Don't Know Much

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (4th in a series)

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

Part 4 in a series that begins here.

Father and grandfather of presidents. A simple farmer.  A workaholic.  The next five signers, in alphabetical order: (Yes following the entry means slaveholder; No means not a slaveholder.)

-Benjamin Harrison (Virginia) A member of the Virginia aristocracy, he was a well-to-do planter, around 50 at the the signing. Although his famed Berkeley Plantation on the James River was supposedly destroyed during the Revolution, it clearly survived. So did Harrison, who went on to serve three terms as governor of Virginia before his death in 1791 at age 65. Besides his role in the July  2 and 4 votes in Philadelphia, he is mostly distinctive as the father of 9th president William Henry Harrison and grandfather of namesake Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president. YES

-John Hart (New Jersey) Described as a well-meaning “Jersey” farmer with little education, Hart was a 65 year old planter at the time of the signing, and devoted to the patriot cause. Although supposedly hounded by the British during the war, he was later able to entertain General Washington and allow 12,000 troops to camp in his fields in 1778. He died of kidney stones in 1779, aged 68. YES

Joseph Hewes (North Carolina) Born in New Jersey, he moved to North Carolina and was a 46 year old Quaker merchant at the signing. At first a reluctant patriot, he broke with the Quakers over the possibility  of a violent rebellion and was considered a key influence in Congress by John Adams. His shipping experience was significant enough for him to be described as the first “secretary of the Navy,” responsible for getting his friend John Paul Jones a commission. Working relentlessly for the Congress, Hewes fell sick and died in 1779 at age 49 and was deeply mourned by his Congressional colleagues. YES

-Thomas Heyward, Jr. (South Carolina) Son of a wealthy planter, he was a 30 year old lawyer at the signing. Heyward counts as one of the few signers actually captured by the British, who then took his enslaved people, apparently shipping them to bondage in the West Indies. Initially paroled (released under an agreement), he was later taken aboard a prison ship and then held in St. Augustine, Florida under a form of house arrest until released in a prisoner exchange. While a hostage, he is credited with writing verses to a song called “God Save the Thirteen States.” He dabbled in politics after the war, but focused on rebuilding his family plantation where he died at 63 in 1809. YES

-William Hooper (North Carolina) Born in Boston, he was a 34 year old attorney who had moved South at the signing. He missed the key July vote but returned to sign the Declaration in August. Hooper was one of the signers who suffered losses during the war when the British invaders evacuating the Wilmington, North Carolina area and destroyed his home. He later pressed for ratification of the Constitution but lacked popularity in his adopted state and, suffering from a variety of illnesses, including malaria, died in 1790 at age 48. YES

Don't Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)

Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)

America's Hidden History, includes tales of "Forgotten Founders"

America’s Hidden History, includes tales of “Forgotten Founders”

Don't Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition (Harper Perennial and Random House Audio)

Don’t Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition (Harper Perennial and Random House Audio)

Whatever Became Of…56 Signers? (3d in series)

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

[Post revised  June 22, 2018]

Part 3 in a series of posts about the fates of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  A printer, a politician with a notable name, a duelist, a Connecticut Yankee, and the most famous signature in U.S. history. 

A Yes after their names means they enslaved people; No means they did not.

-Benjamin Franklin  (Pennsylvania) America’s most famous man in 1776, Franklin was 70 years old at the time of the signing. Printer, publisher, writer, scientist, diplomat, philosopher –he was the embodiment of the Enlightenment ideal. A member of the draft committee that produced the Declaration, Franklin was a central figure in the independence vote and then helped the war effort by winning crucial French support for the America cause. But he lost no Fortune, reportedly tripling his wealth during the conflict. Franklin returned to the scene of the Declaration’s passage in 1787 to help draft the Constitution.. When he died at age 84 in 1790, his funeral was attended by a crowd equal to Philadelphia’s population at the time. Read more on Franklin at this National Park Service site. YES

Elbridge Gerry (Massachusetts) A 32 year old merchant from Marblehead, Gerry (pronounced with a hard G like Gary) is much more famous for later dividing Massachusetts into oddly-shaped voting districts as the state’s governor. A cartoonist compared the districts to a salamander and the word “gerry-mandering” was born. Though he voted for independence, Gerry was not present to sign in August, signing later in the fall of 1776, He profited from the war and later joined the Massachusetts delegation to the Constitutional convention in 1787, although he refused to sign the Constitution. He became James Madison’s second vice president in 1813, but died in office in 1814 at age 70. NO

Button Gwinnett (Georgia) An English-born plantation owner and merchant, he was 41 at the time of the signing. And didn’t last much longer. A political argument with a Georgia general led to a duel in which Gwinnett was mortally wounded. He died in 1777 at age 42, the second of the signers to die. (John Morton of Pennsylvania was first.) YES

Lyman Hall (Georgia) A Connecticut Yankee physician transplanted to Georgia plantation owner, Hall  was 52 years old at the signing. A vocal patriot when Georgia was far more hesitant about independence, he first came to Philadelphia as a nonvoting delegate. Hall’s plantation was destroyed during the war when the British made their punishing attacks on the South. He later served as Georgia’s governor, dying at age 66 in 1790. YES

John Hancock (Massachusetts) Born into a poor parson’s family in Lexington (National Parks Service site) , Hancock was sent to live with a wealthy uncle when his father died. He inherited his uncle’s shipping business and was one of America’s wealthiest men by the time he was thirty. A patriot leader in Boston, it was Hancock and Samuel Adams who the British sought to capture on that April 1775 night when the war began. President of the Continental Congress when independence was declared, he was 39 at the time of the signing. The outsized signature on the document cemented his fame in American lore. After the war, Hancock was governor of Massachusetts at the time of his death in 1793 at age 56. YES



Don’t Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition

Whatever Became Of…56 Signers? (2d in a series)

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

Part 2 of a series that begins here. (A YES denotes slaveowner or trader; NO means the person did not enslave people.)

Here are the next five Signers of the Declaration, continuing in alphabetical order:

Samuel Chase (Maryland) A 35 year old attorney, Chase has the distinction of being among those signers who didn’t vote on July 4; he signed the later printed version in August. Accused of wartime profiteering but never tried or convicted, he later went broke from business speculating and settled into law practice. President George Washington appointed him to the Supreme Court, and Chase became the first justice to be impeached –although he was acquitted. He died in 1811 at age 70. YES Learn more about Impeachment history here.

-Abraham Clark (New Jersey) An attorney, 50 years old at the signing, Clark had two sons who were captured and imprisoned during the war; one on the notorious British prison ship Jersey and the other in a New York jail cell. Clark served in Congress on and off and opposed the Constitution’s ratification until the Bill of Rights was added. He died in 1794 at age 68. YES

George Clymer (Pennsylvania) A 37 year old merchant the time of the signing, Clymer was a well-heeled patriot leader who helped fund the American war effort. He was also elected to Congress after the July 2 independence vote, signing the Declaration on August 2. He belongs to an elite group who signed both the Declaration and the Constitution.  (The others were Roger Sherman of Conn,; George Read of Del.; and Franklin, Robert Morris and  James Wilson, all of PA.) He continued to prosper after the war and died in 1813 at age 74. NO

-William Ellery (Rhode Island) A modestly successful merchant turned attorney, aged 48 at the signing, Ellery replaced an earlier Rhode Island delegate who died of smallpox in Philadelphia. (Smallpox killed more Americans than the war did during the Revolution.) A dedicated member of Congress during the war years, Ellery saw his home burned by the British although it is thought unlikely they knew it was the home of a Signer. An abolitionist, he was rewarded after the war by President Washington with the lucrative post of collector for the port of Newport which he held for three decades. He died in 1829, aged 92, second in longevity among signers after Carroll.  (See previous post.NO

-William Floyd (New York) A 41 year old land speculator born on Long Island, New York, Floyd abstained from the July 2 independence vote with the rest of the New York delegation, but is thought to be the first New Yorker to sign the Declaration on August 2. Reports that his home on Fire Island was destroyed by the British were exaggerated, although it was used as a stable and barracks by the occupying Redcoats. (It is now part of a Fire Island National Park.)  Floyd served in the first Congress before moving to western New York where he owned massive land tracts and where he died at age 86 in 1821. YES

Read more about the Revolution, Declaration and “Forgotten Founders.”

In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives

Don’t Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition

“Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor:” Whatever Became Of 56 Signers? (1 in a series)


They pledged:

... our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”

Then what happened?

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the "American flag" until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

The Grand Flag of the Union, the “first American flag,” originally raised in 1775 and later by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the “American flag” until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

This is an updated repost of a series about the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Included in this list is a simple guide to those Signers who enslaved people. A Yes means they enslaved people; a No means they did not.

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

Those strong words concluded the Declaration of Independence when it was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

There is little question that men who signed that document were putting their lives at risk. The identity and fates of a handful of those Signers is well-known. Two future presidents — Adams and Jefferson— and America’s most famous man, Benjamin Franklin, were on the Committee that drafted the document.

But the names and fortunes of many of the  other signers, including the most visible, John Hancock, are more obscure. In the days leading up to Independence Day, I will offer a thumbnail sketch of each of the Signers in alphabetical order. Some prospered and thrived; some did not: How many of those Signers actually paid with their Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honor?

John Adams (Massachusetts) Aged 40 when he signed, he went on to become the first vice president and second president of the United States. Adams died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration in 1826 at age 90. (Jefferson died that same day) NO

Samuel Adams (Mass.) Older cousin to John, Samuel Adams was 53 at the signing. He went on to a career in state politics, initially refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights, and was governor of Massachusetts. He died in 1803 at 81. NO

Josiah Bartlett (New Hampshire) Inspiring the name of the fictional president of West Wing  fame on TV, Bartlett was a physician, aged 46 at the time of the signing. He helped ratify the Constitution in his home state, giving the document the necessary nine states to become the law of the land. Elected senator he chose to remain in New Hampshire as governor. Three of his sons and other descendants also became physicians. He died in 1795 at age 65. YES

Carter Braxton (Virginia) A 39-year-old plantation owner, Braxton was looking to invest in the slave trade before the Revolution. Initially reluctant about independence, he helped fund the rebellion and lost a considerable  fortune  during the war –not because he was a signer, but because of shipping losses during the war itself. He later served in the Virginia legislature and died in 1797 at age 61, far less wealthy than he had been, but also far from impoverished. YES

Charles Carroll of Carrollton (Maryland) A plantation owner, 38 years old and one of America’s wealthiest men at the signing, Carroll was the only Roman Catholic signer and the last signer to die. With hundreds of enslaved people on his properties, Carroll considered freeing some of them before his death and later introduced a bill for gradual abolition in Maryland, which had no chance of passage.  At age ninety-one, he laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as a member of its board of directors. He died in 1832 at age 95. YES 

Update: Carroll’s cousin was John Carroll, a Jesuit priest, first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States, and a founder of Georgetown College. The New York Times has reported how, in 1838, Georgetown sold 272 enslaved people to keep the college financially afloat.



In the Shadow of Liberty


As the headlines show almost daily, the history of slavery and its role in American history and society has never been more important –or more misunderstood. My recent book puts a human face on slavery and its significance in American history through the lives of five remarkable people who were enslaved some of America’s most famous men.

In The Shadow Of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives

Notable Children’s Books-2017 ALSC/ALA

•A FINALIST for 2017 Award for Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction by YALSA — the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association.

•A selection of the 2018 Tayshas Reading List/Texas Library Association


YALSA medal_2


•Named one of the BEST CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULT BOOKS OF 2016 (Washington Post)


Did you know that many of America’s Founding Fathers—who fought for liberty and justice for all—were slave owners?

Through the powerful stories of five enslaved people who were “owned” by four of our greatest presidents, this book helps set the record straight about the role slavery played in the founding of America. These dramatic narratives explore our country’s great tragedy—that a nation “conceived in liberty” was also born in shackles.

  • BILLY LEE, who became George Washington’s valet and fought in the American Revolution alongside him.
  • ONA JUDGE, who escaped from Washington’s Philadelphia household—only to be tracked down by the president’s men.
  • ISAAC GRANGER, who survived the devastation of Yorktown before returning to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
  • PAUL JENNINGS, who was present at the burning of James Madison’s White House during the War of 1812.
  • ALFRED JACKSON, who was born into slavery at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, survived the Civil War, and lived at the plantation into the 20th century.


These stories help us know the real people who were essential to the birth of this nation but traditionally have been left out of the history books. Their stories are true—and they should be heard.

Some of the hidden history from IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY

  • Five of the first seven presidents, and ten of the first fifteen, were slaveholders or raised in a slaveholding household.
  • George Washington once bought teeth from enslaved people to be used in his dentures.
  • For seven years as President Washington knowingly broke a Pennsylvania that freed enslaved people who lived in the state for more than six months.
  • Dozens of enslaved people from Jefferson’s Monticello, along with seventeen from Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation, were among thousands of African American refugees with the British in Yorktown, Virginia when American and French forces won the last battle in the Revolution.
  • The first man to write a memoir of working in the White House was formerly the enslaved valet of James Madison who witnessed the burning of the White House during the War of 1812.
  • Andrew Jackson went into debt to pay for the legal defense of four enslaved men from his Hermitage plantation who were tried for murder.


Juneteenth: The “Other” Independence Day


(Revised of a post from June 2015)

TUESDAY JUNE 19 is a day to mark “Juneteenth” –a holiday celebrating emancipation at the end of the Civil War.


Foods on the Juneteenth altar include beets, strawberries, watermelon, yams and hibiscus tea, as well as a plate of black-eyed peas and cornbread. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

“For centuries, slavery was the dark stain on America’s soul, the deep contradiction to the nation’s founding ideals of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “All men are created equal.” When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he took a huge step toward erasing that stain. But the full force of his proclamation would not be realized until June 19, 1865—Juneteenth, as it was called by slaves in Texas freed that day.”

“Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day” My article in Smithsonian (June 15, 2011)

“SOME two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the Civil War, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger steamed into the port of Galveston, Tex. With 1,800 Union soldiers, including a contingent of United States Colored Troops, Granger was there to establish martial law over the westernmost state in the defeated Confederacy.

On June 19, two days after his arrival and 150 years ago today, Granger stood on the balcony of a building in downtown Galveston and read General Order No. 3 to the assembled crowd below. “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” he pronounced.” (New York Times June 19, 2015)

Read more of the complete story of Juneteenth in my New York Times Op-ed, “Juneteenth is for Everyone”. The celebration of the  the holiday and its traditions of foods is highlighted in this New York Times article, “Hot Links and Red Drinks”

150 Years of the Divisive & Partisan History of “Memorial Day”



Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Photo: Arlington National Cemetery) This memorial was created after the great losses of World War I.

(Revise of 2015 post)

It is a well-established fact that Americans like to argue. And we do. Mays or Mantle. A Caddy or a Lincoln. And, of course, abolition, abortion, and guns.

But a debate over Memorial Day –and more specifically where and how it began? America’s most solemn holiday should be free of rancor. But it never has been.

The heated arguments over removing the Confederate flag and monuments to heroes and soldiers of the Confederacy in New Orleans and St. Louis provide examples and reminders of the birth of Memorial Day.

In the Korean War, the U.S. military was integrated. (Source: Library of Congress)

Waterloo, New York claimed that the holiday originated there with a parade and decoration of the graves of fallen soldiers in 1866. But according to the Veterans Administration, at least 25 places stake a claim to the birth of Memorial Day. Among the pack are Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, which says it was first in 1864.( “Many Claim to Be Memorial Day Birthplace” )

And Charleston, South Carolina, according to historian David Blight, points to a parade of emancipated children in May 1865 who decorated the graves of fallen Union soldiers whose remains were moved from a racetrack to a proper cemetery.

But the passions cut deeper than pride of place.

Born 150 years ago out of the Civil War’s catastrophic death toll as “Decoration Day,” Memorial Day is a day for honoring our nation’s war dead. A veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War, John A. Logan, a Congressman and leader of the Grand Army of the Republic,  set the first somber commemoration on May 30, 1868, in Arlington Cemetery, the sacred space wrested from property once belonging to Robert E. Lee’s family.( When Memorial Day was No Picnic by James M. McPherson.) The Grand Army of the Republic was a powerful fraternal organization formed of Civil War Union veterans.

Abraham Lincoln (November 1863) Photo by Alexander Gardner

From its inception, Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) was linked to  “Yankee” losses in the cause of emancipation. Calling for the first formal Decoration Day, Union General John Logan wrote,  “Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains…”

In other words, Logan’s first Decoration Day was divisive— a partisan affair, organized by northerners.

In 1871, Frederick Douglass gave a Memorial Day speech in Arlington that focused on this division:




We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.

I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my “right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict.



But the question remains: what inspired Logan to call for this rite of decorating soldier’s graves with fresh flowers?

The simple answer is—his wife.

While visiting Petersburg, Virginia – which fell to General Grant 150 years ago in 1865 after a year-long, deadly siege – Mary Logan learned about the city’s women who had formed a Ladies’ Memorial Association. Their aim was to show admiration  “…for those who died defending homes and loved ones.”

Choosing June 9th, the anniversary of “The Battle of the Old Men and the Young Boys” in 1864, a teacher had taken her students to the city’s cemetery to decorate the graves of the fallen. General Logan’s wife wrote to him about the practice. Soon after, he ordered a day of remembrance.

The teacher and her students, it is worth noting, had placed flowers and flags on both Union and Confederate graves.

As America wages its partisan wars at full pitch, this may be a lesson for us all.

More resources at the New York Times Topics archive of Memorial Day articles

The story of “The Battle of the Old Men and the Young Boys” is told in  THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR (Now in paperback)

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

Don’t Know Much About® Memorial Day

Share: (This video was originally posted May 2012. It was produced, edited and directed by Colin Davis.)

Memorial Day brings thoughts of duty, honor, courage, sacrifice and loss. The holiday, the most somber date on the American national calendar, was born in the ashes of the Civil War as “Decoration Day,” when General John S. Logan –a-veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, a prominent Illinois politician and leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union fraternal organization –called for May 30, 1868 as the day on which the graves of fallen Union soldiers would be decorated with fresh flowers in his “General Orders No. 11.”

“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds.”

Pointedly, Logan’s order was seen as a day to honor those who died in the cause if ending slavery and opposing the “rebellion.”

Every year at this time, I spend a lot of time talking about the roots and traditions of Memorial Day.

It’s not about the barbecue or the Mattress Sales. Obscured by the holiday atmosphere around Memorial Day is the fact that it is the most solemn day on the national calendar. This video tells a bit about the history behind the holiday.

Soldiers of the 146th Infantry, 37th Division, crossing the Scheldt River at Nederzwalm under fire. Image courtesy of The National Archives.

Soldiers of the 146th Infantry, 37th Division, crossing the Scheldt River at Nederzwalm under fire. Image courtesy of The National Archives.

One of the most famous symbols of the loss on Memorial Day is the Poppy, inspired by this World War I poem by John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Source: The poem is in the public domain courtesy of

Have a memorable Memorial Day!

The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs offers more resources on the history and traditions of Memorial Day.

(Images in video: Courtesy of the Library of Congress and Flanders Cemetery image Courtesy of the American Battle Monuments Commission)

The first “Mother’s Day”-Some Hidden History


[Updated post]

Let me be among the first to say Happy Mother’s Day. Spouses, partners, and children everywhere: Don’t forget.

But amidst the brunches, flower-giving, and chocolate samplers, there is a story of another “Mother’s Day” that is worth remembering this weekend.

Julia Ward Howe, a prominent abolitionist best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” published what became known as the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” originally called “An Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World.”

Julia Ward Howe (1907) Source: Library of Congress

Julia Ward Howe (1907) Source: Library of Congress

In 1870, Howe wrote:

Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. . . . From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

Source and Complete Text: Library of Congress

Howe’s international call for mothers to become the voice of pacifism found few takers. Even among like-minded women, there was greater urgency over the suffrage question. Her passionate campaign for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” begun in  1872 fell by the wayside.

Mother’s Day, as we know it, is not the invention of Hallmark; it started in 1912 through the efforts of West Virginia’s Anna Jarvis to create a holiday honoring all mothers for their sacrifice and to assist mothers who needed help.

Today, Mother’s Day is largely a commercial bonanza — flowers, chocolates and greeting cards. Is it possible to truly honor Howe’s version of Mother’s Day and work towards her original vision of Mother’s Day?

If only we remember the history behind the holiday and what she thought it should be.

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

Don’t Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition

Don’t Know Much About U.S. Grant


Born on this date in 1822, the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant


April 27, 1822       Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio

1839-1843            Attended West Point

1843-1853            Served in the Mexican War and a succession of U.S. Army posts, then resigned his commission.

1854-1858            Farmed near St. Louis, Missouri

1860-1861            Clerked in tannery store at Galena, Illinois

1861-1865            Served in Civil War; commanded all Union Armies

1869-1877            18thPresident

1880                    Unsuccessful candidate for Republican presidential nomination

July 23, 1885        Died at Mt. McGregor, New York, aged 63

The country having just emerged from a great rebellion, many questions will come before it for settlement in the next four years which preceding Administrations have never had to deal with. In meeting these it is desirable that they should be approached calmly, without prejudice, hate, or sectional pride, remembering that the greatest good to the greatest number is the object to be attained.

This requires security of person, property, and free religious and political opinion in every part of our common country, without regard to local prejudice. All laws to secure these ends will receive my best efforts for their enforcement.

–Ulysses S. Grant, First Inaugural (March 4, 1869

The conquering hero of the Union, Ulysses S. Grant did not look the part. He was short, scruffy, favored enlisted men’s uniforms, and was dogged by reports of his fondness for drink –a somewhat undeserved reputation. Grant clearly was a drinker at times in his life, but the image of him as a stumbling drunk is a caricature. One successor, Theodore Roosevelt later called him, “The Hammer of the North,” and wrote,

“Grant’s supreme virtue was his doggedness….He was master of strategy and tactics, but he was also a master of hard-hitting. …His name is among the greatest in our history.”

There is no question that he was a dogged, determined general whose command skills helped win the war for the Union. Unfortunately, those strengths did not translate into the complexities of leading the large, swiftly growing, and rapidly changing nation. Another of his successors, James A. Garfield, who served on the battlefield under Grant, once said,

“He has done more than any other President to degrade the character of Cabinet officers by choosing them on the model of the military staff, because of their pleasant personal relationship to him and not because of their national reputation and public needs.”

Garfield was right. Personally honest, Grant was notoriously inept when it came to surrounding himself with men who were corrupt, both in private and as president. Some of them blackened his Presidency; others would reduce Grant to bankruptcy. Finally, a third later successor, Woodrow Wilson, once wrote of him, “The honest, simple-hearted soldier had not added prestige to the presidential office. He himself knew he had failed… that he ought never to have been made president.”

One reason that Grant has been positively reevaluated as President, however, was his commitment to achieving the vote for African Americans.  In his 1874 Message to Congress, he said:

Treat  the negro as a citizen and a voter, as he is and must remain, and soon parties will be divided, not on the color line, but on principle.

Fast Facts

Religion:    Methodist (Although raised Methodist, Grant never officially joined a church.)

Education:       United States Military Academy (West Point)

Career before Politics:  Soldier, farmer, leather shop clerk

Military Service:  U.S. Army- Mexican War, Civil War

Political Party:  Republican

First Lady: Julia Boggs Dent Grant (January 26, 1826-December 14, 1902) Grant’s best man was West Point classmate James Longstreet, later a Confederate general who attended Lee’s surrender in April 1865.

Children: Frederick, Ulysses S.Grant, Jr. (“Buck”), Ellen (“Nellie”), and Jesse Root Grant

  • Grant is the first of seven presidents born in Ohio (second-most from one state after Virginia).
  • At age 46, Grant was the youngest president elected up to that time.
  • After Grant’s death in 1885, more than 60,000 people marched and one million spectators watched the funeral procession to his burial in New York’s City Upper West Side.

Twelve years later, Grant’s Tomb was dedicated. Built with $600,000 donated by more than 90,000 people, it is the largest mausoleum in North America. Once again, more than one–million people attended the parade and dedication ceremony when Grant was interred in the tomb on April 27, 1897. Grant’s wife, Julia, was also interred –not buried—in Grant’s Tomb, after her death in 1902. It is the site of the General Grant National Memorial (NPS).

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More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War (Available May 15)

More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War now on sale.

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