In 1865, when Gen. U.S. Grant was hard onto the heels of determined but beaten Confederate soldiers, Gen. Robert E. Lee realized he must surrender or witness the devastation of his men. So Lee met Grant at the Appomattox Court House and surrendered his army. For four long years that army had been unconquerable. It had twice carried the war north of the Potomac. It had beaten the North's armies repeatedly. It gave the Confederate States the only hope of survival. But to the America nation, it gave a tradition of undying valor and constancy, which would be a vibrant heritage for all generations.
But now it was time to quit.
Lee had an option that day, which to the lasting good fortune of his country, he did not exercise. He could have told his troops to disband, to take to the hills, and carry on guerrilla warfare as long as there was a Yankee south of the Mason-Dixon line. There were those in the South and on Lee's staff that pushed that option. Washington would have had a huge problem stopping a rebellion like that. There would have been atrocities, and a tragic course lasting through descendants to this day. The legacy of that kind of end would be brutality, bitterness, and enduring hatred. We may not have survived as a nation to become one great America had not Lee realized this and set his face against it. He and the men who followed him had fought for a place among nations. When the fight was lost, they would make the best of what remained.
Grant too wanted to see this terrible and hard war followed by a good and lasting peace. Grant believed that the point of the war had been to prove that Northerners and Southerners were and always would be fellow citizens, and the instant the fighting stopped he believed they ought to begin behaving that way. This aligned with Lincoln's motives of ensuring a United States that would endure for all the people. In the terms of surrender with Lee, Grant pledged that if Lee's men lay down their arms and went home, federal authority would not disturb them. This pledge was far-reaching because there were those in the North who wanted to hang Confederates.
If Lee's decision spared the country guerilla warfare, Grant's decision ruled out the infamy that would come with hangings and retribution. Between them, these rival solders of the United States served their country well to this day.
Messrs. Gore and Bush could learn from this history.
This country and the 2000 presidential election are bigger than they are. The future of our citizens deserves better than these two candidates unleashing troops of lawyers to battle over this vote and divide this country. This country deserves a peace and a process that will last long after this election.
It needs these two leaders to see that it does.
Bruce B. Weyhrauch is attorney who lives in Juneau.
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