Did General Grant Regret Clicking 'Send'?

More

The general-turned-president was one of the earliest victims of using technology impulsively

grant-lincoln.jpg

Wikimedia Commons

Remember Tom Sandage's Victorian Internet? It came to mind while reading the New York Times review of Jonathan D. Sarna's new book When General Grant Expelled the Jews:

Grant also let it be known that his original order "would never have been issued if it had not been telegraphed the moment it was penned, and without reflection."

If true, that would make the general one of the earliest victims of something like today's Web-enabled loss of self-control, as often discussed in the popular press:

Think of all those inappropriate comments, hidden away at the bottom of an email exchange, that have been picked up and circulated in the Press and around the world, and led to the shaming, even the dismissal, of the original sender. 

Once an email or text is sent, there's no calling it back, and for anyone who has experienced the lethal combination of emotional upheaval and excess alcohol, modern technology can be a malevolent foe -- goading you into saying something that you shouldn't. 

In Grant's case, the problem with that explanation is that even in the face of predictable outrage from the local Jewish community, he didn't reverse the order until Lincoln told him to. But the statement, in a letter written during the 1868 campaign, had its intended effect, reconciliation with many still-indignant Jewish voters. The excuse let him save face. Send-button remorse is real, but it also remains a useful social convention.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center and holds a Ph.D in European history. More

Edward Tenner is an independent writer and speaker on the history of technology and the unintended consequences of innovation. He holds a Ph.D. in European history from the University of Chicago and was executive editor for physical science and history at Princeton University Press. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows and John Simon Guggenheim fellow, he has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton and has held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy. He is now an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, where he remains a senior research associate.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In