The Surprising Reason Ulysses S. Grant Went To Jail

Union military leadership during the early stages of the American Civil War was extraordinarily inconsistent, essentially becoming a revolving door of several generals who were too inexperienced, incompetent, or fearful to conduct a war on such scale. Ulysses S. Grant in many ways turned the tables on this trend. He was not a flawless military prodigy at first, and his status as essentially a functioning alcoholic might not have come across as all that impressive compared to those of his peers (via HistoryNet). 

Yet as a colonel his performance eventually shined through the smog of stagnation and defeat that the other commanders left behind. Once promoted to General of the Army, Grant led the Union to victory, carving paths deep into Confederate territory as his scorched earth policy deprived the enemy of much-needed food and other supplies. His popularity was so great that in 1869 he became the 18th president of the United States. While Grant had his fair share of scandals while in office, one personal mishap is surprisingly relatable for a time when automobiles were decades away from being invented. He was arrested for speeding.

Grant was a repeat offender when he was arrested for speeding

Speeding laws have in fact existed since 1652, when restrictions were set for horses and horse-drawn carriages in what would become New York City (via Martson Law). In 1872 this was very much still the case when President Grant found himself cited for speeding (via WTOP). Officer West, who was coincidentally a black veteran of the Civil War, observed Grant racing through the streets of Washington D.C. via a carriage. West initially stopped Grant and allowed the him to carry on with just a warning, but apparently the next day he found the President repeating the offense (via Business Insider). 

Reluctantly yet firmly, the officer again approached Grant and informed him that this time he was under arrest. Grant was in fact no stranger to arrest for this offense, as he was previously booked for it in 1866. Yet as Grant complied and went with the officer to the local jail, his status as the president gives the offense radically different optics (via Ghosts of DC). While he did not fight the charges leveled against him, he did not stay captive for long and left after paying a $20 fine (about $453.42 when adjusted for inflation). Afterward West and Grant became fairly good friends, often bonding over their shared love of horses.