by Bonnie James
Ulysses S. Grant, the outstanding hero of the U.S. Civil War, who brought peace to the nation with the surrender of the Confederate armies at Appomattox; two-term President of the United States; friend and ally of Abraham Lincoln; and protector and advocate for the emancipated African-American slaves, was born this day, April 27, in 1822.
On this same day in 1893, the Lincoln Republican President William McKinley delivered a eulogy for Grant at Galena, Illinois, on the seventy-first anniversary of his birth. Here is an excerpt:
…With no disparagement to others, two names rise above all the rest in American history since George Washington—transcendently above them. They are Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Each will be remembered for what he did and accomplished for his race and for mankind. Lincoln proclaimed liberty to four million slaves, and upon his act invited “the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” He has received the warm approval of the one, and I am sure he is enjoying the generous benediction of the other. His was the greatest, mightiest stroke of the war. Grand on its humanity side, masterly in its military aspect, it has given to his name an imperishable place among men.
Grant gave irresistible power and efficacy to the Proclamation of Liberty. The iron shackles which Lincoln declared should be loosed from the limbs and souls of the black slaves, Grant with his matchless army melted and destroyed in the burning glories of the war; and the rebels read the inspired decree in the flashing guns of his artillery, and they knew what Lincoln had decreed, Grant would execute…. Grant believed in the brotherhood of man—in the political equality of all men—he had secured that with his sword, and was prompt to recognize it in all places and everywhere….
We are not a Nation of hero worshipers. We are a Nation of generous freemen. We bow in affectionate reverence and with most grateful hearts to these immortal names, Washington, Lincoln, and Grant, and will guard with sleepless vigilance their mighty work and cherish their memories evermore.
The great abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, who viewed Grant as “the vigilant, firm, impartial, and wise protector of my race,” perhaps best summed up Grant’s importance to the newly freed ex-slaves:
To Grant more than any other man, the Negro owes his enfranchisement…. May we not justly say … that the liberty which Mr. Lincoln declared with his pen, General Grant made effectual with his sword—by his skill in leading the Union armies to final victory?
Later, following passage of the Reconstruction Amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution–guaranteeing, respectively, emancipation, voting rights, and full citizenship to African Americans, in large part, due to the support and efforts of Grant, Douglass would observe,
…Abraham Lincoln made [the Negro] a free man, and Gen. Ulysses S, Grant made him a citizen.
So, join us in honoring this often underappreciated great American, today.