Rescuing America’s heroes

We have posted three episodes of Douglas Murray’s Uncancelled History series — on Thomas Jefferson, with Bowdoin College’s Professor Jean Yarbrough, on Abraham Lincoln, with Andrew Ferguson, and on Winston Churchill, with Andrew Roberts.

What a pass of ignorance and malice we have come to that a rescue mission is necessary. That was my comment on the Lincoln episode, but it applies generally to the series. On Thursday Murray himself presented the premise of the series in his New York Post column “We must rescue America’s heroes from those who tear them down.” Murray channels my thoughts exactly. Referring to the likes of the 1619 Project, he writes:

What is worst is that they have done this to our nation’s heroes. Every single one of them.

So earlier this year I decided to try to make my own small effort at hitting back. I do not have the resources of the New York Times at my disposal, but I got a team of the best young technicians and researchers and put together a list of the American figures who have been most maligned in recent years. I am sorry to say the initial list was very long. It would have been easier to create a list of American heroes who had not been lied about in recent years.

But in the end we decided to focus on the absolutely central figures. The Founding Fathers, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and more. Throughout the course of this year I have been sitting down with some of America’s — and the world’s — leading historians to fill in the gap of ignorance that has been deliberately inserted into American society.

We called it “Uncancelled History” and you can listen to it on all podcast channels and watch each hour-long episode for free on YouTube among other places. I hope it will be a great learning resource. I am very proud of the results.

Here Murray turns to the Jefferson and Lincoln episodes:

For instance speaking to the great Jefferson scholar Jean Yarborough, she told me things about Jefferson that I doubt one in a million Americans know. For instance we have been told for 30 years that Jefferson took sexual advantage of his inherited slave, Sally Hemings. The evidence was said to be conclusive.

Not so, says Yarborough, who sat on the commission that looked into the DNA evidence in the 1990s. As she showed, one of the most base claims against Jefferson would be chucked out if it had ever come into a court of law. The reputation of this most extraordinary man has been completely unfairly maligned. And even Monticello — which is meant to preserve the great man’s legacy — has gone along with such calumnies.

Historian after historian came up with similar nuggets of truth. But what struck me most was something that came up when I asked each historian why this is happening now. Why would anyone want to attack all of our heroes? Why would they want to wage war on these of all people? The answer was given by the Lincoln scholar I spoke with, Andrew Fergusson. Loving Lincoln, he said, is a way of loving America. And so hating on Lincoln is a way of hating on America.

I am afraid that even George Washington needs to be uncancelled. James Freeman reminded us of the anniversary of Washington victorious 1783 retirement from the Army yesterday in a moving Wall Street Journal Best of the Web column. Freeman draws on Thomas Fleming’s 2007 Journal column “Washington’s gift” for the scene of Washington’s address to Congress in convened in Annapolis:

Washington drew a speech from his coat pocket and unfolded it with trembling hands. “Mr. President,” he began in a low, strained voice. “The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I now have the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.”

Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of “my countrymen” and the “army in general.” This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them [Congress] to his holy keeping.”

For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.

Freeman interjects: “Next Washington presented the great and enduring gift to America, as Fleming noted” before returning to Fleming’s account:

Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life.” Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.

This was—is—the most important moment in American history.

The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America’s government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.

In Fleming’s telling Jefferson appears at this point:

Thomas Jefferson, author of the greatest of these declarations, witnessed this drama as a delegate from Virginia. Intuitively, he understood its historic dimension. “The moderation. . . . of a single character,” he later wrote, “probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.”

Murray concludes his column: “I think this country is an extraordinary place. If I didn’t then (like millions of others) I would never have made my way here. But America is amazing not by accident, but by design. It is time we understood that design, and paid due reverence to the designers themselves. Because we have not just something — but everything — to be thankful to them for.”

CORRECTION: Scrolling down a little further on the results for Uncancelled History in our search engine, I see I omitted the first episode we posted — on Robert E Lee, with Jonathan Horn.

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