Ulysses Grant

Ulysses Grant

In Brief

Molly recalls a visit to Gibraltar of "general Ulysses Grant whoever he was or did supposed to be some great fellow." Grant (1822-85), one of the greatest figures of American military and political history, did pay such a visit in November 1878, a year and a half after the completion of his second term as U.S. President. At that time Molly would have been 8 years old.

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Grant's strategic genius and iron determination in leading the Union armies to ultimate victory in America's civil war led to his election as the youngest President in American history in 1868. He reversed former President Andrew Johnson's drift toward the interests of southern whites, creating the Department of Justice to suppress the Ku Klux Klan and directing troops to enforce national law in the states of the former Confederacy. He also pursued peace with Native American tribes, mended fences with Great Britain and Spain, and promoted trade with other nations.

After leaving the hugely undesired office of the presidency in March 1877 Grant began a world tour that would last for two and a half years and bring him and his rising nation international acclaim. Jubilant crowds in various European cities greeted "General Grant" as the great military leader that he had proved himself to be, the "hero of Appomattox"—though he declined all such boasting, presenting himself as a man of peace. U.S. naval vessels carried him to many of his destinations, and he conducted several unofficial diplomatic embassies on behalf of new President Rutherford B. Hayes, including intervention in some disputes between countries.

In visits to important English personages in June 1878 it was decided as a matter of protocol (innovative at that time) that Grant was still President of the United States. Gifford observes that this status, when he visited Gibraltar later in the year, "technically would have merited a twenty-one-gun salute," which may explain Molly's association of the general's visit with "their damn guns bursting and booming all over the shop especially the Queens birthday and throwing everything down in all directions if you didnt open the windows." 

It seems likely that Joyce chose to include Grant in his novel at least in part because of the accident of his first name. Named Hiram Ulysses Grant by his parents, he decided early on to call himself Ulysses. During a part of the world tour in which he explored the Mediterranean Sea, stopping at Naples, Palermo, Malta, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Athens, Grant often read aloud from a translation of Homer's Odyssey. In the Holy Land he met with a group of American Jews who were there to distribute aid to oppressed Palestinian Jews and promised to help their cause when he returned to the United States—qualifying him, perhaps, as an honorary "greekjew."

The tour also took him to Dublin in January 1879. Irish attitudes toward the great man seem to have been mixed. A Methodist, he had expressed sympathy for America's anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement in the 1850s, and Tom Deignan observes in a 22 July 2017 short piece on www.irishcentral.com that Catholic members of the Cork City Town Council objected to his visiting their city, prompting him to visit Belfast instead. But his great-grandfather had emigrated from County Tyrone in the 1730s, and he expressed support for the Fenian movement. "Grant, ultimately, was embraced by the Irish," Deignan reports.

JH 2018
Photographic portrait of Grant from the 1870s, held in the Library of Congress. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Map of Grant's world tour by J. S. Kemp, published in J. R. Young's Around the World with General Grant (1879). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The USS Indiana departing Philadelphia for England in 1877, by an unknown engraver, published in Young's Around the World with General Grant. Source: Wikimedia Commons.