U.S. Grant and Zachariah Chandler go at it in Detroit Court

Zachariah Chandler


From the book Captain Sam Grant, author Lloyd Lewis relates a story of Grant’s early days in Detroit when he and Chandler went to court over a matter as described below:

Grant felt bold enough to hale into court the “big man of the town,” rich, ruthless, powerful Zachariah Chandler. Ever since migrating from New Hampshire in 1833, Chandler had plowed through Detroit like a steamer through floating ice. Traveling the farm regions for great distances in summer heat and winter storms, he had drummed up his dry-goods-store and jobbing trade until he became the first businessman of the area to gross $50,000 a year.He had bought real estate shrewdly, weathered national panics by virtue of his reputation for rigid honesty, and soon was wealthy enough to turn his driving vitality into politics. Coarse and cunning, he was also fearless, contributing opening to the Underground Railroad, speaking vehemently against slavery, and organizing vigorously for the Whigs. In fights around polling booths on election days, Democrats learned to beware of Chandler’s long, sinewy arms. In January 1851, he was preparing to run for Mayor, challenging the traditional Democratic rule. Then Lieutenant U.S. Grant on the tenth of March, brought him into court on the charge of disobeying the city ordinance requiring homeowners to clear the ice and snow off sidewalks. For the past twenty-five days the officers at the post had been suffering from Chandler’s neglect as they passed his home on Jefferson Avenue; Grant slipped on the ice one night returning from headquarters and sprained a leg.

At the trial Chandler, acting as his own attorney, lavished vituperation of his own already famous brand upon the officers, denouncing them as idlers, loafers, sponges on the community. He denounced Grant, Gore, and Major Sibley in particular, snarling at them:

“If you soldiers would keep sober, perhaps you would not fall on people’s pavements and hurt your legs.”

Although the evidence was against him, the jury let him off with a fine of six cents and costs-less than eight dollars all told. Five weeks later he was nominated for mayor by the Whigs. At the election which Chadler won, Grant, like many other officers, did not go to the polls. The new constitution of Michigan permitted all residents to become, automatically, citizens of the state, but Grant did not vote since he still wanted to be considered a citizen of Ohio.

Chandler’s feud with the officer vanished with the ice that spring of 1851, and would never be revivied, for the War Department, abandoning the Detroit barracks,transferred the Fourth Regiment to Sacketts Harbor.”

Thus, the tale of the legal problem between Grant and Chandler is told. Years later they both would be working for the North to win the war and end slavery.  After that, Chandler would become the United States Secretary of the Interior under the administration of whom? U.S. Grant.

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