of generous gratitude, how far from true it is that republics are ungrateful.
The best tribute we can pay his memory is to be as sincere and direct in trying to estimate him as he was In his effort to bring our great struggle to a successful end. The wish to understand him, to know his strength and his weakness, the inward springs of his successes and his failures, will far outlast our time. It will be an historical problem which will be studied in generations to come. He already belongs to history.
His early youth was spent in the severe discipline of comparative poverty in a new country. When he was appointed a cadet at the Military Academy, the law required no preparation beyond what the education of the common school of the country district would give, and it is probable that he had no more. He was not specially gifted as a student. It was the physical rather than the intellectual life of the army which attracted him. In physical accomplishments, especially in horsemanship, he soon became noted. In his studies he never reached the medium line of his class. Quiet, resolute, undemonstrative, shy, singularly lacking in ordinary conversational power, he yet had strong common sense and practical judgment, and toward his intimates was kind and considerate.
His early army life, though including honorable service in the Mexican war, was not satisfactory to him, and it was at one time widely believed that he had ruined his career by fixed habits of intemperance. He resigned from the army under this cloud, to go through several years of depression, of want, of disappointment, and of neglect. His ventures in private business did not prosper; he had little talent that way. Among his old army acquaintances, and particularly in the staff corps, the impression was prevalent that his life was hopelessly wrecked. The events of the earlier part of his new military career can only be understood by frankly facing this fact. The distrust of him which was manifested in powerful quarters was traceable directly to this. He had to reconquer confidence, a much sorer task than to win it for the first time. – The influence of that period of suffering went even further. It probably exaggerated, in his judgment, the disadvantages of poverty and the value of wealth, and increased a natural paternal shrinking from the thought that his family, should ever he in danger of repeating his experiences.