I don’t have anything to say about Grant’s status as an intellectual, never having read his memoirs, but this discussion reminds me that I have in some old research notes an impression of Grant set down shortly after his first inaugural in the diary of Olive Cole, whose husband was then a Senator from California, and whose papers can be found in this collection. The entry is dated 5 March 1869 (words in brackets followed by a question mark indicate I had trouble making out what was written):
Genl Grant converses easily and, barring a peculiar Western pronunciation, quite elegantly. His language is simple – clear and forcible. He always asks many questions, and is quite as willing to answer general ones, tho’ is sometimes “reticent” – when leading questions are addressed to him, or special favors are asked. He wants time to decide important questions and to consider the propriety of granting favors to others. He [hears?] urging very patiently, I hear. Time will reveal to us the extent of his great patience. He told me a few evenings ago at the house of the Ex – [Mayor? Major?] Hallack that he was too lazy to perform the duties of President and he looked forward to them with dread. Then I [sallied? sullied?] him upon his duty to the people at this great crisis of all the good he might do etc – he coldly remarked he was not ambitious to do what another could do better and he presumed the people would be as happy to have him leave the White House at the end of four years as they are now to see him go there.
[Here my notes indicate that the following section is crossed out in the diary]
My only fear is he is not in sympathy with the great “people” and does not realize the necessity of establishing our government upon the principles of freedom. He is a good judge of a General, of a cigar, of a horse, but is he of men in general? He has not made human nature a study – and his ignorance of somethings national and political astonished even me.
[end crossed out section]
He is fond of his wife and children – and well he may be, for they are gentle + lovely.
I believe he will do as nearly right as any man we could have chosen for President, tho’ he may not do as much. My greatest fear is that he will forgive the Rebels too freely – and trust them too far.
His gentleness of heart will lead him to great charity + forbearance that is better in excess – than excess of tyranny.
I would caution against taking this as a sort of definitive judgment on Grant, especially given that he had barely been President when it was written, and that some of it had been crossed out sometime after it was written. But neither do I have reason to believe that Cole misrepresented their conversation.
Cole’s diaries, incidentally, were among the most engrossing documents I read during my history grad student days. Too bad it was information about her husband’s work in Congress and his relations with business that I was really looking for in their papers. Also too bad is that I’ve never worked up that research into publishable form (blogging doesn’t really count, I don’t think).