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BOOK REVIEWS343 the last time that Americans were allowed to grieve. I think this is an essential reason why we recur to those years and have woven them into the American epic, the great Odyssey. Within this context, the Robert E. Lee of literary canon has a central role. He is the tragic hero, strikingly reminiscent of the legendary King Arthur, to whom he was often compared in his own times. Like Arthur, he was a gifted soldier, a man of character with a great sense of public responsibility. Just as Arthur's Round Table fell apart through human fallibility and weakness, so did Lee witness the great experiment in American republicanism rent by the contradictions inherent in the Constitution and American practice. Both heroes were forced to play a losing role in the final events of their lives. Yet, what matters in their stories is not their failure, but the way in which they met their fate. They are the heroes who, in Joseph Campbell's terms, return from their quest to give us an important message; in their case, that humanity can meet its fate, no matter how perverse, with dignity and resolution. We can transcend . Why was Lee chosen for this mythic role rather than, say, Joseph E. Johnston or Jefferson Davis? I suspect that, as author James Baldwin commented, we like our heroes to be simple and sincere. Lee seemed both. As we continue to pursue the Lee of reality, we must remember the very important role Lee has played in myth. At worst, he has been used to legitimize white racism. In this sense, he cannot be a hero for all Americans. But as a tragic figure, he has value for every member of a nation, which too often has only embraced the rich and successful as its mentors. Michael C. C. Adams Northern Kentucky University The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. By Mark E. Neely, Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Pp. 304. $24.95.) It is a commonplace that Abraham Lincoln departed from traditional constitutional norms during the Civil War. Debate about two of those departures, the suspension of habeas corpus and trial of civilians by military commission, has centered since 1861 on the motivation and consequences of those practices. War Democrats and recent popularizers like Edmund Wilson and Gore Vidal have charged the Lincoln administration with partisan abuse of power. Civil War Republicans and apologists like James G. Randall have argued that Lincoln's departures were only responses to the war's imperatives and caused no permanent damage to constitutional principles. Mark E. Neely, Jr., finds this debate "tedious" and "frustrating" (xi) because no one has asked what happened. For Neely, an "astonishingly meager" (224) amount of historical scholarship has left an absence of 344civil war history facts that has encouraged speculation without enhancing understanding. Because historians, especially constitutional historians, have not examined the record, they have not asked the right questions. An exception is Frank Klement's "shrewd and painstaking" (xii) demonstration of the absence of an organized disloyal opposition in the North. That ought to have changed the debate. If Lincoln was not arresting disloyal civilians, whom was he arresting, where, and under what circumstances? Using previously unexamined records, Neely addresses these questions in The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. His answers are intriguing. To begin with, the government arrested a larger number of civilians during the war than anyone believed, but it did so without any coherent policy. The Lincoln administration and its field commanders were less interested in constitutional theories than in the practical requirements of war. In ad hoc fashion they "lurched" (90) to secure the approach to Washington in 1861, to guard against incessant guerrilla warfare in Missouri, to anticipate draft resistance in August 1862, and to use military commissions to try Confederate civilians and deserters beginning in Missouri in 1861. In meeting those requirements, the administration was often confused, disorganized, inept—and occasionally partisan. Some of the confusion and ineptitude resulted from different people acting on the war's manifold problems without the guidance of precedent. Upset by the personalization of the problem of the Civil War in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 343-345
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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