Myth of Robert E. Lee

broman
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Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby broman » Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:20 am

The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.

Views on slavery
I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically.

Prisoner exchange during civil war
As the historian James McPherson recounts in Battle Cry of Freedom, in October of that same year, Lee proposed an exchange of prisoners with the Union general Ulysses S. Grant. “Grant agreed, on condition that blacks be exchanged ‘the same as white soldiers.’” Lee’s response was that “negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange and were not included in my proposition.”

Postwar Views
Lee told a New York Herald reporter, in the midst of arguing in favor of somehow removing blacks from the South (“disposed of,” in his words), “that unless some humane course is adopted, based on wisdom and Christian principles you do a gross wrong and injustice to the whole negro race in setting them free.
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/ar ... ee/529038/



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Professor Fate
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Professor Fate » Sun Sep 16, 2018 8:02 pm

Sorry, can't agree.

First of all even the author's examples contain phrases that show his virtues.
broman wrote:Source of the post Views on slavery
I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former
Doesn't exactly sound like an evil ogre, does he?

broman wrote:Source of the post Prisoner exchange during civil war
As the historian James McPherson recounts in Battle Cry of Freedom, in October of that same year, Lee proposed an exchange of prisoners with the Union general Ulysses S. Grant. “Grant agreed, on condition that blacks be exchanged ‘the same as white soldiers.’” Lee’s response was that “negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange and were not included in my proposition.”

Notice it doesn't say "black soldiers." If Grant wanted to repatriate black civilians in exchange for Union soldiers, it was wise of Lee to demand combatants, not civilians.

broman wrote:Source of the post Postwar Views
Lee told a New York Herald reporter, in the midst of arguing in favor of somehow removing blacks from the South (“disposed of,” in his words), “that unless some humane course is adopted, based on wisdom and Christian principles you do a gross wrong and injustice to the whole negro race in setting them free.
Again, not exactly the concerns of an ogre. He appears to me to be arguing for a more structured plan for their impending freedom than just saying "Go in peace...You're free."

And secondly, stop judging mid-nineteenth century figures by 21st century values.

Presentism is also a factor in the problematic question of history and moral judgments. Among historians, the orthodox view may be that reading modern notions of morality into the past is to commit the error of presentism. To avoid this, historians restrict themselves to describing what happened and attempt to refrain from using language that passes judgment. For example, when writing history about slavery in an era when the practice was widely accepted, letting that fact influence judgment about a group or individual would be presentist and thus should be avoided. Wikipedia
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Omar Bongo » Sun Sep 16, 2018 8:51 pm

Professor Fate wrote:Source of the post Sorry, can't agree.

Did you read the article?
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby John Q. Public » Sun Sep 16, 2018 10:04 pm

"Reading the article" isn't required.

I sort of agree with the Professor. From the three paragraphs and considering it was the mid-19th century, Lee sounds somewhat progressive.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Omar Bongo » Sun Sep 16, 2018 11:05 pm

John Q. Public wrote:Source of the post "Reading the article" isn't required.

Neither is knowing what you're talking about
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Vilepagan » Mon Sep 17, 2018 3:18 am

John Q. Public wrote:Source of the post From the three paragraphs and considering it was the mid-19th century, Lee sounds somewhat progressive.


It's hard to view his opinions as somewhat progressive when people had been advocating for abolition for decades at this point. Lee's views were distinctly not progressive for his time. He fought a war to maintain the status quo.

If you don't want to read the whole article at least let's look at some of the passages quoted in their entirety:

I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.

So in Lee's mind slavery was ordered by God, and it's for the benefit of the blacks, and btw it does more harm to whites than blacks. Progressive? Not so much.

From the article:

Lee’s cruelty as a slavemaster was not confined to physical punishment. In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.”

Progressive? It would seem his policy regarding families was less than progressive.

What did Lee think of corporal punishment for slaves?

Lee’s heavy hand on the Arlington plantation, Pryor writes, nearly led to a slave revolt, in part because the enslaved had been expected to be freed upon their previous master’s death, and Lee had engaged in a dubious legal interpretation of his will in order to keep them as his property, one that lasted until a Virginia court forced him to free them.

When two of his slaves escaped and were recaptured, Lee either beat them himself or ordered the overseer to "lay it on well." Wesley Norris, one of the slaves who was whipped, recalled that “not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.”


The article mentions the reaction of a former Union soldier in 1903 on the suggestion that a statue of Lee be erected at the Gettysburg battle site, “If you want historical accuracy as your excuse, then place upon this field a statue of Lee holding in his hand the banner under which he fought, bearing the legend: ‘We wage this war against a government conceived in liberty and dedicated to humanity.’”

The article finishes appropriately:

The white supremacists who have protested on Lee’s behalf are not betraying his legacy. In fact, they have every reason to admire him. Lee, whose devotion to white supremacy outshone his loyalty to his country, is the embodiment of everything they stand for. Tribe and race over country is the core of white nationalism, and racists can embrace Lee in good conscience.

The question is why anyone else would.


Interesting article worth reading in its entirety.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby MDDad » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:03 am

JQP, it seems that some here have the inability to stop applying 21st century values and social tolerances to 19th century times and figures. Yes, Lee was indeed a progressive thinker for a 19th century Southerner.

And it might be pointed out (again) that Lee never owned slaves. When his father-in-law died in 1857, his will stipulated Lee as the executor of his estate and required him to free all of Custis' slaves within five years. Lee did that, freeing the last of them a full year before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and three years before slaves were freed in the North. There are dozens of conflicting views on how Lee treated the slaves of the Custis estate during the time he was responsible for them.

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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby John Q. Public » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:34 am

Omar Bongo wrote:Source of the post Neither is knowing what you're talking about

Exactly. It's why we have that rule. "Did you read the article" should never have to be asked. "Did you read what I posted" sure, but "Did you read the article" no.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby John Q. Public » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:59 am

Vilepagan wrote:Source of the post Interesting article worth reading in its entirety.

Sounds to me like the writer expected Lee to have a Delorean parked in his carriage house. If the article applies anything other than mid-19th century mores to mid-19th century behavior, it isn't accurate.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Fordama » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:21 am

A giant PR machine developed for the Confederacy early in the 20th century. The myth that Confederate officers were "chivalrous and gentlemanly," and of course more clever than the "crude" Northern officers. The rise of the Klan and violence against Blacks rose tremendously during that time--right along with many of the Confederate statues.

It's been an interesting case of the losers trying to write the history.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby John Q. Public » Mon Sep 17, 2018 9:01 am

Except the KKK wasn't formed by southern gentlemen, it was formed by Redneck (capital "R") sharecroppers who felt threatened by the emancipated slaves. Entirely different class of people. MOF, the "Southern Gentleman" class considered redneck sharecroppers to be barely a step above "the Negro," if that.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Vilepagan » Mon Sep 17, 2018 10:08 am

MDDad wrote:Source of the post JQP, it seems that some here have the inability to stop applying 21st century values and social tolerances to 19th century times and figures. Yes, Lee was indeed a progressive thinker for a 19th century Southerner.


I disagree. As a matter of fact it's hard for me to disagree more strongly. Are people from the South just naturally lesser thinkers than those in other parts of the country? Again, abolitionist thought and politics had been around for long enough for anyone with any "progressive" tendencies to be on board by the time Mr. Lee came on the scene. He fought a war to maintain the status quo vis-a-vis the slaves and I think that means he forfeits any right to claim any sort of "progressive" thoughts regarding slavery.

This of course doesn't even address the whole issue of his treason in leading an insurrectionist army against the United States in what turned out to be the bloodiest war in our history. This doesn't lead me to think of him as a particularly progressive thinker either.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Wabash » Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:00 am

Vilepagan wrote:Source of the post He fought a war to maintain the status quo vis-a-vis the slaves and I think that means he forfeits any right to claim any sort of "progressive" thoughts regarding slavery.This of course doesn't even address the whole issue of his treason in leading an insurrectionist army against the United States in what turned out to be the bloodiest war in our history. This doesn't lead me to think of him as a particularly progressive thinker either.

Exactly what I was thinking. Thank you.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby MDDad » Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:02 am

Vilepagan wrote:Are people from the South just naturally lesser thinkers than those in other parts of the country?

Evidently, judging by the demeaning comments they consistently receive on this forum. And if you're talking about the 19th century rather than the current day, they were not so much lesser thinkers as different thinkers.

By the way, do you know what two things the following American heroes had in common: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Francis Scott Key, William Clark of Lewis and Clark, Henry Clay, Sam Houston, John Jay and John Marshall? One is that they all have statues erected in their honor. The second is that they were all slave owners. Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Jackson owned hundreds of them.

Union Civil War heroes Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and George H.Thomas also owned slaves.

Robert E. Lee did not.

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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Wabash » Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:36 am

This is moral sophistry of a high order. At the most basic level, the difference between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, on the one hand, and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, on the other, comes down to this: The former helped created the United States of America; the latter fought against it. It’s as simple as that. And it doesn’t take a lot of knowledge of history to grasp that basic distinction.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Vilepagan » Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:54 am

MDDad wrote:Source of the post Evidently, judging by the demeaning comments they consistently receive on this forum.


Right now we're addressing your demeaning remark.

And if you're talking about the 19th century rather than the current day, they were not so much lesser thinkers as different thinkers.


I see. What prevented Mr. Lee from joining the ranks of those southerners who saw fit to be progressive thinkers regarding the ownership of slaves?

Let's try that differently. What makes you call Lee a "progressive" thinker when he didn't join the ranks of many southern abolitionists?

By the way....they were all slave owners. Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Jackson owned hundreds of them.

Union Civil War heroes Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and George H.Thomas also owned slaves.

Robert E. Lee did not.


Any of them wage war against the United States?
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby John Q. Public » Mon Sep 17, 2018 12:00 pm

Coincidentally, I just saw this this morning.

Image
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby John Q. Public » Mon Sep 17, 2018 12:08 pm

Vilepagan wrote:Source of the post Any of them wage war against the United States?

The topic is Lee's views on slavery and emancipation, not his patriotism.

And I'll repeat - applying today's standards to the mid-19th century is a logical error. Classes of white people were thought to be ordained by God to be superior or inferior back then. It wasn't just Africans. Thinking in any other context is incorrect.
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby Vilepagan » Mon Sep 17, 2018 1:06 pm

John Q. Public wrote:Source of the post The topic is Lee's views on slavery and emancipation, not his patriotism.


The topic is Lee's alleged "progressive" thinking. If you wish to restrict it to his views on slavery and emancipation that's fine.

I'm sorry but I'm not of the view that being against slavery is some enlightened post 19th-century idea. In fact the idea that slavery was wrong was so widespread by Lee's time that we fought a war over it, and if I recall correctly Lee was on the wrong side. I think that makes him less than "progressive" in his thinking.

Seriously JQP, your claim that Lee was enlightened or progressive in his views about slavery is pretty absurd considering he went to war to preserve the institution. He didn't just talk about how slavery must be preserved, he killed people to see that goal realized. Progressive thinker? Really?
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Re: Myth of Robert E. Lee

Postby MDDad » Mon Sep 17, 2018 1:10 pm

JQP wrote:And I'll repeat - applying today's standards to the mid-19th century is a logical error...Thinking in any other context is incorrect.

Not gonna happen, John.

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