History Slam Episode 118: Preserving the Civil War’s Legacy

By Sean Graham

Happy Independence Day to our American friends! In thinking about American historiography, one of my favourite things is to joke about how a new book on the Civil War seems to come out every ten minutes. And while that may be a little hyperbolic, it can be difficult to find new ground when reading up on the CIvil War. That’s why Paul Kahan’s new book The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant: Preserving the Civil War’s Legacy is so unique. While plenty is known about Grant’s military role during the Civil War, far less is known about his presidency, other than him being widely considered a poor president. In his farewell address to Congress, Grant went so far as to downplay his own administration’s accomplishments, thus starting a nearly 150 year trend of his presidency not receiving extensive attention by historians.

In this episode of the History Slam, Paul Kahan returns to the show to discuss the book. We talk about Grant the politician v. Grant the military man, Reconstruction in the South, and the racial divide in post-Civil War America. We also talk about the importance of foreign policy in the late 19th century, Grant’s attitude towards Native Americans, and how economics can derail political priorities.

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