Mark Twain Prevented Ulysses S. Grant’s Widow from Being Penniless

Grant
Ulysses S Grant. Intriguing History

For Civil War historians, there is no historical memoir more valued than that of Ulysses S. Grant. Even more than 132 years later, the memoirs are considered some of the best writing by a former president to ever be published. That’s astounding considering we have writing and memoirs from such giants as Thomas Jefferson.

Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant was one of the most proclaimed books to come out of the post-Civil War era, and for good reason. There is a group of people who led the fight in the Civil War (from both sides) that wrote books that gave insightful and intriguing perspectives of the war. Grant’s had the added benefit of his position during the war. Robert E. Lee’s memoirs were never published in his lifetime, so Grant’s memoirs were the only written perspective from the top of either major army.

The thing is, we almost didn’t have them. Grant only finished the writing of his memoirs a month before he died from cancer in 1885, and even then it was a close call. Grant had been suffering from illness since early 1884. Moreover, the finances of the Grant family at the time necessitated something that would sustain an income after his death.

Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia. Wisconsin History

Originally, the offer for the memoirs came from The Century Magazine, a monthly illustrated periodical, which at the time was the country’s largest magazine. Grant had previously written a series of articles for them. At the time he was paid $500 per article, which if you do the math, is over $11,000. The editor of the magazine prodded Grant into writing his memoirs, which would also include some of the articles he had written.

The magazine offered Grant and his family 10 percent in royalties from the sale of the book once it was published. With the financial future of his soon-to-be widow in mind, Grant turned that offer down, in favor of an offer from his friend Mark Twain. Yes, that Mark Twain. Twain offered to publish Grant’s book and return 75% in royalties, which even today is pretty unheard of. This is contested by some historians who claim the royalty turned out to be closer to 40%. No matter the number in the end, it was high enough to net Julia Grant (Grant’s widow) around half a million dollars ($11.3 million in today’s money).

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  • Tom Burns

    I did the math. It came out to be 500 dollars. No way I could make it to be 11K. Also, I just read about Simon Bolivar Buckner helping out, as well. I guess there is much research still to do. Flimsy scholarship is fun.

    • Matthew Weber

      Do you have the source on the Buckner thing? I didn’t find that.

      Also, he did make $500 per article. I’ve now checked six different places. $1 in 1882 in 2016 dollars is about $22-23 Depending on which site you look at. Doing the math ($22 x $500) = $11,000. Maybe I’m missing something (I don’t have a math degree, so it is possible).

      • Tom Burns

        Sorry. I can’t locate the source. I’m not in quite the shape Grant was in, but no more marathons for me. While I’ve been looking, I have found reinforcement of the Buckner-Grant friendship. But, it seems that Mark Twain was the big influence in Grant’s contract with his publishers.

  • Jeani Richardson

    They paid him 500$ PER article, this article states that Grant wrote a series of articles for them, and if you do the math, he wrote 22 articles to net him 11,000$…………….

    • Matthew Weber

      He did make $500 per article. I’ve now checked six different places. $1 in 1882 in 2016 dollars is about $22-23 Depending on which site you look at. Doing the math ($22 x $500) = $11,000. Maybe I’m missing something (I don’t have a math degree, so it is possible).

      That number would be for one article. I don’t know how many he did total, all I know is he did a series of them.