Once Again, Ulysses Grant

Before I read this book, I did not know much about General Grant because he was on the wrong side. So was my great grandfather, but his reason was that he was a German immigrant sometime in the later years of the War Between the States. In any event, I finished the book, Grant, by Ron Chernow and found Grant not only to be a great general, but also to be one of our best presidents.

He was elected president in 1868. In the defeated South, the first problem he dealt with was the action of many whites to put freed blacks in their “place”. Grant fought to give the former slave population equal rights in political life, and got three civil rights acts through Congressional action. He got the Ku Klux Klan declared illegal through Congress and used the army and civilian agents to enforce these laws. Unfortunately, discrimination and violence against black Americans continued in the South.

He moved on to get a civil service commission created. No longer would civil service employees have to fork over part of their salary to political parties to get and keep their jobs. While there were other struggles over civil service reform, Congressmen were unwilling to hand over to a civil service commission their ability to make appointments to federal jobs. Grant was the first president to get the federal government involved in putting unusual parts of land under federal control. (Republicans should take notice that their man began the federal park system.)

This is not the extent of his efforts to make the federal government work for the people, but it does demonstrate his belief that he was president of all the people. As industrialization changed, the federal government was required to manage this change in support of all the people. He tackled this problem just as he did when facing the Confederates.

This is but a small portion of the activities facing him as President. But, what I have come to see is Grant leading us to develop interaction between economics (industrialism) and government. I have also come to see him as one of our most powerful and effective national leaders.

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Happy Holidays

We hope you are having a great holiday season and look forward with us to a happy New Year.

We will be back in two weeks.

The Editors

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Ulysses Grant

I have never read a biography of Ulysses Grant, though he appears in every book about the War Between the States. Recently, a new biography appeared that my wife wanted to read, so we purchased a copy. It is long, but her judgment of it was so positive that I have begun to read it.

It was from his attendance at the Military Academy at West Point that he knew many of the generals he served with and against in the Civil
War. Graduating in1843 he served in the Mexican war. He married in 1848, had 4 children, left the army in 1854 to support his family and rejoined the army in 1861 rising to commander and chief. Elected President in 1868, he worked to see that the former slaves were integrated into southern society.

In addition to his determination, he knew many of the Southern generals, which aided his winning strategy. As president, he put a lot of effort into helping former slaves become integral, equal members of southern society. While I have not reached this part of his life yet, my own experience tells me he failed in this task. Having seen a black man hanging from a tree when I was a child, I had no illusions about the relations between blacks and whites in the South. However, the result of the election for senator in Alabama may show that what Grant worked so hard for too little effect may be coming to fruition.

A century and a half after Reconstruction, the recent demonstration of black voters getting out to vote in Alabama gives hope that equality can work out.


What’s Going On?

It’s hard to escape the political news when writing this blog, and escape is what I would really like to do. How can you avoid wondering about the way this president treats governments that most of us think are our allies. Or, has basically withdrawn us from the Unity of European states. North Korea, China and Japan seem to have been given short shrift. And, the embassy to Israel has been moved to Jerusalem-all by itself.

A major question is whether other countries really need us any more. The Europeans have been operating as a union, and now seem to have slipped more into that role. The Japanese and South Koreans seem to be slipping into less dependence on us. Yet, our Pacific fleet can’t keep all of its ships at sea for lack of funding.

For this country, the Republican Congress is on the verge of passing a funding bill that will cut billions from the budget. Our national road system-particularly bridges-is getting shabbier. Congress has passed a bill encouraging coal mining. Yet, in the West Virginia region, coal can no longer be mined for prices that compete with western coal. So, that revision to supporting mining in the east really provides no benefit. What will this country look like in three more years of this “administration”?

As I submit this, there is a light snow falling, a reminder that all life is not going to hell in a handbasket.

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Long Time Gone

The seasons of the year bring such different things to my attention. In Spring, the weather in the East warms up, sometimes slowly and sometimes all at once. The world turns green and gardeners (my wife) are very busy working in the dirt planting the new flowers. Grass needs to be cut and increasingly garden “managers” are hired. By June, students walking past our house have lost their winter trudge and there is a spring in their step. (From my high school teaching days I had a spring in my step too.)

Summer time brings lots of outdoor activities. Swimming pools go great guns. Our son and 5 five of his friends parceled out breakfast among their parents after after early morning swimming practice. We had six famished boys on our deck once a week for most of the summer.

Fall brought school back for the whole family. For the children, growing older brought less enthusiasm with increasing years. Leaves fell off the trees, had to be raked up and disposed of. Days at the swimming pool gradually faded from memory. Halloween with its full bags of candy and other sweets brought queasy stomachs with just one more piece. Thanksgiving brought family and friends to an overloaded table.

Winter began with a month devoted to Christmas. We then trudged along going from house to work or school with little interruption. Many clothes to keep warm and maybe a snow to bring some variation-not all appreciated by working people.

Spring began with different weather from year to year. Sometimes a long spell with mostly cool, pleasant weather. Yet, one year winter temperatures hung on into June.

Time has moved on; we continue to plunder the physical environment. I wonder what this is doing to the earth we live on.

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Well, Thanksgiving day is over, church followed by good company with an excellent dinner at our daughter’s across the street. So, what is there to be thankful for? To start, I took our car to the body shop expecting it to be there for four or five days and I got it back the following one. Not only that, I got a note from the manager hoping that their work was satisfactory. My wife and I are still up and doing-me mostly up and she doing as she always has, particularly in her garden. Our church still has the same great rector. Our cat considers himself as an equal member of the family and inserts himself into every activity. My retirement checks come regularly. Our wonderful daughters keep tabs on us. We have been with our primary care physician since he entered practice and he has good ideas about our ailments.

I could go on, but these examples convey the idea that we are full of gratitude for our lives and looking forward to another year. I hope you have the same prospect.

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New World

Understanding the world you live in depends upon the time when you were born. In my case, my understanding goes back into the late 19th century when my grandparents were born. They lived through the final stages of railroad development that made travel and shipping long distance possible. But, as you know, development continued. From the automobile on, machine development transformed farming and city development and machines unimaginable. World War II broadened, speeded up and involved more of the population. Following the war, the industrial and management capacity were at the level where growth in these two areas, plus educational levels, produced a society that was the basis for economic growth.

As we passed through the later 1900s industrial development pretty much reached its limits. We have followed through into a stage that is different from what I have lived in and I do not completely understand. Computers have given us a capacity for technical development that demands higher levels of education. Today, farming, making things, construction all require less human labor than I would have ever imagined. While I don’t understand where we will be taken technically and socially, I know it will be more intellectually involved than the life I have lived.



The Election

Well, the election is over and the Democrats seem to have done better than the Republicans. How this will work out for next year looks more favorable for the Democrats than their opponents, but that is not always true. The mass of information put out in the media about elections, issues, people, becomes (to me) confusing.

It’s too early to start talking about who the Democrats will select as their candidate for the presidency. For the Republicans, the choice has to be Donald Trump if he decides to run. I think this will be a crucial election. Trump and the Republicans are committed to reducing the size of the federal government by reducing the size of the welfare operations.

My first two presidents were Roosevelt and Truman, both of whom had to fight through wars at the same time they were trying to provide more opportunities for Americans to live better lives. Roosevelt was faced with starving people and no economic growth. Working with Congress, they stopped starvation and began public works projects, Hoover Dam for example. When we were faced with World War II sixteen million young men were taken out of the labor market. This provided work for a variety of minority groups which at that time included women and our total black population. The war over, a variety of projects provided veterans with education through college and, for some, health care. Before these benefits could run out, we were faced with another war in Korea.

It seems to me that these two events led to the assumption that the Federal Government could/should deal with the needs of our population. There were those who raised questions about the expansion of benefits, but politicians found that supporting something that benefitted more of the population was a good way to win elections in most districts. This past election was the first time the winners were those who said the end had come.

People who wanted to cut spending won the last national election. However, they are finding that it is not “my” benefits that should go.


Harry Truman

By my count, I have lived under thirteen different United States Presidents, beginning with the politically brilliant Franklin Roosevelt to the present slightly unhinged Donald Trump. My favorite, however, is Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman. He was the last president who could get out and do things informally. He took morning walks in neighborhoods around the White House. I saw him several times walking through the GWU campus (“You aren’t learning anything sitting around out here, get inside and start studying”), walking to the Riggs bank across the street from the White House. When the White House was being renovated, he walked to and from Blair House across the street. He stood at the intersections waiting for the light to change, engaging in conversation with other walkers. Unfortunately, an attempt by two men to shoot their way into Blair House brought that informality to an end.

I have recently started re-reading his autobiography and I am reminded of why I thought so much of him. His opinions/judgements were very straight forward. One example was his reaction to establishing a permanent intelligence gathering operation. At the conclusion of a discussion about what such an organization should be, he said “I am very much against building up a Gestapo.” It would have been very difficult to engage in further discussion of whatever was being proposed.  (Apparently, that response brought further work as the CIA was established in 1947.)

Another thing that struck me was his reaction to a proposal for the federal government to build a network of airports from coast to coast. The proposition was that flying was to become an addition to railroads as a means of public transportation. He opposed this action because he saw it as pork barrel legislation with federal funds. As air traffic grew, major cities could build and support their own airports when they saw a need.

He followed a man whose ideas about what government should do emerged from a mind that never gave a straight forward approach to anything. Truman’s ideas were very similar to Roosevelt’s, but his approach to implementation was a real difference. I came to see again the man who impressed me when I was setting my character. Listening, discussing, keeping my values in mind and then moving to action has served me well.

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One of the more interesting things I am observing since retirement is the seasons and what they do to the way we display ourselves. When I was working, my attire changed from season to season, but my activities stayed the same. In the Fall I changed my clothes from Summer School casual to slightly heaver suits. As the leaves changed and fell to the ground, I had to rake the yard and as time went on, I added a topcoat for work and other similar activities. Thanksgiving brought temperatures that often required an overcoat. By Christmas we were definitely into heavier clothes full time and preparations for snow brought out different shoes and clothes that would accommodate wet and wrinkling were dug out. March generally led to putting the winter “woolies” in the closet and going back medium weight clothes. Summer, when teaching, light weight pants, jackets, short sleeve shirts (provided arms were kept covered) were acceptable. However, ties were still socially required.

All of these seasonal changes were simply something to be accepted. Well, that has changed. For one thing the weather in the winter seems warmer. However, that does not explain some of the changes I see. Hats are gone, ties are going as are suits for many men. I have also noticed that socks are optional. Shaved heads and collar length hair, while seen, are rare.

So what. Well, the so what I am getting at here is that social mores have far less influence on human behavior than they did through most of my life. Dress no longer describes social and economic position as it did when I was younger.

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