A sub-story from Grant

Everyone is aware that Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography was adapted into Hamilton: The Musical, a transformative work of genius.  I’m not sure there’s a musical inside of Grant, but I’d like to suggest a novel/film which occurred to me from the lesser known parts of the Grant bio.

To be clear, there are enough movies about Gettysburg.

It would center on the massive swindle that Grant was involved in after his Presidency.  This is an incredible story, with huge implications for the economy.  Grant–and his entire family–were victims of an incredible Ponzi scheme.  Two banks closed because of it.  It was huge.

It is also a great story.  You have the angle of the Grants–who entered the Civil War the most pedestrian of families–being obsessed with money and the social status it brought.  They were desperate to retain their position they held in the White House and then on a two-year world tour where they dined in palaces.

Grant had a history of being too trustful and when that met the desire to be rich, the conditions were right for a con man.  His name was Ferdinand Ward.  Also driven by a childhood of poverty, Ward was an extremely effective con man who would make a great character on his own.  This is a story as fresh as today.  He created the illusion that he was making great profits, and people bought with great enthusiasm.

The story gets even better because an important part of the con was Grant’s involvement.  Ward would whisper to potential marks that Grant was using his influence to get government contracts.  Because Grant’s reputation was not the best, this seemed like it could be true, and the money flowed, even though there were never any contracts and no use of Grant’s influence.

ferdinand wardThe scheme not only brought down Grant–who was worth $18 when it was over–but also his children and their in-laws, as well as famous cartoonist Thomas Nast.

It’s 100% a story that stands on its own.

(Note that there is a book about Ward, written by Geoffrey Ward, his great-grandson.  Ward is an award-winning historian who principally wrote the Ken Burns Civil War series, among others).


Editors/producers…you know where to find me.

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