"Grant was a brilliant general but a less successful president. Most historians criticize his two-term administration for being corrupt and scandal-wracked. The consensus on Grant tends to be that he meant well but allowed himself to be manipulated by people who had only their own interests at heart. (Not all historians feel this way. Jean Edward Smith of Marshall University argues that Grant has been underrated as a president.)
Despite his faults, there was one area where Grant did shine: separation of church and state. During his tenure, the idea of public education for the masses began catching on in the United States. Schools were built, and states began passing the first mandatory attendance laws.
But there was a problem: Since most Americans belonged to Protestant denominations, many people saw no problem in merging church and school. School days often began with Protestant prayers and readings from the King James Version of the Bible.
This didn’t sit well with Roman Catholics. To solve the problem, the church’s leadership suggested that the government give them tax money to operate their own private school system.
Grant had a better idea. He called for removing Protestant worship from public schools. He proposed making public schools legally non-sectarian and thus welcoming to all families. He also opposed any tax funding of religious schools.
It was visionary idea, but it may have been too far ahead of its time. In late 19th century America, many people chafed at the idea of education divorced from faith. And leaders of the Catholic Church continued to press for public funding of their schools.
Grant promoted his idea in several forums. In 1875, he delivered a speech to some Civil War veterans and used the occasion to call for non-sectarian education in “common” schools (as public schools were often called then) and church-state separation."