Today’s photo has nothing to do with fashion. It’s a 1953 ad from John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company in Boston.
The ad copy is stunningly written by a true master – you don’t see verbiage like this nowadays. What it says is striking inasmuch as it seems to have been written for Americans in 2016.
He lost a war and won immortality.
Even among the free, it is not always easy to live together.
There came a time, less than a hundred years ago, when the people of this country disagreed so bitterly among themselves that some of them felt they could not go on living with the rest.
A test of arms was made to decide whether Americans should remain one nation or become two. The armies of those who believed in two nations were led by a man named Robert E. Lee.
What about Lee? What kind of man was he who nearly split the history of the United States down the middle and made two separate books of it?
They say you had to see him to believe that a man so fine could exist.
He was handsome. He was clever. He was brave. He was gentle.
He was generous and charming, noble and modest, admired and beloved.
He had never failed at anything in his upright soldier’s life.
He was a born winner, this Robert E. Lee.
Except for once. In the greatest contest of his life, in the war between the South and the North, Robert E. Lee lost.
Now there were men who came with smouldering eyes to Lee and said: “Let’s not accept this result as final.
Let’s keep our anger alive. Let’s be grim and unconvinced, and wear our bitterness like a medal. You can be our leader in this.”
But Lee shook his head at those men. “Abandon your animosities,” he said, “and make your sons Americans.”
And what did he do himself when his war was lost? He took a job as president of a tiny college, with forty students and four professors, at a salary of $1500 a year. He had commanded thousands of young men in battle. Now he wanted to prepare a few hundred of them for the duties of peace. So the countrymen of Robert E. Lee saw how a born winner loses, and it seemed to them that in defeat he won his most lasting victory.
There is an art in losing, and Robert E. Lee is its finest teacher. In a democracy, where opposing viewpoints regularly meet for a test of ballots, it is good for all of us to know how to lose occasionally, how to yield peacefully, for the sake of freedom. Lee is our master in this. The man who fought against the Union showed us what unity means.