US President arrested for speeding | by Josh Sippie | March 2022

Do presidents pay fines like everyone else?

Boyd, James P., Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

AAAmericans are probably a little wary of presidents having trouble with the law and impeachment. It’s not a place we want to see our leaders elected, but it’s not unique in modern times either. In fact, if you go back to the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, you will find a president who himself had a bit of a problem with the law. But not to the same degree as some presidents in recent memory.

Ulysses S. Grant is known for bringing the North a victory in the Civil War and for gaining that momentum in the White House, positioning himself as a stern opponent of Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor. Although his presidency did not provide the respite beleaguered Americans expected of him, it showed us the power of the law and who is answerable for it. Even if it wasn’t intentional.

In 1872, Washington DC had a bit of a speeding problem. A mother and child were recently injured and police were cracking down on any riders who exceeded the modest speed requirements. Although no speed limit was set until 1901, recent injuries have given additional impetus to watch the roads.

This posed a problem for the President, who liked fast horses and, well, how fast they went. Many, many skirmishes were in his near future.

In such a case, when Ulysses S. Grant came buzzing around the corner of 13th and M Street in DC, he was arrested. The officer, William H. West, was a black man who had fought for Grant in the Civil War. According to the story, he was, understandably, quite surprised to have arrested the president.

As polite as he could be, Constable West said, “I want to inform you, Mr. President, that you are breaking the law by speeding down this street. Your rapid conduct, sir, has set an example for many other gentlemen.

Carefully reprimanded, Grant apologized, said it would not happen again, and was released with a warning. However, the very next day he did, in fact, do it again, this time through Georgetown. And it turns out the patrol officer was West again. It took him a block to slow the President down, but in the end he did, and Grant took it with a shy smile as West broke the news.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. President, that I have to do this, because you’re the leader of the nation, and I’m just a policeman, but duty is duty, sir, and I’m going to have to stop you .”

And Grant accepted the charge, encouraging Officer West to do his duty.

That was the question everyone at the station wasn’t sure about. As Grant sat there, among other speeders, they didn’t know what authority they had over the “leader of the nation”, especially when they weren’t impeached. But they took West’s parting line to heart. Duty is duty, just as Grant had recognized. They charged Grant with speeding, slapped him with a $20 fine, and that was it.

Grant paid the fine and although it was far from his only speeding ticket in his time as president, there is no record that he ever failed to pay a fine.

It turns out that the president Is must answer to the law after all.

Kevin E. Boling