The Bravest American President?

The Bravest American President? June 2, 2020

Some do theater, Grant won battles.

George McClellan could write about courage, but could not take the risks needed to win. McClellan was magnificent on his best day, petulant on his worst. Grant was calm and carried on every day and so won.

The general on the other side died, but Grant calmly sat under fire, because his men need the visual lesson. When troops needed to be rallied, he led them into battle.

In another war, he did a bit of trick riding under fire to get orders through.

US Grant was a courageous man.

He also was a humble man, quiet about his brilliance and success, until cancer and poverty forced him to write the best book written by any American president. As a result, he has been underestimated by history. He won his battles and got dirty with his men winning them.

US Grant was a courageous man.

What is courage? The least of the classical virtues is too easily attributed to any of us who do something hard, but something hard in our own interest. This may be prudence, but is not courage. Courage is the ability to do what one fears to do, what is not in one’s personal interest, because the action is the right thing to do.

Grant was not perfect, like all of us, he was a person of this time.  His great virtue, however, was courage. He worked very hard, but unlike the Horatio Alger myth making, his hard work hardly ever worked. Grant was trusting, decent, and so got swindled by less trusting, indecent men, including members of his own family.

Grant persisted as he kept failing, faithful to his wife and his church. He paid his debts and kept learning. His father-in-law was an ardent slaver and his wife, the passion of his life, inherited slaves. At the low point of his finances, when he finally could use slave labor or sell his “property,” Grant chose to set an enslaved man free.

That is courage. When the Civil War began, Grant was a Union man, but not as good an abolitionist as his (less honorable) father. As the War progressed, the humanity of African Americans changed Grant and so he became with each year a greater and greater friend to the enslaved African-American. He was unafraid to change.

Grant made serious mistakes, believed conspiracy theories about “Jews” and issued an infamous order against them in the Civil War.  By the end of his life, he saw he had made a serious error and was sorry for his sin. That is a courageous man.

And when the rebels rose up in the terrorist group the Klan, Grant busted the Klan, damn the political costs. Why? This was the right things to do for his boys in blue some of whom were African-Americans.  Grant was a courageous man: doing what was right when the cost was high.

History was written by the losers, so Grant, who died one of America’s greatest men, was, by this Southern man, made a failure. Lee was elevated, Grant denigrated. Grant as brilliant tactician against equal foes was forgotten and Butcher Grant exalted, but what nobody could deny was that Grant was a brave man. When you hear talk of bravery, consider reality against appearance.

Grant was an avid reader who did not care if you thought him an unread dolt. So personally honest, he almost died in poverty, Grant labored through untreated cancer to produce the book that would provide for his family. Grant saved the Union, defeated the arch-rebel Lee, busted the Klan, worked for civil rights.

He was cheated of his money in his older years about the same time he faced cancer. Grant, who had refused to cash in on his fame, wrote like a man to secure his family. He showed as much courage against cancer as he had under fire at Shiloh.

Who is buried in Grant’s tomb? The old joke has no answer as a grateful nation placed Grant and his beloved Julia in a mausoleum. A courageous patriot is buried there. He was a man who did not posture or prate, just did what needed to be done to win for Lincoln and liberty too. God grant us courage like US Grant and an ability to discern, as Lincoln did, the genuine article from the bombastic faux-Napoleon.


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