Last week, we discovered a photo of President Ulysses S. Grant sitting on a porch, covered in a blanket, writing his memoirs. Upon further research, we found that this photo was taken days before his death, and that he was not only writing on his last breath, but he was doing so against a crippling bankruptcy and desire to leave money behind for his family. This is the story of that photograph.
Grant came from humble beginnings, and he did what he could to not just reach is ambitions, but provide for his family, as seen in this photo of "Hardscrabble", the home Grant built in Missouri for his family. He did this himself.
Grant went on to be a hardened General, as we see him at the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864.
His success in the Civil War paved the way for him to make a Presidential run following the assassination of President Lincoln. Here we see the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant on the steps of the Capitol on March 4, 1869. Though his Presidency was considered mediocre at best, he was beloved and respected. He had positioned himself to be a statesman and a businessman; however, few of these things would work in his favor.
Fourteen years later, the esteemed President would find himself in a drastically different situation. After a series of failed business ventures (in his son and otherwise), he was approaching total bankruptcy. Worse yet, he had this pain in his throat that they would soon learn would be much more.
In April, 1883, Harper's Weekly posted this engraving of Grant on something close to a death bed. The story at the time leaked that he was entirely broke, as well. At that time in history, the U.S. had nothing in place that would ensure the appropriate legacy of its non-disgraced Presidents. Grant, thus, was at risk of dying not just bankrupt, but with a legacy that created a burden for all this around him.
Not surprisingly, though, he started to fight.
Grant began working on his memoirs in order to save his family. In 1884, he was offered a deal of a 10% royalty on sales, but his dear friend Mark Twain stepped in and offered a 75% royalty to his family. He moved his family over to a friend's house at Mount McGregor and began writing his memoirs in earnest.
Many people credit this to be the last photo of Grant, and we can understand why. He looks dignified, healthy, comfortable as he crafts his memoirs. But the reality - the real story - often involves things like blankets on our heads and hands that barely work. Which brings us to the last photo.
This photo was taken in June of 1885, less than a month before Grant's death. You can easily see his commitment to the effort, and nothing was going to stop him. He died shortly after, and Mark Twain took the manuscript and quickly turned it in to one of the bestselling biographies of all time. Best yet, it generated $450,000 for his wife and family...and let's just say that that was a whole heck of a lot of money back then.
And so while we found one of the most heartbreaking photos in history, we can be comforted by the fact that the effort going on therein was something special. Something heroic.
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