[Congressional Record Volume 154, Number 123 (Friday, July 25, 2008)]
[Senate]
[Pages S7474-S7475]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                       REMEMBERING JOHN Y. SIMON

  Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, in 1887, 2 years after the death of 
Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman wrote in a letter to his old 
Army Chief of Staff, ``Grant's whole character was a mystery, even to 
himself.''
  Today, more than 120 years later, the world has a far better 
understanding of Ulysses Grant than did General Sherman, or maybe even 
General Grant himself. And for that, we are indebted to one man more 
than any other.
  John Y. Simon, a leading Civil War scholar and the preeminent 
authority on Ulysses Grant, died on July 8 in Carbondale, IL. Mr. 
Simon, an award-winning historian, spent more than four decades at 
Southern Illinois University, where he taught courses on the Civil War, 
Reconstruction and the history of Illinois. He also served as executive 
director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, based at SIU, since 1962.
  But his passion and his true vocation was the Ulysses Grant papers 
project. Mr. Simon collected, edited, and organized hundreds of 
thousands of documents connected with America's 18th President--then 
assembled them to form a vast and astounding collection, which he 
called the ``Papers of Ulysses S. Grant.''
  He began the Grant papers project in 1962 and was close to completing 
it when he died. The 31st and final volume of the collection is in its 
final stages. The entire collection is published by Southern Illinois 
University Press.
  Harriet Simon, Mr. Simon's wife of 51 years, told the New York Times 
that working on the Grant papers consumed her husband.
  ``It was daily,'' she said. ``It was weekends and it was most 
holidays. Some holidays, not all day.''
  John Younker Simon was born in Highland Park, IL, in 1933. He 
graduated from Swarthmore College and received an M.A. and a Ph.D., 
both in history, from Harvard, where he met his future wife. He taught 
at Ohio State before finding his place at S.I.U. in 1964.
  Just as President Grant's own autobiography raised the standard for 
Presidential memoirs, Mr. Simon's work raised the standard for 
Presidential papers collections.
  Harold Holzer is senior vice president of the Metropolitan Museum of 
Art in New York. He is also a renowned Lincoln scholar and a 
cochairman, along with Representative Ray LaHood and me, of the Abraham 
Lincoln Bicentennial Committee. As he told the New York Times, Mr. 
Simon approached his work on the Grant papers as a biographer rather 
than simply a cataloger.
  Mr. Holzer said:

       He changed the whole ethos of presidential papers. He 
     matched incoming correspondence with outgoing, so researchers 
     would have a complete episode. He included editorial 
     commentary that was more substantial than footnotes. He wrote 
     introductions to each volume. . . . He is the father of this 
     whole discipline.

  In 2004, Mr. Simon received a Lincoln Prize for outstanding 
achievement for the Grant papers. The awards jury wrote, ``It is 
inconceivable that any historian would write on the Civil War without 
having these volumes at hand.''
  In 2005, John Simon was honored with a lifetime achievement award 
from the Lincoln Forum. Frank J. Williams, chairman of the Lincoln 
Forum and president of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, praised him as 
``a brilliant scholar, a dazzling writer and an original, irreplaceable 
personality [who] has enriched the world of Civil War studies and 
enriched the lives of those who know him.''
  Upon receiving the Lincoln Prize, Mr. Simon said of his life's work:

       I have enjoyed it. It has been an opportunity for me to 
     spend time with a spectacular figure in American history. 
     Grant was a complex character--an unmilitary soldier, an 
     unpolitical president and an unliterary author.

  And Ulysses Grant was often misunderstood.
  Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, met 
General Grant toward the end of the Civil War. Years later, he wrote of 
their meeting:

       We all form our preconceived ideas of men of whom we have 
     heard a great deal . . . but I was never so completely 
     surprised in all my life as when I met him and found him a 
     different person, so entirely different from my idea of him. 
     . . . He is one of the most remarkable men I have ever met.

  He was an unlikely war hero. At the start of the Civil War, Grant was 
several years out of the Army and utterly broke. At one point, he had 
been reduced to selling firewood on the street in St. Louis.
  But the cause of preserving the Union gave Grant a new purpose. He 
reentered the military in 1861, and rose quickly through the ranks, 
thanks to his fearlessness and brilliance as a military commander.
  In 1864, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General of the 
Armed Forces, a position only ever held by George Washington, and given 
overall command of all Union Forces.
  The following year, he accepted the surrender of the Army of Northern 
Virginia from General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse. His 
generous terms of surrender and his magnanimity stunned Lee and his men 
and helped a bloodied nation begin to heal.
  As President during the Reconstruction era, Grant's policies moved 
America further toward reconciliation.
  Near the end of his life, broke again after being swindled in a 
business venture and in constant pain from throat cancer, Grant agreed 
to write his memoirs to earn money for his family. He wrote feverishly, 
racing against death, and died 5 days after putting down his pen.
  His friend, Mark Twain, called ``The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. 
Grant'' ``a great, unique and unapproachable literary masterpiece.'' It 
is widely regarded as the finest U.S. Presidential memoir ever written.
  Understanding the real Grant and helping others to understand this 
pivotal figure in our history was John Simon's life's work, and he did 
it with uncommon distinction.
  In addition to the Grant papers, he wrote and edited a number of 
other books dealing with Grant, Lincoln and the Civil War and produced 
hundreds of journal articles. Along with the Lincoln Prize and the 
Lincoln Forum award, he received an Award of Merit from the Illinois 
State Historical Society and many other honors.
  After the Union victory at Vicksburg, President Lincoln wrote to 
General Grant:

       My Dear General: I write this now as a grateful 
     acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have 
     done the country.

  By spending his entire career to give us a clearer picture of ``The 
Hero of Appomattox,'' John Y. Simon also performed a great service for 
our country.

[[Page S7475]]

He brought honor to my State and a deeper understanding to us all. I 
offer my sincere condolences to his wife Harriet, his daughter Ellen, 
his grandchildren, friends and colleagues, and the many students he 
inspired.

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