News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

July 25, 2013

BRUCE’S HISTORY LESSONS: Writing the ‘Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant’

When the autobiography of Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War hero and 18th president of the United States, was posthumously published in 1885 it was a literary tour de force. “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was also an instant best-seller and even today is considered among the best autobiographies ever written.

 And it was written out of necessity. When Grant left the White House in 1877, he had refused numerous offers to publish his memoirs.

Unfortunately, while Grant was militarily brilliant, financially he was clueless, and he was duped into investing his life’s savings in a brokerage firm run by two scam artists, Ferdinand Ward and James Fish, which eventually went bust, leaving Grant and his family penniless.

Thus, writing his memoirs was the only way to provide for his family’s security. When the popular Century magazine asked him to contribute some articles to a series on the Civil War and then asked him to turn those articles into a book on his life, Grant agreed.

Fortunately, before Grant signed the book contract with Century, his good friend, the famous author Mark Twain, reviewed Century’s offer and was aghast. Century was offering only 10 cents for every book sold and wanted to deduct from Grant’s royalty payments certain “expenses,” including Grant’s research assistants and clerk.

Through his own publishing house, Webster and Company (which recently had published a book of Twain’s that would earn a fair amount of fame, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”), Twain offered Grant a $10,000 advance — unheard of at the time — and 70 percent of the net profits.

It was an overly generous offer, motivated partly by Twain’s desire to spare his friend a poverty-stricken old age, but also by Twain’s expectation that the book would be a huge success.

Certainly every member of the Union Army would want a copy, but so would the general public because, although today many historians treat Grant’s presidency with disdain, when he left office he was hugely popular.

Twain’s offer was also, it would turn out, a gamble because just as Grant began writing his memoirs he was diagnosed with incurable throat cancer (Grant smoked two dozen cigars a day), which meant he might die before finishing the book. The cancer also made writing extremely painful, yet Grant refused to yield, working every day and writing every word of the two-volume, 1,215-page book.

That meant his family was financially secure. His wife, Julia, received $450,000 in royalties (about $10 million today) and lived out her life in comfort. General Ulysses S. Grant, having fought, and won, his last earthly battle, finally surrendered to death, this week (July 23) in 1885 — just three days after finishing the book.

Bruce G. Kauffmann’s email address is bruce@historylessons.net.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
History
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Mother of 2 Makes NFL Cheerleading Squad at 40 Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix Judge OKs Record-setting $2B Sale of Clipper Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre Today in History for July 29th Fish Oil Plant Blast Kills One Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Airstrike Shatters Fragile Calm in Gaza Trial Begins Over OKC Bombing Video Raw: Earthquake Rocks Mexico's Gulf Coast The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Two Huge Fires Burning in Northern California
NDN Video
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now!
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity