ASU historian: Ulysses S. Grant's reputation rising


Maureen Roen

History books were not kind during much of the 20th Century to the 18th U.S. president, Ulysses S. Grant, whose administration took place during the difficult years of Reconstruction.

But as his presidency has been reassessed through the lens of today's societal values, his legacy is changing.

"We’re always re-evaluating past historical figures in light of present events, and those changes take a lot of time to fix themselves in the public mind," said ASU historian Brooks Simpson, commenting in a July 23, 2015, Huffington Post story about how history has judged Grant over the 130 years since his death.

The article pointed to Grant's worthy actions to ensure citizenship rights for blacks, including sending U.S. troops to tamp down the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina, and the general's intolerance for officers who questioned the policy allowing black soldiers to serve in the Union Army. There's also renewed appreciation for his military strategy.

"As we get more critical of Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy, Grant's reputation is going to go up," Simpson noted. "Grant's reputation says as much about us as it does about his time, because it's about what we value.

"We now view Reconstruction ... as something that should have succeeded in securing equality for African-Americans, and we see Grant as supportive of that effort and doing as much as any person could do to try to secure that within realm of political reality," said Simpson. "We see him as on the right side of history."

Brooks D. Simpson is ASU Foundation Professor of History in the College of Letters and Sciences on ASU's Polytechnic campus and the author of "Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865."