In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for speeding on his horse-drawn carriage in our nation’s capital. This wasn’t an impeachable offense, but Grant would still face ramifications. Ulysses Grant, the fierce general who helped lead the Union to victory in the Civil War, was detained at the corner of 13th and M streets in D.C.
The police officer who arrested him was William H. West, an African American man and veteran in the Civil War, gave his account of the incident to The Star, which The Washington Post managed to get their hands on.
By all accounts, Mr. Grant had a proclivity for reckless driving, a lust for fast horses, and had more than one run-in with officer West in the past. On the first occasion, Grant is said to have big-timed the officer when stopped. Mind you, D.C. was dealing with a mass speeding dilemma in the city at the time, with women and children having been injured as a result.
Grant said, “Well, officer, what do you want with me?” To which West replied, “I want to inform you, Mr. President, that you are violating the law by speeding along this street. Your fast driving, sir, has set the example for a lot of other gentlemen.”
Grant apologized and assured the officer it wouldn’t happen again. But the very next morning, Grant was speeding so fast through Georgetown in an area West was patrolling it took the officer an entire block to slow the president down. Grant greeted the officer with a smile and resembled a “schoolboy who had been caught in a guilty act by a teacher.”
“I cautioned you yesterday, Mr. President, about fast driving, and you said, sir, that it would not occur again, I am very sorry, Mr. President, to have to do it, for you are the chief of the nation, and I am nothing but a policeman, but duty is duty, sir, and I will have to place you under arrest.”
When the president was brought into the police station, officers were unsure if they could charge a sitting president. Ultimately, Grant paid a measly $20 bond and didn’t bother showing up to court.