Humanist Profile: Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)

The Humanist, March-April 2009 | Go to article overview

Humanist Profile: Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)


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"If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason's and Dixon's, but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other."

--President Ulysses S. Grant, addressing the Army of the Tennessee in Des Moines, Iowa, September 25, 1875

Ulysses S. Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio. He was the oldest of six children. At the age of seventeen he was nominated to attend West Point by his congressman, Thomas Hamer, who knew Grant's mother's maiden name was Simpson and mistakenly recorded Hiram's name as "Ulysses S. Grant." While a cadet at the military academy, Grant reportedly received demerits for not attending chapel and, in a letter to his cousin, wrote: "We are not only obliged to go to church, but we must march there by companies. This is not republican."

Grant is most famous as the leading Union general of the U.S. Civil War and subsequently as the eighteenth president of the United States from 1869-1877. Given his tolerance for corruption, Grant is usually ranked fairly low among U.S. presidents, however he is lauded for his support of civil rights for African Americans. He was a strong proponent of the separation of church and state as well and, in a message to Congress dated December 7, 1875, urged the "taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation." He also championed the complete secularization of public schools (as put forth in an address to the Army of the Tennessee that same year):

   Let us all labor to add all needful guarantees for the more perfect
   security of free thought, free speech, and free press, pure morals,
   unfettered religious sentiments, and of equal rights and privileges
   to all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion. … 

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