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R.E. Lee and slavery - Robert E. Lee - The Participants of the War - Mikitary & Civilian - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Tue Dec 9th, 2008 11:40 pm
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pamc153PA
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Hi folks. I've recently read an article in this month's Civil War Times about Lee and his feelings about slavery, written by Elizabeth Brown Pryor. In it, she not only tries to nail down how Lee truly felt about slavery, based on his writings and his treatment of his own slaves, but she seems bent on trying to prove that Lee was not the South's version of "The Great Emancipator." I thought it was a compelling article, but I was a little confused that it had to be proven that Lee was pro-slavery, if you will.

I am not a Lee scholar, true, but I always considered that Lee was a product of his times and of his social and economic status--and his geography. I'll admit I am fascinated by Lee, and hold some admiration for him, for his religion, his adherence to his principles, and that. In this respect, I'll admit to wanting to place perhaps Northern anti-slavery ideals on him--"how could such an intelligent, moral, religious man feel that slavery was morally right?"--even knowing that they are MY views, and in the end, Lee is STILL a product of his time period.

Still, I think that even this makes Lee more fascinating to me. Have I missed the basic thought in CW circles that Lee was NOT for slavery? I don't want to debate the right and wrong of slavery here, but is my premise that Lee almost HAD to be pro-slavery based on who he was, and his actions and words to that effect should not be a surprise wrong?

Thoughts, please!

Pam

Last edited on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 11:40 pm by pamc153PA



 Posted: Wed Dec 10th, 2008 12:48 am
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Crazy Delawares
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Pam, assuming that the article was written with an open mind, it would appear RE Lee was a supporter of slavery. I read the article as well. That said, I would not doubt that there were others who were anti-slavery BUT, still maintained the racial prejudices of that day. One might even place our beloved President Lincoln in that category. I think I should like to see more than just one magazine article on Lee and his view(s) concerning African-Americans before I make up my mind concerning Lee. There is evidence that he had no problem mixing with the ex-slaves as well. Ex.-Taking communion next to a black man at his church's alter.



 Posted: Wed Dec 10th, 2008 01:28 am
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ole
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I'm convinced that Lee, personally, didn't much care for slavery as a moral right. But, like many others of his time, he worried that the black man was not ready for American Civilization. In other words, he was torn between what he considered to be a moral wrong and charitable concern for the sub-human for whom he bore a responsibility.

He had owned slaves and got rid of them. Then he was given another batch in his father-in-law's will do free within five years -- after he had met the terms of the will paying off debts and passing on some monetary grants. It had to have been tough. He didn't quite get to complying exactly with the will, but he tried.

So, in effect, Lee was a slaveowner, however reluctant. The debts to be paid were largely paid by renting out the slaves in his charge (Note: not owned; in his charge.)

If he hadn't been so busy with the war, I figure he would have discharged his obligation and there would never again have been a slave on his property.

Can we say he was a reluctant slaveowner? Kinda the same as Jefferson: lost the justification, but couldn't get past the "what to do." A quandary for many more than just them.

Ole



 Posted: Sat Jul 18th, 2009 12:24 pm
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Naim Peress
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So it is true that Lee freed his own slaves before the war? I had read that somewhere.



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 09:38 am
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peon
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I found this postwar interview with Lee where he expresses strong disapproval of reconstruction and also rejects the postwar intentions of the Virginia assembly for black suffrage (instead having proposed to them some limited suffrage scheme based on education or wealth, which would "exclude ten negroes and one white man").

He also says Scott had tried to convince him that Lincoln and Seward only wanted pacification at their prewar meeting, but suggests he believed the Republican party needed to justify itself. So what seems to emerge from this is consistent opposition to reconstruction from the war to after the war. And it does seem logical if one considers that aristocracy/feudalism really needs some form of slavery or indentured service to exist. Free labour increases competition and equality.

http://www.jstor.org/pss/4247159



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 01:34 pm
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9Bama
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Please provide a link to the entire article



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 01:59 pm
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Mark
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JSTOR is a subscriber service, I think you probably would have to subscribe to see the whole thing.

Mark



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 02:34 pm
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peon
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Yes I have university access for now, but I think you can also purchase that pdf separately on the page (10 USD). Perhaps worth it since I think Lee didn't give many interviews.



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 02:50 pm
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HankC
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Unluckily that has always been the southern conservative position and one that Lee accepted: that blacks are not *now* ready for full civil rights but will be in the *future*.

For all intents and purposes this issue has been the backbone of American social history for about 190 years: from the Missouri Compromise through the civil war, into reconstruction, the Jim Crow era and the civil rights era until today…


HankC



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 03:31 pm
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peon
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HankC wrote:
Unluckily that has always been the southern conservative position and one that Lee accepted: that blacks are not *now* ready for full civil rights but will be in the *future*.
HankC


Personally I think it's a little uglier than that, if you believe they are biologically inferior beings why would you change their status in the future? Here is an article on eugenics in Virginia in the early 20th century
http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=MWGYKW2GyJ1dNX0jrBwTCZ7MTHCslgcqcln1PCJlG2dwTKNQSGy2!-1371090394!33515697?docId=5001897773

And this one deals with the issue too
http://www.jstor.org/pss/2715142

I'm not saying Lee necessarily accepted this, the interview also mentions him wanting partial emancipation at the onset of the war in order to get black soldiers. But at least I don't buy the image of him in some quarters based on this that he was some half-hearted defender of the southern system. (It was also he who dealt with John Brown.) Washington I can grant it for, but Lee is not Washington.



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 04:34 pm
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Texas Defender
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peon-

  How would you have handled the situation at Harper's Ferry differently than then Colonel Lee did? He was ordered to retake the federal arsenal that had been occupied by John Brown and his followers.



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 05:22 pm
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peon
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How would you have handled the situation at Harper's Ferry differently than then Colonel Lee did? He was ordered to retake the federal arsenal that had been occupied by John Brown and his followers.

His orders were to capture Brown. But I can only assume he was eager to get into action, since Brown was seriously wounded and several accomplishes killed. Worse still, five escaped altogether.

Brown had previously tried to negotiate (but the messenger shot down by citizens), so he was not impervious to that.

Last edited on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 05:22 pm by peon



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 06:13 pm
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9Bama
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peon wrote: How would you have handled the situation at Harper's Ferry differently than then Colonel Lee did? He was ordered to retake the federal arsenal that had been occupied by John Brown and his followers.

His orders were to capture Brown. But I can only assume he was eager to get into action, since Brown was seriously wounded and several accomplishes killed. Worse still, five escaped altogether.

Brown had previously tried to negotiate (but the messenger shot down by citizens), so he was not impervious to that.

and this information comes from where?



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 06:34 pm
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peon-

  Making assumptions seems to be what you are about. Colonel Lee at this time was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry stationed in Texas. In 1857, his father-in-law died, and as he was executor of the estate, Lee had to take an extended leave from the Army to restore the fortunes of the estate at Arlington.

  When the Harper's Ferry raid took place, Lee, being in the general area, was called in and told to retake the arsenal. He was given a contingent of Marines to accomplish the task. These men would not normally have ever been under his command. Lee did not run to WDC and ask to be sent.  He was given orders to recapture the arsenal, and if he was eager to do anything, it was to do his duty. A quote attributed to him is: "Duty is the most sublime word in our language."

  As for John Brown, he wasn't there to negotiate anything. His mission, as he saw it, was to capture arms from the federal arsenal and use them to arm slaves and precipitate a giant slave revolt. On the way, he clearly demonstrated that he was willing to kill citizens and take hostages. At Harper's Ferry, this resulted in skirmishes between Brown's men and private citizens and militia groups of Virginia before the federal troops arrived.

  Here is an account of the raid:

John Brown's Raid

  As for Robert E. Lee's views on slavery, I would take a passage from a letter that he wrote to his wife in 1856:

  "In this enlightened age, there are few, I believe, but will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil in any country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however, a greater evil to the white man than the black race, and while my feelings are strongly enlisted on behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and I hope will prepare and lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known and ordered by a wise Merciful Providence."

- ROBERT E. LEE: A BIOGRAPHY, Douglas Freeman, 1934, p.372.

  Thus, it can be said that while Lee was not an abolitionist, he did view slavery as an evil institution, and looked forward to its eventual end. In these views, I believe that he was less: "Conservative" than most of his generation.

  I do not know of any writings in which Lee stated whether or not he considered blacks to be inferior biologically. However, it can maintained that Abraham Lincoln did not consider the black man to be his equal. He was of the opinion that the two races would never be able to live together on equal terms.  (And he favored the resettlement of blacks to places such as Central America). Quoting from the Lincoln- Douglas debates:

  "I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together in terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

The Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln and the Issue of Race

  In the end, both Lee and Lincoln were the products of their time and the society they were a part of. Those who insist on trying to apply 21st century values to the 19th century are, in my view, engaging in a foolish enterprise.

Last edited on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 06:56 pm by Texas Defender



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 06:56 pm
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9Bama
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TD,
Thank you once again for eloquently stating what I was thinking. These sorts of threads do grow tiresome, don't they!

Ed



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 08:19 pm
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peon
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9Bama wrote:
peon wrote: How would you have handled the situation at Harper's Ferry differently than then Colonel Lee did? He was ordered to retake the federal arsenal that had been occupied by John Brown and his followers.

His orders were to capture Brown. But I can only assume he was eager to get into action, since Brown was seriously wounded and several accomplishes killed. Worse still, five escaped altogether.

Brown had previously tried to negotiate (but the messenger shot down by citizens), so he was not impervious to that.

and this information comes from where?


I read here that the order was to capture Brown (granted Buchanan had slavery sympathies, but he still wanted Federal troops involved instead of Virginia militia).
http://www.wvculture.org/history/jnobrown.html

Lee's own report mentions only special order 194.
http://www.wvculture.org/History/jbexhibit/leemasontestimony.html

This page suggests the order was only to take command of the available forces.
http://trans-video.net/~rwillisa/Ferry_Raid.htm

So I'd like to see special order 194 before I change my view on that.

As for his eagerness to attack one can see it in his own report even.
http://www.wvculture.org/History/jbexhibit/leemasontestimony.html
"Having taken measures to halt, in Baltimore, the artillery companies ordered from Fort Monroe, I made preparations to attack the insurgents at daylight. But for the fear of sacrificing the lives of some of the gentlemen held by them as prisoners in a midnight assault, I should have ordered the attack at once.".

"As soon after daylight as the arrangements were made Lieutenant J.E.B. Stewart, 1st cavalry, who had accompanied me from Washington as staff officer, was dispatched, under a flag, with a written summons, (a copy of which is hereto annexed, marked A.) Knowing the character of the leader of the insurgents I did not expect it would be accepted."

"The result proves that the plan was the attempt of a fanatic or madman, which could only end in failure; and its temporary success was owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creating by magnifying his numbers."

And here he states his preconceived notions about Brown.
"That they were headed by John Brown, of some notoriety in Kansas,"

Here is another report on how negotiations went
http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/jbrown/igreen.html

" Stewart hailed Brown and called for his surrender, but Brown at once began to make a proposition that he and his men should be allowed to come out of the engine-house and be given the length of the bridge start, so that they might escape. Suddenly Lieutenant Stewart waved his hat, and I gave the order to my men to batter in the door.".

And how Brown was "apprehended" (not killed on the spot only by mistake).
"As he said this, Brown turned his head to see who it was to whom Colonel Washington was speaking. Quicker than thought I brought my sbaer down with all my strength upon his head. He was moving as the blow fell, and I suppose I did not strike him where I intended, for he received a deep saber cut in the back of the neck. He fell senseless on his side, then rolled over on his back. He had in his hand a short Sharpe's- cavalry carbine. I think he had just fired as I reached Colonel Washington, for the marine who followed me into the aperture made by the ladder received a bullet in the abdomen, from which he died in a few minutes. The shot might have been fired by some one else in the insurgent party, but I think it was from Brown. Instinctively as Brown fell I gave him a saber thrust in the left breast. The sword I carried was a light uniform weapon, and, either not having a point or striking something hard in Brown's accouterments, did not penetrate. The blade bent double."

As for his previous offer of cease fire it's for example in the list of events I linked to earlier.
http://trans-video.net/~rwillisa/Ferry_Raid.htm

In the end, both Lee and Lincoln were the products of their time and the society they were a part of. Those who insist on trying to apply 21st century values to the 19th century are, in my view, engaging in a foolish enterprise.

I can admit that his views on slavery as an institution are ambigious as I have already stated myself. However not his rejection of the Northern Republicans and their right to determine the issue, I do not believe he had some profound divided loyalties in that regard.



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 09:03 pm
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peon-

  You seem to have a problem with Colonel's Lee's desire to accomplish the mission that he was given. He had already postponed his attack because he feared for the safety of the hostages. An attack at night is difficult to control, especially with troops you aren't familiar with.

  Lee's desire at that point was to retake the arsenal, freeing the hostages if possible, and killing or capturing Brown's men. Still, he allowed J.E.B. Stuart (NOT: "Stewart") to approach Brown and once again demand surrender. When this was refused, Stuart gave the pre-arranged signal for the attack to begin.

  For Robert E. Lee to say that John Brown was a: "Man of some notoriety" was a great understatement. By that time, Brown was already notorious for committing atrocities in Kansas a few years before. The most well known was the Pottawatomie Creek incident, in which several pro-slavery men were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night by Brown, some of his sons, and some others. The victims were then hacked to death with swords. If I had been present at that point in history, I certainly would have considered Brown to be a : "Madman," and what we today call a: "Terrorist."

John Brown Biography Page

 

John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid

 

  Your text gives a link, but does not make it clear to the casual observer that it was not LT Stuart who struck down John Brown, but LT Green of the Marines. In my view, LT Green acted properly in that incident when he tried to take out Brown who reportedly was clutching a carbine. One of Green's Marines had just been mortally wounded, possibly by Brown himself. At that point, I would have tried to kill Brown just as Green did.

Last edited on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 09:07 pm by Texas Defender



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 09:16 pm
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9Bama
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It has been my observation over the years that if one comes to a discussion determined to villify an individual, then that person can ususally find a way to ATTEMPT said villification. That seems to be what is going on here, OR Peon does not undeerstand military operations and orders. Lee was given some orders and he carried them out. Brown got hurt, Ah shucks!



 Posted: Mon Jun 14th, 2010 11:32 pm
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Bama-

  I'm sure that you'd agree that there are many, many disreputable scoundrels on both sides who are worthy of villification. However, it would be most unfair for anyone to place General Lee on such a list.



 Posted: Tue Jun 15th, 2010 02:04 am
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As an aside, when asked (1860's) how long it would take for slavery to be finished and the black man assimilated into American society, Lincoln made the statement 100 years. Sounds about right with the passage of the federal laws in the 1960's.

Doc C



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