Ulysses Grant was born 199 years ago today. It is a measure of his presidency that even the official White House website lauds Grant's military career before mentioning his years in office.
"In 1865, as commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant led the Union Armies to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War," the thumbnail biography begins. This is not an isolated example: The 18th U.S. president has fared poorly in the judgments of historians. Although such rankings are fickle, not to mention highly subjective, one presidential scholar I know gives Grant his due as a political leader.
That scholar is Alvin Felzenberg, who employed a series of rational measurements to evaluate presidents in his 2008 book "The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't)." A level of subjectivity exists in Felzenberg's conclusions, true, but he used a series of transparent criteria. Those categories are character, vision, competence, foreign policy, economic policy, human rights, and legacy. Viewed through this prism, Grant rises to the top of the middle tier of presidents, and in a 2009 interview the author explained why:
"Grant had an impossible situation. On the one hand, his slogan was: ‘Let us have peace' -- put the war behind us. But the problem was, how do you do that while you fulfill the goal of the war, which by 1865 was restoring the Union without slavery? Grant said there was no way he was going to allow freedmen to be forced back into peonage. Grant destroyed the first Ku Klux Klan with federal force. Was Grant's administration any more corrupt than the environment at the time? I don't think so. I'm not apologizing for it, but his nobility has been lost when it comes to the race question."
So Happy Birthday, Mr. Grant.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.