Sometimes history needs a second look.
Thomas Rowland, senior lecturer in the history department at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, recently published Ulysses S. Grant: In The Interests of the Whole People with NOVA Science Publishers.
The book is one in a series about presidents that follows the revisionist tradition. It suggests that Grant was an excellent president even though much of what he tried to accomplish was not realized during his term from 1869 to 1877.
Rowland said that historically Grant was placed in the “bottom tier of our worst presidents.”
“Perhaps more than any other president in our history, a fresher and different look at his presidency probably needs to be taken,” Rowland said. “I felt—like other historians of my time—that probably a grave injustice has been done to his presidency and its interpretation, and it required looking at it impartially.”
Rowland said historians are concerned with the continuous research of past events when reevaluating figures in history.
The revision of existing literature and thorough analysis of past historians’ interpretations are vital. The analysis of primary source documents, such as the era’s papers, provides fresh insight and contributes to reevaluating historic figures, Rowland said.
Prior to the 1980s, historians’ evaluations were negative about Grant’s presidency. Rowland said the interpretation rested largely with the Lost Cause— a set of beliefs that portray the Confederate common in the white American South in the late 19th and early 20th century.
“It wasn’t until the 1970s or 1980s that historians go back and challenge many of the assertions of the Lost Cause advocates, which dominated our understanding of that era,” Rowland said.
Rowland said Grant’s accomplishments were not realized in his time due to several reasons, which included the resistance of southern white citizens, the basis upon which northern whites grew tiresome of the eras’ problems and the excessive amount of scandal his second term underwent throughout his administration.
“One of the things that probably diminished Grant’s reputation as much as Reconstruction’s failure, is the fact that incredible, widespread scandal broke out within his cabinet,” Rowland said. “He didn’t emerge as a person who had good judgment of character, nor was he seen as vigorous in most people’s eyes in sweeping and brushing these folks out. He seemed to overlook it, diminish its importance, and so he’s judged as presiding over a lot of scandal, even though he, himself was never accused of scandal or corruption.”
Only in the last generation have historians—like Rowland—begun to revisit the Grant presidency and suggest that he may well have been a very capable and strong president.