This Day In History: April 9

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On April 9, 1866, exactly one year after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House—and decades before police officers would be pulling over speeding cars—the National Intelligencer reports that Ulysses S. Grant, Lieutenant General of the U.S. Army, had been pulled over for speeding in his horse buggy in Washington, D.C.

According to the 19th-century newspaper in Washington, D.C., two police officers detained Grant on 14th Street, where he was “exercising his fast gray nag.” Grant offered to pay the fine, but “expressed his doubts of their authority to arrest him and drove off,” the article said. Grant’s defiance, though, later subsided; he acknowledged the warrant, appeared before the justice of the peace and paid the fine.

The newspaper’s report was reprinted in several other newspapers. The Daily Richmond Whig added this editorial comment in its April 11 edition: “It was a bad example in General Grant to violate a law, but a worse one to treat the officers of law with contempt.”

On July 4, 1866, the Richmond Daily Dispatch reprinted a National Intelligencer article stating that Grant was arrested a second time for speeding. In this incident, the article said, Grant “took the arrest very good humoredly, said it was an oversight, and rode over to the Second Precinct station house and paid his fine.”

Six years later, Grant allegedly was arrested for speeding again while he was U.S. president. That was the assertion of retired Washington D.C. police officer William West, who claimed in an interview with The Sunday Star on September 27, 1908, that he arrested Grant in 1872. Grant, West said, enjoyed racing in speed contests with his friends on 13th Street, which set a bad example for other residents. West said he arrested Grant, who did not show up to court. West’s account has been questioned, since no primary source documents could verify it. However, in 2012, the D.C. chief of police, Cathy Lanier, told WTOP that the police department arrested Grant for speeding three times in the 1800s.