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Ulysses S. Grant: Life After the Presidency

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In 1875, Grant wrote a public letter formally renouncing any interest in a third term and played virtually no role in the election of 1876 until that December, when the electoral votes arrived in Washington, D.C. Because the election was so close, the outcomes in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida—which had each sent in sets of Democratic as well as Republican votes—would decide the next President. Congress negotiated a compromise, creating a commission that would rule on which votes to count. Eventually, the commission ruled in favor of Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, who became the nineteenth U.S. President.

During the resolution of the disputed election, Grant played an important role as the steady leader of the country. As President, he worked to make sure that the election was decided in a legitimate way, remaining more concerned with the fairness of the election than with a Republican victory. His calm presence in the White House reassured the country during a volatile period and helped ensure the orderly transfer of power. As Grant stepped down as President, he could perhaps take comfort in the fact that his actions preserved the Union that so many had sacrificed for during the conflict. In 1876, the nation, however imperfect, was surviving and even flourishing in many areas. Afterwards, Ulysses and Julia took a two-year journey around the world, where he was greeted as a hero and as a symbol of the reunited American democracy wherever he went. Grant had a life-long interest in travel and was now finally able to indulge his passion. The couple traveled to many different countries, mingled with political leaders, artists, writers, and royalty, and saw the sights in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Returning to the United States, Grant experienced renewed popularity throughout the country, and he wanted to reclaim the Republican nomination for President in the 1880 election. Yet, he and his promoters underestimated the anti-Grant forces within his own party. Eventually, James A. Garfield defeated the popular war-hero for the Republican nomination. Grant was then struck by financial disaster. He had invested most of his assets with the firm of Grant and Ward, a partnership headed by his son, Jesse. However, Ferdinand Ward was involved in a scam that lost all the company's money. The former President was now broke and had to rely on the kindness of friends to keep him afloat. As a way to generate some income, Grant accepted an offer from Century Magazine to write articles about his experiences in the Civil War. He soon discovered that he enjoyed writing and the money it provided, and he decided to write his memoirs. Although Century Magazine offered to publish the book, Mark Twain advised Grant to turn down the proposal. Instead, Twain made Grant a better offer through his own publishing company. In the meantime, Grant discovered that he was dying of throat cancer. Decades of smoking had finally caught up with him. Unexcitable and determined as ever, Grant approached this last battle as he had all his others—with grim, dogged determination. His greatest concern was that he had no inheritance or other future financial provisions for his family. He hoped his memoirs could provide for them, and the task of writing consumed him, for he knew his time was short. From his sickbed, Grant wrote his Personal Memoirs in a straightforward, engaging style. In its later stages, the cancer robbed Grant of his voice, making dictation impossible. His last days were spent on his porch with pencil and paper, wrapped in blankets and in fearsome pain, slowly scrawling out his life's epic tale. He completed the book just days before his death on July 23, 1885. Its huge success took care of his family financially for the rest of their lives. Grant's last campaign was a victorious one. His funeral in New York City drew a million and a half citizens to view the procession, while across the country large cities and small towns held ceremonies and crowds gathered to commemorate his life and accomplishments. Ulysses S. Grant is interred in Grant's Monument in Manhattan, the largest tomb in North America.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Joan Waugh

Professor Waugh is a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her writings include:

U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War (editor with Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture (editor with Alice Fahs, University of North Carolina Press, 2004)

Unsentimental Reformer: The Life of Josephine Shaw Lowell (Harvard University Press, 1998)