I'd like to get some good sources on this particular story about President Grant being arrested for speeding while holding the presidential office. The media is abuzz with what looks like an apocryphal story to me. 1 2 3 4 5 6

My research cannot reveal anything more than William West, the supposed arresting officer, telling the story himself in 1908, 30 something years later, in a newspaper called the Washington Evening Star. The tone, the fable like lesson, and the total lack of records or contemporary sources all point to an apocryphal story. What's surprising is that I can't find anyone else pointing this out. Just a lot of people regurgitating it.

The earliest source other than the 1908 newspaper is Significa (1983), which is cited here in 2012. Whatever is in that book I suppose convinced them, as they say "The story struck us as perhaps a bit apocryphal, but it all checks out." They also cite one Cathy Lanier, DC police chief in 2012, who confidently states that Grant was cited three times for speeding. This appears like legend growth to me, not confirmation. I'd love to check out that book, but my curiosity can't cost me fifty bucks right now. 30 years seems like a long time for such a story to surface. There's another story of Grant's reckless diving resulting in a boy's broken foot, which is not dubious, so I can't fathom a reason this arrest story never made a contemporary record.

A few sources on this retelling are close to contemporary, but they could be cited for other reasons. I have no idea how to check these sources. They are listed as The Marion Enterprise (NY), June 20, 1885 and The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 29, pg. 242. They also state that Grant and West were friends afterwards, often bonding over horses.

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    With regards to older stories, it seems it was mostly lost to time until a 1980s bathroom reader type factoid book published it (I might be able to fish the Amazon page tomorrow from my work computer history). Various news have published it since, and 2018 and 2023 news have published it a lot so they can claim there's precedent to arrest Trump (when he was sitting, and if he happens to be sitting in the future). The 2018 and 2023 news repetitions muddy the Google search results, so here I am.
    – user60738
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 1:11
  • Fair enough. Coincidentally, Franklin Peirce ran over a lady and was arrested, but the dating is dubious, so no one quotes that.
    – user60738
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 1:14
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    Nice edit. The book you mention costing $50 does not seem to have footnotes so I'm not sure it will be of much help in providing contemporary records. My guess is that, if there are any records, they'll be in the Metropolitan Police Department archives. Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 1:54
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    The Lanier assertion of three citations seems to refer to the supposed West arrest in 1872 and two earlier arrests in 1866 (April 14 and July 1). However, none of these arrests seem to be mentioned in the volumes of "The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant" covering the years 1866 (vol 16) and 1872 (vol 23). Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 2:27
  • I spent every bit of rep I have on this bounty, lol.
    – user60738
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 23:08

1 Answer 1


Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for "fast driving" at least once, in April of 1866, which is after the U.S. Civil War ended but before Grant was elected President.

This was reported in the Alexandria (VA) Gazette on April 12, 1866 (but copied from another newspaper, so could be earlier):

GENERAL GRANT'S CASE -- This morning, the Sergeant of the Second Precinct reports the case of Gen. U. S. Grant, arrested for fast driving, as settled by the General paying the fine. We are informed that when the policeman went to Army Head Quarters and laid his warrant on the table before the General, that officer looked at it, and turning to the servant of the law, remarked, "I suppose you take a pride in this?" The officer said: -- "No, General I only do it because it is my duty." The General pleasantly intimated that under martial law the tables might be turned, and the server of the warrant sent to the guard-house. The officer replied that the General might do as he pleased but he had performed his duty, adding, "I also did my duty under you, General, at Vicksburg, and you did not find fault with me then." The General immediately acknowledged the service of the warrant, appeared before Justice Walter, and paid the fine. -- Wash. Star.

And in the Camden (NJ) Weekly Journal on April 20, 1866 (again copied from another newspaper):

General Grant Arrested for Fast Driving. On Saturday, while General Grant was exercising his fast gray nag on Fourteenth-street, officers Bailey and Crown, after a sharp race, arrested him for fast driving. General Grant offered to pay the usual fine imposed in such cases, which, of course, they could not receive; but the General expressed his doubts of their authority to arrest him, and drove off. The case was duly reported to Superintendent Richards. It is stated that this street is becoming a common racing ground, and that a large number of arrests for violations of the ordinance prohibiting fast driving are made every pleasant day, when those who delight in "speed" are out exercising their "stock." National Intelligencer, 9th.

Since the second one says "9th" and refers to "Saturday," it's possible that the incident occurred on Saturday, April 7, 1866.

This may not have been the only time that Grant was stopped for speeding. An 1886 story, written in the year after Grant's death, relates "how he was twice arrested for fast driving" (Opelousas Courier, January 9, 1886).

The September 19, 1867, Indianapolis (IN) Daily Herald contains a short news item about Grant running over a child and repeats the statement that Grant had been arrested more than once:

Fast Horse Grant. "General Grant, who has been once or twice arrested for fast driving, is reported by the police to-day as having run over a small boy, yesterday evening, while riding out and driving very rapidly. He stopped to see the boy properly cared for, and ordered all bills sent to him for payment."

It must be a great consolation to the father ot the "small boy" to know that the little fellow was run over by a great General, one who never surrenders, and that he grandly "ordered all bills sent to him." Some of these fine days some unappreciative boor may vulgarly take the laws into his own hands and send Uncle Sam Grant home with a battered head. How shocking to have the brains of a great General imperilled by a brickbat in the hands of a stout hod carrier. -- New Albany Commercial

(Chronicling America does not identify any holdings for the Alexandria Gazette or the Washington Star for the relevant dates.)

  • Great finds! I assume you found nothing asserting arrest during presidency, 1869-1877? I guess it's waffley whether he was arrested more than the once?
    – user60738
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 1:47
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    The 1886 story (post-death remembrance) mentioned a couple of arrests but frustratingly did not give any dates. I think it said that the first one was during the later years of the war, so just to be safe I limited my search to 1861-1878, i.e. the first year of the war to the year after he left office. I didn't find any mentions of arrests during his presidency, but that doesn't mean they don't exist, just that I haven't found them (yet?).
    – shoover
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 1:53
  • After a closer reading, I love the first story from the Alexandria Gazette. Grant first presumed the officer was a former rebel, being in VA, noting that just months earlier Grant would have been arresting him. But then the officer informs he served under Grant at Vicksburg! A loyal servant to his duty.
    – user60738
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 2:00
  • The 1886 source paper seems to recount the Vicksburg soldier story with more details. The second, I've not heard one like it yet. However, the paper takes pains to note that he was head of the Army during the arrests, implying before Grant's presidency, but also calls him "the most powerful man in the country". As you say, frustrating no dates are mentioned. The surrounding text reads a little less "reporting" and a little more "entertainment". The writers probably weren't trying to record anything particular.
    – user60738
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 2:39

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