“Historical Heroes”

Hello friends,

Over at The Junto there is an article on historical heroes.  I found it to be a very interesting perspective on taking up someone in history as your own personal hero.

Here is a piece from the article.

I don’t like Abraham Lincoln. Working in Springfield, Illinois, that’s not an especially popular viewpoint to hold. Yet it is working in Springfield, Illinois, that has really led me to that conclusion. It’s almost impossible to escape the shadow of Honest Abe here. Bronze statues sit prominently in downtown; all sorts of programs and buildings at my university bear Lincoln’s name. His face even peers out from every license plate in the state. It’s a historical cult of personality that can feel alienating to a revolutionary specialist.

(Though he does have a good nose for sniffing out dodgy car dealers.)

The previous paragraph is, admittedly, somewhat of an exaggeration. There’s much about Abraham Lincoln I admire. (After all, it would be hard not to!) What I dislike, though, is the hero worship that at times feels suffocating. The notion that if we only had visionary leaders like Lincoln today, we wouldn’t have a political system that was in such a mess. Never mind that Lincoln’s views on abolition and race were considerably more complicated than the one-line summary that he ‘freed the slaves’ (a problematic enough statement in itself). Whatever Lincoln did must be admirable; therefore he becomes reduced to a caricature, scarcely more lifelike than the bronze statues themselves.

There are other historical figures, though, who I admire almost unreservedly. Albert Gallatin features prominently in the latter part of my dissertation, and I find him one of the most compelling characters in the post-revolutionary era—a firm democrat, involved in a plethora of popular political movements whilst simultaneously taking the fight to the Federalists in Congress and, later, as Treasury Secretary to Jefferson. It wasn’t an easy balancing act; it demanded that he show greater sympathy for the Whiskey Rebels than more moderate forces in Philadelphia would have wished (and yet was too moderate for some in the west). Yet I feel very confident in declaring Gallatin one of the most popular politicians of the 1790s.

Keep reading here.

-Phil

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About

Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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