General Grant in New Jersey

USG-2

General Ulysses S. Grant, the most famous man in America after 1865.

General Grant was the most famous person in the country after the Civil War.

All the rich and powerful and famous were anxious to court his favor, and the General usually obliged.

A Tale of Gifts and Laws

Simply put, there were always laws on the books against gifts of out and out bribery. But it would not be until well into the twentieth century that saw laws covering “soft” gifts, such as dinners, trips and transportation.

When James Buchanan was in the White House (1857-61), he specifically instructed his niece Harriet Lane, who served as his official hostess, not to accept any gifts, other than the traditional flowers or candy or a book. He believed it would reflect poorly on him.

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A gold headed walking stick, custom made to his height, was a popular gift for President Abraham Lincoln.

When Abraham Lincoln was in the White House a few years later, “gifts” of more consequence than flowers became customary. All the railroad companies issued railroad passes to legislators, local, state and federal – and their family members. When Mrs. Lincoln made trips to New York or Philadelphia, her hotel bills were usually gratis. Baskets of “spirits” arrived at the White House regularly, courtesy of any number of people. Most were dispatched to the army hospitals for medicinal purposes. Lincoln received dozens of walking sticks (custom made to accommodate his height), gold watches, and other tokens of appreciation. To refuse was considered insulting.

Gifting the Grants

General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) presented a different situation. As the victorious General, he was a private citizen, despite being “employed” by the Army. There are no laws against a private citizen accepting a gift (unless so prohibited by one’s employer – or conscience).

Early in the Civil War, after Grant’s first victories at Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson, a newspaper photograph appeared of him smoking a cigar. “Grateful citizens” began sending him boxes of cigars, considered a nominal gift. Grant was grateful as well, and developed a habit of smoking perhaps twenty or thirty a day. He wound up paying for them thirty years later when he died of throat cancer. Nevertheless…

presentationsword

A magnificent presentation sword for General Grant.

As Grant’s victories increased in substance, “grateful citizens” were more than generous in rewarding the Hero of Vicksburg and Appomattox. Mrs. Julia Grant would be presented with huge bouquets, the children with huge boxes of candies. Even before the end of the War, special meats and jams and delicacies poured in for the General’s personal use. He was gracious, but ate sparingly and plainly.

grantswords

Elaborately decorated presentation swords were a popular gift for victorious generals.

After the War, and particularly during the turbulent administration of Andrew Johnson, General Grant was not only the most famous person in the country, he was arguably the most influential, and a shoo-in for the Presidency in 1868. People with names like Vanderbilt and Whitney, Livingston, Gould and Carnegie insisting on having the Grants as their guests of honor at sumptuous dinners. Senators and Congressmen regularly hosted him. Veterans’ Associations clamored to have their great General as their guest of honor.  He was happy to attend everything.

granthousegalena

Even though the Grants lived in Galena, IL for less than a year, he was presented with the finest house in town – completely furnished!

Silver and gold platters, urns and trays and watches, copiously inscribed as presentation pieces, were offered to the General who saved the Union. Then there were inscribed swords and pistols. And carriages and teams of thoroughbred horses (Grant was an excellent appreciator of horses).  And houses in Galena, Illinois, Philadelphia and Washington. Grant was gracious and accepted the largesse, since it would be ungenerous to decline.

The Long Branch Cottage

Then there were invitations to visit. The Grants were genial people and easy-to-please guests. They were invited everywhere.  And they went.

Mr. George W. Childs, a wealthy Philadelphia newspaper publisher, invited them to his Long Branch, New Jersey cottage in 1868, not long after Grant had become the Republican nominee for President. The Grants accepted the invitation, had a wonderful time at the seashore, and said so.

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The Grant “cottage” in Long Branch was deeded to First Lady Julia Grant. The family spent many happy weeks there.

Mr. Childs then suggested that perhaps the General might wish to purchase a cottage of his own in Long Branch, then one of the posh playgrounds of the rich. Grant admitted that he would love nothing more, but that even a “suitably modest” cottage would cost far more than he could afford. Childs offered to purchase it for him – as a gift. Grant, in a rare moment of “decline” said no, it was too much and would not look right.

Childs did not press, but after the General was elected President, he and a few of his wealthy Long Branch neighbors decided it would be good for property values to have the President-General as a town resident. Five of them pitched in $8000 apiece, and purchased a “suitably modest” cottage. They knew the President would likely decline again, but these wealthy captains of industry were not men to be deterred. They presented the cottage as a gift to MRS. Grant. She had no problem saying yes, thank you.

monmouthtrack

Monmouth Racetrack was built not long after the Grants became “residents” of Long Branch, NJ.

So beginning in 1869, and lasting until shortly before the General’s death in 1885 (with a couple of years off for round-the-world traveling, the Grants became part-time residents of Long Branch. They loved it. Long Branch loved them. Everybody knew him, of course, and he got to know most of the residents, at least to nod-to and tip his hat. They even built Monmouth Racetrack nearby for the General’s amusement.  He loved that too.

The “suitably modest” cottage was torn down some time after World War II. But Monmouth racetrack is still around!

Sources:

http://www.biography.com/people/ulysses-s-grant-9318285

Entertaining A Nation: The Career of Long Branch, NJFederal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration of the State of New Jersey, 1940

McFeely, William S. – Grant: A Biography – American Political Biography Press, 1997

 

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About Feather Schwartz Foster

Feather Schwartz Foster is an author-historian who has made more than 500 appearances discussing presidential history. She teaches adult education at the Christopher Wren Association (affiliated with William and; Mary College), and adult Education programs at Christopher Newport University. She has been a guest on the C-SPAN "First Ladies" program. She has written five books.
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3 Responses to General Grant in New Jersey

  1. energywriter says:

    Interesting, especially considering the hullaballoo the McDonnell’s have caused. sd

  2. Nice article! My new book, Grant Under Fire: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War, details some of Grant’s unethical behavior after the war. Concerning the house in Long Branch, it states:

    In the least savory of the real estate transactions, seven donors contributed $5,000 apiece so that Grant could purchase the “best cottage” (a twenty-eight-room mansion) in Long Branch on the Jersey shore. Accused of buying it for Grant, donor Thomas Murphy hid the truth by asserting that the President bought it “with his own money,” while Senator Roscoe Conkling completely denied that Grant accepted any gifts while in office. Almost simultaneously with the deed, the spoilsman Murphy became Grinnell’s successor at the New York City Custom House, milking that cash cow. The General’s staffer, George Leet, while still serving in the army, obtained a $5,000 per year sinecure under Grinnell immediately after the inauguration, and then Murphy awarded him the General Orders business for the port. Leet raked in tremendous amounts of graft until complaints reached too high of a level. Another donor for the cottage was Colonel Horace Porter, his presidential secretary.

    The endnotes contain a little more information:

    Horace Porter, George Childs, Adolph Borie, Thomas Murphy, John Hoey, Moses Taylor, and George Pullman evidently comprised the list of donors for the Long Branch residence. Ferdinand Ward alleged that Murphy had also presented a $10,000 team of horses to the General at some point.

    Information on the book can be found at http://www.GrantUnderFire.com.

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