July 23, 1885 – Ulysses S. Grant

On this day, July 23, 1885, Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War General and 18th President of the United States, died at the age of 63 of throat cancer. Grant spent the final year of his life writing his personal memoirs to save his family from financial ruin.

First edition of Grants Memoirs for sale by The First Edition Rare Books, LLC on Biblio.com

Ulysses. S Grant is best known for leading the Union to victory during the Civil War. After the war, Grant served as the 18th President of the United States from 1869 – 1877. Following his Presidency Grant liquidated his assets and set off on a World tour that lasts nearly two and a half years. Returning home he made a brief run at a third term of Presidency, but it was a violation of the two-term rule and he failed to get a nomination. James A. Garfield was elected President, and was shot and killed just a few months into his term.

Grant had resigned his military position to become President, and there was no federal pensions for Presidents. In the years following his costly world tour, Grant struggled with finding a home and earning a living. Along with his son he invested heavily in a financial firm, Grant & Ward, that was initially successful, but it was based on fraud and soon failed – Ward being convinced and jailed. Grant had borrowed $150,000 to back up the firm from William Henry Vanderbilt, and after losing the money Vanderbilt took the title to Grant’s home until he could pay back the loan in full. 

In 1884 Grant learned he had throat cancer. He was broke and sick, and did not want to die without leaving his wife a place to live and enough money to live on (she was only in her late fifties at this point). Grant focused on writing his memoirs in order to earn enough money to leave her comfortable. The Century magazine offered Grant a book contract with 10 percent royalty, but it was not enough. Grant was friends with the writer Mark Twain, who, knowing Grant’s desperate financial situation and caring deeply about the man, offered to publish the memoirs at a 70 percent royalty rate. 

Grant threw himself into completing the task, having a former staff member help with research and his son Frederick do the fact-checking. 

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant was a critical and commercial success. The books were sold in multiple formats, ranging in price from $3.50 to $12.00 in 1885. Advanced orders for the sets reached 300,000 copies, and Grant’s wife Julia received nearly half a million dollars in royalties, which today would be over twelve million dollars. It is considered one of the best memoirs ever written by a General, and one of the finest military history’s of the Civil War. 

He finished his memoirs on July 18th, 1885, and died just a few days later, July 23, 1885 at the age of 63. 

Lessons from Ulysses S. Grant:

Sometimes its life’s toughest battles, the financial strain of living and providing for your loved ones, that causes people to write what they wouldn’t put down for themselves. Sometimes all you have to do is act and things will fall into place. 

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