Since the author of To Rescue the Republic: Ulysses S. Grant, the Fragile Union, and the Crisis of 1876, Bret Baier, is an anchor with Fox News, I admit that I was skeptical that this book wouldn’t be good history but that it would instead be evil pro-Trump propaganda.
Fox News has been repeating Republican lies that the presidential election of 2020 was stolen from Trump and has been defending the pro-Trump insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Disputing the election results, some Trump allies have called for the federal government to convene a bipartisan oversight group to decide the outcome of the election to the satisfaction of those who question the results. For precedent, election doubters cite the commission set up at the end of the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant to sort through the results of the disputed election of 1876 between Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes.
Since the history around that commission is the main topic of Baier’s book, I suspected that this volume might have been an elaboration of that pro-Trump argument.
Baier says otherwise. As he has claimed in interviews about his book, like many media outlets, Fox maintains a firewall between opinion and news. And while commentators like Sean Hannity have been repeating Trump talking points about the 2020 election, news anchors on the network have stuck close to the facts, claims Baier.
I don’t watch Fox, so I’ll have to take Baier’s word for it that there’s a distinction between opinion and news at the conservative network. For his own part, Baier says that he is aware of no evidence to call the 2020 election into question, that he accepts Joe Biden’s victory as valid and that Baier himself was horrified by the Capitol insurrection.
Yet I was still skeptical about Baier’s Grant book. Fox News is a hard name to forget. But once I started reading, I discovered that I need not have worried.
To Rescue the Republic appears to be a fair and historically accurate history well documented with primary and secondary sources of the kind you’d see in a book by an academic historian. But unlike their books, Baier’s is written for a general reader and so is more accessible and frankly, more entertaining than the average Grant biography.
I don’t know if Baier or co-writer Catherine Whitney deserves more of the credit for producing a gripping narrative that also seems to be solid history, but somebody deserves thanks and praise.
The book is an excellent introduction to Grant for anyone, spending about half its pages on a summary of his life and career through the end of the Civil War. For a reader already aware of that part of Grant’s story, the other half of the book offers much value. It tells the story of Grant’s post-war generalship, his presidency and the climax of his work to save the nation by overseeing the process to determine the winner of the 1876 presidential race.
Grant himself was immensely proud of his role in finding a compromise that would work for both sides, in his mind preventing a renewal of open violence that threatened to become a second Civil War. Baier shows much sympathy for Grant and especially for his efforts to protect the civil rights of Black Southerners while trying to make peace between antagonistic camps of whites. His narrative is keenly aware of the tragedy that the compromise of 1876 wound up ending Reconstruction, which, though flawed, offered America’s best chance for racial equality until the civil rights movement nearly a century later.
This is a story that needs to be told today more than ever and with this engaging book, Baier has proven that he may just be one of the best people to tell it.