- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

When Ulysses S. Grant became the nation's 18th president in 1869, he had to resign from the Army and give up his rank of four-star general. Subsequent congressional efforts to restore the rank were blocked by politics and President Chester A. Arthur's promise to veto any bill naming a specific individual to the rank of general; he believed it infringed on executive powers.
Early in 1885, however, the effort was revived with news of Grant's financial and health problems, and a compromise finally was developed. Congress would pass a bill creating the rank and leave it to the president to name the individual. The Senate quickly complied, but the bill got sidetracked in the House, where members first had to resolve a thorny issue of a disputed election in Iowa.
Then, late in the morning of March 4, with time running out for both the 48th Congress and the Arthur administration, the logjam was broken suddenly and dramatically. "Tama" Jim Wilson, whose seat was at stake in the election contest, jumped atop his chair, demanded recognition and offered to sacrifice himself so the Congress "might do justice to the hero of Donelson and Appomattox."
The move cost Wilson his seat, but the Grant bill was adopted quickly by acclamation and rushed to Arthur, who was waiting in the Capitol to sign the measure and send his nomination of Grant to the Senate.
Members of the Senate anxiously awaited the nomination as they watched the hands of the clock move relentlessly toward the noon witching hour. Clearly, some intervention was required. At 11:45, according to the New York Times, the clock in the chamber was turned back six minutes, and "everyone laughed at the cheating of time."
At 11:53 on the "corrected" clock, the president's private secretary burst into the room bearing Arthur's last message to the Senate: "I nominate Ulysses S. Grant, formerly commanding the armies of the United States, to be General on the retired list of the army with the full pay of such rank."
The nomination was approved quickly by voice vote as the chamber erupted into tumultuous cheering and applause. Shortly thereafter, the new president, Grover Cleveland, signed Grant's commission as one of the first acts of his administration.
No one seemed to care whether the process had been entirely legal. The old soldier was back in the Army, and the Army was where he belonged.
John G. Leyden


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