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The Privileged Vs. The self-Reliant Essay

In the essay “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts,” Bruce Catton claims that the two Civil War generals represented “two diametrically opposed elements in American life.” For Catton, Lee symbolized an aristocrat, while Grant embodied a democrat. This opposition does still exist in the country today.

As Catton observes, Lee came from a “privileged” class from which “the county would get its leadership.” “He embodied a way of life that had come down through the age of knighthood and the English county squire.” Lee came from the noblest elements of tradition and “chivalry” living in a “static society.” Everything happened to the country because of the higher class giving it “strength” and “virtue.” Even more so, he believed to not be one with the nation himself, but “the Virginia aristocrat, inevitably, saw himself in relation to his own region”. He felt tied to the region he lived in; he fought to preserve the way of life he had known. “Back of Robert E. Lee was the notion that the old aristocrat concept might somehow survive and be dominant in American life.”

Grant, however, came from a “self-reliant” background of “privileges each man had won for himself.” “He had come up the hard way, and embodied nothing in particular except the eternal toughness and sinewy fiber of the men who grew up beyond the mountains.” Grant would have done anything to save the Union; he saw his fate in terms of the nation’s own destiny. “What he lived by would survive or fall with the nation itself.” He and people alike were always looking into the future. “They stood for democracy, not for a reasoned conclusion about the proper ordering of human society, but simply because they had grown up in the middle of democracy and knew how it worked.”

In present day today, Lee was right in the sense that the “aristocrat concept” is still around. In the United States we don’t have kings and nobles but, there are still people of higher statue, that in a way would fit the term aristocracy. For example, any of the professional sports players are aristocracy’s and would fit into the lifestyle as Lee did. These people have the number one top paying profession and live nothing but a leisure life. Another example is Paris Hilton. She is also comparable to Lee by his sense of lifestyle as well. Her father was wealthy making her born into the world with a “silver spoon in her mouth”.

Yes times have changed, but the general “aristocrat concept” is still there. There are still people like Lee who are born into wealth and are able to live leisurely but, people like Grant are still around to. People who take pride in their country as a whole and, who believe in working hard for what they have.


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