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Robert E. Lee And Our Contemporary Political Battles

He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward.

Benjamin Hill on Robert E. Lee

 

 

My how General Robert E. Lee still raises passions..  Adam Serwer has a one sided attack on Lee in The Atlantic, which reeks of presentism and displays little understanding of Lee or his times Go here to read it.  Dan McLaughin gives a half-hearted defense of Lee at National Review Online.  (Did all boldness die at National Review with Buckley?)  Go here to read it.  As Lincoln’s biggest fan on the internet, my views on Lee are well known to faithful readers of this blog:

 

Great Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one of the greatest of Americans, of his time or any time, was Robert E. Lee.

Always outnumbered, with troops often dressed in rags, ill-fed, ill-supplied, he led his men to magnificent victories in the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  Fighting another great general, Grant, he achieved a stalemate in 1864 against an army that had more than a two-to-one advantage, and prolonged the life of his country by almost a year.  A fighting general with a propensity for taking huge risks, he was also a humane man with unfailing courtesy for both friend and foe.  A true Christian, he did his best, in turbulent times, to live the teachings of Christ.

In regard to the great issues of his day, he was opposed to secession as he indicated in this letter to his son “Rooney” on January 29, 1861: “Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It was intended for ‘perpetual union’ so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession.”  When Virginia seceded however, he decided that he had no choice but to fight in her defense.

As to slavery,  before the Civil War Lee condemned it in private correspondence, viewing it as an unmitigated evil. While not an abolitionist he hoped that Christianity and education would eventually end slavery.

Pursuant to the terms of his father-in-law’s tangled pro se will, he manumitted his father-in-law’s slaves.

For years prior to the Civil War, Lee and his wife financially supported black families in Liberia, part of their efforts to encourage freeing slaves to participate in setting up a free black state in Liberia. Lee and his wife led by example, freeing their slaves and offering to pay the expenses of all of his former slaves who wished to settle in Liberia.

Lee was in favor of enlisting blacks in the Confederate army from the moment that it was proposed in 1864, and stated that in simple fairness the black soldiers should be guaranteed freedom for themselves and their families.  His thoughts on black troops are set forth in these letters.  I have little doubt that if it had been in his power Lee would have used black troops from the beginning of the war with freedom being their reward for volunteering to fight.

After the war Lee stated that rather than fighting for slavery he rejoiced that the outcome of the war had ended slavery. That this was no idle comment was demonstrated by Lee while at Church one Sunday morning soon after the war.

Lee after the Civil War opposed immediate suffrage for former slaves, but only on the ground that they currently lacked the education to exercise the franchise responsibly. He led a successful campaign to remedy this by championing the public funding of schools for blacks in 1869-70.  He repeatedly expelled white students from Washington University, of which he was President after the war, who engaged in attacks on blacks.

In the midst of defeat Lee gave a great gift to all Americans.  By not starting a guerrilla war against the occupying Union troops Lee ensured that the Civil War was not merely the prelude to an endless cycle of wars between the states.  In devoting his remaining years to education in a defeated and devastated South he was a shining example to the veterans who followed him of dignity and courage in the face of adversity.  There have been greater generals than Robert E. Lee, there have been few greater men.

“The man was loved, the man was idolized,
The man had every just and noble gift.
He took great burdens and he bore them well,
Believed in God but did not preach too much,
Believed and followed duty first and last
With marvellous consistency and force,
Was a great victor, in defeat as great,
No more, no less, always himself in both,
Could make men die for him but saved his men
Whenever he could save them was most kind
But was not disobeyed was a good father,
A loving husband, a considerate friend. “

Stephen Vincent Benet

People will fight out contemporary political battles as they will.  When they do so by misusing history they raise the lies that usually accompany politics to a whole new level.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

16 Comments

  1. The problem with the eradication of the Civil War memorials is that it’s impossible not to see this as one stage in an ongoing trend; an ongoing agenda. Anyone who thinks it will stop there and not end up at the limits of D.C. has to be beyond blind.

    There’s also this uncomfortable notion that race is the irremediable sin. That if we can in any way pin the racist label on a person, we can then condemn the person as nothing but a racist, refuse any mercy, and use the condemnation to dismiss or eliminate any contributions of that person. This is an excellent summary of what I’m seeing:

    “The Left constantly digs through long-forgotten personal histories in seeking to discredit people; to them, you will forever be whatever the worst interpretation of the worst thing you have ever done or said is. That this is patently absurd, of course, is irrelevant to them. They care nothing for the truth, they only seek to destroy. They are little satans, accusers in service to the Great Accuser.”

    There’s truth to this if you think about it.

  2. “There’s also this uncomfortable notion that race is the irremediable sin.”

    And the complete obsession of the left in this country. White leftists tend to be as race obsessed as a Klansman circa 1866.

  3. Something I just learned: June 5 Confederate soldiers, sailors and marines in the Civil War were made U.S. Veterans by an act of Congress in 1957: U.S. Public Law 85-425 Sec. 410; Approved 23 May 1958.

    This made all Confederate Army, Navy and Marine Veterans equal to U.S. Veterans. Additionally, under U.S. Public Law 810, approved by the 17th Congress on 26 February, 1929, the War Department was directed to erect headstones and recognize Confederate grave sites as U.S. Grave sites.

  4. THANK YOU Mary DeVoe for that information – it should be pondered by those who take down statues and landmarks.

  5. and some of those white lefties were Klansmen, e.g. late Sen Robert Byrd, (D)WV. Lots of amnesia on the Left.

  6. (Did all boldness die at National Review with Buckley?)

    I think the replacement of John O’Sullivan with Richard Lowry was the watershed. The economy of opinion journalism is lousy and there are not many careers to be made in it. I cannot help but notice that Jonah Goldberg is just about the only engaging producer of topical commentary that emerged from the ranks of the starboard magazine press as we knew it in 1994. Ross Douthat, Megan McArdle, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds, David Burge, &c were never employed by any such venues. George Will and Charles Krauthammer were. The people Lowry has hired over the years produce workmanlike but bland material, or they produce insipid dreck, or they produce material that seems calculated to abrade much of National Review‘s readership.

  7. “There’s also this uncomfortable notion that race is the irremediable sin.”
    Race is an act of “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” from THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, ratified by every state. Prejudice against man is hatred of God and the imposition of atheism. So, too is same sex attraction an act of “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”. It is the free will act of man to become addicted to lust and practice sodomy, a free will act detrimental to the salvation of the sodomite’s soul and salvation.

  8. Very sad that in his own Commonwealth of Virginia, at this moment, Charlottesville is pulling down his statue and re-naming the park that bears his name. This talibanic effort to purge our history will likely continue. It’s a deeply ignorant movement, particularly with regard to Lee and Virginia, since our state rejected secession when the issue was Lincoln’s election and the perceived threat to slavery laws. Only when Lincoln ordered up troops for a southern invasion, and only then, did Virginia secede, convinced that this was an unconstitutional act by the federal government. One wonders if a different approach by Lincoln, at least with regard to states like Virginia, might have produced a different outcome. If Virginia had not seceded, the confederacy would have never survived beyond a year or two.

  9. If he had done nothing else, America would owe him an unpayable debt for not scattering the Army of Northern Virginia to the hills in April 1865 to engage in guerilla warfare. But he did “plenty else,” too. Purging his memorials (and those of the Confederate soldiery) says more about us than it does about him (and them).

  10. And it will not stop with Confederates. The slave holding Founding Fathers are a natural next target. Eisenhower and the men of the Great Crusade, as he called it, served in a racially segregated Army. Eventually they will go after Obama because he came late to the cause of gay marriage. The hilarious things about this is that the portside of our politics has a real problem with sponsoring political violence, raging intolerance of intellectual diversity, and often a romantic view of murderous leftists like Che Guevara. We have them spending their time attempting to censor the historical record while ignoring the glaring beams in their own eyes.

  11. And what a small percentage of black Americans who owned slaves? When it comes to slavery there is plenty of blame to go around.

  12. There’s also this uncomfortable notion that race is the irremediable sin.

    Or at least terrorism.

  13. Mr. McClarey, the activists who pushed for the recent removal of
    the various Confederate memorials down in New Orleans also
    lobbied successfully to have that city’s George Washington
    Elementary School change its name, because President Washington
    had owned slaves. And yes, they’ve already indicated that they will
    not rest until the statue of Andrew Jackson comes down and Jackson
    Square Park is renamed, Battle of New Orleans notwithstanding…

    So yes, as you say, it will not stop with Confederates.

  14. In Charlottesville, the writing is on the wall… first Lee and Jackson, but how long will the city be able to ignore the odious presence of the college founded, designed, and built by that arch-racist and slaveholder, Thomas Jefferson? I hope it happens soon, so I can watch the Left eat their own, as UVA is a hotbed of radical Leftism, and also the city’s main economic support.

  15. For what it is worth: For better answers: check out Prager University’s five minute clip: The Inconvenient Truth About the Democratic Party by Carol Swain, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.

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