tv Ronald white Discusses American Ulysses CSPAN January 8, 2017 4:16pm-4:53pm EST
we're just going to be pouring it in the desert. i think that people should be aware of what they're defending. >> you're watching book tv on c-span 2 with top nonfiction books and authorities every weekend. book tv, television for serious readers. >> and now, on book tv, lincoln scholar ronald white remembers the life of civil where general come president ulysses s. grant.
grant. >> . >> guest: good afternoon, everyone. everyone. >> i'd like to invite you to continue enjoying your lunch and your dessert and i'd like to welcome our good friends who are joining us now vee-- our viewers from c-span. the white house historical association as many of you know was founded by first lady jacqueline kennedy 56 years ago who at the ripe old age of 32 years old had the foresight and the wisdom to know that the white house would need a private partner to come alongside her and every first lady since to provide private resources for the conservation, preservation and restoration of those beautiful state floors at the white house, to acquire art and furnishings for the white house collection and we're doing something today, that's
to have an education program to teach sell the stories of white house history offer the past 261 years. so, this is a key part of our mission and our education program and today we're honored to have with us dr. ronald c white, who is the author of three best selling books on abraham lincoln. dr. white is himself no stranger to the white house having lectured there, but today we're across the street here in decatur house and this historic home is actually something that i think dr. white may tell us a little about. as i mentioned earlier, grant himself, we believe, actually spent time in these very rooms, and dr. white is also a californian, and for those of you who have stepped around the seal in the middle of the floor, we actually have the great seal of the state of california in this room, but that's a story for another lecture on another day. please join me in welcoming dr. ron white to share with us insights on this significant
president and significant leader in our country. [applaus [applause] >> thank you very much for the invitation to be here with you today. yes, ulysses s. grant and julia dent grant would have very much enjoyed being here. he was a very shy person at receptions such as today, he was greatful his wife to be the hostess. she would ask julia fish to join her, wife of the secretary of state. this prompts for me the story about four years ago, someone approached me and said you're writing this biography of grant, what if we start talking about doing a television mini series? and my ears perked up, this
friend is a hollywood director and writer and we went to la quinata where we live. one of the things i want to do in my biography is lift up julia, and what she did as a partner. the tremendous marriage and he started shakes his head and that will never do. that will never do in a television mini series. television mini series are based on internal tension, internal tension. i said, oh, okay. well, the remarkable marriage is still a part of my biography. in the year 1900 the first year of the 20th century, theodore roosevelt gave his assessment who he thought were the great american leaders and he said of the mighty american dead loom
three figures. george washington, abraham lincoln and ulysses s. grant. you might be surprised to hear that affirmation. he went on to say, of second rank, of second rank were benjamin franklin, thomas jefferson, alexander hamilton and andrew jackson. once upon a time this nation revered ulysses s. grant as part of what i sort of call the holy trinity of american leaders. how did he fall? he fell by the fact that right after the civil war led by many confederate generals, the propaganda went forward of the so-called lost cause, that the greatest cause, the south, lost the civil war. they were the christian part of the nation, they were the chivalrous part of the nation and only lost because they were overwhelmed by huge numerical
numbers of the north and by the butcher grant, willing to throw his men into battle without any heed for casualties. that's completely untrue. our greatest civil war historian from princeton has shown us that grant's casualties were far less than lee's casualties. interestingly, a young woman recently has written a book on can enken in which she shows at that kentucky joined the union and then the confederacy and all the leaders going forward would be ex-confederate generals. and stepping forward with the peace treaty with robert e. lee to find himself in the controversy of the andrew johnson administration. i'm convinced he never wanted to run for president, but when johnson failed in his presidency, grant stepped forward. and this is what grant wrote to
his dear friend, william sherman. i have been forced into it, in spite of myself. i could not back down without leaving the contest for power for the next four years between mere trading politicians. the elevation of whom, no matter which party won, would lose to us largely the results of the costly war, which we have gone through. so, part of my biography is to try to come to the grips with the enigma of grant's presidency. almost everyone recognizes his great role as civil war general. john kegan, the british military historian, the finest military historian says that grant is the greatest general that the nation produced, certainly the greatest general of the civil war. but then we look to his presidency and i would argue that his presidency and scandal of the second administration, of which he was never touched, have somehow diminished
everything else that he did in that presidency. so, in that presidency, i wish to point out the fact that, first of all, as his own republican party was retreating from reconstruction, grant stood up staunchly for the rights of african-americans. he was willing to do whatever it took to do away with what i would call voter suppression. we think, and we've been told that president obama was the first american president ever elected with a nonmajority white vote. not true. grant won the popular vote in 1868 only because 400,000 african-americans voted for him. by 1890, only 3,000 african-americans were allowed to vote in the south. the vote kept diminishing. not because of grant. he stood sternly for those african-americans, willing to do whatever it took to allow their right to vote. and they became his great friends.
he also, in his first inaugural address said, we must reimagine the american indian policy. what we've been doing here is absolutely immoral and going against his military generals, his friends, sherman and sheridan, he asked if the christian churches could step forward to help him reconstruct a new fairer american indian policy. in his presidency, alongside hamilton fish who signed on to be secretary of state for, oh, two months he took rented quarters here in washington. fisher offed for eight years, one of the most distinguished secretaries of state who became a great friend and admirer of grant. together, they finally solved what was called the alabama claims. this was the fact that britain had-- the united kingdom put into the war fare british con federal
ships that had been built in their shipyards. america was angry about that, but solved that with a treaty solved. and would put forth future treaties with england and on and on. what i want to specially highlight today as i look at the japanese paintings around here, you can see likely a gift of ulysses s. grant to edward beal is what is not too well-known, that is grant's world tour. when he retired from the presidency in 1877, rutherford b hayes was elected. he could have easily won a third term. there were no term limits. julia wanted him to run for a third term, she liked being the hostess of the white house. and he went on what he thought was a private tour. and he couldn't believe it.
he was the embodiment of what people and the rest of the world thought of american democracy. although he walked around without any pins or wouz any medals or anything, he was a common person and the british people absolutely fell in love with him. let me read a section as to why they did so and what was so important about him. grant had this remarkable ability to engender real afekz. he traveled throughout england. he smoke to the tremendous aapprecia appreciation among them.
and is had tour was to be england and europe, but his second son was investing his money and it worked pretty well so he said i'll keep going so he began to travel for 28 months, finally taking himself to china and japan. and when he got to china and japan, he discovered nations very, very different, but he entered into their society, into their culture, and had the ability, i think, the rare ability to sort of understand who they were. he warned the chinese, do not allow the european powers to become part of your nation, their goal is to take you over, to influence them. you have your own society and your own culture, and i respect it and you need to chart your own path forward. the leader of china said to him, well, we have this huge
dispute. would you be a mediator? grant accepted and he went to japan and he was impressed by. the japanese leader said, yes, we would like you to be the mediator between these two nations. this is another story of grant that we didn't fully know. after the remarkable 21 months he emerged a person much more understanding of the world situation and people ask me why did i write a biography of lincoln and then a biography of grant? i think in america, once in a while we encounter persons
grant pawned his gold watch so he could buy his wife a christmas present. but out of that grandrises -- grant rises to be a prominent citizen but both of them never rows for themselves. for their open greatness, their own honor. but they rows in service of cause beyond themselves, to me that the greatness of the greatest leaders of our country. he huntington lie library where
i work, put up an exhibit on george washington, and the under new york review of books did a review, and reviewer said this spire review can besmear summarized in one word. honor. it's a word we don't know. it's a word i'm sad to say academics try to undermine but it this word honor. this is what defines every aspect of george washington's career to step down as commander in chief and president of the united states, so we could use the same words about lincoln and grant, but no honor simply for themselves but they pointed beyond themselves to the great truths of the american democracy and that's i would i think grant needs to be revived in his rep pew saying, but he is one of our great american leaders, and imhopeful that what i'm attempting to do here is in book
will give people a deeper understanding of why this man is so important. thank you very much. [applause] >> i'd be happy to entertain you questions and comments. >> my civil war an an ancestor was a poor farmer in east tennessee he had the sons, the fer born was general grant. and i wonder with that in mind have you been able to assess what type of an impact grant has a popular icon and did he a chief, even after the civil war as president, did he achieve the
type of popularity, that type of fed a cue layings that other agree american figures have achieved? >> he did. we ridded she vice presidential debate has night. grant would tom campaign and even left washington to by sure that people would not got after him. what were called campaign biographies, and there was one particularly wonderful campaign biography written in 1868 so all they knew knew general grant and now the story backwards and forwards and came to so enjoy who he was compared to andrew johnson or james buchanan or some of the middling figures who had been the presidents way back to andrew jackson. and so his humility, his
self-efacement that was more of a 19th century term, so endearing to people. and so he was not simply admired. he was really loved. and you can hear this and see it in the letters that people write or even in writing their die rayries. you can see it and heared in the soldiers. one of the most amazing stories to me is grant leads the overlean campaign of may 1864, four times the northern army invaded virginia, four times forced to retreat, and after the terrible, terrible battle of the wilderness two days in which 20,000 ewan union man were casualties casualties and the forest sets fire and men are called. the question is what will help now? will we retreat one more time? so grant orders 0 night march.
it's 83:00 the evening. he is starting on the road with his huge horse and when they come to the junction in the road, one jung turns south, the other one turns north and the soldiers get around. grandgets to the jung and turns south, and hats go in air and the keiring -- cheering goes forward. grant will not turn back and that's what endeared him to american people. yes in. >> my name is lee. tell us about at the relationship between ulysses grant and robert e. lee, before the war, during the war, and subsequent to the war, and tell -- remind us of the things we sort of know but also some things we might be interested
and don't know and maybe particularly, i am interested in the -- [inaudible] >> robert e. lee was a a-plus stunt. the only person to graduate from west upon with no demerits. a star in the making from the day he graduated from west point. a star in mexican war. grant was not. grant was -- lee was -- have a generation ahead of grant, and so grant admired lee. he knew who he was. he knew of his various accomplishments. lee had been superintendent of west point. he was born into a pat trish chantally. hi iowa of a pa trish shan person. everything of the southern gentry, and not that grant was poor white trash but he was a frontier family of a very different type. so they became finally face to faves and his own soldiers said, but you of never faced bobby lee. and then a general arrived in
lee's -- grant's camp, some he said that, i know lee, he's going to do this and do that and divide us, and grant grant was a very calm man but became agitate and he said i'm getting tire tired of peek talking about robert e. lee. it's lie you expect to arrive in our camp and turn a double so many somersault and honest in front of us. but johnson wanted to try lee for robe. and grandsaid you will not. he is the spirit to all leader of the southern people and the way treat him will say everything about the way we'll treat the southern people. you will not try lee for treason. i gave him my word and i will
keep my word. so the there is a remarkable respect. lee only lived until 1868. but i believe he visited grant one time in the white house0. grant had a remarkable respect robert e. lee. >> identity interest in the international -- can you talk about the uniqueness of granted's qualities that took him from the white house to the international trip and kind of -- what could think that mooing -- sometimes learning from that. when america was not a will power, sometimes can give us indications where we might be thinking and the resurgence of this period, obviously -- 150 years of the civil war war. something else going on with grant that could be useful?
>> i think grant gap the world tour by his own love of travel. he loved to travel and he thought he was simply traveling as a private citizen. but i entitle that chapter in hi book, american ambassador, and i argue that when grant crossed the bound boundary line of at the rio green into mexico he was crossing several boundaries. no just a physical boundary, grant had the ability to understand the views and at operations of poo people and -- other people and men personalities did not. me lincoln had the second address others save by in eye politician it would have been air gone. but but it's by lincoln it's a well to different tenor. grant was off walking down the side streets, communicating we people.
he learn some spanish so he had the ability to internalize what people were thinking and that why people stepped forward talk with him. he arrived in berlin, a great conference of international powers and he was going to see bismarck. he walked out of his hotel with in medal no entourage, no seconds and when he knocked on the door of the -- people didn't know who he was. who is this common person. grant, the president of the united states? so, i heard in the secondary literature that the next day the papers were not filled with the talk of this international conference. they were but of grant and bismarck, my german wasn't very good so i dispatched my dear friend to find the german newspapers that were published that next day in berlin, which he did, and here we the articles.
grant and bismarck. so, i think this took grant by surprise because he was not a person of self-aggrandizement but there's been another person who names escaping me, just diplomat, who has also written about this that grant was putting into play diplomatic skills, attitudes towards japan and china and had seen the british attitude in india he did not like the way print was ruling in india. and sid evidence we were to -- said if we were to do this we got a guy moon the people who live there and those are this yesth lessons. >> in your book there are a couple of place -- the anecdote about grant and friends showing ing -- and the dichotomy
of -- it would be wonderful if you could elaborate of grant and mexican war and general taylor and scott and dealing with the uniforms and pomp and ceremony. did he pick that up? >> go back to first comment first. if i may reed -- read something from my book. the man of middle height, accompanied by a young boy, arrived the crowded baltimore and raise railroad station in washington on a cold, crisp morning, march 8. 1864. hailed a covrage and asked the driver to take them to willards hotel. only two block from the white house the map and boy stepped from the kerrick and walked electrically to finance desk. the man 4 2 -- 42 years old, asd
for a room. the clerk sniffed professionally, did not the visitor know that in wartime washington, few womans were available, especially at willard's, the finest hotel in the nation's capital? the clerk dallied and then informed the traveler his could give them a small room on the top floor. that would be fine, the man said. the clerk asked the guest to sign the hotel register. when the clerk turned the register around and read the signature,us grant and son, illinois herb -- he turned bale. pea gasped. general brant, why depend you tell me who you were? peeringmer closely, the clerk could not now see that underneath the duster was the blue even form of a union officer. he has seen poster's the west in washington.
he blurted houston he was assigning him to a different sweet, the same sweet lincoln stayed at on his arrival in washington. now who he knew was stand fog front of him the clerk handed grant a sealed envelope. the general found an invitation to join president lincoln at a reception as the guest of honor. because he indiana served in eastern theater of the civil war, curiosity about grant punctuated conversations every. many knew the outline of his rise to fame. but still they wondered outload, who was he? how had he-succeeded and why had he.elevate him to position lieutenant general, the first man since george washington to hold the reaching. why had lincoln tapped him to come from the western theater to lead all the union army?
when you write a biography, sometimes the prologue is the last thing you wright i was searching for the story that i felt would capture who is this man, and it's so -- the publisher decided to publish this book one month before the presidential elections, and it seems to me such a totally different posture than we often find today. a person who is not putting himself forward, there is no pomp possessty. there is no arrogance, he is not claiming rank, he's not claiming anything. softly i'll take that room at the top of the sixth floor. i think this captures who grant is. your second question. two generals in the war with mexico, winfield scott was mr. fluff and feathers who had a remarkable uniform with all kind of braid on this and that and
the other. taylor was the other general who wore a common -- almost a country man's outfit with a straw hat. grant typically wore a private's uniform. he never wore any braid at all. the only way you would know he was a general were the stars on his shoulders. he never put himself forward. the men loved him for it. because he was one of them. he became a part of them. and that's what endeared them to him. >> i'd like to thank you for researching and creating this wonderful biography. and thank you for speaking to us today. we heard about grant's plat platitudes, modesty, humanity. i think there's a darker side to grant that perhaps you could comment on, the discussion about his fondness of drink and lincoln made a remark about give a barrel to each mother general.
can you excuse grant's drinking? >> yes. thank you for asking the question. an important question. grant has been accused of being a drunkard and the question i wrestlele with were the contradictory assessments,s, anecdotes, whatever. think grant was at times afflicted to drinking. drinking was part of the military culture and when grant was separated from julia, especially the pacific coast, first in oregon and then california, think he did fall into drinking help feel into despair and out of despair he fell into drunk drinking and the temperature was did his commanding officer at fort humboldt in california threaten him with a court-martial? that may be true. it's hard to know. others deny the was not true. the the letter he received from the secretary of war jefferson
davis, he was promoted to captain, jefferson davis received a letter back from grant offering his resignation so he return to julie and stenyears in st. louis louse and then -- st. louis and illinois. i to think -- his he's not an alcoholic or a drunkard but this was something he dealt with in his life. >> i'd like to ask the question about the grant in the white house itself. can you tell us about the special memorable experience that had that being significant. some anecdote about the years as president and first lady? >> i think biographyy is filed with irony. grant -- i would have now call him didn't an introvert not a good public speaker. public gearings -- gatherings
like this drain him. he relied on julia to be his voice but they often kept vacant chair at the table that they did welcome guests in into in the white house. er receptions were famous, even towards the end when people relinedded him that lincoln had been assassinated he refused to have any bodyguards and walked out among the people in washington. the want to be a common person. wanted to be in common touch with them. one of the most amazing thing at the time grant was he must have kept eight 0 ten horses at the without and a horse culture is so foreign to us. grant was a horse tamer from the time he was seven, eight or nine years of age in ohio. and what people learned from that was, anyone who could gentle a horse muss -- must be a generalle person. they learn from his attitude
towards horses what kind of person he was there was an open you, receptions held often and julia was his hostess. they head four children, the boys and one girl, all very active. some at away at college, and nelly, the daughter, was married at the white house with her father in tears, and she was the prescribe cessna those years, and it was a delightful experience, when they left -- funny -- rutherford b hayes came into the white house and julia kept some things for in the next family, including some bottle of's wine she den note the lemonade lucy was about to inherit the white house and was not appreciative. thank you. [applause]
>> thank you for you this book. we have a white house memento for you to take with you and we welcome you back. want to thank you for being with us here today. many are here for a the first time in white house historical association and we're about contacts and relationships and connections and i'm a big believer in partnerships and we look forward to partnering with you individually and welcoming you to back. -- ed is our new chief historian. rath wilson is our vice president of development. haley put this lunch together so thank you for your work, and john oen batel-lo o us our curator, formolly we have
exhibits on the ground floor. your e -- you're walk to come book for a visit to the blair house. the vice president's house. dr. white will be happy to sign your books if you want to join him in the next room and have a word if him. thank you again for being with us today, and i wish you all a very good afternoon. plus applause. [applause] u. the wonderful being that being a writer you hearn learn how to leap and land on your feet. so imagine the surprise after i left my house when i was told i