William West, the black police officer who arrested a sitting U.S. president

Theodora Aidoo December 19, 2019
William West, the only policeman who ever arrested a president - Pic Credit: potus-geeks.livejournal.com

Occupying the Oval Office comes with a great deal of influence and fear. So it will be weird to read in the news that a policeman had arrested a sitting president of the United States of America.


And guess what, that arrest was made by a black security person, who taught a sitting president that no one is above the law.

In 1872, Ulysses S. Grant, the man who led the North to victory in the Civil War, was arrested at the corner of 13th and M streets in Washington.

Reportedly, Grant – the sitting US president then – was an ardent admirer of horse carriages and loved to sit behind “a pair of spirited animals. He was a good driver, and sometimes ‘let them out’ to try their mettle.”

The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, below the west front of the U.S. Capitol. Grant loved horses.  (The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, below the west front of the U.S. Capitol. Grant loved horses. Library of Congress)
The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, below the west front of the U.S. Capitol – Pic Credit: Library of Congress

The police had been receiving complaints of speeding carriages at the time, and a mother and child had been injured as a result, Washington Post reported.

As Archived in historical records, Grant was driving a pair of fast steppers and a black Policeman held up his hand for them to stop.

“Well, officer,” he said, “what do you want with me?”

The policeman replied: “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.”

The president apologized, promised it wouldn’t happen again, and galloped away. The following evening, at the corner of 13th and M streets the president came barreling through speeding so fast that it took him an entire block to stop.

“Do you think, officer, that I was violating the speed laws?” the president asked the same policeman he had encountered the previous day.

“I do, Mr. President,” the policeman said.

“I am very sorry, Mr. President, to have to do it,” he said. “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.”

He was arrested for speeding in his horse-drawn carriage. The police officer who arrested him was a black man named William H. West, who fought in the Civil War.

During reconstruction, West was one of two black policemen working for the Washington DC Police Department.

William H. West, the black police officer to ever arrest a sitting president – Pic Credit: Wikepedia

West took the president down to the police station. However, they were unsure if they could charge a sitting president if he had not been impeached so they let him pay a fine of 20 dollars.

According to Cathy Lanier, today’s D.C. police chief, the president was racing his buggy on M street, where he was taken into custody. “We seize his horse and buggy,” she said.

“The metropolitan police department actually stopped and cited Ulysses S. Grant three times for speeding,” she noted.


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