Volume 20 is the first in this acclaimed series to cover the months when Ulysses S. Grant held no military commission. As president, however, Grant’s significance grew rather than diminished. His leadership and decisions touched directly or indirectly most people in the United States and many more around the globe.
Grant spoke sincerely when he said that "I have done all I could to advance the best interests of the citizens of our country, without regard to color, and I shall endeavor to do in the future what I have done in the past." He urged adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment and rejoiced in its ratification, expressing his belief that it was "the realization of the Declaration of Independence." Grant acknowledged that government had treated Indians badly in the past. In the short run, he recommitted his administration to the experiment of employing Quakers and humanitarians as Indian advisers and agents, trusting in eventual "great success." In the long run, however, Grant thought placing Indians on large reservations and encouraging them "to take their lands in severalty" and "to set up territorial governments for their own protection" the best course.
In foreign affairs, Grant became fixed on the annexation of Santo Domingo, gave this issue an inordinate degree of attention, and squandered political capital in confrontations with Congress. Senate foreign affairs committee chairman Charles Sumner emerged as the villain preventing Grant from achieving his desire, and Grant displayed his animosity toward the Massachusetts senator in private as well as in the very public removal of Sumner’s friend John L. Motley as minister to England. Developments such as growing tensions among European powers, Spanish-Cuban relations, and the Alabama Claims negotiations received relatively little attention. Grant, in fact, admitted shortly after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, "I had no idea that such an event was even threatening."