Grant’s retired voluntarily from the presidency. He probably could have won a third term and his wife wanted to stay in the White House. From American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant:
When Julia observed their arrival, she remarked, “Is there any news? Why is it you have all happened to call today? I am sure there is something unusual.” Just then Ulysses appeared from his study. Julia, still puzzled, questioned her husband about whether something important was to be discussed. More than courtesy had prompted the president to invite his cabinet officers to the White House on a Sunday. He understood their careers would be vitally affected by his decision. He did not ask for their advice, but as a mark of respect he informed them of his decision before it blared from front pages. When the cabinet started to leave, and her husband handed a sealed envelope to a departing messenger, Julia confronted Ulysses: “I want to know what is happening. I feel sure there is something and I must know.” “Yes,” said Ulysses, “I will come as soon as I light my cigar.” “What is it? Tell me?” “You know what a to-do the papers have been making about a third term. Well, I have never until now had an opportunity to answer….I do not wish a third term, and I have written a letter to that effect.” “Did all of these men approve and advise you to send that letter?” “I did not ask approval or advice. I simply read the letter to them. That is all.” “And why did you not read it to me?” “Oh, I know you too well. It never would have gone if I had read it.” “Bring it and read it to me now,” she pleaded. “No, it is already posted; that is why I lingered in the hall to light my cigar, so the letter would be beyond recall.” “Oh, Ulys! Was that kind to me? Was it just to me?” “Well, I do not want to be here another four years. I do not think I could stand it. Don’t bother about it, I beg of you.” This exchange, recalled by Julia years later, revealed much about Ulysses’s and Julia’s contrasting feelings in the spring of 1875. He knew how much she loved their life together in the White House and that she would have been happy to continue for another four years. But great weariness was etched in his reply.
What to do next? Apparently there was no way to get crazy rich with a speaking tour. Grant took a round-the-world trip, financed with savings:
Grant had long envisioned traveling after his presidency and now determined to finance the adventure through one of his few successful investments. Twenty-five shares in Consolidated Virginia Mining, based in Virginia City, Nevada, had earned him $25,000. That sum, he believed, would cover the costs of a two-year sojourn, if he remained frugal about his accommodations and lifestyle. He assigned Ulysses Jr. the task of managing his financial affairs while abroad.
By his third day in Egypt, disappointed, Grant wrote Buck, “All the romance given to Oriental splendor in novels and guide books is dissipated by witnessing the real thing. Innate ugliness, slovenliness, filth and indolence. By the end of January, Grant remembered his cardinal rule of appreciation, writing Buck with a much different opinion from that of day three: “Egypt has interested me more than any other portion of my travels.” When at last the minarets of Cairo appeared, the travelers sadly observed that while the cradle of civilization may have built great temples and tombs, they also, in Julia’s words, had “nothing left” for her impoverished people.
Julia took the lead in preparing their little group: “We had been doing a good deal of Bible reading and revision of our Testaments, to be sure of our sacred ground.” However, Grant’s visit to Jerusalem, as he wrote Adam Badeau, proved to be “a very unpleasant one.” In 1878, the Turks ruled Palestine. Jerusalem, poor and run-down, supported a population of twenty-two thousand, half Jewish. The weather did not help the travelers’ impressions—six inches of snow aggravated already bad streets. Grant tried to forget the present day as he visited many sites associated with the biblical story of Jesus, but ultimately he agreed with Twain, who had written of the “clap-trap side-shows and unseemly impostures of every kind” associated with these holy relics.
Over the next six weeks, they marveled at the Taj Mahal at Agra, observed Hindu pilgrims in the holy city of Benares, and visited ancient ruins near Calcutta.
A visit with the maharaja of Jeypore embodied the incongruities Grant experienced in India. An ascetic reputed to spend seven hours a day in prayer, the maharaja had ten wives. When not in prayer, he invited Grant to join him in his other passion: billiards.
From India, Grant sailed to Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Siam, and Hong Kong. Grant’s visit to China created a flutter of excitement. At Canton, a crowd estimated at two hundred thousand lined the streets to welcome “the King of America.”
He wrote Admiral Daniel Ammen, who had also visited Japan, “The Japanese are altogether the superior people of the East.” Three weeks later, he could scarcely contain himself: “The changes that have taken place here are more like a dream than a reality.” Chief among them: “They have a public school system extending over the entire empire affording facilities for a common school education to every child, male & female.” True to his word, Grant spoke with Emperor Meiji about peace with China. Again, he emphasized, “In your discussions with China on Loo Chu, and on all matters at issue, do not invite or permit so far as you can avoid it, the intervention of a foreign power.” He explained, “European powers have no interests in Asia, so far as I can judge from their diplomacy, that do not involve the humiliation and subjugation of the Asiatic people.”
Former presidents got no pension, but Grant got help from rich people:
That summer, friends and supporters stepped forward to solve the question of how and where the Grants would live. More than twenty men, including George Childs, Anthony J. Drexel, and J. Pierpont Morgan, joined together to raise a trust fund of $250,000, from which Grant would receive annual interest. An additional $100,000 made possible the purchase of a new four-story brownstone at 3 East Sixty-sixth Street, near Central Park.
Then, as now, it was good to be smart but not so smart that you’d believe anything.
[Grant’s son] twenty-nine-year-old Buck was finding phenomenal success in investing. A graduate of Exeter, Harvard University, and Columbia Law School, he possessed the finest education of all the Grant children, and it appeared to be paying off. In July 1880, Buck had been persuaded to launch a brokerage firm in partnership with Ferdinand Ward, a young Wall Street whiz who began his career at the New York Produce Exchange in lower Manhattan in 1873 and rose quickly through the ranks by virtue of his blond, blue-eyed good looks, his charm…and a great deal of cunning. Buck borrowed $100,000 from his prospective father-in-law, Jerome Chaffee, who had made a fortune in mining and banking in Colorado. Ward invested $100,000—or so Buck had been led to believe. Once he had Buck’s money in hand, Ward gallantly insisted that the Grant name should be positioned first in the firm’s official registration, even though Ward would be the active partner and Buck the silent partner. So Grant & Ward it became—ostensibly as a tribute to Buck, who somehow overlooked the obvious: that the public would naturally assume the “Grant” referred to was his father. Not surprisingly, Ward had no intention of enlightening him. Ward’s other partner in July 1880 was one who would fully legitimize the new banking and brokerage firm: James D. Fish, president of Wall Street’s Marine National Bank. Almost twice Ward’s age, Fish was yet another affable, small-town transplant (from Mystic, Connecticut) who had made good in the big city—and knew the ropes. Ward had a telephone line installed in his own office that linked him directly to Fish. Within a few months, Ferdinand Ward became known as “the Young Napoleon of Finance,” exercising an influence over even the most experienced Wall Street traders. Only this time it was not his charm, but high yields that furthered his popularity with eager investors. The firm was raking in the cash.
For a time, everything seemed perfect. The two young men were doing well, and without any effort on his part, Grant was becoming a wealthy man. From an original paper capitalization of $400,000, the firm was now valued at $15 million.
Well, you can probably guess that the story ends with what today we would call a Ponzi scheme. Grant was not diversified and he had borrowed some money to bail out this bank on its way down so he was back to zero. He ended his life by writing his memoirs so as to leave his wife and children with something. Mark Twain was the publisher:
In a cutting-edge marketing campaign, Mark Twain sent out a phalanx of subscription salesmen who offered the two-volume memoirs in three attractive bindings at three different price points. The first printing sold three hundred thousand sets. Twain proudly presented Julia with an initial check for $200,000 of what would ultimately total royalties of $450,000 ($12 million in today’s currency).
(Remember that there was no income tax in those days.) How did the rest of the family do?
… in 1895, Julia sold her house in New York and moved to Washington, the city where she had served as First Lady. She began holding popular Tuesday receptions at her home on Massachusetts Avenue. She was joined there by her daughter, Nellie, who, with her three teenage children, had finally left Great Britain and her failed marriage to Algernon Sartoris. As for Ulysses and Julia’s other children, Fred served as minister to Austria-Hungary from 1889 to 1893 under Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. He then served as a commissioner of police in New York City from 1894 to 1898, working alongside future president Theodore Roosevelt. After his disastrous time on Wall Street, Buck regained his financial footing, and in 1893, he moved to San Diego, where his younger brother, Jesse, was already living. Buck started a law practice but ultimately found success in real estate. In 1910, after five years of construction that cost a staggering $1.9 million, he opened the U. S. Grant Hotel as a wonderfully successful memorial to his father. Jesse, the youngest, outlived all his siblings and authored In the Days of My Father, General Grant in 1925, a warmhearted remembrance from the humorous boy who liked to wrestle his father
How was the book? It is 826 pages long in print but it didn’t seem tedious and, in fact, became kind of a page-turner during the Civil War and Presidency years. Grant was definitely a great American, maybe one of the greatest, but taken out of the contexts where he thrived he sometimes achieved mediocre or disastrous results.
More: read American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant.