Grant The Tanner?

A couple weeks ago I was combing through the online archives of Library of Congress looking the images collections related to Ulysses S. Grant. This 19th Century cartoon caught my eye. “Grant, The Tanner.” Okay, that’s different than the usual “butcher” label. What’s going on?

I clicked on the image and started laughing.

So…this cartoon was created around 1868 and is related to Grant’s upcoming presidential election. It’s kind of hard to read the text, but here’s a transcription and description.

Grant stands front and center and his sobriquet reflects back to his humble, “common man” beginnings when his family had been in the leather business in Galena, Illinois.

To the right, Robert E. Lee, John Pemberton, and Simon Buckner stand in rather juvenile stances as if they have just returned from the woodshed after a “tanning” punishment. The text above these uniformed Confederates’ heads reads: “This is to certify, that we have had our hides tanned by U.S. Grant and that the work was by him thoroughly done? R.E. Lee, S.P. Buckner, Pemberton and others Late of the Confederate Army.”

To the left and occupying Grant’s attention stand several politicians. New York Governor John Thompson Hoffman – dressed as the “Great Sanchem of Tammany” – corrals the Democratic candidates, Horatio Seymour and Francis P. Blair, Jr. toward Grant. (Blair is the one in uniform.) Hoffman says to Grant, “Here General is a couple more hides to be tanned; when will they be done?”

Grant, with sleeves rolled up, puffs on a cigar, and responds: “Well, I’ll finish them off in early November.”

The cartoon presents Grant favorably, implying that he will beat his political competition as capably as he had defeated Confederates in the Civil War. It also emphasizes his humble beginnings and appeals to the working voters. And the prediction from “The Tanner” was accurate in the 1868 election.


Library of Congress: Accessed April 2021.

5 Responses to Grant The Tanner?

    1. Rosemary:

      I agree with you. Very interesting cartoon.

      Here are a couple of additional thoughts. As a boy growing up in Georgetown, Ohio, young Ulysses worked in his father’s tannery. But he hated it. The acrid stenches overwhelmed him. On the other hand, young Ulys liked working on his father’s farm because such chores involved using horses, and the lad loved horses.

      The three Confederate generals in the cartoon obviously referred to the three armies Grant captured during the war. Buckner led Rebel troops at Fort Donelson. Pemberton was commander of Southern troops at Vicksburg. And Lee, of course, surrendered his army to Grant at Appomattox.

  1. Recall also how hides were tanned back then. Ghastly process, often using dog excrement. So one is left wondering whether there was some other connotation…

  2. This is a good one. Thank you for posting. Its great. Too, it shows that cigars had become part of his public persona unfortunately.

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