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The Vindicators

May 2024
1min read

Closely related to nostalgia for a former era is admiration for some individual historical figure who in one way or another has particular appeal. It may be a man whose personality was powerfully attractive to his contemporaries, like George Washington, or it may be quite the reverse. There seems to be a type of history buff who especially enjoys trying to vindicate the memory of someone who in his own lifetime fell into disrepute. For example, we got a letter from the General Charles Lee Research Committee, of Lee, Massachusetts, objecting to the reproduction of Emanuel Leutze’s long-lost painting of Washington cursing at Lee at the Battle of Monmouth (A MERICAN H ERITAGE , June, 1965). This, they said, was “a further extension of the unfair legend of General Lee,” after whom their town is named. We have written the committee, pointing out that we never claimed historical precision as one of Leutze’s virtues; and we are glad to note further, here, that this group of Lee champions does not seem inclined to romanticize their hero. While they claim that Lee was “a philosopher, an expert soldier, and a lover of liberty,” and that the testimony at his court martial was inadequate proof of his guilt in the Monmouth incident, they also upbraid Leutze for showing Lee “with a rather nice face,” when in fact he was “probably the homeliest man who ever donned a United States Army uniform”—a harsh judgment, we feel.

We also have a communication from the American Society for the Faithful Recording of History, of Buffalo, New York—which despite its broad title appears to be narrowly focussed on correcting “the prolonged President Harding smear.” Mr. Edwin K. Gross, who is listed without company on the society’s letterhead as “a Harding Historian” as well as “Founder and National Executive,” was much annoyed by Bruce Bliven’s article in our August issue, “Tempest over Teapot,” which went into the peculations of the Harding administration in some detail. We must admit that he has caught us and Mr. Bliven in one flat-footed error: the statement that Albert B. Fall, Secretary of the Interior, was “dismissed by Harding’s successor, President Coolidge.” Mr. Gross is quite right in saying that Fall resigned from the Cabinet while Harding was still President.

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