Letters from the Boys In Blue: General Grant had no political aspirations
Ulysses S. Grant was building momentum in the Civil War, having won victories in April 1862 at Shiloh and earlier in 1863 at Vicksburg and Chattanooga. As a result of his military victories, General Grant’s political star was starting to brighten, although he did not realize it at the time. In December 1863, Barnabus Burns, who was the chairman of the “War Democrats” in Ohio, sent Grant a letter asking to present the general’s name as a presidential candidate at the Democratic Convention. You’ll find General Grant’s December 17, 1863 response below:
December 17th 1863,
B. Burns, Esq.
Chairman Dem. Cen. Com.
Your letter of the 7th inst. asking if you will be at liberty to use my name before the Convention of the “War Democracy”, as candidate for the office of the Presidency is just received. – The question astonishes me. I do not know of anything I have ever done or said that would indicate that I could be a candidate for any office whatever within the gift of the people. I shall continue to do my duty, to the best of my ability, so long as permitted to remain in the Army, supporting whatever Administration may be in power, in their endeavor to suppress the rebellion and maintain National Unity, and never desert it because my vote, if I had one, might have been cast for different candidates.
Nothing likely to happen would pain me so much as to see my name used in connection with a political office. I am not a candidate for any office nor for favors from any party. Let us succeed in crushing the rebellion, in the shortest possible time, and I will be content with whatever credit may then be given me, feeling assured that a just public will award all that is due.
Your letter I take to be private. Mine is also private. I wish to avoid notoriety as far as possible, and above all things desire to be spared the pain of seeing my name mixed with politics. Do not therefore publish this letter but wherever, and by whatever party, you hear my name mentioned in connection with the candidacy for any office say that you know from me direct that I am not “in the field,” and cannot allow my name to be used before any convention.
I am, with great respect,
Your obt. Svt.
Soon after this letter was sent, Grant would be promoted to Lieutenant General and given command of the entire Union army. Four and a half years later, in late 1868, the Confederacy was no more, President Lincoln had been assassinated, and the general who stated “Nothing likely to happen would pain me so much as to see my name used in connection with a political office” was elected to his first of two terms as the eighteenth President of the United States.
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