Impressive or admirable historical leaders that have a bad reputation because of one mistake?

Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
A couple that come to mind off the top of my head would be Emperor Napoleon III, who was generally a capable and politically savvy leader that modernised France in countless ways that still have their impact felt today, but is brushed off as incompetent because of his enormous failure in the Franco-Prussian War (which isn't even that bad, since it's not as if Prussia and the other German states were a pushover militarily), and also Emperor Heraclius, whose long and impressive reign is overshadowed by the Arab conquests of Egypt and the Levant. It's unfortunate that a man who almost single-handedly saved the Roman Empire from complete destruction by the Sassanids, and waged multi-year campaigns deep behind enemy lines, is only remembered by the majority of people as being the Emperor that oversaw the loss of the Middle East. I believe there's a line of thought that 'had he died before the Arab conquests he'd be remembered as a great emperor'.

What are some examples you can think of?
 
Nov 2018
349
Denmark
Ditlev Gothard Monrad (born November 24, 1811 in Copenhagen, died March 28, 1887 in Nykøbing Falster) was a visionary Danish theologian, bishop, politician and minister.

He wrote the first draft for the Danish constitution: June Constitution of 1849.

Had he written alone, it had been more democratic.

In addition, he wanted the introduction of democracy to lead to social reforms.

Overall, he was a driving force for the introduction of democracy in Denmark

Because of this, he is called the Father of the Constitution.

Unfortunately, Monrad was president of the council of ministers 31 December 1863 - July 11, 1864, so he was primarily responsible for the negotiations with Austria and Prussia about Schleswig Holstein.

It went completely wrong and Austria / Prussia attacked Denmark in 1864. Denmark suffered a humiliating defeat and lost Schleswig / Holstein.

This led to a national trauma that the Danes have never really recovered. Moreover, Monrad was eternally blamed and cursed for the defeat even though Denmark could not match the Austrian / Prussian army.
 
Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
Ditlev Gothard Monrad (born November 24, 1811 in Copenhagen, died March 28, 1887 in Nykøbing Falster) was a visionary Danish theologian, bishop, politician and minister.

He wrote the first draft for the Danish constitution: June Constitution of 1849.

Had he written alone, it had been more democratic.

In addition, he wanted the introduction of democracy to lead to social reforms.

Overall, he was a driving force for the introduction of democracy in Denmark

Because of this, he is called the Father of the Constitution.

Unfortunately, Monrad was president of the council of ministers 31 December 1863 - July 11, 1864, so he was primarily responsible for the negotiations with Austria and Prussia about Schleswig Holstein.

It went completely wrong and Austria / Prussia attacked Denmark in 1864. Denmark suffered a humiliating defeat and lost Schleswig / Holstein.

This led to a national trauma that the Danes have never really recovered. Moreover, Monrad was eternally blamed and cursed for the defeat even though Denmark could not match the Austrian / Prussian army.
Interesting choice. It's unfortunate that great lawmakers and reformers are often dismissed and forgotten because of military defeats that were not their fault.
 
Feb 2011
1,091
Scotland
Gen. William Rosecrans. An extremely successful general in the western theatre of the ACW, till one badly worded order got half his army routed at Chickamauga.

After that, he was a broken man so far as military affairs went. He enjoyed a pretty successful non-military career after the war though.
 
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Oct 2018
1,511
Sydney
This will not surprise considering my username, but I submit Diocletian. Nowadays, Diocletian is given a pretty fair shake when it comes to scholarship. But for much of history, Diocletian was remembered above all else as the author of the Great Persecution. Indeed, among the few people who happen to be aware of Diocletian, the Persecution is still the main and sometimes only thing that comes to mind.

Diocletian had his faults. His ambitious Tetrarchic scheme of rulership was an extraordinary success with Diocletian at the helm, but it did not succeed in becoming an enduring solution to imperial instability since it ultimately required his personal influence to hold it together. His prices edict was a notable failure, but it nonetheless reflects the poor understanding of economics that existed in ancient times. But Diocletian was an innovative and incredibly hands-on ruler who was trying to find solutions to bring an end to the political, military and economic instability of his time, and in many key respects he succeeded. The Sassanians suffered a truly decisive defeat (and the humiliating Treaty of Nisibis) to the Romans, the taxation system was reformed to be more regular and equitable, a five-yearly census was introduced, the emperorship became more ideologically protected through the introduction of elaborate ceremonial and by being more closely associated with the divine, control over the provinces became more centralized, the imperial bureacracy was expanded, the frontiers were strengthened, law was compiled into codices for the first time, military support was successfully elicited after decades of rampant military rebellion (in part by emphasizing in propaganda that he and Maximian were brothers-in-arms), the power of individual governors and generals was weakened (reducing their ability to rebel), numerous barbarians were defeated, the power of the praetorian guard was diminished, the ten-year usurpation of the British emperors was defeated, the provincial cities of imperial residence were revamped with major building programs and the foundation of mints to become effective capital cities with more strategic significance than Rome, and the twenty years of Tetrarchic dynastic rule that Diocletian achieved (although that in itself did collapse into civil war after his abdication) paved the way for the political stability brought by Constantine and his dynasty, whose initial ascendancy came off the back of Constantius' legitimacy as a Tetrarch, thus helping to end the succession crisis of the later third century.

Diocletian's persecution of the Christians should be viewed through the lens of his problem-solving. In a time of great crisis, it is not surprising that there were people who thought that the gods were angry. The Christians were travelling the empire, converting people to their faith. They taught that it was wrong to sacrifice to idols. In 301 Diocletian tried to stem inflation through his ambitious prices edict, and this effort led to further inflation. In 302 he persecuted the Manicheans, whom he declared to be impious and a Persian fifth column to boot. In 303 the persecution of the Christians began. The context of Diocletian the problem-solver, a man who was working within the context of what he thought he knew about the world, does much to explain the persecution, but the persecution itself has done much to draw attention away from a broader appreciation of this unusual emperor.
 
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Oct 2018
1,511
Sydney
Another good example is Maxentius. When we think of Maxentius we tend to think of him as the man who lost to Constantine at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine framed him as a tyrant, and this characterization continues to predominate the popular understanding of this emperor: a tyrant who was defeated in a victory granted by God. But Maxentius was so much more than a foil for Constantine, and for those six years when they both ruled (306-312), he was arguably the more interesting emperor.

Maxentius (like Constantine) was the son of a Tetrarch who, when Diocletian and Maximian abdicated, had not been allowed to succeed to the purple. Taking matters into his own hands, he used discontent in the city of Rome herself to seize power. The people of Rome and the senate were upset with the fact that the Tetrarchs had been mostly absent from the city, and they resented that Diocletian and Galerius had removed their tax privileges. Moreover, Diocletian and then Galerius had been gradually disbanding and dispersing the praetorians among the legions on the frontiers, much to their chagrin. Maxentius used these discontented parties to take power in Rome, and he ended the persecution in Italy and Africa to gain Christian support as well.

Maxentius' coins and building program then advertised him as the one true Roman emperor, the 'Preserver of His Own City' (Conservator Urbis Suae). He encouraged the inhabitants of His City to compare him to the Tetrarchs, men who had been born on the empire's periphery and who ruled from the provinces rather than Rome. He made especial use of this 'true-Roman' self-presentation from 308 onwards, after he lost the support of his father Maximian (whom he had brought out of retirement to help himself). His building program still determines much of what we see of Ancient Rome today: the Basilica of Maxentius, his Via Appia complex, his epic restorations to Hadrian's Temple of Venus and Roma, his restorations to the Aurelian Wall. And these are only the most famous contributions of his building program. It has even been argued that the Arch of Constantine was originally an Arch of Maxentius, and that the Colossus of Constantine, found in the Basilica of Maxentius, is a re-cut Colossus of Maxentius.

Moreover, he survived two different military expeditions against himself and the city of Rome, the first by Severus II and the second by Galerius. The second by Galerius is especially impressive since Maxentius wasn't accompanied by his militarily-experienced father, and Galerius himself was the man who had avenged the Romans upon the Persians after the embarrassments of the mid-third century, a truly intimidating figure with the military mettle to match. As it happened, Maxentius used the walls of Rome, the propaganda value of representing Rome as well as bribery to defeat the invader. He then defeated his own father's attempt to oust him from power, all the more spectacular since his father had been emperor for more than twenty years. As Lactantius relates (On the Deaths of the Persecutors 28):

"After the flight of Galerius, Maximian, having returned from Gaul, held authority in common with his son; but more obedience was yielded to the young man than to the old: for Maxentius had most power, and had been longest in possession of it; and it was to him that Maximian owed on this occasion the imperial dignity. The old man was impatient at being denied the exercise of uncontrolled sovereignty, and envied his son with a childish spirit of rivalry; and therefore he began to consider how he might expel Maxentius and resume his ancient dominion. This appeared easy, because the soldiers who deserted Severus had originally served in his own army. He called an assembly of the people of Rome, and of the soldiers, as if he had been to make an harangue on the calamitous situation of public affairs. After having spoken much on that subject, he stretched his hands towards his son, charged him as author of all ills and prime cause of the calamities of the state, and then tore the purple from his shoulders. Maxentius, thus stripped, leaped headlong from the tribunal, and was received into the arms of the soldiers. Their rage and clamour confounded the unnatural old man, and, like another Tarquin the Proud, he was driven from Rome."
 
Feb 2019
472
Thrace
Alcibiades, because a bum named Antiochus wanted to be a hero as well. He explicitly went against a crystal clear instruction from the great man himself, failing miserably, and the blame of course fell on Alcibiades. It wasn't even his mistake but because of this loss, his enemies used this opportunity to discredit him and what is mostly remembered now is his lavish lifestyle.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
21,755
SoCal
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. He screwed up by escalating the Vietnam War but otherwise had a very admirable record--with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Medicare, and Medicaid and with his Great Society program and War on Poverty.
 
Oct 2016
1,162
Merryland
General Nathan Bedford Forrest
capable war leader and successful railroad executive.
co-founded the Ku Kux Klan as a fraternal organization of ex-soldiers, not a domestic terrorist group, which was done later.
simplistic historians will tag him with the klan and ignore the rest of his life.

US Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney. authored the Dred Scott decision. the rest of his career now completely forgotten.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
21,755
SoCal
General Nathan Bedford Forrest
capable war leader and successful railroad executive.
co-founded the Ku Kux Klan as a fraternal organization of ex-soldiers, not a domestic terrorist group, which was done later.
simplistic historians will tag him with the klan and ignore the rest of his life.

US Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney. authored the Dred Scott decision. the rest of his career now completely forgotten.
Are you sure that you're not whitewashing Forrest here?
 
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