Mexico had interested Ulysses S. Grant since the young lieutenant fought there. Now, as president of the Mexican Southern Railroad, he emerged as a strong advocate of increased trade and investment. Appointed by President Chester A. Arthur to negotiate a commercial treaty, Grant spent most of January, 1883, at the capital, working with his friend and counterpart Matías Romero. For months, Grant promoted the resulting treaty, granting interviews, giving speeches, and toasting visiting Mexican statesman Porfirio Díaz. Success gave way to bitter failure when the Senate rejected the treaty, led by sugar and tobacco protectionists, amid charges that Grant had crafted provisions to benefit his moribund railroad.
Grant’s support for Fitz John Porter, a former general who sought to reverse a wartime court-martial, brought him more controversy in Washington. U.S. Senator John A. Logan of Illinois, a stalwart supporter, broke with Grant and fought the measure. The bill passed anyway, but Arthur vetoed it. As Grant lost influence in the White House and in Congress, he turned his attention and energy elsewhere. In September, 1883, Grant joined a tour to celebrate the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad, begun during his first presidential term. From Minnesota to Oregon, Grant saw firsthand the rapid growth of the northwest. “I was not prepared to see so rich a country or one so rapidly developing.”
On Christmas Eve, 1883, Grant slipped on an icy sidewalk. His injured leg kept him in bed for weeks and on crutches for months. Another crippling blow came in May, 1884, with the failure of Grant & Ward, the brokerage firm co-founded by Ulysses, Jr., in which his father was a silent partner. Ferdinand Ward had bilked the firm of its few real assets and all the Grant family had. Grant was devastated. “I could bear all the pecuniary loss if that was all, but that I could be so long deceived by a man who I had such opportunity to know is humiliating.”
Buoyed by loans from friends, determined to repay his debts, Grant wrote a series of articles about his Civil War campaigns, then began his Memoirs. In February, 1885, he was diagnosed with cancer. Newspapers published daily updates as Grant steadily declined.
Fading health spurred Grant to finish his Memoirs. He accepted a generous publishing offer from Samuel L. Clemens and completed the first of two volumes by March. The second was nearly done in June, when the Grants left sweltering New York City for upstate Mount McGregor. Here Grant finished his work and faced his end, unable to speak, communicating by notes to his doctors and friends. “There never was one more willing to go than I am.” Grant died on July 23, his family at his side.
The late John Y. Simon was a professor of history at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He wrote or edited, in addition to the thirty published volumes of the Grant Papers, four books, among which is The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant.
Aaron M. Lisec is associate editor of the Grant Papers.
Leigh Fought is assistant editor of the Grant Papers.
Cheryl R. Ragar is textual editor of the Grant Papers.