We celebrate the birthday of a famous army general who, according to his fans, deserves a promotion, even though it’s been 137 years since he died. We’ll also look at Mayor Eric Adams’s vision for the city’s recovery, as outlined in his first State of the City address.
For once this is no joke: who is buried in Grant’s grave?
A general who is not the highest rank in the army. Not yet anyway.
Fans of Ulysses S. Grant campaign for a promotion that would elevate Grant to the rank of just two other former generals, George Washington and World War I hero John J. Pershing—general of the United States Armies, above five-star generals .
Grant became the nation’s first four-star general in 1866, after the Civil War. His supporters had hoped that the posthumous promotion would take place in time for the 200th anniversary of Grant’s birth, which is today.
But such things take time. The military did not make Washington General of the Armies until 1978, two years after Congress passed a resolution calling for his relocation — and 179 years after his death.
Grant “was the first of the world’s modern generals,” said Frank Scaturro, the president of the Grant Monument Association, which is involved in a memorial ceremony that begins today at 11 a.m. at the General Grant National Memorial, on Riverside Drive in West 122nd street . “This promotion would be an acknowledgment of what he meant to the modern United States military and the survival of the republic and the wider cause he believed in, emancipation, which became the root of the union in the Civil War.”
A similar joint resolution on Grant’s behalf was tabled last fall with bipartisan support. Two House sponsors are rare allies: Representative Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat from Harlem who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in 2019 and 2021, and Representative Elise Stefanik, who voted against impeachment both times and became the 3rd Republican in the House. House with Trump’s approval.
Last week, three of the sponsors of the Grant resolution: Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri; Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat; and Representative Ann Wagner, a Republican from Missouri — wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, requesting an assessment of Grant’s track record and “a determination as to the merits of a posthumous promotion.” They argued that Washington’s promotion in 1978 had the effect of “reducing the rank to which Grant had been appointed in 1866.”
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment, saying the Defense Department would respond to the three lawmakers.
The military hasn’t had five-star generals since General Omar Bradley died in 1981, and F. Lee Reynolds of the Army Center of Military History said it’s not clear how many stars an armies general would have. That has not been detailed by Congress or the military itself, he said. He noted that Washington’s promotion in 1978 stipulated that he would always be the highest-ranking officer in the military, even if there were other generals of the armies.
For much of the 20th century, Grant had a disgraceful place among presidents. He was usually at the bottom when historians ranked them. His reputation—a great general, a great writer, but a dismal director—has at least somewhat recovered over the past 25 years. His fans say he was personally unaffected by the corruption that swirled through his administration. Scaturro, the author of “President Grand Reconsidered” (1998), said his “political career was dragged through the mud.”
“I think he was punished” – by history – “to do the right thing,” he said. “The age of Grant was the age of America as a multiracial republic,” with Grant overseeing reconstruction and trying to keep the country on the course President Abraham Lincoln had charted. “It took a generation for Jim Crow to reverse that,” said Scaturro.
One more thing. On the riddle about Grant’s tomb, a staple of the Groucho Marx quiz show “You Bet Your Life” in the 1940s and 1950s: the correct answer is “nobody”.
“Technically, they’re not buried,” said Derrick Head, a National Park Service ranger at the General Grant National Memorial, referring to Grant and his wife Julia. “They’re above ground. They live in two sarcophagi.”
Expect a mostly sunny day around the mid-50s. The evening is usually clear, with temperatures dropping to the high 30s.
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The mayor’s view on recovery
In State of the Union or State of the City speeches, such as Mayor Eric Adams’ Tuesday, there is usually a sentence that says, “The state of the [blank] is [blank]†
Obviously, Adams filled in the first blank with “city.” His pick for the second blank was “strong” – although, as he admitted seconds later, “we are still in a time of great concern.”
The 116 days since he took office have been marred by violence, including a mass shooting in the subway this month. The number of coronavirus cases is rising again, driven by new sub-variants of Omicron. The city’s unemployment rate, 6.5 percent in March, seasonally adjusted, is much higher than the national rate of 3.6 percent.
But Adams was optimistic, calling for “a new, hopeful chapter,” arguing that he could jump-start the city’s comeback by deepening its focus on public safety and inequality.
My colleague Emma G. Fitzsimmons writes that the mayor, a former police captain, said he would spend more to tackle what he cited as root causes of crime: guns, mental illness and homelessness. He said the city’s recovery wouldn’t happen unless New Yorkers feel safe.
“We can’t have a city where people are afraid to walk down the street, take the subway or send their kids to school,” he said.
He outlined other spending priorities in his latest $99.7 billion budget proposal, including $5 billion for affordable housing over 10 years and $55 million to expand a program that will bring emergency medical technicians and mental health professionals to certain 911- sends calls. He also said he would soon release a plan to expand childcare that would allow some families making $55,000 a year to pay just $10 a week.
Adams faced criticism in his first 100 days for bringing back controversial anti-crime police units, clearing camps for the homeless, rolling back pandemic restrictions and appearing unwilling to release his tax returns. But he found positives to highlight — for example, that 2,300 guns had been taken off the street. He also said he was inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who experienced a “cascade of crises not unlike what we are experiencing today” during the Great Depression.
“Then, like now, there was no easy fix or quick fix,” Adams said. “FDR understood that the people needed an honest account of the problems and bold plans to solve them. That is what I want to do for my fellow New Yorkers.”
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I walked slowly through Stuy Town, completely immersed in my phone as I prepared for a job interview.
I was so absorbed in what I was doing that I almost bumped into an older man walking. He looked at me with a hint of disapproval.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I have an interview tomorrow for my dream job and all I can do is prepare.”