Put Ronald Reagan on the $50 and take Ulysses S. Grant off? Huh?

oMost people who know me, know that I am a big admirer of General U S Grant. Some of them think that I am just being contrary, some think it is some sort of strange idiosyncrasy, and some have concluded that I may be right – most don’t actually care one way or the other.

That’s fine; what people think of Grant is not going to change our world very much anyway. And, as Abraham Lincoln once observed, “Character is like a tree, and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of; the tree is the real thing.” Grant is still the real thing just as he was after his presidency, when he was the most revered person in the reunited States. His Memorial, the largest in Washington, at one end of the Mall – with Lincoln at the other end and George Washington in the middle – testifies to that. (Double click to enlarge – Grant is wearing a oilcloth slicker and I believe the statue represents Grant when he turned south to re-engage Lee after the Battle of the Wilderness. It wasn’t going to be another skedaddle, after all.)

Statue of US Grant overlooking the Mall

But, much to my surprise, some historians are starting to come forward in praise of the good General.In an editorial in the New York Times, Sean Wilentz, the Lapidus Professor of History at Princeton University and author of The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008”, says In reality, what fueled the personal defamation of Grant was contempt for his Reconstruction policies, which supposedly sacrificed a prostrate South, as one critic put it, “on the altar of Radicalism.” That accomplished as much for freed slaves as he did within the constitutional limits of the presidency was remarkable. Without question, his was the most impressive record on civil rights and equality of any president from Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson. 

And Wilentz continues, Though much of the public and even some historians haven’t yet heard the news, the vindication of Ulysses S. Grant is well under way. I expect that before too long Grant will be returned to the standing he deserves — not only as the military savior of the Union but as one of the great presidents of his era, and possibly one of the greatest in all American history.

And, in an in the Los Angeles Times, Joan Waugh, an Associate Professor at UCLA, says Shame on the 14 Republican congressmen who last week proposed substituting Ronald Reagan for Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill. Their action suggests they need a history lesson about the Northern general who won the Civil War and went on to lead the country. I feel better already.

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