Galloping Grant: the day a sitting president of the US was arrested

<span>Photograph: Spencer Arnold/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Spencer Arnold/Getty Images
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Donald Trump may be preparing to become the first US president to be criminally indicted but should his perp walk for paying hush money to a porn star come to pass – perhaps granting his reported wish to be seen handcuffed – he will not be the first president ever arrested.

Related: Trump wants to be handcuffed for court appearance in Stormy Daniels case, sources say

In 1872, President Ulysses S Grant was nicked for speeding in his horse-drawn carriage.

The arrest of the 18th president, at the corner of 13th and M streets in Washington DC, was not for “a high crime, but it was – at least theoretically speaking – a misdemeanor”, the Washington Post reported.

Grant became president in 1869, four years after leading the Union armies to victory over the Confederacy in the civil war, the conflict which ended slavery in the US.

The policeman who arrested Grant was a Black civil war veteran, William H West. In 1908, West told his tale to the Washington Evening Star.

From his days as a cadet at the United States Military Academy, Grant was known as an excellent horseman.

Even as president, the Star said, he “loved nothing better than to sit behind a pair of spirited animals. He was a good driver, and sometimes ‘let them out’ to try their mettle.”

When he was stopped by West, the Star said, Grant “was driving a pair of fast steppers and he had some difficulty in halting them, but this he managed to do”.

The president asked: “Well, officer. What do you want with me?”

West said: “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 said sorry and left. The next day, however, he did it again.

According to the Star, Grant smiled like “a schoolboy who had been caught in a guilty act by a teacher” and said he had not been aware he was traveling too fast.

West said: “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.”

Grant was taken to a police station and ordered to pay $20. A trial was held the next day, with numerous cases against speeding drivers “contested bitterly”. A judge issued heavy fines and a “scathing rebuke”.

Grant, however, did not show up.

The Post noted it was not possible to check the story. But it also pointed to comments from 2012 in which Cathy Lanier, then DC police chief, called Grant a joy rider.

“He actually was racing his buggy on M street,” Lanier said. “… We seized his horse and buggy.”

Lanier also said DC police “actually stopped and cited Ulysses S Grant three times for speeding” but “ended up letting him pay a fine and walk back to the White House”.