The Newfoundland That Belonged to President Grant’s Family
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) and his wife Julia moved into the White House with four children for what was to become a two-term stay (1869-1877).
The eldest son was off at college by 1869 when Grant’s first term began but the three younger children were an active presence in the White House. They rode to school together in a yellow wicker cart pulled by two ponies, named Reb and Billy Button.
Admirers of Grant, of which there were many since he was instrumental in ending the Civil War, loved to send the children gifts. The youngest son, Jesse was only age 8 when they moved to Washington, D.C. He was given several pets, including a parrot and several dogs.
As Jesse Grant wrote many years later in his memoir, The Days of My Father General Grant: “I possessed all the normal small boy’s fondness for a dog and acquired several in rapid succession, only to have each, in turn, die. …
“Then someone presented me with a magnificent Newfoundland. When this dog came, father called the White House steward. He asked no question, made no accusations.” Grant merely stated:
“Jesse has a new dog. You may have noticed that his former pets have been peculiarly unfortunate. When this dog dies, every employee in the White House will be at once discharged.”
The Newfoundland and the Grants
Newfoundlands tend to be easy-going and are true companion dogs, so Jesse must have been very happy with his present. And Grant may have held some affection for the dog simply because he pleased Jesse. Though not often written about, Grant was totally devoted to his family and during the Grant White House years, the activities of the presidential residence primarily centered around the children, with an occasional state dinner mixed in.
Newfoundlands must have been popular at that time as James Buchanan (1857-1861), Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), and James Garfield (3-4-1881-9-19-1881) also had Newfies in the White House.
Stories about Ulysses Grant and animals invariably focus on his love of horses. He was viewed as a bit thick-headed as a child growing up in Point Pleasant, Ohio, but he established a place for himself by running a livery service beginning at a young age. He and his horse and carriage could be hired to convey passengers or possessions almost anywhere in Ohio.
At West Point, he did not take well to the military classes but he loved riding, and that was one area in which he excelled. He was so well-respected for his riding prowess that was selected to perform a special demonstration at the class graduation in 1843.
Most generals needed more than one horse during the Civil War, and Grant was no different. His favorite horse, Cincinnati, was given to him toward the end of the war by an admirer known as S.S. Grant (no relation). The fellow was dying and asked General Grant to please visit him for some news that the man would assure him would please him.
Grant acceded to this unusual request and learned that the man owned a horse that he said was the “finest in the world.” S.S. Grant knew the general’s love of fine horses, and the sick fellow wanted him to have his horse, Cincinnati. The horse was large (17 hands) and very powerful. He was son of the fastest four-mile thoroughbred in the United States at that time, and clearly did his sire proud.
During the Presidency
At the White House President Grant had the stables expanded and the pathway to the stables re-done because he walked down to visit his horses every day.
Even while at the White House, Grant loved to go out with his horses. Sometimes he would take out a trotter and sulky and pull his hat down low to keep from being recognized. Then he would ride as though he hadn’t a care in the world.
However, Washington, D.C. police did enforce a speed limit for horse traffic. One day the President was stopped by an officer. When the poor fellow came forward and realized he was about to ticket the president, he began to stutter, not knowing what to say.
Grant insisted he give the ticket, which the fellow reluctantly wrote up. Grant paid the $20 fine, sending the money along to the Chief of Police along with a commendation of the officer’s fine work.
Though Grant’s presidency was known to be overrun by corruption, it wasn’t because Grant was dishonest… he was just too easy to push around. He never stepped in to prevent the liberties being taken by others.