Thursday, August 24, 2023

Ulysses Grant on the Civil War


Ulysses Grant on the Civil War

Peter Schultz


            As reported in Ron Chernow’s long and excellent biography, Grant, Grant is quoted as saying of the Civil War that it was “a punishment for national sins….” Thus, for Grant the war illustrated God’s justice, a justice being enacted in the United States, with the North and Grant serving the divine will. Thus, in a strange way, the war, so understood, should be something to celebrate.


            And that is what Grant did. For example, he said: “We are better off now than we would have been without it and have made more rapid progress than we otherwise should have made.” As Chernow expresses Grant’s views: “The war had validated the basic soundness of American institutions.” So, apparently those “national sins” Grant mentioned were aberrations; they were not indicative of a sinfulness that suffused the United States and corrupted its institutions. And, as Grant put it: “…our people have proven themselves to be the most formidable in war of any nationality.”


            So, the Civil War wasn’t a savage madness that resulted from deeply flawed, even sinful institutions, including of course the institution of slavery. If one were to take such a view, it would be difficult, even impossible to celebrate the war and those persons, like Grant, who were deemed its “heroes.” Their “heroism” only makes sense if the war makes sense. If the war was madness, then these heroes were madmen, you know, acting like terrorists. But this makes it all the more necessary to celebrate Grant and others as heroes because in that way the war’s savage madness disappears, just as seeing the war as “a punishment for national sins” makes the war’s madness disappear. And thusly the war becomes another glorious chapter in America’s history.



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