P&H: The Ex-Slave who arrested a President

President Grant and Robert E. Bonner racing in a carriage in New York, as depicted in an 1868 lithograph. Public Domain.

Politics & History

Given all the angst surrounding former President Trump’s indictment, I thought it would be appropriate to share a little known and slightly humorous story about a former slave who arrested the President of the United States.

William Henry West was born into slavery in 1842 in Virgina. His parents were unknown but West himself would make history in more ways than one. At 21, West joined the Union army and fought in an all-Black unit that was commanded by White officers. West distinguished himself in the war and, after its end, he was one of two Black police officers selected to join the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan police force. This was an incredible accomplishment during the Reconstruction era. But West would do something even more extraordinary.

Third Precinct. Image Credit: Black History Facts. William West is the second officer from the right in the second row

The president and the policeman

Married to Kate Bowie, West was dedicated to his job. In 1871, America’s capital had been plagued by a series of accidents due to speeding carriages and pedestrians. On patrol duty, West noticed a speeding buggy. At risk to himself, the Black policeman hurtled into the traffic and physically brought the carriage to a stop.

William. H. West

But inside was no ordinary driver. President Ulysses S. Grant, former general of the Union army, held the reigns. West opted to give Grant a warning and released him. Unfortunately, Grant didn’t heed the warning and the next day was stopped by West again.

This time West opted to arrest the President of the United States and escorted him to the police station. The President posted a bond of $20–somewhere around $1,000 in today’s currency—and was released.

Attitude is everything

What stands out to me is Grant’s attitude. The president wasn’t bitter or arrogant, even though West was a former slave and a subordinate soldier who had, at least in theory, been under Grant’s command during the Civil War. Instead, Grant admired West’s dedication and became his friend. Truly, the attitude makes the man!

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About JP Robinson

JP Robinson is a prolific award-winning author. He graduated from SUNY Stony Brook university at 19 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and another in French. He is currently wrapping up his Master’s of Education.

JP is a contributor to Guideposts, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, and the Salvation Army’s War Cry. His work has been praised by industry leaders such as Publishers Weekly and secured the #1 spot on Amazon’s historical thrillers category.


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    • Tonya, I just saw this comment. I hope so too! I learn more each day and this wonderful world has so many amazing things in it to discover. Thank you.

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