Ulysses S. Grant, in his visit to Ireland in 1879, covered much the same territory as President Clinton did on his visit in 1995.
Ulysses S. Grant was not actually president of the United States when he arrived in Dublin from London on January 3, 1879. His tenure as a two-term Republican president had ended in March of 1877. He was succeeded by Rutherford B. Hayes, another Republican, who lost the popular vote for president but gained enough electoral votes to be given the presidency in the “Great Compromise” of 1877, which withdrew the last Federal troops from the South. In May of that year, exhausted by the rigors of the presidency and politics, Grant embarked upon a two-year journey that would take him around the world, a voyage that he desperately longed for after 16 years of military and government service.
Grant traveled throughout Europe for a year-and-a-half before “coming home,” as he expressed it to his wife, to the land of his great-grandfather John Simpson, who was born in 1738 near Dungannon in County Tyrone. Simpson emigrated to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1763 where he married and had a son, also name John, who moved to Ohio in 1818. The third of John’s children, Hannah, married Jessie Root Grant and gave birth to Ulysses in 1822.
Arriving in Dublin on the morning of January 3, Grant was met by Lord Mayor J. Barrington and taken to the sumptuous Shelbourne Hotel by carriage. Later in the day he toured the city with the mayor and the American Consul in Dublin. Their stops included the Corporation Hall, festooned with Union Jacks and American flags; the Bank of Ireland; the Stock Exchange on Dame Street; Trinity College; and the Royal Irish Academy. After the Trinity College tour he was taken up Sackville Street, described by John Russell Young, a writer who accompanied Grant on the world tour, as “one of the finest avenues in the Kingdom, being very broad and lined on either side by very fine and costly buildings.” At the end of Sackville Street Grant admired the Nelson Column in Rutland Square. (The statue of the English admiral was blown up by the I.R.A. in the early 1970s, offering Irish president Eamon de Valera an opportunity for a rare display of wit when he commented that Nelson had “returned to England by air.”)
Given the Freedom of the City, Grant told the crowd gathered outside City Hall that “I have been made a citizen of quite a number of towns and cities, but nothing has given me more pleasure than to be made a citizen of the principal city of Ireland. I am by birth a citizen of a country where there are more Irishmen, either native-born or the descendants of Irishmen, than there are in all of Ireland.” In a gentle dig at the Queen he delighted the crowd by adding that when in office he “had the honor and pleasure of representing more Irishmen and their descendants than the Queen of England does.”
Dr. Isaac Butt, the Protestant leader of the Home Rule movement, also addressed the crowd. Five months later Butt would die, leaving the leadership of the Home Rule campaign to Charles Stewart Parnell.
That evening a large banquet was held in Grant’s honor at the mayor’s residence, an event he described as “keeping him up until the late (or early) hours.” The following two days he spent walking and touring the city and resting at the Shelbourne. He had been scheduled to travel to Cork City but a number of Catholic members of the Town Council accused Grant of insulting the Irish people by, according to a Mr. Barry, “getting up a `No Popery’ cry there.” A number of other Catholic Council members joined Barry in demanding that no municipal honors or public reception be given to Grant. Alderman Dwyer stated during the debate that “it would be an act of impropriety on the part of the Corporation of Cork to pay any mark of respect personally to General Grant.” Needless to say, Grant changed his plans to travel to Cork, and headed North to what one historian called “his own people in Ulster.”
The historical record is unclear on Grant’s attitude towards Catholics while he was president. In his memoirs, however, Grant admitted to being a member of the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party for a brief time in the 1850’s. According to Professor John Y. Simon, editor of the Grant papers at Southern Illinois University, Grant attended a few meetings of the Know-Nothings after losing a job to a “foreigner” in St. Louis County. Grant had also given a famous speech in Des Moines, Iowa, while president, where he stated his support for public schools and education free of sectarianism. Simon suggests that these actions could have been interpreted as being anti-Catholic.
But Grant also showed toleration of Fenian activities in the United States. In 1871 when five Irish revolutionary prisoners, recently released from British jails, steamed into New York harbor, there was a message of welcome from the Grant administration. And as Thomas Brown, historian of Irish-American nationalism points out, Grant tolerated Fenian activity, fearing Irish political strength and used their bellicosity as a bargaining chip with the British.
Nevertheless, after being spurned by the Cork town council, he traveled to the city he called Londonderry, arriving there on January 6 after brief stops in Dundalk, Omagh, and Strabane, where he greeted people who gathered at the train stations to welcome him. He was met by Mayor John Browne, and taken to the Imperial Hotel and then to the town hall for a speech on the Ulster-American connection.
Grant told the large gathering (the Belfast Newsletter covered his arrival in Derry and suggested that “the whole town and neighborhood” had come out to see him) that his trip would have been incomplete without seeing the ancient and illustrious city of Londonderry, “whose history is so well-known throughout America.” He spoke of the kindly feeling existing between the two countries and then spoke of his own Ulster connection without revealing precisely what that connection was. “We all have relations on this side of the water, although some of us would unluckily enough have to go back five or six generations to find them.” Professor Simon suggests that Grant was probably more interested in his paternal lineage, as most men were during that time.
He then engaged in some post-presidential politicking, inviting everyone to America and offering them citizenship, just “not as rapidly as you have made me a citizen here today. If there is home for many more millions yet, we hope to see more of the people of Derry and Ireland. When you become more crowded and want more room, we hope you will go there and establish your shirt and linen factories.”
While in Derry Grant toured the historic city walls, coming across another statue, this one of the fiery Protestant Reverend George Walker, Governor of Londonderry, who defended the city against the troops of James II in 1689. Almost 300 years later the replica of Walker, which looked down upon the Catholic Bogside, would meet the same fate as the likeness of Nelson. Grant was also shown the cannon called “Roaring Meg,” which was used during the siege of Derry and can be found on the ancient walls today.
The following day Grant traveled by train to Belfast by way of Coleraine and Ballymena. In Coleraine he was met by commissioners of the borough, who spoke publicly for the first time of the protracted economic depression that the area was experiencing and stated their hopes that improved economic conditions in the United States would benefit Ireland. And, to Grant’s great joy, he was also met by a number of men who had served under him in the Civil War. He was their general, a man who had stated a simple but successful philosophy for conducting war. “The art of war is simple enough,” Grant said. “Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike at him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.”
At 2:30 in afternoon Grant’s train pulled into Northern Countries’ Railway Station in Belfast to another great welcome from the mayor, John Browne. The large linen mills near the train depot had stopped work and workers stood out in the rain in the thousands. All the public buildings were draped in English and American colors. At a late luncheon the American ambassador to France, who accompanied Grant on the Ireland trip, reminded the audience that as president, Grant had appointed two Belfast men, A.T. Stewart and George Stuart, to the cabinet posts of secretary of the treasury and secretary of the navy. Stewart had owned the biggest department store in the world and was considered a political fixer for Grant in New York.
After lunch Grant again met with old soldiers who had served under him, and one soldier who had fought with the Rebels and had been captured by Grant at the battle of Paducah, and toured the White Star shipyards, where the famous steamers that would transport so many of Ireland’s people to America were built. Grant also took time to meet with a Mr. Cronin, the editor of the Catholic Union, and Bishop Ryan of Buffalo, New York. That evening he made his final speech in Ireland and he again spoke of the Ulster connection and the sons and daughters of Belfast who had helped build America. He closed his talk by stating that he could not possibly go around the world without seeing the dear old Emerald Isle.
The next day he left for Dublin. At another train stop in Drogheda a young girl asked Grant to give her love to her aunt in America. He promised to do so. A few days later in Paris, Grant wrote his friend George Childs back in the States. He told Childs: “I have just had a delightful run through the North of Ireland. I saw no distress and no poverty.”
It is fairly clear from those revealing comments that Grant saw only what his hosts wanted him to see, a kind of Potemkin village, Irish-style. It must be remembered that 1879 was also the year the Irish National Land League was formed by Michael Davitt, just a year-and-a-half out of a British prison. It was also a year of agrarian outrages and start of the so-called “land war,” one of the greatest mass movements of modern Ireland. And the winter of 1878-79 saw an economic crisis that historian T.W. Moody says: “Threatened the rural population with a disaster comparable to that of the great Famine.”
There are a number of similarities between Grant’s trip to Ireland and President Bill Clinton’s visit in 1995. But while he may not have seen a great deal more of Ireland during his stay in Belfast, Derry, and Dublin from the exact itinerary that Grant had taken 116 years earlier, it is clear that Clinton knew what Grant did not – the social and political turmoil that percolated beneath the surface of a presidential visit. ♦
What the Papers Said
First hand account from the City Archives of Dublin, January 4, 1879 of the conferring of the Freedom of Dublin on Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States.One o’clock in the Council Chamber, City Hall, was appointed for the ceremony of making General Grant an honorary freeman of Dublin, and at one o’clock the chamber was as vividly bright as beauty, fashion, celebrity, and scarlet togas could make it. There was our English Chief Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, enjoying his first glimpse of an Irish crowd; there was the genial Home Rule leader Isaac Butt, first of the new-made freemen, regaled with many a congratulation on his returning strength; and there were as many members of Parliament, lawyers, doctors, priests, bankers, and beauties besides, as could conveniently, or even inconveniently, be stowed into the given allowance of cubic feet.
“General Ulysses S. Grant, ex-President of the United States,” shouted from the entrance at the head of the central staircase brought everybody in the house to his or her feet. Amidst a short, sharp, earnest burst of welcome, the hero of the day stalked placidly up the centre of the chamber, with his eyes fixed straight before him, looking neither to right nor to left, until he was seated quietly on the right of the Lord Mayor. While the roll was calling, General Grant sat immovable as a man of marble, never once raising his eyes, and never once wasting a word upon his neighbors. The simple severity of Republicanism and straightforwardness of martial law rolled into one and were visible in every detail of his dress, face and manner.
A somewhat undersized, thickset, dingy-looking man with powerful chest and sinewy limbs, his head alone would mark him out from the mob, a well-preserved gentleman of fifty-six, who might easily pass for a dozen years younger; but that head would be singled out of a million. A massive square-built forehead, rising perpendicularly over a pair of close-set, piercing gray eyes, sheathed under heavy eyebrows; a short, flat nose and mouth with bloodless lips, and teeth fastened by being locked together, all pursed up into the one expression of concentration, stubborn force, and sleepless energy, and all framed in short, dusky, square-clipped whiskers running all round cheeks that must have had their baptism of gunpowder – it required little in physiognomy to make sure that here was the lion-hearted and dogged soldier, who beat down Buckner and Johnston, and Beauregard and Bragg, and over a hundred thousand corpses crashed his way through the lines of Richmond.
Following a speech by the Lord Mayor, General Grant, upon rising, was heartily cheered. He said, “My Lord Mayor, gentlemen of the Town Council of Dublin, and ladies and gentlemen, I feel very proud to be made a citizen of the great city which you represent, and to be a fellow-citizen with those whom I see around me today. Since my arrival on this side of the Atlantic, I have had the pleasure of being made a citizen of quite a number of towns and cities. None have given me more pleasure than being made a citizen of the principal city of Ireland (applause). I am by birth a citizen of a country where there are more Irishmen, either native born or descendants of Irishmen, than you have in all Ireland (cheers). I have had the honor and pleasure, therefore, of of representing more Irishmen and their descendants when in office than the Queen of England does (hear, hear). Not being possessed of the eloquence of your worthy Lord Mayor, I shall say no more than simply to thank you again (cheers).
Mr. Dawson: “Three cheers for America.”
The cheers were heartily given.
John Burl Smith says
Ode to the Black Revolution!!!
By John Burl Smith author of “The 400th From Slavery to Hip Hop!!!”
“We are all mariners on the sea of life. Our greatest challenge is learning to sail against the wind to reach one’s destination or a safe port!”
My recent visit to Denver, CO, to celebrate the successful opening of “Floyd Tunson’s ACCENT” at RedLine Gallery, was a tremendous success. I presented the “Invaders” story and hosted a Q&A for some enthusiastic young and old Art lovers. Louise Martorano Director of RedLine has placed their efforts on the cutting edge of the new revolution in ART. She arranged a very interesting and inspiring, as well as entertaining afternoon with African historian, Dr. Paul Hamilton, at his personal museum. Viewing Dr. Hamilton’s life’s effort collecting and preserving African history extends far beyond statues and figurines. There are charts of ancestry, historical records, and a library of one-of-a-kind or hard-to-find treasurers. The walk through was a spiritual experience for me, and a master’s degree education. Surprisingly, I learned Dr. Hamilton, like me, was part of the “Black Revolution” of the 1960-80. Among many many things, he was elected “the first Black legislator in Colorado history.” Unable to attend RedLine’s screening of the “Invaders,” Dr. Hamilton wanted to know, “How the Invaders came to the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and what made him became involved with us?”
Thoughts of my life’s voyage began with the “Black Revolution” in the 1960 and 70s. Dr. King came to the Lorraine Motel (4/4/68) to meet with the Invaders, which made Charles Cabbage and me the last 2 people that met with him, during his last hours of life in that strategy session. Dr. King saw the faltering fortunes of the “People’s Campaign,” with new hope when the Memphis sanitation works went out on strike. Fighting headwinds coming to Memphis, he faced blowback from other civil rights leaders that felt he had betrayed their middle-class goals, taking the spotlight off of the middle class and putting it on the poor. Dr. King said, “The turnout for the march (3/28/68) surprised me and gave me a new strategy, if the Invaders agree to join the “Poor People’s Campaign!”
Dr. King went on, “I was impressed with the turnout (over 50,000 people) for last week’s march (3/28/68). I learned from Calvin Taylor, (Calvin was an Invader who worked, as a copyboy for the local newspaper, and was trying to become their first black reporter.) the Invaders recruited HBCU students from colleges in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, as well as high school students to attend the march. After seeing the number of people, who truly reflected poor people, I have revised my strategy for the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’ Rather than marching a million people to Washington D.C., as I planned, I want the Invaders to be my marshals and recruit other black power groups to join the ‘Poor People’s Campaign,’ because civil rights leaders aren’t helping.”
The winds of change blow very harsh sometimes!!! Although that assassin’s bullet killed the “dreamer,” it did not kill his dream of “white and black people coming together around the ‘hope of America,’ rather than surrendering to hatred, death and fear!!” While insisting Dr. King join us, in the “Black Revolution,” which he agreed, we would have joined him anyway, because he was fighting for the people. Dr. King death, for black people was similar to Mayor Richard Daily’s attack on progressive students in Chicago, during the Democratic Convention, which was like a punch in the gut. However, Progressives and Black revolutionaries realized the US voting math would never favor us unless we built a youth coalition that could challenge the power structure. The Passage of the 26th Amendment in 1972 brought the “Black Revolution” into today. The 26th Amendment makes 18-year-old voters the largest demographic in the 2022 midterm election according to the US census!!
Dr. Hamilton asked, “On what do you base that observation?” “Well, I withdrew from political involvement for almost 20 years, but then H.E.R. dropped “I Can’t Breathe.” H.E.R.’s anthem spoke to the murder of George Floyd, as millions of young people across the world, specifically in America, took to streets across the world, as children of the “Black Revolution”!!! I watched Donald Trump position himself as the “law and order” president for the 2020 election, which remained me of Richard Nixon (1968). I knew what was coming next: “teargas in Lafayette Square.” I began to speak to demonstrators in cities across the US through my post. Those protests echoed Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile’s anthem “I Have a Voice!” Today, staring down the barrel of the US Supreme Court’s gun, which is aimed at blowing away young women’s right of “choice,” H.E.R.’s Grammy winning song “Fight for You!,” has become a clarion call to 18-year-olds to join the new revolution.
Eighteen-year-old voters/students are the largest voting demographic heading into the 2022 midterm election, and they can complete the revolution that began in 2020 with the election of Joe Biden as president. They can be the first generation to take their future in their own hands with their “VOTES.” Dr. Hamilton’s and my generation did what we could to give the next generation VOICE!!! The coming election will have the future of the next generation on the ballot! Young voters will be American democracy’s last change to survive Donald Trump’s coup!!! The future of American democracy rest in the hands of 11th and 12th graders! The older generations are silent and too afraid to stand up and speak truth to power!!! Young voters will decide if democracy or Donald Trump will control America. Saving American democracy will only require young voters to show up at the polls and vote to save their future. A heavy burden on young voters’ shoulders, true enough, but that is why the “Black Revolution” fought for you in the 1960-70s to pass the 26th Amendment. Now you must fight for yourselves. Eighteen-year-olds are on the frontline and your generation is America’s last hope to stand against the US Supreme Court!!! “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”