To Save the Republic: Ulysses Grant, the Fragile Union and the Crisis of 1876. Written by Brett Beer. custom House. 400 pages. $28.99.
As the anniversary of the Capitol riots approaches on January 6, bestselling author Brett Bear gives us a relevant and relevant story from our past. “To Save the Republic: Ulysses S. Grant, the Fragile Union and the Crisis of 1876” is a tightly packed story about our eighteenth president, a deeply divided country and a contested presidential election.
After serving two stints, Grant was looking forward to retirement and a simpler life when he was challenged in a recent crisis. There was no clear winner in the election to name his successor the morning after the polls closed. With the memory of the Civil War so recent, the nation was still figuring out how to reunite the northern and southern states. Deep partisan divisions caused electoral chaos and many states, including South Carolina, had factions attesting to the victories of Republicans and Democrats. None of the candidates can obtain a majority of the Electoral College votes. The situation was unprecedented, and it would take a strong leader to overcome a constitutional crisis.
In early 2020, Beer, a self-described reporter, was in the final phase of editing “To Rescue the Republic” when an angry mob overwhelmed the Capitol Police and briefly shut down the US Capitol. President Trump, amid his constitutional crisis, had hoped the mob could overturn the results of the election that would end his presidency. Fortunately, the inner workings of our democracy prevailed in 2020 thanks in part to an idea that helped end the election crisis of 1876 — Independent Election Commissions.
We can thank President Grant for the rise of the Independent Election Commissions, an idea he championed in Congress to facilitate a peaceful transition of executive power in 1876. Grant arguably saved the Union twice already.
From traditional studies of history, little is known about Grant other than perhaps he defeated Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. The shelves are filled with books saying that Grant was successful simply because he had more men and war materials – not because of his strategic thinking. They noted that he drank a lot, had a flabby appearance and was in the habit of chewing cigars. Grant was a victim of the Lost Cause myths as much as Lee was the benefactor.
Indeed, Grant’s life is an example of what we might call the American Dream. He grew up from very humble beginnings in a small town in Ohio to become a pivotal figure in our nation’s history. Grant’s father, Jesse, was an animal leather tanner by profession and passionate about abolitionism. Fortunately, Jesse Grant was also stubborn in getting West Point’s recommendation from the congressman for his son.
It was later written that everyone in Ohio was surprised, especially “the sons of doctors, lawyers, and store-keepers,” that Tanner’s son would be a cadet. His life, and America, will be changed forever.
Bair’s account spans the Mexican-American War where Grant was distinguished by his organizational skills as a catering manager and his ability to act under fire. Several of his classmates and army friends later defected to the Confederacy, including his lifelong friend James Longstreet, one of Lee’s most notorious commanders, who attended Grant’s wedding.
Called to command the Northern Regiments, Grant repeatedly showed he had no qualms about encountering old friends on the battlefields, but once the fighting was over, he hurried to mend ties and offer friendship.
After President Lincoln was murdered, the United States was not prepared for what would happen after the surrender of the South. The institution of racial slavery is over, but racism against millions of black citizens still defines society, culture, and politics. Andrew Johnson, who was sworn in as Vice President after Lincoln’s death, did almost nothing and earned the distinction of being the first president to be impeached by Congress.
As the Republican nominee in 1868, Grant was elected based on a message of unity for the country and protection of the rights of all citizens, including black Americans. The other option was Democrat Horatio Seymour, Governor of New York, whose motto was “This is the country of the white man; this is the country of the white man. Let the white men rule.”
While anxious for peace and stability, the newly elected Grant wasn’t prepared for the fact that “Appomattox meant a lot but settled for little.” There were many unresolved questions. How would northerners and southerners deal with each other and with freed slaves? Southerners seem to have no regrets, and in the years after the war, there was no self-examination, just a desire to get back to “normal”.
President Grant advocated his military experience and used occupying soldiers to enforce peace and prevent abuses against blacks. To this end, and to dismantle the KKK, Frederick Douglass Grant called “the vigilant, resolute, impartial, and wise protector of my race.”
Grant dealt with Golden Age scandals, continued cruelty to Native Americans and an enduring struggle with alcohol. He remains one of the most underappreciated American presidents. Walt Whitman described him as “nothing heroic…and yet the greatest hero.” Grant’s definitive biography was written in 2017 by Ron Chernow, but Beer’s To Rescue the Republic is more accessible than Chernow’s brilliant study.
Grant’s life story helps us understand that “winning the peace” after a war is often more difficult than winning the actual war. Few understood that winning the peace after the Civil War would mean another war on the same racism. And as we know even today, racism is a tough enemy.
the reviewer M. Tracy Todd He is the president and CEO of the Middleton Place Foundation.
Adsgeni code is : 748912