The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001 Page: 128
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12 8 Southwestern Historical Quarterly July
the nineteenth century could claim longer, more varied, or more prominent
careers. A key architect of the nation's professional army, Scott commanded
troops in the War of 1812 and was still in uniform at the outbreak of the Civil
War to develop the North's initial strategy against the Confederacy. A capable
diplomat and perennial Whig presidential candidate, Scott was one of the
nation's most celebrated yet controversial leaders for half a century.
The recent publication of a pair of Winfield Scott biographies may help to ele-
vate the general to his rightful place as a pre-eminent figure of the Early
National period. The two books are alike in several respects. Both are traditional
military histories, by authors who are at their best discussing the strategies and
maneuvers of the battlefield. Eisenhower and Johnson view their subject as a tac-
tician and field commander who improved with experience and demonstrated
an ability to learn from his mistakes. Accordingly, both authors attribute Scott's
debacle at Lundy's Lane, which ended the American invasion of Canada in the
War of 1812, to inexperience and impetuosity, and regard his amphibious land-
ing at Veracruz and drive toward Mexico City in 1847, not surprisingly, as the
general's finest hour.
If the two books are largely in agreement in their analyses of Scott the general,
they differ substantially in their approaches to Scott the man. Painting with a
broad brush, Eisenhower offers a heroic icon, a man whose enormous talents all
but obscure his faults. Scott's detractors-and there were legions of them-are
characterized as mean-spirited and petty individuals, seemingly unaware that
they are in the presence of greatness. Eisenhower's penchant for exaggeration,
simplistic overstatement, and his tendency to place Scott at the very center of
events deprives his narrative of any real depth. This is particularly true in his
examination of Scott's forays into the diplomatic arena. Although it is no doubt
true that Scott's skill as a negotiator has been overlooked by historians, Eisen-
hower gives the general considerably more credit than he deserves when he
states that Scott defused the South Carolina nullification crisis in 1833 and
almost singlehandedly spared the country from two wars with Great Britain dur-
ing the Carolina Incident and the Aroostook War.
Johnson, on the other hand, offers a decidedly less flattering but ultimately
more convincing portrait. While the author does not minimize Scott's accom-
plishments, he is not blind to his equally monumental character flaws. Scott's
vanity and overweening ego-personality traits Eisenhower refers to only casual-
ly-are the keys to understanding the general's tempestuous and controversial
career, and the basis of countless feuds with presidents, colleagues and subordi-
nates. For Johnson, Scott's extraordinary hubris deserves serious attention, for it
underlies the general's failure to get the recognition he deserved. Notwithstand-
ing the American electorate's inordinate fondness for military heroes, Scott was
unable to parlay his fame into a successful political career. Scott could only
watch with dismay as his party nominated Zachary Taylor, a general both authors
regard as mediocre at best, in the election of 1848. Although he would win the
Whig nomination four years later, the public perceived Scott-correctly, John-
son argues-as a rigid martinet whose sobriquet "Old Fuss and Feathers" denoted
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/m1/156/: accessed May 27, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.