Over the past six decades, dozens of scholarly surveys have attempted to rank the terms of U.S presidents. Beginning with Arthur Schlesinger’s poll in Life magazine in 1948, Ulysses S. Grant shows up near the bottom of dozens of lists well into the early 2000s.
Since a 2005 Wall Street Journal poll, though, Grant’s legacy has gradually improved over the last decade.
“Except for Lincoln, and FDR perhaps, Grant shouldered more grave responsibilities than any chief executive in our nation’s history,” says Joan Waugh, a UCLA historian and the author of U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth. She spoke March 10 at the University of Oklahoma’s “Teach-In on the Civil War.”
The Civil War general served two terms as president from 1869-1877, and followed arguably one of the worst U.S. presidents, the impeached Andrew Johnson. Grant presided over almost the entire period of Reconstruction, as the war-torn southern states rejoined the Union and rebuilt an economy destroyed by the abolition of slavery.
Waugh argues that by the 1920s Grant’s reputation was synonymous with brutal warfare, alcoholism and overwhelming corruption and incompetence in office due to a constant drumbeat of criticism from Southern authors and historians....