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The Original Radical Republican

Next time when your with a group of your friends at a dinner party, get together or picnic, ask a simple question, “Who do you think was the best president of the  United States since it’s founding? And why?” After a little uneasiness, a gentle ribbing and an acknowledgement of your geekiness, a great conversation could start. You’ll quickly realize one of many things could happen.

 One, is a spirited discussion of an idealistic, but a regurgitation of high school or freshman college history is discussed, then you’re all in your twenties and almost everyone emphatically participates.

 Two, all your friends think you’re lame for bringing up such a stupid subject, then the topic of how many idiots are in politics ensues. In that case, you all may be in your forties and feel you’re paying way too much in taxes and college loans. Then, the discussion joyously turns to sports. Or fashion. Or sports fashion.

 Three, everyone remembers when they were making big bucks and would put anyone on a pedestal who was in the White House at that time. Then you may be in your sixties and remember the 1980's and 90's when ‘yuppie food stamps’, zahh, java, and greenies were staples. Which were, respectively, twenty dollar bills spitting out of ATMs, late night pizzas, highly caffeinated coffee (and the new programming language), and Heinekens. PCs, computer networks and the World-Wide-Web, in that order, were making most people rich, or very, very well off.

 But, should something else occur and discussions move to patriotic views of history, our country, and what it means to be an American, hold those friends near and dear to you. Because whoever they feel was the best president, and can back that up with objective reasoning, you know those people have given a good deal of thought about those choices. Pro or con, they take democracy seriously.

 Not that you’ll agree with their choice or argument, but you’ll know what they value about our country, their community and their family. Some may feel strongly about Kennedy, Eisenhower, some about Nixon and his China policy. No matter what, listen to their reasons, rationale, and feelings of how it affected the country. You may come away with a different viewpoint. That can only be good. As long as the discussion stays civil, it’s always good. That’s democracy.

 You can also determine a few other things, such as how they view society. What that president stood for, or against, is what your friends see through those rose colored glasses. FDR may signify a safety net for the common people or managing a war-time crisis. Reagan for helping the country shake out the malaise of Viet Nam. Lyndon Johnson for the Viet Nam escalation. Or his manipulating and forcing the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

 Most of history is a snapshot of ‘greatest hits’ whenever presidents are discussed. They also serve as an outline of their highlights, low lights or their impact on our lives

 I have colleagues who will not go to an ATM to withdraw money. When they get a twenty dollar bill they will immediately change it to other denominations. They are Native Americans; it’s a matter of honor to those who lost their lives, land and heritage. Others will not keep a five dollar bill as they hold simmering views of the ‘Lost Cause’.

 Some older Americans remember their parents or grand parents only calling FDR as ‘That Man’ in anger. Other reactions may be of reverence, disgust, or out-and-out hatred whenever JFK, Nixon, Bush (either one), Clinton or Obama comes up in conversation.

 I now offer my own opinion. This man, as told by his enemies, detractors, critics and adversaries on the battlefield, it’s agreed that he was the most sincere, humble, respectable, honorable and empathetic person as general and president we have had before or since, with the exception of Washington. President Grant did more to unite a fractured union than anyone in our history. Not because he had to, but because of his obligation to himself and his beliefs.

 All due respect to Abraham Lincoln, we’ll never know how he would have implemented reconstruction after the bloody rebellion. After all, it was his 1860 election that helped light the fuse of a waiting powder keg. His choice of Andrew Johnson as a running mate for reelection in 1864 was meant to appease Democrats’ concern (and opposition) of freeing people during a still undecided war. We all know how that ended; Johnson was acquitted along party lines, but considering the evidence, everyone then agreed, he was guilty as hell – even now, one hundred and fifty plus years later.

 When Grant met Lee at Appomattox Courthouse for the unconditional surrender of Confederate forces, he treated the vanquished general and his army with courteous respect. This will be the rising, not the apex, of his image as the healer of a broken nation. As Johnson began disassembling Lincoln’s planned reconciliation and reconstruction, Grant was now in a position to enforce his personal convictions. As a Radical Republican he wanted to ensure every American would enjoy all the rights within the new union.

 Still in charge of the armies of the union, he led units that comprised of almost 30% African American soldiers and sailors. Most conscripts in the union army’s time was up, so they returned to their homes and families. The remaining troops comprised of many Freemen who joined during the war and stayed in uniform. Most had no homes or families waiting; most enlisted and served to gain their freedom.

 Because these armed troops were serving in militias throughout the once confederate states, Grant requested to institute, and was granted, martial law by congress, against the wishes of President Johnson. Through a quirk of the Tenure of Office Act, and the popularity of Grant, Johnson would not be able to countermand any of his orders.

This is where I firmly believe that Grant, instead of resigning from the army, his task completed and capitalizing on his fame, instead felt it was his duty to remain. He then proceeded to seek the prosecution of elected, non-elected, state and local officials in the former confederacy who were violating the law, specifically the Constitution. The lawbreakers he wanted punished were committing crimes against African-Americans, perceived carpetbaggers and scalawags, Jews, and Republicans, especially Radical Republicans. He would apply the laws of the Constitution for all Americans, without regard to race, creed or religion. He would be the only president who ‘walked the walk.’ With the possible exceptions of Eisenhower and Truman, Grant wasn’t doing it for political gain. He believed in the Constitution.

 He had his military governors pursue members of the newly formed KKK and other white supremacist organizations who were murdering law abiding citizens. In print and speech, he only referred to them as ‘terrorists’ needing to be brought to justice. Some legally elected representatives were also murdered or forcibly prevented from taking their seats because they took an oath of loyalty to the United States of America. He had the criminals arrested and jailed by a military tribunal; one was a governor, some attorneys general, sheriffs and mayors.

While he prosecuted criminals and enforced the law and the Constitution, he never resorted to retribution or revenge for the rebellion, as he called it. He made sure all Americans, former adversaries and leaders of the confederacy were treated with honor. He was a good judge of character. He respected all those who were now loyal to the United States by ensuring their rights and dignity were restored without reservation.

 Not only would he seek to protect the rights of newly freed Americans, he also sought to right the wrongs being perpetrated against Native Americans. During the war, and after, while commanding the peacetime army, and continuing as president, he attempted to weed out the Bureau of Indian Affairs of corruption. He did so by appointing Native Americans to monitor and institute policies, treaties and to protect the interests of the Tribes. Some of these appointees had served on his staff as military advisers during the civil war.

 He also viewed and loved the Mexican people, culture and their country. He often wrote about it to his wife during his time in the Mexican-American War. He often said that the people were wonderful and will have a bright future if given the chance. After that war, while president, and after, he promoted closer relations and encouraging investment by the United States. He felt it would ensure having a strong trading ally and neighbor.

 At the close of his second term as president, there were rumors that the party would draft him for a third. He told the Republican party, he had enough. So he left office and traveled with his wife of many years around the world to places he read about and wanted to see; he was an avid reader.  The world gave him royal receptions everywhere as a uniter and great leader of the United States. Throughout the years he traveled, he remained humble and sincere and treated everyone with respect.

At his death, he was loved by friend and former foe. On the hour of his death, bells rang slowly from Maine to California and from Chicago to New Orleans. Among his pall-bearers were Generals Sherman and Sheridan who fought for the union, and Buckner and Johnston who fought for the confederates.  All rode in the same carriage. His funeral parade was seven miles long through the heart of New York City.

 So, when will our next President Grant appear?   A real Republican who believes in fiscal responsibility, defending all rights granted by the Constitution, a strong centralized federal government and will repair and create alliances with countries who hold the same values of citizenship?  A uniter, who's competent, humble and empathetic by nature, not convenience? Who understands war, peace and promotes, by example, respect for all Americans?  When and who?  Where has my party been?

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