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 …
Big fan of this sort of analysis.
Similar question I have had for a long time: Did Sherman really say ” Take your damned regiment back to Ohio. There is no enemy nearer than Corinth.” Its gets quoted all the time in books on Shiloh, but what evidence is there that he really said it?
19 July 2011
In your book, “Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865”, page 83, you relate an incident where a colonel of Ohio volunteers stated that the war had nothing to do with slavery,and if a slave insurrection arose while engaged with the enemy, he would join the rebels in putting down the insurrection. Grant’s response was that “any officer who can make such a declaration is not far from being a traitor’. (Brayman papers) Could this incident and quote have been twisted and perhaps became the origin of the Grant quote in your blog?
No, I don’t think that’s the source of this quote. More shortly.
I assume you are gearing up for July 23.
The thing about the quote is, I’m not sure what it means.
The fact that Grant would show disdain for the abolitionist cause is not surprising. Many northerners considered abolitionists to be radicals and disunionists (and some abolitionists did fit that description).
But taken as it is, one might interpret the statement as meaning:
(a) Grant believed that it was righteous to fight against the Union if it was done to prevent abolition (and many in the Confederacy believed they were doing just that – fighting against Lincoln’s “abolition party”).
(b) Grant was willing to be a traitor to the Union cause by taking his arms to the “other side”.
So… is there enough evidence to establish that interpretations (a) and/or (b) are correct? …if we assume that Grant did utter those words?
Yeah, I know…it would be great to determine if Grant even made this statement. But I see another problem coming from people who are reading things into the statement that might not actually be there.
For once I am willing to say that the Google book digitization project is a good thing 😉
The one part of the alleged quote that I cannot believe is the part about taking his sword and going over to the Confederates. Resigning one’s commission is one thing. Turning one’s coat is another.
It sounds too wordy for Grant–it doesn’t feel right or consistent with his voice. I’m no linguist nor literary critic, but it just clangs out of tune. Of course, “it feels wrong” is no substitute for actual analysis.