In January 1907, on the hundredth anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth, Charles Francis Adams gave a lecture at Washington and Lee University on Lee’s legacy. Adams, as a scion of one of the oldest Northern political dynasties in America and a staunch Unionist during the War, was uniquely positioned to deliver such a speech. He considered Lee to be the embodiment of the American experience, a true tragic hero trampled by the might of arms but never destroyed in spirit, a man whose principled defense of reconciliation proved to be the healing balm for the wounds of Reconstruction. His gentlemanly example of tolerance and patience in a time of vengeance was a North Star for both sections still seething from four years of bloodletting. Just as Adams and Jefferson forged the bonds of independence in 1776, Massachusetts and Virginia were once again unified in a time of healing.
In the same month, Virginian Thomas Nelson Page published an article in the South Atlantic Quarterly defending Lee’s character and reputation. He thought that in the future, all Americans would come to revere Lee as the personification of the American character—loyal, virtuous, honest—and would erect a monument in Washington D.C. to “it’s greatest soldier and loftiest citizen.” At the time, Page was one of the most respected writers in America, and his stirring evaluation of Lee’s life and career, ultimately published as part of a full biography titled Robert E. Lee: A Southerner in 1909, was widely read and celebrated by the American public at large. Lee, as much as Lincoln, had become the glue of the new American nation.
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