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The Virtues and Ideals of Ulysses S. Grant

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“Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts” is a comparison and contrast essay by Bruce Catton about the opposing generals of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant of the Union and Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy, describing their virtues, as well as their similarities and differences. It also describes Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House. Grant’s virtues resonate with me. Grant believed in self-reliance and the notion that respect is something to be earned, not inherited. Additionally, Grant fostered a deep love and devotion to his national community.

Grant believed in self-reliance and that privileges were something each man should win for himself, rather than something to be inherited. In his society, “No man was born to anything, except perhaps a chance to show how far he could rise.” He was also humble, and did not want to ascend to the presidency, although he did due to Lincoln’s Republican Party nominating him. While I believe that self-reliance and earning your luxuries is something to strive for over inheritance, I also believe that everyone should have a baseline standard of living, and that none should be forced to live in poverty or die due to a lack of resources. Self-reliance can teach important skills out of a necessity to learn them, as well as a sense of earned pride from earning your achievements and what you own, rather than inheriting them. I see Grant’s self-reliance as something to strive for as much as is realistic, while also remaining open to the idea of outside help when needed. Humility is also something to strive for, and one should avoid being a braggart, while also having confidence in their achievements to a reasonable degree.

Grant believed that respect from and to others was to be earned, rather than to be automatic because of a birthright or position. “He was one of a body of men who owed reverence and obeisance to no one.” “Their society might have privileges, but they would be privileges each man had won for himself. Forms and patterns meant nothing.” I agree with Grant that respect should be based on actions rather than position, and that a birthright or a privileged position in society should not earn you the right to disrespect and mistreat people and then expect respect and worship in return. However, some use the idea of “respect” as a reason to mistreat people, especially children and the underprivileged, lashing out if they are not obeyed blindly. I believe in a baseline level of respect and to avoid treating people badly; however I also believe that you should not hesitate to defend yourself if someone else treats you or someone else badly or with disrespect. A position should not earn respect on its own; people of an important or high position who abuse it do not deserve the respect and social standing associated with that position; respect should be earned through fulfilling the duties of your position and treating people well.

Grant had a deep sense of belonging to his national community and believed one could prosper only as his community did. “He saw his fate in terms of the nation’s own destiny. As its horizons expanded, so did his.” Grant disliked war, politics and slavery (Guelzo) and believed in the war only to stop the Confederacy from destroying the Union, rather than for the sake or need of war. He would fight with tenacity for the broader concept of society, rather than simply his own region; everything he lived by was tied to growth and expansion. “He could not possibly stand by unmoved in the face of an attempt to destroy the Union”. I also believe in the concept of a more national or global community, with a goal to help humanity as a whole rather than simply helping oneself. All people should be treated equally and based on their actions; and none should be discriminated against because of factors such as race, orientation, gender or religion. As others in my community and humanity as a whole prosper, so do I and my local community.

Grant’s values of self-reliance, the idea that respect is to be earned rather than inherited or based on position and a sense of a broader community are something to strive for; and are virtues I hope to embody as well. I hope to use these ideals to learn greater self-reliance, but also to help humanity as a whole and stand for greater ideals of equality for all and kinder, more just leadership. As the great community that is humanity thrives, so do its individual members.

Works Cited

  • Catton, Bruce. “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts.” The Brief Bedford Reader, edited by X.J. Kennedy et al., 13th ed., Bedford/St. Martins 2017. pp 193-196.
  • Guelzo, Allen C. “The Enigma of Ulysses S. Grant.” Washington Monthly, washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/novemberdecember-2016/the-enigma-of-ulysses-s-grant/

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