Brooke Allen at The Hudson Review:
Grant was thirty-nine years old, apparently a hopeless failure, when Confederate troops fired the first shots on Fort Sumter. In the meantime, his political ideas had been slowly developing. While Jesse Grant was an avid abolitionist, Ulysses was no such thing; he opposed slavery in theory, but also feared, like many Northerners, that “outright abolitionism might lead to bloody sectional conflict.” He had even cast his one vote in a presidential election for James Buchanan, a Democrat—a fact that would embarrass him in later years. His father-in-law Fred Dent (a man as bossy and controlling as his own father) was a Missouri slaveowner of reactionary leanings, and his own wife, Julia, owned slaves while she was married to Grant, not divesting herself of this property until the Emancipation Proclamation. Grant himself quickly freed the slave who was given him by Fred, William Jones, but he was no abolitionist, dismissing John Brown’s raid as the act of a fanatic. But Chernow provides evidence that Grant became increasingly anti-slavery, a Free-Soil Democrat, in the years leading up to the war.