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Reconstructing the Past

Photograph of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) shown wearing a military uniform and posing for a portrait. He served in the U.S. Civil War at various levels of military command. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general in 1864 and given command of all Union armies. He was eighteenth president of the United States, elected in 1868 and reelected in 1872.
Portrait of American military commander (and future US President) Ulysses S. Grant (1822 - 1885), mid 19th century. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)
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June 10, 2020 3:47 p.m.

As Confederate monuments appear to be facing what may be a final reckoning, consider the other side of that coin. The United States has few if any monuments or statues dedicated to the horrors of slavery, to abolition or to the heroes of Reconstruction. Monuments mark a society’s civic values and embraced identity. By this measure, it is not simply the ubiquity of Confederate memorials but the non-existence of the others which speaks volumes.

In 2018 I wrote this post about Ulysses Grant and his Memoirs, which is one of the great works of American literature, likely the greatest written by any public figure. (It’s one of my favorites from the last few years.) Grant was a white General and President. He is no stand-in for the kind of largely non-existent monuments I describe above. But I note him here because Grant’s own historical reputation is part of the same story.

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