We've seen ideologically motivated efforts similar to this recent one in Charlottesville in regards to Columbus Day, Thomas Jefferson, and many others all sharing similar themes as their motivation. A motivation, I believe, alluded to recently by Professor Gordon S. Wood.
. . . condemning the past for not being more like the present. It has no real interest in the pastness of the past. These historians [and politicians] see themselves as moral critics obligated to denounce the values of the past in order to somehow reform our present.Precisely. The bailiwick of the "activist historian."
So is there reason to honor Lee and Jackson? First we'll go to Washington and Lee University's website where the university gives some background as to the connection both namesakes have to the school. I'll pull just a few excerpts, but recommend reading all the information contained on this particular page.
As Washington had done in 1796 when pondering what to do with the canal stock, Lee sought the advice and counsel of many people before agreeing to accept the position [of President]. His decision, no less than Washington's, forever altered the prospects of the institution for the better.And . . .
Lee's mere presence brought mostly positive attention to the institution. Far more than a figurehead, Lee proved a creative educator whose innovations laid the groundwork for both a curriculum and a sense of honor that remain distinctive to this day.And . . .
Lee's personal character was equally important in setting the tone for the future. Perhaps the one story of his presidency that is retold most often serves as the basis for the University's distinctive Honor System. When a student asked Lee for the college's rules, the president is said to have replied: "We have but one rule here, and it is that every student be a gentleman." That principle is part of the foundation for a campus culture built on civility, duty, and integrity for the men and women of the student body.And finally . . .
In a speech in Lee Chapel on Oct. 10, 2011, Civil War historian James I. Robertson called Lee's presidency "his greatest achievement, far more than his generalship." Added Robertson: "I don't know of an individual in America, including the president of the United States, who did more in the short time he had to bring this nation together than Lee."Regarding Jackson, we'll let Colonel Keith Gibson enlighten the uninformed, though much more could be said:
I'd also recommend Robert Moore's comments on this topic:
I’m also able to understand the benefit of the legacy of Jackson. Not only am I aware of it… like it or not (I really don’t care)… he was an inspiration to even me in my youth, and was one of a larger “team” (thank you also, Gen. Lee, President Lincoln, and others) in my 1) ambition/drive to achieve in whatever I did, and 2) my desire to serve in the military. Now, I realize just how hard this is for some to fathom. More specifically… how could it possibly be that the example of men in rebellion against the U.S. be at the core of others, in succeeding generations, to serve under the U.S. flag… and even die for it? If one can’t understand this, one can’t profess to being knowledgeable of the South and Southerners (at least some sort of measurable fraction, therein… however great or small it might actually be).
Hopefully, this will inform certain individuals with some perspective beyond present faddish "memory" studies and the political, pop-culture considerations of the moral critics.
(I do plan the follow up post to Gordon Wood's comments within a few days - just a lot going on right now.)