Abraham Lincoln: A Transcendent Hero

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2 Responses to “Abraham Lincoln: A Transcendent Hero”


  • The “adulation” for Lee had far more to do with the South’s desperate need to save face, than it was for anything factual.

    The truth is starting to emerge about Lee, most notably because of his own handwritten account books, which have finally been shown to selected admirers of Lee.

    Elizabeth Pryor, who studied his personal papers, and then wrote the highly acclaimed book “Reading the Man” shows a Lee no one had even imagined. Although Pryor does her level best to keep Lee as an heroic figure, some of the things she does admit, are almost unbelievable. In fact, it is only Pryor’s adoration of Lee that giver her reporint credibiity about his “shortcomings”.

    TO put it bluntly, Lee tortured slave girls, as young as 14 years old, and his slaves detested him. Contrary to the myths that Lee had no slaves, or that his slaves loved him so much they refused to leave (take your pick, myths about Lee are almost unending), Lee’s slaves hated him, and with reason.

    Lee not only tortured the slaves that dared run away — Pryor admits that Lee had “an epidemic” of escape slaves. Lee’s personal papers have a surprising amount (though she does not show any, or give much clarity to them) of Lee’s notes on his slave girls, especially the girls that had escaped.

    Lee personally kept track of the girls, giving six times his normal bounty for the capture of one young girl. Apparently that one was of the girls that ran away with her white-looking infant. When Lee’s bounty hunters finally caught her, Lee taunted her before her torture, then yelled at her during it.

    Lee was almost 50 years old, screaming at a 14 year old girl while she was tortured. Her crime? She ran away, probably to stop Lee from selling her child.

    Pryor does not say what Lee did with the babies he got back, from his bounty hunters pursuit of the girls. But she does say that later, that there were only male slave children, and old slaves, at his plantation. What did Lee do with the females? Especially the female children? She simply “doesn’t go there” — she doesn’t say.

    But she does say that Lee regularly “separated every family unit” but one. What does “separate a family unit” mean? Does it mean he sold the children? One suspects Prory knows, because Lee’s papers, she reports, are quite specific, particularly about money.

    The myth is that Lee freed his slaves, and had to keep them until a certain date. The truth is drastically different, according to Pryor. Lee tried repeatedly to sell the slaves his wife inherited — going into court three times DURING the civil war (or his lawyer did) to get permission to sell these people. The courts refused each time.

    But he was not barred from selling the children born to these slave girls. SO did he sell them? Well, he did something with them. he had them hunted down, and was obsessive about that. he was also cruel to them when they returned.

    Alan Nolan, author of the book “Lee Considered” sums it up by saying, essentially, that everything we THINK we know about Lee is at best suspect. Almost all of it is based on mythical renditions of his words and deeds, much of it having little connection with reality. Lee’s “biographer” Douglas Southall Freeman, and lifted Lee to Christ like heights of glory. According to Freeman, Lee had no slaves, because he had freed them. He was loved by the freed slaves, and helped them the rest of their lives.

    Actually that’s entirely backwards.

    The adoration of Davis was almost as goofy, but since Davis had his own detractors in the South, he was not worshiped like Lee.

    In fact, those who hated Davis often would praise Lee, such as Edward Pollard, editor of the Richmond Enquirer. For every sentence his wrote daming Davis, he would seem to write another praising Lee, with little regard for the truth on either score.

    When the generation of white Southern men born just after the Civil War came of age, they seemed intent on making heroes of the Southern leaders, and tried to clean up, in their own mind, what had happened. Southern writers seemed to compete to out do each other in their praise of the South, and of the leaders.

    If Lee was a brute, a child torturer, a man who taunted girls before and during torture, how could anyone idolize the South? Lee had to be saint like. They made him not only into an abolitionist, but into bravery personified, honor in the flesh, no accolade was too silly to be accepted as gospel.

  • What’s most interesting about Lincoln as a hero, I think, is that he is a transformed hero. As you touch upon, his intention was not to free the slaves, his intention was to preserve the Union– which he failed to do. And yet he has gone down in History as the Great Emancipator.

    But this is not just an ironic quirk of History, because Lincoln did indeed change his beliefs and intentions throughout the course of the war. He did something that few, if any, modern politicians are capable of doing, even those who claim to be liberal. He changed, he adapted, he learned– he actually grew as a Human being to achieve the stature he needed to be the man America needed.

    The Union was facing its worst crisis, and he rose to the occasion. And that’s what makes him a true American hero.

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