President Grant’s papers moving – to Mississippi


It’s either a sign of how old wounds have healed, or it’s another step in the cryptic and slow, cold war in which the South works to overcome the victory of the Union in the Civil War.

Ulysses S Grant as a Lt. General, Library of Congress image

Ulysses S Grant as a Lt. General; photo by Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress image

Associated Press reports (via Federal News Radio) the papers of President Ulysses S Grant will move from the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale,  to Mississippi State University, in Starkville, Mississippi.

The fact that a collection about a Union hero who helped topple the Confederacy has wound up in Dixie is not lost on [John Marszalek, a Civil War scholar and Mississippi State history professor emeritus who’s now shepherding the collection].

“There’s an irony in it,” he said with a laugh. “People recognize this for its scholarly worth, and I think what has happened over time is that people have come to realize that the Civil War is over and we’re a united nation again.”

Still, Grant’s return to the South doesn’t thrill Cecil Fayard Jr., the Mississippi-based leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“U.S. Grant is not beloved in the state of Mississippi. Southern folks remember well his brutal and bloody tactics of war, and the South will never forget the siege of Vicksburg,” he said.

The Ulysses S. Grant Association, which owns the papers, decided to move them at the request of Marzsalek, who was named conservator after the death of John Y. Simon, the historian who had curated the collection during the publication of more than 30 volumes of Grants papers, beginning in 1962.  Simon lost his professorship at SIU last year, and died in July 2008.

The modern concept of a presidential library did not exist until 1939.  The first such library was the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Par, New York, established with papers donated in 1939.  There are now official libraries, parts of the U.S. National Archives system, for Herbert Hoover (who preceded FDR) in West Branch, Iowa, Harry Truman, in Independence, Missouri, Dwight Eisenhower, in Abilene, Kansas, John Kennedy, at Harvard University near Boston, Lyndon Johnson at the University of Texas, Austin, Richard Nixon at Yorba Linda, California, Gerald Ford library at Ann Arbor and museum (still under construction) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jimmy Carter in Atlanta, Ronald Reagan at Simi Valley, California, George H. W. Bush at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, and Bill Clinton in Little Rock.  George W. Bush is working to establish a library and institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the library an extension of the National Archives, and the institute modeled roughly after the Herbert Hoover Institution affiliated with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are honored with institutions, too.  Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, is held by the Ladies of Mount Vernon Association, which originally saved the mansion; the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is in Springfield, Illinois.  Neither of those institutions has much formal tie to the federal library system.

Because of their places in history, even at the risk of enlarging the institutionalness and management problems of these libraries, I would like to see libraries established for Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps in South Dakota; for Woodrow Wilson; For Andrew Jackson, probably near his home in Tennessee; and for John Adams and/or John Quincy Adams, outside of Boston.  These institutions could bolster the spread of knowledge and preservation of history of our freedoms and liberties; if we were rich, it would be useful and productive to put libraries in Ohio — for William Howard Taft, or for Taft and Garfield and Buchanan — and far upstate New York for Millard Fillmore, perhaps at the University of Buffalo.  Libraries honoring James Madison and James Monroe could be useful, too, but would put a great concentration of such institutions close to Charlottesville, Virginia.

Resources:

Under the fold:  Quotations from U. S. Grant, from the Grant papers collection.

Grant in His Own Words

[From Perspectives, Southern Illinois University, Fall 2004]

“I would have been glad to have had a steamboat or railroad collision, or any other accident happen, by which I might have received a temporary injury sufficient to make me ineligible, for a time, to enter the Academy [West Point]. . . . A military life had no charms for me.” (from the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant)
“Even if the annexation itself [of Texas] could be justified, the manner in which the subsequent war was forced upon Mexico cannot. . . . The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions.” (Memoirs)
“As we approached the brow of the hill from which it was expected we could see Harris’ camp, and possibly find his men ready formed to meet us, my heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt to me as though it was in my throat. . . . When we reached a point from which the valley below was in full view I halted. . . . The marks of a recent encampment were plainly visible, but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards.” (Memoirs)
“During the night [at Shiloh] rain fell in torrents and our troops were exposed to the storm without shelter. I made my headquarters under a tree a few hundred yards back from the river bank. My ankle was so much swollen from the fall of my horse the Friday night preceding, and the bruise was so painful, that I could get no rest. . . . Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log-house under the bank. This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything being done to save life or alleviate suffering. The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.” (Memoirs)
“There are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate, and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would insure defeat in another.” (from John Russell Young, Around the World with General Grant, 1879, about the lessons of the siege of Vicksburg)
“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” (Memoirs, about winning the Civil War)
“Mistakes have been made. . . . I leave comparisons to history, claiming only that I have acted in every instance from a conscientious desire to do what was right. . . . Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent.” (from Grant’s last message to Congress, 1876, in reference to the scandals that plagued his presidency)
“It seems that one mans destiny in this world is quite as much a mystery as it is likely to be in the next. I never thought of acquiring rank in the profession I was educated for; yet it came with two grades higher prefixed to the rank of General officers for me. I certainly never had either ambition or taste for a political life; yet I was twice president of the United States. If any one had suggested the idea of my becoming an author, as they frequently did, I was not sure whether they were making sport of me or not. I have now written a book which is in the hands of the manufacturers. I ask that you keep these notes very private lest I become an authority on the treatment of diseases. I have already too many trades to be proficient in any.” (from a note to his doctor in 1885, two weeks before Grant’s death)

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