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Ulysses S. Grant offers insights into topics in American history including frontier life, westward expansion, the U.S. government's treatment of Native Americans, the Mexican American War, the Civil War, military strategy, slavery, abolition, race relations, Reconstruction, black suffrage, the growth of the industrial economy, international relations, the presidency, impeachment, regional political differences, the business world's influence in politics, fair elections, and personal memoirs. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: civics, history, economics, and geography. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


1. Do generals make good presidents? Write an essay presenting your answer to this question and explaining how previous experience as a military leader might help or hurt a president. Your essay must discuss the examples of U. S. Grant and at least one other former general who was elected president. (Besides Grant, presidents who formerly had been generals included George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, William Henry Harrison, and Dwight Eisenhower.)

2. Read about the Colfax Massacre and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Then, based on those documents and the film, write the dialogue of an imaginary conversation between President Grant and an African American leader regarding Grant's policies toward protecting African Americans in the South. The dialogue should address such questions as whether Grant could or should have done more in this area, the President's proper role in protecting American citizens from violence, and the attitude of Northern whites toward the issue.

3. Read about the disputed election of 1876. Then form teams of two students apiece and prepare a presentation entitled "Disputed Presidential Elections, 1876 and 2000." The presentation can be in the form of a poster (containing a graphic such as a table or timelines), an oral presentation, or mock news broadcasts from the days following the two elections. Presentations must explain, for both the 1876 and 2000 elections: (a) the major candidates, (b) the result of the initial vote count, (c) the reason why the outcome remained in doubt following the initial vote count, (d) Florida's importance in the election, and (e) the outcome of the controversy. (More information on the 1876 election can be found on Web sites such as that of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. Information on the 2000 election can be found at sites such as CNN's 2000 election archive).


1. Read You're the General, and understand the bloody Battle of Shiloh from Grant's perspective. (a) After you see the maps, describe the terrain of the battlefield. Which natural feature of the landscape worked in the Confederacy's favor? (b) How does the Battle of Shiloh demonstrate that unexpected moves by either side can change a battle's outcome?

2. Read about Grant's greatest battles. Then divide the class into groups of three students each. Within each group, have one student draw a map of the Battle of Vicksburg, one draw a map of the Battle of Chattanooga, and one draw a map of the Overland Campaign. Below each map, write a one-paragraph summary of the tactics Grant used in the battle. Finally, each group should write a brief essay comparing and contrasting the battles, such as the goal of the operation and the ways in which Grant pursued that goal.

3. (a) Locate Santo Domingo on a world map and briefly describe its location. (b) What was the link between Grant's attempt to annex Santo Domingo and the violence against African Americans in the South after the Civil War? (c) Locate the African nation of Liberia on a map and find out more about the formation of Liberia. How was the idea behind its formation similar to, and different from, Grant's plan regarding Santo Domingo?

4. Look through the In His Shoes feature to learn about Ulysses' life on the frontier. You can also read a brief account of his life. Advanced students might wish to read the first chapter of Grant's Personal Memoirs. (a) How does the natural environment of Ohio figure in Ulysses' story? (b) View the results of the online polls, available either through In His Shoes or via the poll results page. How does your life compare to Ulysses' life on the frontier? Would you like to have grown up in the first half of the 19th century? Why or why not? Students can write and submit their own comments on the poll results pages describing their thoughts about school, work, having fun, and the future, or share their comments with the class.


1. Examine the editorial cartoons about Grant in the cartoon gallery. (a) Select the two cartoons that you find most effective. Write a brief explanation of why you chose it. Describe the symbols you recognize in it and what they mean. (b) Draw your own cartoon about an event in Grant's military or political career. The event to which the cartoon refers, and the symbols it uses, should be recognizable to readers of the time period. The cartoon also should clearly express an opinion about Grant's role in the event in question. (c) Find and cut out or photocopy three present-day political cartoons concerning a single event or public official. Write a brief explanation of the topic that the cartoons cover and the views they express.

2. Using the film and the Ulysses S. Grant chronology, select three events in Grant's life that you regard as his greatest accomplishments and three other events that you regard as his greatest failures. Compare your choices with your classmates' and write on the board the three "high points" and three "low points" that received the most votes. Next to each entry, summarize the event and the reason it was chosen.

3. Read In His Shoes and read the results of the online polls. Now imagine that your biographer is examining your early life in an attempt to understand your later character and accomplishments. What facts about your family background, educational experiences, early jobs, and leisure activities might the biographer find important? What clues do you think they contain to the kind of person you think you will become? Present to the class a brief oral report that your biographer might make on these questions.


1. As the film notes, during the Civil War Grant attacked not only the South's army but its economy and society. Do you believe it is morally acceptable for an army to destroy the civilian property of the enemy? Write two editorials -- one on each side of the issue -- and give them to a classmate to review, while you review your classmate's editorials. See if you can guess your classmate's personal view on the issue by reading the two editorials.

2. Read about Black Friday. Write a newspaper editorial that either defends or criticizes Grant's actions in the events described. Begin your editorial by briefly summarizing the events of Black Friday and their importance.

3. Read about the Panic of 1873, which describes how business failures in the railroad industry helped drive the nation's economy into a depression. Could there be a parallel between the role of railroads in the economy of the 1870s and the role of Internet-related companies (the so-called "dot coms") in today's economy? Find at least three newspaper, magazine, or Web-based articles that discuss the link between Internet companies and the health of the United States economy -- and in particular, whether the recent troubles of many Internet companies could have serious economic effects. Summarize each of these articles in an oral report to the class.

Helpful Hints


1. Essays should discuss Grant and one other President and draw reasonable conclusions from these examples.

2. Dialogues should cover Grant's failure to adequately protect African Americans in the South, as well as the defense of Grant's actions that more aggressive policies would have cost the Republicans politically because Northern whites were losing interest in the plight of Southern blacks.

3. (a) 1876: Hayes and Tilden. 2000: Bush and Gore. (b) 1876: Tilden won the popular vote; the electoral vote was disputed. 2000: Gore won the popular vote; the electoral vote was disputed. (c) 1876: There were disputes between Republicans and Democrats over the returns from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. 2000: Complaints about thousands of unclear or improperly handled ballots in Florida raised controversy due to the extremely narrow popular vote margin in the state. (d) 1876: Florida was one of the three states whose electoral votes were in question. 2000: The narrow electoral vote margin nationally meant that the winner of Florida's electoral votes would win the presidency. (e) 1876: Congress set up a commission to resolve the controversy; the commission awarded the contested electoral votes to Hayes, who thus won the presidency. 2000: A 5-4 Supreme Court ruling stopped ongoing vote recounts in Florida, giving Bush the presidency.


1. (a) Grant positioned his troops at Pittsburg Landing, with the Tennessee River directly behind them, making retreat more difficult. (b) Before the battle began, Grant did not expect a Confederate attack so did not order his men to dig in, leaving them vulnerable. On the second day of the battle, Grant counter-attacked despite his defeat on the first day and was able to regain the ground his forces had lost.

2. Detailed maps of Civil War battles are available at the United States Military Academy Web site. Essays should note that at Vicksburg, Grant successfully conducted a siege of the city, whereas at Chattanooga, he successfully avoided becoming besieged; Grant used rivers in both battles to transport men and supplies. Similarly, the Overland Campaign ended with a successful siege of Petersburg. The Overland Campaign differed from the other battles in that until the fall of Petersburg, Grant was unable to attack directly his main objective (Richmond); Grant ordered several costly frontal attacks during the campaign.

3. (a) The Dominican Republic is in the Caribbean, part of an island (Hispaniola) that also includes the nation of Haiti. (b) Grant hoped that African Americans would be able to escape rampant violence and harrassment by angry white Southerners if they had the option of relocating to Santo Domingo. (c) Liberia was intended to be a haven for African Americans as well, but it was created before the abolition of slavery and was not intended to be annexed by the United States.

4. (a) Ulysses' family lived in an Ohio frontier community, an area that had been quickly settled and converted from wilderness. Most people did agricultural work, cultivating crops. As a young boy, Ulysses helped plow, haul wood, and process hides in his father's tannery. He enjoyed and was skilled at working with horses. In Memoirs, he recalls that from age 11 to 17 he worked "breaking up the land, furrowing, ploughing corn and potatoes, bringing in the crops when harvested, hauling all the wood, besides tending two or three horses, a cow or two, and sawing wood for stoves, etc." He also travelled alone to Cincinnati, Ohio, Maysville, Kentucky, and Louisville, Kentucky, with horse and carriage. On one occasion, at age 15, he travelled home from Flat Rock, Kentucky, a distance of 70 miles, with an unbroken horse. (b) Students might reflect on which aspects of Ulysses' life are like theirs, and which are different.


1. (a) Students should explain their choices. (b) Cartoons should express a view without requiring additional explanation from the artist. (c) Explanations should reflect an understanding of the message of each cartoon.

2. Possible high points include: March 29, 1859 (when he freed his slave, William Jones); February 16, 1862 (victory at Fort Donelson); July 4, 1863 (victory at Vicksburg); April 9, 1865 (meeting with Lee at Appomattox); November 3, 1868 (election as President); November 5, 1872 (re-election as President); May 23, 1885 (first volume of memoirs goes to press). Possible low points include: April 6, 1862 (start of Battle of Shiloh); December 17, 1862 (orders expulsion of Jews from Tennessee); June 1-3, 1864 (Battle of Cold Harbor); September 24, 1869 (Black Friday); May 1, 1875 (Whiskey Ring uncovered); May 6, 1884 (collapse of firm of Grant and Ward).

3. If any students have particular difficulty gaining an outsider's perspective on their lives, you might encourage them to ask a close friend for suggestions.


1. Students should be encouraged to make both editorials as persuasive as possible.

2. Defenses of Grant could include the fact that he ordered the sale of government gold as soon as he became aware of Gould and Fisk's scheme. Criticisms of Grant could include his discussions with Gould and Fisk about government policy and his willingness to appoint Daniel Butterfield as assistant treasurer.

3. Students' oral presentations should reflect an understanding of the articles. 


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