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Yoni Appelbaum
1. Quick thread on the only recorded criminal arrest of a sitting U.S. president—made by a D.C. Police offering for speeding, a century and a half ago.
It was 1872 and the commander-in-chief kept riding his horse too fast through the streets of Washington.
The Washington Post The Washington Post @washingtonpost
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Yoni Appelbaum Dec 16
Replying to @YAppelbaum
2. There’s a dearth of contemporary sources on the arrest—this and other accounts are retrospective. Here, for example, is an abbreviated version of the story from 1901. All the versions agree that the arrest was made by Officer William H. West.
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Yoni Appelbaum Dec 16
Replying to @YAppelbaum
3. The Evening Star’s account says that Grant was arrested, then released after posting the $20 fine. The other six drivers showed up in court to contest it; Grant did not, and so forfeited his $20. That’s a remarkable precedent.
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Yoni Appelbaum Dec 16
Replying to @YAppelbaum
4. But I want to focus on the man who made the arrest, the celebrated Policeman William H. West. In the census returns, he’s listed as either “Mulatto” or “Black,” which matches the press accounts. He served in the DC police force for thirty years.
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Yoni Appelbaum Dec 16
Replying to @YAppelbaum
5. The Evening Star says he told Grant he was in on the occupation of Richmond. That matches pension records, which show him rising to Sergeant in Company K, 30th USCT. After the war, he worked as a Treasury Department messenger, then as a police officer.
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Yoni Appelbaum Dec 16
Replying to @YAppelbaum
6. Policeman West stood 5’5”. He had black hair, and black eyes. He was born in Baltimore, and worked as a laborer. Oh, yeah. One more thing. Before he enlisted? He was enslaved.
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Yoni Appelbaum Dec 16
Replying to @YAppelbaum
7. Think about that. An enslaved man enlisted; fought in the Battle of the Crater; joined the police; and arrested a sitting president—who defended him for doing his job, and paid his speeding fine. That’s what it means that we live in a country subject to the rule of law.
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