Monday, April 2, 2012

Reconciliation in Grant's Memoirs

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

There are a number of ways to define the reconciliationist sentiment of general/president/citizen Ulysses S. Grant. His magnanimity at Appomattox would be a good place to start. Speaking of his Confederate prisoners, he noted: "we did not want to exult over their downfall." And there is evidence suggesting that his generous terms of surrender won him, if not admiration, at least at modicum of respect among defeated Confederates.

His 1868 presidential campaign rested on the cornerstone of reconciliation. the campaign slogan, "Let Us Have Peace," undeniably furthered the desires among many members of the Republican party to extend a hand of friendship across the Potomac. The slogan became so associated with the Grant's campaign, presidency, and life that it found a prominent place on Grant's tomb in New York.

One can find Grant's most clearly articulated vision of reconciliation in his two-volume memoirs. This enormously popular work - that restored his family's fortune after a financial disaster destroyed it - does more to promote friendship between sections than any other work in the reconciliationist literature broadly defined. “I feel that we are on the verge of a new era,” he wrote shortly before his death, “where there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel within me that it is to be so.”

But we must be careful not to accept Grant as a reconciliationst and leave it at that. It would be foolish to assume that reconciliation necessarily meant that what men had fought for was simply forgotten. Coupled with Grant’s reconciliationist bent was a steadfast devotion to the Union cause of freedom. Soon after the war, Grant acknowledged in a rousing speech honoring general Daniel Butterfield that Confederates had sowed the “germ of treason, in the vain attempt to overthrow this Government, that slavery, despotism, and sin might thrive upon its ruin.” He later affirmed in his memoirs, “the cause of the Great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery” and reminded Americans that the Confederate cause was “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

So was Grant a reconciliationist? Without question. But one who made sure to promote reconciliation on northern terms - acknowledging that former Confederates were countrymen once again, but that they had fought with brutal determination for disunion and the preservation of slavery.



PS - if you haven't already, be sure to check out the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.

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