Today's heroes have not always been so...
0 comment Sunday, May 18, 2014 |
And today's villains were once heroes.

The picture posted above is of Robert E. Lee and his generals. It was an interesting experience recently, on a forum where British as well as Canadian and a couple of Americans gather, a picture like the one above was posted. It was identified only as General Lee (who was noted by the English commenters as being of English descent) and his generals. I was pleasantly surprised that a couple of the men from the UK recognized many of the generals, while the American who was there confessed that he knew who none of them were, apart from General Lee. Everybody in the South surely knows Robert E. Lee's face, but my fellow Southern American did not know the others, not even Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson, whose face is also very well-known in the South -- or used to be.
I confess I can't name them all, though I recognize, from other pictures I've seen, John Bell Hood, my great-granddad's commanding officer. Then of course J.E.B. Stuart, and the very topical Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Braxton Bragg. Can anybody else name the others? It seems our history is being neglected. It's pretty bad when someone in England knows our history and our heroes better than we do.
Not altogether off topic, at the Guardian website, there is an article discussing the fact that at the time of the American War Between the States, the majority of British 'liberals' sided with the Confederacy, and held a negative view of Abraham Lincoln.
The writer of the article cites material from a book by Amanda Foreman, called A World On Fire.
''Foreman stumbled on her subject while researching her bestselling 1999 biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In the family archives she discovered that the heir to the Devonshire title � later the eighth duke � had spent Christmas Day 1862 making eggnog for Robert E Lee's Confederate cavalry officers in Virginia.
This Devonshire heir, though, was not some deranged rightwing romantic but one of the pillars of Victorian Liberalism. As Lord Hartington, he served in Gladstone's first two Liberal cabinets, introduced the secret ballot into British law, pulled troops out of Afghanistan in the 1880s, was leader of the Liberal party in opposition, nearly became PM, and finally broke with Gladstone over home rule for Ireland, becoming leader of the breakaway Liberal Unionists � an irony for a man who had sided with the Confederates 20 years previously.
Yet as Foreman shows, Hartington's support for the south was anything but unusual among liberal and progressive 1860s Britain. This country was almost as torn over the civil war as Americans themselves. Many went to fight. The war even crossed the Atlantic, with a battle between Union and Confederate ships in the Channel in 1864. The political parties, and Lord Palmerston's Whig government, were split down the middle over the issues.''
The writer also mentions that the Guardian itself was conflicted over which side to take, given their anti-slavery position. But oddly (to the article's writer, at least) it seemed that the Guardian's support for the principle of self-determination resulted in their taking a very anti-Lincoln stance.
''The Guardian's anti-Lincoln obsession reached its heights in the April 1865 editorial on, of all things, the president's assassination. "Of his rule we can never speak except as a series of acts abhorrent to every true notion of constitutional right and human liberty," the paper wrote, before tactfully adding that "it is doubtless to be regretted that he had not the opportunity of vindicating his good intentions".
It's interesting that some cracks are beginning to appear in the façade of Lincolnolatry, at least in this country. Lately there has even been some public discussion of Lincoln's support for repatriating freed slaves to Africa. Yet it seems that the Guardian and its readers are not cognizant of that fact.
The following quote from Lincoln is not one with which most Americans or British people are familiar with these days:
"I will say, then, that I am not nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races - that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and black races which will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race."
Those words were Lincoln's from the fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate, which took place on September 18, 1858. They are quoted in Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (New York: Library of America, 1989)on p. 636.
As for the fact that many in England were pro-Confederate, that is what I was taught as a child in school, so it is not a new revelation to me. But I will be looking for the release of 'A World On Fire'. It promises to be interesting.

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