The standard rap on Grant is that he was a drunk who surrounded himself with spoilsmen who stole the country blind. In an era of scandals—the Crédit Mobilier’s siphoning of millions in the construction of the transcontinental railroad, the Tweed Ring’s bilking of New York in awarding city contracts, the Whiskey Ring’s dodging of the tax on booze—Grant was said to turn a blind (or drunken) eye to all manner of wrongdoing. Beyond that, the simple soldier was over his head in the White House. At a time of rapid economic change, he hadn’t a clue how to manage an increasingly sophisticated economy.
Considering the current state of the American economy, this last charge might now be the most damning, if true. But it’s not true. And Grant’s surprisingly sophisticated handling of economics, especially in the wake of the Panic of 1873, suggests that he deserves better from the historians than he has been getting.
Weekend homework: Read H.W. Brands on Ulysses S. Grant (from our latest issue, Politics) and come back Monday morning ready to talk about all things Civil War.