Adam Serwer offers a brief defense of Uylsses S. Grant's presidency:
U.S. Grant was one of the most pro-civil-rights presidents we've ever had, and it's largely because of the preeminence of Confederate lost cause dead-enders among Civil War historians intent on romanticizing the Confederate cause that his tenure as president is characterized as one of the worst ever. Yet aside from the disastrous Supreme Court appointments that helped undo his civil-rights legacy, Grant's record as president overall is clearly a positive one, and people at the time thought so too. As historian Sean Wilentz has pointed out, he was the only president between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to be re-elected to a second term other than Abraham Lincoln.
If I had the power to declare a fiat, I would declare a moratorium on harsh references to Grant's tenure as president. Not only was Grant a pretty good president -- and on the whole, an American hero -- but among 19th-century presidents, there are other, far more worthy objects of derision. James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln's immediate predecessor, was ruinously pro-status quo; not only did he support the existing pro-slavery compromises, but he refused to act as Southern states moved to secede following Lincoln's election. Buchanan insisted on his impotence in the face of secession, and left a full-blown crisis as his parting gift to the incoming president.
If antebellum presidents aren't your cup of tea, there's always postbellum presidents like Lincoln's successor, Southern sympathizer Andrew Johnson. As the driving force in Reconstruction, Johnson was incredibly lenient toward the South and quick to reintegrate former Confederate states back into the Union, even as they moved to reassert their dominance over freed slaves, by way of Black Codes and terrorist violence. In 1865, Johnson vetoed a reauthorization of the Freedman's Bureau, and later that year, vetoed a civil-rights bill proposed by moderate Republicans. What's more, as a final sop to the former secessionists, Johnson worked unsuccessfully to block ratification of the 14th Amendment.
Basically, if you're in the market for presidents to compare unfavorably to George W. Bush, you should leave Grant alone and look to James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. They deserve it.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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