Sunday, March 14, 2010

The $50 Question: Ronald Reagan vs. Ulysses S. Grant

A Republican congressman from North Carolina, Patrick McHenry wants to replace President Ulysses S. Grant with President Ronald Reagan on the $50 bill.

“Every generation needs its own heroes,” McHenry says on his web page. “One decade into the 21st century, it’s time to honor the last great president of the 20th and give President Reagan a place beside Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy.”
The Princeton professor and author of The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 doesn't like the idea at all. Today he wrote in the New York Times:
"Though much of the public and even some historians haven’t yet heard the news, the vindication of Ulysses S. Grant is well under way. I expect that before too long Grant will be returned to the standing he deserves — not only as the military savior of the Union but as one of the great presidents of his era, and possibly one of the greatest in all American history.

Now, Ronald Reagan also has historic achievements — chiefly, discarding the advice of his hard-right supporters, embracing the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and taking the first important steps toward ending the cold war. On the other hand, his record on domestic affairs — especially his unsubtle winking at pro-segregationist Southerners and his administration’s fiercely reactionary policies on civil rights — was appalling.

To honor Reagan’s genuine achievements by downgrading those of Grant would deepen our chronic historical amnesia about the Civil War and Reconstruction, the central events of the first 250 years of American history, and their legacy of nationalism, freedom and equal rights. It’s hard to imagine that Ronald Reagan, whose modesty was part of his charm, would have approved of such a disgraceful act toward another president from Illinois."
Hans Sandberg

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