Bankrupt and Ashamed  

 In 1880 Grant lost the Republican Party’s nomination for a third term as President.  Grant turned his attention to Wall Street and invested in his son’s firm, Grant & Ward.  Ferdinand Ward, one of the principals, used Grant’s name and notoriety to convince people to invest with the firm.  Many of Grant’s wealthy friends and colleagues invested with Grant & Ward.  In May 1884, Grant & Ward collapsed.  It appears that Ferdinand Ward was running one of the first Ponzi schemes on Wall Street.  In an effort to save the firm, Grant borrowed $150,000 from William H. Vanderbilt.                               

Grant gave Vanderbilt’s money to Ward who absconded with it, leaving the company in ruin and Grant in debt and humiliated (Lambert, 1985, p.4).   After losing everything but his home in New York City, Grant needed income.   At that time in American history, there were no pensions or benefits for veterans or presidents – Grant received nothing from the country he served.   Desperately in need of money, Grant agreed to write the Civil War story of Battle Shiloh for Century Magazine (Waugh, 2003 p. 5).  Century Magazine was one of the many publications that “fed an insatiable appetite on the part of the public” for Civil War materials in the 1880s.  The Civil War craze of the 1880s produced “books, newspapers and magazine serials, and the publication of the conflict’s official documents.  Much of it was military in nature; descriptive accounts of battles, fictional portraits of soldiers coming to grips with the war, biographies and memoirs of soldiers, unit histories” (Waugh 2003, p. 10).  Century Magazine debuted in 1884 with the serial “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War” (id. at 28).                                  

Grant wanted to write a “truthful history” of the Civil War such that the “history will do full credit to the courage, endurance, and ability of the American soldier, no matter what section he hailed from, or in what rank” (Waugh 2003, p. 6).  Because there was a glut of Civil War materials being published, there was “sharp contention over which version of history was ‘truthful.’” Grant consumed what was being written about the war and was unhappy with much of it.  Grant’s synthesis of the war literature is as true today as it was in 1885: “Wars produce many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true” (id. at p. 25).                                 

Century Magazine claimed neutrality in the publication of war stories – a great marketing strategy to sell the magazine to both northern and southern patrons.    Just as Century Magazine made its debut, Grant was reeling from the failure and humility of Grant & Ward.  He agreed to write four articles for the magazine for $500 each (id. p. 29).  The immediate success of the Battle of Shiloh article caused the Century publishers to offer Grant a contract for a book (Waugh, 2003 p. 29).  Century Publishing offered Grant ten percent (10%) of royalties on the expected subscription sales of 25,000 sets of the two-volume book.                                 

Samuel Clemens and the Art of the Deal   


When Clemens learned that Grant was going to contract with Century for his personal memoirs, Clemens made a counteroffer.  Through his publishing company, Charles L. Webster & Co., Clemens offered the impoverished Grant a $50,000 advance and seventy (70%) of royalties (Waugh, 2003 p. 29).  Grant took the deal with Mark Twain.  The contract was signed on February 27, 1885 – five months later Grant died (id. at 31).                                

Image 5 Clemens & Paine

Albert Bigelow Paine, Clemens’ official biographer, tells a colorful story of how the contract for Memoirs was procured.  According to Paine, in 1881, before Grant had agreed to write for Century Magazine, Clemens approached Grant about writing his memoirs.  Grant declined.  When Clemens learned of the Century book deal, he visited Grant immediately.  Clemens tried to convince Grant to publish his memoirs with Clemens’ firm, Charles L. Webster & Co., rather than with Century, with whom Grant had already contracted.  Paine claims that “Grant demurred” in favor of the agreement with Century, closing his discussion with Clemens by stating that “the book ought to go to the man who had first suggested it to him.”  Given an opening, Clemens interjected “General, if that is so, it belongs to me”; Clemens then reminded Grant of his suggestion three years earlier that Grant write his Memoirs.  Then, to close the deal, Clemens, according to Paine’s account, stated:  “General, I have my check-book with me.  I will draw you a check now for twenty-five thousand dollars for the first volume of your Memoirs, and will add a like amount for each volume you may write as an advance royalty payment, and your royalties will continue right along with this amount has been reached.”  That same day, Grant’s son informed Clemens that Grant’s “physicians feared that his father might not live more than a few weeks longer, but that mean time he had been writing steadily and that the first volume was complete and fully half of the second” (Paine, 1912, p. 805).  Despite the disclosure of Grant’s illness, three days later the contract was signed with Clemens’s firm, Charles L. Webster & Co.                              

Although not as colorful as Paine’s version of the inception of Memoirs, in the Preface to Volume I, Grant recounts how Memoirs came to be.  Grant said that he had repeatedly been urged to write his Memoirs, but never did until, at “the age of nearly sixty-two I received an injury from a fall” and had the time available while convalescing.  Next, Grant acknowledges the situation with Grant & Ward stating only that “the rascality of a business partner developed itself by the announcement of a failure.”  Acknowledging his debts, Grant states that “the editor of the Century Magazine asked me to write a few articles for him.  I consented for the money it gave me; for at that moment I was living upon borrowed money” (Grant, 1885 p. 7).                             

Grant’s Cancer Diagnosis and Completion of Memoirs   


The summer prior to contracting for Memoirs, Grant reportedly “bit into a peach and was immediately seized with a terrible pain in his throat” (Waugh, 2003 p. 5).  Within months he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer.  The country was mesmerized with every detail of Grant’s illness, which was “the biggest continuing news story of 1885, and the amount of coverage devoted to it is staggering” (Waugh, 2005 p. 158).                              

Image 6

“The six-month deathwatch of Grant was made even more dramatic by the knowledge that he was desperately trying to finish his Memoirs to bring financial security to his wife and children” (id.).                                  

Volumes I and II of Memoirs, with the indices, total 1231 pages.  Obviously, Grant did not write Memoirs in a five month period, while dying of cancer.  Grant had been writing and keeping detailed notes for over 20 years.  After Grant had contracted with Century Magazine in 1884, he had been writing and/or dictating Memoirs.  Grant’s handwritten notes or a transcription of his dictation was passed to “staff” which consisted of researchers, fact checkers, and assistants (Waugh, 2003 p. 31).  In the summer of 1884, Grant, with the assistance of his son Frederick and Adam Badeau, completed four articles for Century Magazine (Simon, 2009, p. xix).  Paine, Clemens’ biographer, reported that sometimes Grant “dictated ten thousand words at a sitting . . . General Grant wrote or dictated every word of the story himself, then had the manuscript read aloud to him and made his own revisions” (Paine, p. 809).                                 

During the summer of 1885, Adam Badeau, Grant’s biographer and a former aide, had a falling out with Grant and his family.  Badeau insinuated that Grant had not written                              

Image 7 Adam Badeau

 Memoirs, but that he was the author.  The scandal was picked up in newspapers and ended in litigation. Badeau lost.  To rebut the allegations, Charles L. Webster & Co. published a letter in the New York Times detailing how Grant had written Memoirs:                                 

            On the 1st of March last we entered into a contract with General Grant for the publication of his personal “Memoirs.”  The first volume was at that time completed.  The second volume had been blocked out, and some work done upon it.  It was in such condition that with Gen. Grant’s note could probably have been completed by another hand.  After the contract was signed he continued to work upon the second volume until prevented by the illness which is familiar to all. . . . The first volume is in type.  The manuscript of the second volume is all written and completed as originally intended, and will in due course be published as prepared by General Grant himself.                                 


(General Grant’s Book, New York Times, August 20, 1885).  Similarly, in the Preface to Volume I, Grant details how he completed Memoirs:                                  

The first volume, as well as a portion of the second, was written before I had reason to suppose I was in a critical condition of health.  Later I was reduced almost to the point of death, and it became impossible for me to attend to anything for weeks.  I have, however, somewhat regained my strength, and am able, often to devote as many hours a day as a person should devote to such work.                                 


(Grant, 1885, p. 8).                                 

In a specific response to the allegations that Badeau was the author of Memoirs, Grant responded:  “Allow me to say, that this is all bosh, and is evidently the work of a distempered mind that has evidently been growing moody by too much reflection upon this matters” (Simon, p. xx).  Clemens responded by calling in his lawyers.  In a letter to Grant’s son, Clemens wrote about the World’s publication of the Badeau claims that Grant had not written Memoirs:               

The General’s work this morning is rather damaging evidence against the World’s intrepid lie.  The libel suit ought to be instituted at once; damages placed at nothing less than $250,000 or $300,000; no apologies accepted from the World, & no compromise permitted for anything but a sum of money that will cripple — yes, disable– that paper financially.  The suit ought to be brought in the General’s name, & the expense of it paid out of the book’s general expense account  (Webster, 1946, p. 319).         

Clemens’ lawyers advised him against a lawsuit because the World did not have “influence enough to get its lies copied” and that such as suit by Grant “would be an enormously valuable advertisement for that daily issue of unmedicated closet-paper” (id. at 323)                        


Image 8 Last Photo of Grant July 1885


After completing Volume I of Memoirs, in June 1885, a dying Grant travelled to a summer cottage in Mount McGregor, New York in the Adirondack Mountains.  During the five or six weeks that Grant spent atop Mount McGregor he continued to write the Volume II and edit Volume I.  In a July 8, 1885 letter to his wife, Grant wrote:  “I pray God, that [my life] may be spared to complete the necessary work upon my book” (Waugh 2003, p. 7).  On July 23, 1885, two days after completing Volume II, Ulysses Simpson Grant died at Mount McGregor.                                   

Image 9 Grant's Tomb

On August 6, Grant’s remains were brought to New York City to be temporary entombed in Riverside Park.  Prior to the funeral procession, Grant’s body was on display at City Hall and was viewed by 250,000 people in one day.  Two days later, the funeral procession made its way through the streets of New York City with 50,000 participants and an audience of 1.5 million people (Waugh, 2005, pp. 166-167).