Grant’s Words Negating Slavery as the Cause of the Uncivil War – Commentary by Joan Hough, 2/15/10

I have found one 1903 source for the now famous words spoken by General Ulysses Grant. This source, however, will be of no great aid to anyone seeking to pin down the time and place of the "this war isn’t to free slaves" quote ascribed to that great Union General & Radical Republican President Grant. Evidently, it was not the custom in the early 1900’s for all authors to place references and bibliographies in their books. My find, however, does let us know that there was quite an early attribution to Grant of the words, “If I thought this war would free the negro I would put my sword in its scabbard and go home.”

J. Clarence Stonebraker does present this quote in his chapter “The Cause of the War” in his book The Unwritten South: Cause, Progress and Result of the Civil War–Relics of Hidden Truth after 40 Years, first published in 1903. I have the 4th Edition which was printed in 1908.

Grant’s words, as quoted above, are found in Stonebraker’s second paragraph on page 59. One can speculate that the "some time" mentioned refers to the very middle of the War when the north was losing. A large portion of the Stonebraker paragraph follows:

    "More than two-thirds of the soldiers never realized until after they were in service some time, that the war was to enfranchise the negro. Many of them complained and threatened to revolt at prospects of such a calamity, when they were assured that such was not the case by some of the officers. Grant himself said: "If I thought this war would free the negro I would put my sword in its scabbard and go home."

Stonebraker continues:

    "I remember yet distinctly of hearing my father, who was a Maryland conservative at the time, say to an avowed Republican abolitionist, that the time would come when the negro would march up to the polls and vote with him. Of course he [the abolitionist] hooted at the idea of this . . ."

I will continue to look for the source of the original remarks by Grant. I do believe that whether he uttered those words or not, he thought them because he was in many ways like most of the non-Rhode Island/Pennsylvania soldiers. They were not “John Brown abolitionists.” Some of the north’s states passed laws after the war prohibiting the living of blacks within them. Now would that be something that men who fought and faced death to free slaves would do?

Grant, born in Ohio, is said by some of his biographers to have detested slavery, but a man could find slavery abhorrent and still not want to have former slaves hanging around his neighborhood. A man could dislike slavery, yet not wish to go out and bleed in order to free them instantaneously. Grant may have had enough sense to know that Southerners had already begun freeing slaves long before the war—that, certainly, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as most other Southern states were full of freed slaves–that Robert E. Lee and other leading Southerners had freed their slaves. And some of the freed folks owned slaves of their own. Grant did keep at least one of his slaves (claiming his wife owned the slave) until long after the end of the War. Lincoln, of course, did not free any slaves in the North with his emancipation propaganda proclamation.

Grant was a bosom buddy with Sherman, according to Sherman’s own words. Sherman found black folks repugnant and made no bones about it. It is unlikely that there could be wide differences of opinions in two such close friends. Sherman wrote that he supported Grant when Grant was a drunkard and Grant supported him when Sherman was crazy, so these two men were close. When Grant became bankrupt, Sherman went to his aid.

Unlike Sherman, Grant aligned himself very closely with numbers of those Lincoln’s “Radical Republicans” whom we identify today as including many of Karl Marx’s followers. (Walter Kennedy and Al Benson: Red Republicans and Lincoln’s Marxists: Marxism in the Civil War.) Grant, perhaps harboring presidential desires, may not have been as outspoken about his anti-black feelings as was Sherman, since the Radicals were very likely the instigators of the emancipation proclamation in the middle of the war when the North was losing it.

Sherman wrote Thomas Ewing, Jr., a leading Republican in Kansas in December 1859, “I would not if I could abolish or modify slavery…. Negroes in the great numbers that exist here must of necessity be slaves.”

He wrote to Ellen, “like Burton in ‘Toodles, I say, ‘damn the niggers.’ I wish they were anywhere [else] or [could] be kept at work" (Michael Fellman, Citizen Sherman: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman, University Press of Kansas, Random House, 1995, p. 74).

Grant, of course, aligned himself with Lincoln’s “Radical Republicans” which we know now was loaded with Karl Marx’s followers.

Although slavery was abolished in 1802 in Grant’s Ohio, when Virginian John Randolph’s 518 slaves were freed in in 1803, a codicil on Randolph’s will provided the money to transport and settle them in Ohio. When an Ohio congressman learned this, he threatened that the banks of Ohio River would be lined with men with muskets to prevent the blacks from entering.

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