“If we read the words and attitudes of the past through the pompous ‘wisdom’of the considered moral judgments of the present, we will find nothing but error.” Mark Twain
“The study of the past with one eye upon the present is the source of all sins and sophistries in history. It is the essence of what we mean by the word ‘unhistorical’.” Herbert Butterfield
The recent Democratic sweep of Virginia’s Governorship, the Va. State Senate, and the Va. State House has emboldened the “Party of Jefferson and Jackson” in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. The Old Dominion is almost entirely “red” geographically, but the extraordinary growth of the Northern Virginia suburbs around Washington, D.C., and the resulting influx of a non-Southern mindset has changed the political calculus for the foreseeable future. Governor Ralph Northam, a surgeon from Accomack County on Virginia’s “Eastern Shore”, was best known nationally for having posed in blackface for his college annual. He apologized for it, but then retracted the apology, saying it probably wasn’t him. But his nickname in the annual was “Coonman”. (I’m not making this up.)
And when Northam recently announced that the Democrats in Richmond were going to pass very aggressive anti-gun laws, there was a widespread, palpably angry reaction, and 90 or so of Virginia’s Counties passed Sanctuary resolutions meant to protect their citizens from any state-wide gun seizures. He then made the situation worse by saying that if the local police did not enforce these laws, he would use the National Guard for that purpose. This was not exactly the way to win friends and influence people in rural areas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Then the Governor, at the behest of two Virginia Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives, said he would gladly lead in requesting the Congress to remove the statue of Virginian Robert E. Lee from Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building. In this “woke” political climate that should not be surprising, but the request from Congressman Donald McEachin and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexler is one of the most wrong-headed and sophomoric diatribes ever to have been written on Government stationary. The two describe the General Lee statue: “The statue of Lee, which depicts him in his Confederate uniform, was donated by the Commonwealth during the period from 1900 to the 1930’s when dozens of Confederate monuments were erected across the country. These statues aimed to rewrite Lee’s reputation from that of a cruel slave owner and Confederate General to portraying him as a kind man and reluctant war hero who selflessly served his home state of Virginia.
Representatives McEachin and Wexler then list a number of possible replacements for the Lee Statue, including “prominent Virginians who bravely chose to fight for justice and equality”. Their very first candidate is “Nat Turner, a slave in Virginia, (who) fought for his freedom by leading one of the most notable slave rebellions in United States history.”
Notable, indeed. Perhaps in Statuary Hall, there might be a statue of Nat Turner, a bottle of brandy in his hand, with the inscription:
“…in time to see the work I sometimes got in sight, death completed, viewed the mangled bodies as they lay, in silent satisfaction, and immediately started in quest of other victims – Having murdered Mrs. Waller and ten children, we started for Mr. William Williams’ – having killed him and two little boys that were there; while engaged in this, Mrs. Williams fled and got some distance from the house, but she was pursued, overtaken, and compelled to get up behind one of the company, who brought her back, and after showing her the mangled body of her lifeless husband, she was told to get down and lay by his side, where she was shot dead.” Nat Turner
Or might we “just say no” to Governor Northam, with these recommendations for him to ponder:
“So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that Slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war, and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained.” R.E.Lee
And we might add these supporting testimonials:
“Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. . . . selfless almost to a fault . . . noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities . . . we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
“If we are to heal our history and make this Nation whole, prosperity must know no Mason-Dixon line and opportunity must know no color line. Robert E. Lee, a great son of the South, a great leader of the South–and I assume no modern day leader would question him or challenge him–Robert E. Lee counseled us well when he told us to cast off our animosities, and raise our sons to be Americans.” Lyndon B. Johnson
“Robert E. Lee, the Southerner who criticized secession and called slavery a great moral wrong, would become himself an American legend, yet a man who, though he rode off into myth and glory, would suffer cruelly in his own time. After the dissolution of his cause, he would work tho bind up the Nation’s wounds. And to those pessimistic about the Nation’s future, he once said, “The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long and that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. ‘It is history,’ he said, ‘that teaches us hope’.” Ronald Reagan
General Lee has left us the memory, not merely of his extraordinary skill as a general, his dauntless courage and high leadership in campaign and battle, but also of that serene greatness of soul characteristic of those who most readily recognize the obligations of civic duty. Once the war was over he instantly under took the task of healing and binding up the wounds of his countrymen, in the true spirit of those who feel malice toward none and charity toward all; in that spirit which from the throes of the Civil War brought forth the real and indissoluble Union of to-day. It was eminently fitting that this great man, this war-worn veteran of a mighty struggle, who, at its close, simply and quietly undertook his duty as a plain, every-day citizen, bent only upon helping his people in the paths of peace and tranquility, should turn his attention toward educational work; toward bringing up in fit fashion the younger generation, the sons of those who had proved their faith by their endeavor in the heroic days.
There is no need to dwell on General Lee s record as a soldier. The son of Light Horse Harry Lee of the Revolution, he came naturally by his aptitude for arms and command. His campaigns put him in the foremost rank of the great captains of all time. But his signal valor and address in war are no more remarkable than the spirit in which he turned to the work of peace once the war was over. The circumstances were such that most men, even of high character, felt bitter and vindictive or depressed and spiritless, but General Lee s heroic temper was not warped nor his great soul cast down. He stood that hardest of all strains, the strain of bearing himself well through the gray evening of failure ; and therefore out of what seemed failure he helped to build the wonderful and mighty triumph of our national life, in which all his countrymen, North and South, share. Immediately after the close of hostilities he announced, with a clear sightedness which at that time few indeed of any section possessed, that the interests of the Southern States were the same as those of the United States ; that the prosperity of the South would rise or fall with the welfare of the whole country; and that the duty of its citizens appeared too plain to admit of doubt. He urged that all should unite in honest effort to obliterate the effects of war and restore the blessings of peace; that they should remain in the country, strive for harmony and good feeling, and devote their abilities to the interests of their people and the healing of dissensions. To everyone who applied to him this was the advice he gave. Although absolutely without means, he refused all offers of pecuniary aid, and all positions of emolument, although many such, at a high salary, were offered him. He declined to go abroad, saying that he sought only “a place to earn honest bread while engaged in some useful work.” This statement brought him the offer of the presidency of Washington College, a little institution in Lexington, Va., which had grown out of a modest foundation known as Liberty Hall Academy. George Washington had endowed this academy with one hundred shares of stock that had been given to him by the State of Virginia, which he had accepted only on condition that he might with them endow some educational institution. To the institution which Washington helped to found in such a spirit, Lee, in the same fine spirit, gave his services. He accepted the position of president at a salary of $1,500 a year, in order, as he stated, that he might do some good to the youth of the South. He applied himself to his new work with the same singleness of mind which he had shown in leading the Army of Northern Virginia. All the time by word and deed he was striving for the restoration of real peace, of real harmony, never uttering a word of bitterness nor allowing a word of bitterness uttered in his presence to go unchecked. From the close of the war to the time of his death all his great powers were devoted to two objects: to the reconciliation of all his countrymen with one another, and to fitting the youth of the South for the duties of a lofty and broad-minded citizenship.
Such is the career that you gather to honor; and I hope that you will take advantage of the one hundredth anniversary of General Lee s birth by appealing to all our people, in every section of this country, to commemorate his life and deeds by the establishment, at some great representative educational institution of the South, of a permanent memorial, that will serve the youth of the coming years, as he, in the closing years of his life, served those who so sorely needed what he so freely gave.” Theodore Roosevelt
“The first white people in America, certainly the first in the South to exhibit their interest in the reaching of the Negro and saving his soul through the medium of the Sunday-school were Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.” Booker T. Washington
“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 H. Hill