What the Tragic Final Days of Ulysses S. Grant Can Teach Us About Trust

Image of Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell
Published: Oct 15, 2020
Last Updated: Jul 1, 2021

He was not a perfect man, but Ulysses S. Grant was one of the greatest and most consequential leaders in American history.

He gave the Union Army the general it needed to win the Civil War. He gave our country a president who championed the 15th Amendment and the rights of freedmen across the South.

He was fierce and ruthless in battle, but also, as Mark Twain put it, “filled with sweetness, gentleness and goodness.” People gravitated to him because he was both trustworthy and steadfast in his trust of others.

Which made it all the more tragic when near the end of his life he was swindled by a business partner named Ferdinand Ward, who dismissed Grant as a “child in business matters” and took advantage of this fact. Grant was left penniless, forced to sell his home and even his personal souvenirs from the war.

Grant was hollowed out emotionally and spiritually by the betrayal. In a quiet moment late one night, he told a lawyer friend the following:

I have made it the rule of my life to trust a man long after other people gave him up. But I don’t see how I can ever trust another human being again.

Ward was convicted of fraud only after Grants death from throat cancer.

Grants story is tragic. This is partly because a successful man lost his wealth, but mostly because a good man lost his trust.

I share this short, sad story simply to make the point that trust is not a luxury in our lives. We must have it to live. We are miserable if we are without it for long.

That is why -- even in our fractured times, frequently labeled a "low trust" or "post-truth" era -- our need to trust never goes away.

What changes is who we trust, how we trust and what makes us trust.  And that is why understanding our customers and other audiences and signaling our trustworthiness to them is so important.

Put another way, the lesson in building brand trust for marketers is this:

Every skeptic wants to be a true believer at heart. They just need our help to get there.

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