Over the last week or so a quote often attributed to Ulysses S. Grant has made the rounds again, from the comment space at Civil War Memory to Bob Pollock’s Yesterday … and Today blog. Here’s the quote:
“Sir,” said Grant, “I have no doubt in the world that the sole object is the restoration of the Union. I will say further, though, that I am a Democrat—every man in my regiment is a Democrat—and whenever I shall be convinced that this war has for its object anything else than what I have mentioned, or that the Government designs using its soldiers to execute the purposes of the abolitionists, I pledge you my honor as a man and a soldier that I will not only resign my commission, but will carry my sword to the other side, and cast my lot with that people.”
On Civil War Memory, Andy Hall pointed out what was long ago known to people who chatted about this quote on various internet groups … that the source of the quote was a Democratic Party handbook from the 1868 election (click the page number, 33, to see the full excerpt). Bob Pollock then offered some quotes from Grant’s correspondence at the time that suggested that Grant held different views.
My own take on this is that the quote rings false. However, I am curious as to its origins, and I think the matter deserves further research. And what does that research show us?
One of my operating principles as a researcher is that you scrutinize all evidence, period. That includes the evidence which supports your evolving interpretation of what happened as well as evidence that challenges it. Yes, I know that the people most likely to cite this quote tend to favor the Confederate view of things, or should I say the Confederate Romantic view of things (see here and here and here). The authenticity of the quote has been debated elsewhere before, as we see here. Elihu B. Washburne denied it when it appeared in 1868, as we see here.
So, what can we find out about this quote? A little research reveals a great deal …