March 14, 2010

Replace Grant on $50 bill?

A columnist makes the case for Ulysses S. Grant's greatness as president.

Who’s Buried in the History Books?

By Sean WilentzRONALD REAGAN deserves posterity’s honor, and so it makes sense that the capital’s airport and a major building there are named for him. But the proposal to substitute his image for that of Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill is a travesty that would dishonor the nation’s bedrock principles of union, freedom and equality—and damage its historical identity. Although slandered since his death, Grant, as general and as president, stood second only to Abraham Lincoln as the vindicator of those principles in the Civil War era.And:For Grant, Reconstruction always remained of paramount importance, and he remained steadfast, even when members of his own party turned their backs on the former slaves. After white supremacists slaughtered blacks and Republicans in Louisiana in 1873 and attempted a coup the following year, Grant took swift and forceful action to restore order and legitimate government. With the political tide running heavily against him, Grant still managed to see through to enactment the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which prohibited discrimination according to race in all public accommodations.

Grant did not confine his reformism to expanding and protecting the rights of the freed slaves. Disgusted at the inhumanity of the nation’s Indian policies, he called for “the proper treatment of the original occupants of this land,” and directed efforts to provide federal aid for food, clothing and schooling for the Indians as well as protection from violence. He also took strong and principled stands in favor of education reform and the separation of church and state.
Other sites chime in about Grant's noble intentions toward Indians:

Domestic AffairsNative American Policy

In his first inaugural address, Grant pledged to rethink the treatment of Native Americans, referring to them as "the original occupants of this land." He wanted to shift federal Indian policy toward what became known as the Peace Policy. This approach attempted to move Indians closer to white civilization (and ultimately U.S. citizenship) by housing them on reservations and helping them become farmers. To address corruption in federal Indian affairs, Grant created a new Board of Indian Commissioners headed by philanthropic leaders. The board recommended the government stop using political appointees as Indian agents. Grant adopted that recommendation and turned to missionaries--especially Quakers--and Army personnel to serve as agents.

However, these changes fell short of radically altering conditions for Native Americans in the United States. White settlers, with governmental support, continued to push Indians aside to take land, and they relied on the Army to prevent Indian attacks. At the same time, Native Americans on reservations had little chance of creating farms out of desolate pieces of land and were beset by poverty and desperation. While Grant's approach marked an improvement in U.S. Indian policy, it is remembered more for its good intentions than for lasting changes.
Ulysses S. GrantGrant's attempts to provide justice to Native Americans marked a radical reversal of what had long been the government's policy: "Wars of extermination ... are demoralizing and wicked," he nobly told Congress. The president lobbied, though not always successfully, to preserve Native American lands from encroachment by the westward advance of pioneers.Comment:  Wow. Those settlers pushed Indians aside? That was rude of them. Perhaps they needed an etiquette course from Emily Post.

And Grant "lobbied" to stop this rude behavior? Whom exactly did he lobby? Was someone else in charge of federal Indian policy? With all his executive powers, he couldn't do anything except lobby? Despite being Commander-in-Chief, he couldn't order the Army to act?

Poor guy! He wanted to help the Indians, but couldn't. Like Bush after receiving the August 2001 memo that Bin Laden was going to strike, he was powerless to do anything.

Assimilation is for Borg

A couple of problems with these claims about Grant. First, moving Indians "closer to white civilization (and ultimately U.S. citizenship) by housing them on reservations and helping them become farmers" was a negative policy, not a positive one. It meant breaking the treaties they signed, destroying their way of life, locking them up on barren land, and compelling them to change their culture and religion. It was part of the genocidal approach aptly characterized as "kill the Indian, save the man."

Second, was anything else happening during Grant's two terms (March 4, 1869–March 4, 1877)? Anything else these postings might've forgotten to mention? Perhaps the following?

Indian Wars Timeline
  • July 11, 1869: Battle of Summit Springs.
  • January 23, 1870: Marias Massacre.
  • April 30, 1871: Camp Grant Massacre.
  • 1872–1873: Modoc War.
  • December 28, 1872: Salt River Canyon Battle.
  • March 27, 1873: Battle of Turret Peak.
  • 1874–1875: Red River War.
  • June 27, 1874: Second Battle of Adobe Walls.
  • September 28, 1874: Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.
  • 1876–1877: Black Hills War.
  • March, 1876: Battle of Powder River.
  • June 17, 1876: Battle of Rosebud.
  • June 25-26, 1876: Battle of the Little Bighorn.
  • July 17, 1876: Battle at Warbonnet Creek.
  • September 8, 1876: Battle of Slim Buttes.
  • November 25, 1876: Dull Knife Fight.
  • 1877: Nez Perce War.
  • Grant the peacemaker?

    Oh, I remember. Ulysses S. Grant was in charge of the freakin' military during eight bloody years of the Indian Wars. His so-called "Peace Policy" included many deadly attacks on and massacres of Indians.

    In one sense, his Peace Policy worked. "We are not going to let a few thieving, ragged Indians stop and check the progress of the railroad," General Sherman wrote to Grant in 1867. After his men killed them, the Indians definitely became more cooperative, as corpses often do.

    In other words, Grant's policy amounted to "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." Nice.

    "Thanks but no thanks for your so-called peace," I imagine the Indians responded. "Next time you want peace, how about if you actually seek it? How about if you don't launch wars to destroy our cultures, overthrow our governments, and impose your 'democracy' on us?

    "How about if you obey the treaties you negotiated and signed instead? You know, like the Treaty of Fort Laramie ratified just one year before you took office? Why haven't you enforced these treaties, you bloated bag of excrement?"

    I'm not in favor of replace Grant on the $50 bill with Reagan or anyone else. Several of our so-called "great" presidents earned their reputations via the death or destruction of Indians. But let's not ignore Grant's crimes too much. He was one of several men who waged ruthless war against the Indians. As much as anyone, he responsible for ending their independence.

    For more on the subject, see Mythologizing the American West and Fun 4th of July Facts.

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