Wednesday, January 12, 2011

American Experience: Lee and Grant

PBS just ran two American Experiences documentaries. First, one on Robert E. Lee and this week, one on Ulysses S. Grant. Both focus on the Civil War. So the one on Grant is about that time, not his presidency. When I was just on PBS, it looks like you can watch all of Lee's online, but only a trailer on Grant. Grant's probably is coming as PBS is pretty good about that. I actually watched both from my DVR. I actually think PBS is still showing it a couple times this week if you want to try to catch it.

Personally, I learned more from the Lee one, but that's because I didn't know as much about Lee. I thought both were well down and each was about a 1 1/2, so not absurdly long. Grant's did discuss his drinking and the questions that surrounded his commands because of it.

I did have to laugh when the documentary was talking about how when Grant was made commander of the Union armies, it meant it was part of the political scene he hated, given he ends up President! It also talks about Grant dismissing presidential talk as ridiculous and not interesting to him as he wasn't a politican.

Of course, then the question is does he end up President?
At the beginning of the Reconstruction era, Grant, as general of the armies, attempted to work with Johnson. However, he did not like the President's policies, which he thought repudiated the war's legacy. A dispute arose between the two in 1867 when Grant refused to back Johnson in his struggle with Congress. Thereafter, the general moved increasingly towards the Radical's viewpoint. He came to believe that the federal government had to preserve the sacrifices of the war by protecting African Americans from racist Southern governments and preventing former Confederates from retaking power. The Radicals began to court Grant with the idea of running him for President. Grant claimed that he had little interest in the presidency, but popular demand for his candidacy was too strong.

At the Republican Party convention in 1868, Grant's nomination, which he won on the first ballot, was a mere formality. Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax of Indiana was designated his running mate. The Democrats named New York governor Horatio Seymour to oppose them.

As was the custom of the times, Grant did not campaign. But he was easily the most popular candidate, and his election was never seriously challenged. He won the Electoral College vote by a nearly 3:1 margin over Seymour. However, he won the popular vote by only 300,000, tallying far below that needed for a governing mandate.

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