A Statesman and a Patriot Guided by Principles and Providence: A Look at the Life of Ulysses S. Grant

As we end our month of patriots, I must share a special place we found on our recent travels celebrating one of America’s greatest. It is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historical Site found in Grantwood Village, Missouri. What a place to visit! The life of Hiram Ulysses Grant was a true message of Providence and Patriotism. 

Ulysses S. Grant was a true statesman, a hero and patriotic American. What he was not? He was not a “politician.”

Here’s what I mean. First, he had a bedrock of principles. Second, he had a strong moral compass. He expected America to live up to the principles of its founding documents. Third, he had a vision of harmony for the country. Fourth, he knew how to build consensus to support those principles and his vision. We know, in part, how committed he was to his principles because of the tenuous relationship he held with his wife’s family due to their southern sympathies for the institution of slavery. Grant had many weighty conversations with his father-in-law that would not dissuade the statesman from his principles on slavery and equality.

Here’s a deeper look at the life of the man who would impact the future direction of our country by staying true to its founding principles.

Providence and Principles

Grant’s life honored principles around family, country, justice, education, neighbor and friend. Grant lived by a principle with universal application: When we obey true principles, Providence will open doors for us. As an adult Grant started out in the military, first graduating from West Point and then serving in the Mexican American War as a quartermaster. Ultimately, the military life would not be able to support his desires or ambition. He resigned and retreated to marriage and civilian life in 1854 eventually working for his father in a tannery. Grant’s friend Hoyt Sherman wrote, “He had abandoned military life to take up civil pursuits, and, with a persistence characteristic of the man, had tried one after another occupation, his principle ambition then being only the support of his family, and failed in all. Such experience with most men would have resulted in a soured disposition and a feeling of disappointment tending to discourage all future effort. Not so with Grant.”

Back in the Military

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 Grant volunteered in his community and re-entered the military as a colonel of his local regiment. He advanced quickly in rank based on his meritorious actions and military victories. He soon made general of the forces in the west, followed quickly with a rise in rank to general of all U.S. military forces. It is not a stretch to say he became the hero, rebuilder, and healer of a shattered nation. After the war he recognized that slavery had to be eliminated in more ways than merely on the battlefield. He ran for president and afterwards became the architect of the 15th Amendment which granted the right to vote to former slaves.  Grant seemed to always make the best of any situation whether as a military man, civilian, or president. He did things with dignity, justice and honor always doing what he knew to be right. 

Integrity of Soul 

Grant was a devoted and faithful husband to his wife. At the end of his life he lost all his fortune being swindled by his son’s business partner. Financially ruined, Grant began writing his memoirs for the money it provided. He soon discovered he enjoyed writing and threw himself into his work. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with throat cancer and realized the book was his last opportunity to provide for Julia’s financial security. Admitting the irony to his physician he said, “I had been adding to my book and to my coffin. I presume every strain of the mind or body is one more nail in the coffin.” He passed one week after completing this work–a last mortal struggle and victory for his wife and family. He was a noble and dignified warrior to the end. He said of his memoirs, “The first volume as well as a portion of the second, was written before I had reason to suppose I was in a critical condition of health. Later I was reduced almost to the point of death… I have, however, somewhat regained my strength, and am able, often, to devote as many hours a day as a person should devote to such work.” The work paid off handsomely for Julia and she did not have to beg or worry about her future. 

Patriot and Public Servant

Grant’s life principles surrounded the ideas of family, country, public service. 

“First his father instilled a sense of equality of all men as a moral right. Second, West Point strengthened his conviction of duty and fidelity to flag and Constitution.” 

“Whatever may have been my political opinions before I have but one sentiment now. That is, we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained.” 

To son Jesse he said in April 1861, “There are but two parties now, Traitors and Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter, and I trust the stronger party.” 

Jesse would say of his father, “Patriotism and loyalty are not uncommon. But in my memory of him, and in his record, father’s uncompromising patriotism, his absolute, self-sacrificing loyalty, stand out as dominant characteristics…..Right or wrong, his country came first, and he supported it with all he had, regardless of his personal opinions or of the consequences to himself…He served with patriotic singleness of purpose.” We need patriots, healers, and heroes today. 

Family His First Love

Grant’s primary motivation was his love of family and desire to be with them. “General Grant…loved his family. He seemed happiest in his home circle surrounded by his devoted and loving wife and his children and grandchildren. I have never seen an instance of greater domestic happiness than that which existed in the Grant family.” He told his wife after completing his memoirs, “With the knowledge I have of your love and affection and the dutiful affection of all our children. I bid you a final farewell, until we meet in another and, I trust, better world.” As death approached Ulysses was surrounded by all he held most dear. 

A Future Prophecy

Note Grants prescient observation on the future of our country in these words: “If we are to have another contest in our national existence I predict that the dividing line…will not be Mason Dixons but between patriotism, & intelligence on the one side, & superstition, ambition, & ignorance on the other….Resolve that either the state or the Nation, or both combined, shall support institutions of learning…sufficient to afford to every child growing up in the…land the opportunity of a good common school education.” 

America’s Greatness—Her People

“The [American]…people sympathize with all people struggling for liberty and self-government; but….we should abstain from enforcing our views upon unwilling nations and from taking and interested part, without invitation, in the quarrels between different nations or between governments and their subjects. Our course should always be in conformity with strict justice and law, international and local. The principles of respecting sovereignty and separatism should prevail over isolationism and seclusion.” He noted that he was never as happy in life as when he left the White House. He “felt like a boy getting out of school.”

Ulysses Grant is an example of a great statesman and patriot. He was someone who saw where the world was, where it needed to be, and then worked tirelessly to move forward the cause of ordered liberty. 

We need heroes, healers, and patriots today. Where will we find them? How will they be prepared to lead our communities and nation? 

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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