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THE DYING HERO.
N the winter of 1883-84 General Grant had the misfortune
to slip on an icy pavement near his home in New York and to badly sprain, if not dislocate, his hip joint. This was the beginning of a series of physical troubles.
Up to that time he had been of robust constitution. This accident confined him to the house for a long time, and, as may well be supposed, with a man of his activity and energy, the confinement grew to be exceedingly irksome.
The summer brought only partial relief. True, he could make out to get back and forth from the city to his cottage at Long Branch, but he was forced to use crutches all the time, and walked, even then, only with great difficulty and amid much pain. It was plain to those who knew him intimately that his system had received a shock from which recovery was exceedingly slow.
He was past sixty years of age. The recuperative powers of youth were gone.
The hardships and exposures of two wars, which a good constitution had hitherto withstood, were now coming in on the first moment of weakness, to tantalize him with their cruel remembrance of aches and pains. But he was fighting a plucky battle against his years and the results of his accident-fighting grimly, quietly, uncomplainingly, as he had been wont to do when the fate of armies was in his hands.
That he would have come around all right in time none doubted. His will was unimpaired, and it was helping the
body at all its weak points. But now it was to receive a blow -a sudden, fearful, shattering blow.
The year 1884 brought the Grant-Ward failure, with its train of blights and woes. To General Grant it was by far the hardest blow of his life. He had intended to settle down in Washington—which city he loved—after his return from his "Tour Around the World," but he went to New York City, that he might be near his sons, who were in business there. The fatherly instinct weighed against all his previous plans for a quiet, retired life. He was a model family man in all his acts and prepossessions.
Once in New York, and amid its business hurly burly, possessed of means supposed to be ample for every personal want, with something over for investment should opportunity offer, endowed with a name and credit which would prove a tower of strength to any legitimate enterprise, and which amid financial sharpers would naturally be sought to bolster up failing or doubtful enterprises, it would have been something wonderful if he had escaped fleecing and disaster.
At an untoward and unsuspecting moment he loaned his name and credit to the banking-house which proved the maelstrom in which his fortune perished, and which literally drowned his peace of mind, turned his hopes into despair, impaired his invincible will, threw him up on the hostile shore of years a princely man, but, as to property in his own name, a beggar. The world hath it that he was the victim of his own generosity, his unsuspecting nature, his wonderfully child-like faith in those to whom he was attached by blood, or was attracted toward by the relations of friendship, politics or business.
Let the world's verdict stand. It does him ample justice. Hard and cold are the laws and sentiments of trade. They may exclaim, “Where was his tact, his shrewdness, his ability to turn a sharp corner, his power to squeeze himself out
from among falling financial timbers, or that acumen which ought, in the first place, to have protected him from misuse of his name and credit ? " But humanity is broader far than these narrow, hard and cold laws. And its judgment is higher and quite as unerring. It is nobler to have erred on the side of faith in one's fellow-man, even at the cost of fortune, than to have succeeded at the sacrifice of every manly trait, every godlike gift of character.
Grant's business failure was not his own. It was arrant, inexcusable abuse of his confidence and credit by men who knew their value, and who were without a conscience to check their use of them. Yet the consequences were much the same to him—worse, if anything. He came in for his share of criticism and denunciation at a time when his true relationship to the exploded firm was not understood. This galled him beyond precedent. It was no time for him to speak—quite too early for the vindication which time and a better understanding of the situation alone could bring. He was physically weak, almost a helpless cripple. Despite his natural heroism, and consciousness of strict business rectitude on his part, the great fear seized him that a cloud was about to gather over his last days which would obscure the lustre of his setting sun. He was no longer the Grant of the olden time, but a quieter, more retired, more seriously thoughtful Grant-a Grant weighed down by a crushing inward thought which, however much it may have been temporarily lifted in public, pursued and ground him in private.
Could that Herculean will which had for a long time been fighting against physical infirmity stand this new and unexpected strain? Alas, no! Yet this flood was not all. Tumultuous and dire came the announcement that he had been made personally liable for great amounts—as an active partner in a concern toward which he had all along supposed he only bore the relationship of special or silent partner. He
was in the direct line of wreck, and responsible for far more than he was worth, though supposably responsible for only the amount originally placed to the credit of the firm. Financial destruction lay directly across his path unless forsooth at the expense of long legal proceedings and the assertion of technical law points. For these he had no mind. He would neither quibble nor question the fate that had overtaken him. He stood in the breach with his all, and all was swept awayhouses, lands, personal investments of every kind.
This crisis in General Grant's life has been purposely distorted and very much misrepresented. It is a fatality due to ignorance and a keen love of the morbid that the great are made to suffer amid disaster out of all proportion to their greatness. Perhaps the exact relation of Grant to the firm of Grant & Ward will ever be misunderstood. There may ever be some who will refuse to hold him innocent for purely selfish or speculative reasons. It is a matter which history can do but little with, for history deals only with facts, not with opinions and prejudices.
The best embodiment of facts connected with the affair is found in General Grant's own sworn testimony, taken in his sick room, in order that it might be used in the courts in case he should die. Its substance is as follows:
“He supposed he was legally a member of the firm of Grant & Ward, though up to the time of the failure he regarded himself as only a special partner. In May, 1884, he thought himself as worth well on to a million dollars, but his income from it was small. He went into the firm because he regarded his partners as reputable brokers, and with a view to increasing his income. He was seldom consulted about the management of affairs and trusted implicitly to his partners. Once when consulted about government contracts he opposed taking them, and they were never taken with his knowledge. The profits he had been led to expect from the firm were never
realized and all was lost. Everything he had in the world went. He never knew of the firm's great indebtedness and supposed it sound. Every representation made to him was in glowing colors, and he never suspected the business worth of Ferdinand Ward; on the contrary, he thought him a man of excellent qualities and one to be implicitly trustel. the victim of misplaced confidence, and in nothing so much as in finding himself fully involved with the general partners, when he supposed he was only a silent, or special, partner."
When the fury of this financial storm had spent itself, and it was seen how disastrous it had been to him, friendship and gratitude came to his rescue, and kindly offered to relieve him from present embarrassment. This generosity was respectfully declined. The law must have its way, the sacrifice must be made and borne. A leading creditor enforced his legal rights not, as it turned out, to harry and oppress, but to save, as best he could and what he could.
This creditor was Mr. Vanderbilt who, to his honor be it said, pushed his execution in order to keep others out of the way. He knew that General Grant owned many rare and costly things gathered in all parts of the world, given him by admiring citizens at home and by crowned heads abroad. The intrinsic value of these could have been computed, but they had an associative and historic value far beyond estimate. Why scatter them? Why sacrifice them?
It was known too that the General's ultimate intention was to give them to the Government as a cabinet of trophies and mementoes. Why should this honorable intention be frustrated by the intervention of merciless creditors ?
So, while the Vanderbilt execution hung over all, they were rescued. They were granted in permissive trust to the Government, and so passed beyond danger and to their final destination. Then the execution went on obliterating the other accumulations of a lifetime, bringing its ruin, yet clari