Read an excerpt in Sanford Levinson’s Written In Stone, an excellent exploration of the significance of public monuments in a changing world, then retrieved the full passage from the Times archives. (Shows the value of opening the storehouse up to the public; thanks guys!):
Yet these demented creatures (the Confederate leaders of Richmond, VA) were also brave, generous men and women. One cannot read their story, as Mr. Furgurson tells it, without sympathy. It all goes to show that personal merits do not redeem public crimes. The point is also clear if we consider Robert E. Lee, inevitably Mr. Furgurson’s hero. It is doubtful that he ever did anything mean or squalid; and he told Grant at Appomattox, with complete sincerity, that ”he had always been for the Union in his heart, and could find no justification for the politicians who had brought on the war.” That being so, he had no right whatever to fight for the South, prolong the war and kill so many Yankees who had the courage of his convictions. Like Thomas Jefferson before him, he too had embraced a delusion: that loyalty to his state was a principle to which all others might or even must be subordinated. Mr. Furgurson is tender to the general, and who can be anything else? The fact remains that Lee’s mental and moral confusion made him a bloodstained traitor, one who did more damage to his country than any other in the history of the United States.–New York Times Book Review
September 29, 1996
It has always struck me as disgraceful that one cannot read about George Washington or Thomas Jefferson these days without the obligatory reminder that they owned slaves, while the post-Reconstruction glorification of the treasonous general who led the slaveholders’ army is barely questioned outside academic circles.