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"Two R. E. Lees" Topic

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Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP01 Sep 2017 4:16 p.m. PST
Cacique Caribe01 Sep 2017 5:47 p.m. PST

I once knew a black girl in New Orleans whose name was Arilee. When I asked her if it meant anything she said it was for Robert E Lee.

It's funny how today's revisionist geniuses want you to believe that the name has always been viewed with contempt by the "minority" population. Well, I can tell you that has not always been the case, though the activists are definitely making sure that it spreads like a virus these days.

The truth always lies between what your family and friends say about you, and what your enemies and rivals say about you. There are no absolutes. But people today are being forced to pick between the two propagandas.

And that concludes my comments on this thread.

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Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP02 Sep 2017 2:24 a.m. PST

Lee was the Speer of the Confederacy.

He's one of the few who escaped with his reputation intact and because of this he was held up as a shining beacon by both sides. The perfect example of a stalwart Southern Gentleman and that of the honorable man who through no real fault of his own became an antagonist of the Union and simply did his duty.

He was very useful to those who sought to promote the lost cause using his reputation to whitewash everyone else while those who wanted to heal the wounds found in him somebody who wasn't an undivided supporter of slavery, he was the "good southerner"

Lee was an extremely likeable man, but he had his flaws and he did end up joining a group of Southern people who had been obsessed with preserving their specific social system from the very day the US was founded. The concerns and fears are present in letters, speeches and political debates for decades and they do everything to preserve it, coming up with "states rights" as utterly absolute in every way above everything else, but they are also the first to throw out states rights when it comes to states trying to tackle slave-owning counties in Northern States. If that's not textbook hypocrisy and favouring one thing at the expense of self-proclaimed principles, I'm the next pope and editor of Hustler magazine.

However when we discuss Lee as a plantation and slave owner, we have to understand one thing that's that "a fair treatment" is one of those fantasies people have about slavery. As harsh and inhumane as it sounds, from a practical point of view, harsh treatment is pretty much mandatory because there is a huge pressure on slaves to try to escape or even to rise up. The idea that you can be kind and compassionate to your slaves and that they are willing to accept their status is pure fantasy. Yes, some slaves were devoted to their masters, but that was often because they were given preferential treatment and had it better than the other slaves. House slaves were often the target of retaliation from other slaves, some were murdered, beaten, whatever possessions they may gain were stolen etc.

The idea that slavery can be a benign thing is a pure fantasy. Those who out of christian charity or naivety attempted to give their slaves a better treatment often ended up in trouble or bankrupt, either their slaves would refuse to work, they would run away at the first opportunity or might even try to murder their masters because what was an attempt to show compassion was seen as a weakness and an opportunity for freedom. Harsh and difficult conditions will bring out the worst in people on both sides of the fence, there is no glossing it over and it's one of the main reasons why slavery is impossible to defend rationally.

Slavery is a horrible system which holds both sides hostage to a situation where they have to do terrible things to maintain a "workable" situation. There is no benign acceptance, only a watchful truce where things are reasonably quiet. But both planters and slaves lived in perpetual fear of each other, one sleeping with a pistol under their pillow and one open eye, the other fearful of punishment, reprisals or simply random violence aimed at keeping them in check.

When Lee is harsh to his slaves, he has to be, but he's not absolved of it, by the 1860's cotton was becoming problematic, while production was up, rising costs and increased competition means that many planters were in debt to foreign banks. The economy that had so heavily banked on King Cotton in the belief that it controlled the world was seeing that certainty erode faster than they could outrun it.

The plantation is the ultimate status symbol in the South, even if you live in near poverty with huge debts, you're part of an aristocracy, even if you or your parents were toiling in fields in the old country only a few decades earlier. It's the dream and aspiration of everyone in the South, wealth and success in every other field is insignificant next to being part of the plantation aristocracy.

Lee was a hard-working, successful man, but his real prestige comes from the plantation, he has to own slaves, he has to treat them harshly. If he steps away from it, he loses a huge amount of social credit.

If you look at the character of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, he's rich, but disowned by his family. He's the 1860's equivalent of Marlon Brando in a leather jacket on a motorcycle in his sheer bad boy appeal. People who came from the background, must have seen him with a mix of admiration and revulsion for being so appealing an outsider, yet from the same stock, but with a sexy bad rep.

And this is why slavery is such an important cornerstone, it's easy to toss out a statistic saying that only a handful of people owned slaves, but owning slaves was like owning a Cadillac or that house in the Suburbs a few decades ago. It was a sign that you were going up in social status. Many white people in the South lived in abject poverty, the only distinction with slaves was the colour of their skin, creating a nominal distinction, take away that distinction and you're at the bottom of the ladder. Trying to distance yourself even marginally from someone else is one of our most basic human instincts. When a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp was seen marching towards the area where the gypsies were held and screamed that at least the nazis cared about the Jews in that they hated them, the gypsies were nothing, not even human beings and were being wiped out in utter indifference like cockroaches. It wasn't a proclamation of hatred, it was a final painful cry of despair from a person who in one of the most inhuman conditions possible tried to give himself the illusion of dignity by trying to raise himself above others in order not to fall into utter despair.

The South is one of those systems which was a huge contradiction, caused far more problems than it solved, but where trying to reverse course could cause everything to collapse, so rather than fix the system they tried everything to preserve it even as it crumbled under their feet and the planters and their opulent mansions were just an illusion for a tiny minority of people who for the most part had been toiling the land themselves not so long ago.

Another huge issue that people didn't dare contemplate, was the big what if the of the age, what would happen if the slaves were freed ? Would they suddenly turn against their former masters ? Would they collectively leave the South and cause a huge manpower gap ? Would they make the price of cotton even more unprofitable and devastate the plantation economy ? Too many issues for comfort and something that was continually being pushed aside in politics.

Back to Lee, even post war his ideas about blacks were a product of his time and perspective. We find pretty much the same opinion in "Go set a Watchman" where Atticus Finch, that other "Perfect Southern Gentleman" is highly skeptical of the "Negro's" abilities in general, he sees them as children, uneducated, unable to think for themselves, prone to following trouble-makers and idle promises. Even in "Don't kill a Mockingbird" which despite it's reputation as a fine example of progressive thinking sees the failed trial of Tom Robinson as a victory. In the 1960's the idea that social progress would be a slow, gradual thing that would require good-hearted people to take pity on the "poor negro" and gently herd them towards a better future.

It becomes almost a romantic idea, and that's what was wrong and is still wrong with the South (thought it's by far certainly not an exclusively southern thing) it's that they still want to live in a romantic version of their own history.

If Lee is Speer, he's certainly not Himmler, he's at the more enlightened end of the spectrum of his day, but he is still seriously flawed by any standard, modern or otherwise. The fact that he is so deeply associated with slavery and slavery being a huge cornerstone of the South's very identity, despite all the claims to the contrary. We should acknowledge his more admirable qualities as well as his darker side. He wasn't a saint, nor a demon, but he was a very important figure in the Confederacy and we have to learn to understand his legacy and that of others and draw conclusions for today and tomorrow.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP02 Sep 2017 3:59 a.m. PST

Patrick R-

Did you ask her why her family named her that?
Why do you dismiss the opinions of the vast majority of African Americans because of this one odd personal experience?

Dynaman878902 Sep 2017 6:24 a.m. PST

Agreed, the largest problem with the civil war is that people think it was fought over equal rights – not even close. Outlawing slavery is not the same thing as equal rights. The only one from the time that I know for sure was advocating equal rights was Frederick Douglass.

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP02 Sep 2017 6:38 a.m. PST

I thought that the main reason RE Lee went South is that he could not fight against his state, Virginia. State's rights was a more tangible principle in those times. For many if not most, you were a Virginian first then a citizen of the United states.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP02 Sep 2017 7:45 a.m. PST

States Rights was a wildcard that many tried to use almost as soon as the 13 Colonies started to rebel against the Crown.

States Rights were used to shirk off any duties these states may have had to a common cause, they used it to block any attempt to create a unified leadership. They were used and abused both as an excuse and as an attempt to play up their own exceptionalism.

And when it came to the Southern States they were pretty good at invoking them when it suited them and completely ignore them when it didn't. And once the Confederacy was established Jefferson Davis and the States did everything wrong. Any single attempt by Davis to gain any concession from the states usually came a vague promise of even more freedom once the war was over. Some states bullied others, while they neglected to make any effort of their own.

What often strikes me, is how far the Confederacy got, despite being so much weaker economically and demographically than the North and if you add the sheer level of inefficiency it's almost a miracle they managed to fight as hard and as long as they did. Even one or two years of concerted effort from the states would have made a huge difference, and again it shows what a remarkable conundrum the Southern states were at that time, a weird mix of third world nation with a self-proclaimed landed aristocracy which unlike the Old World aristocracy was surprisingly open, an O'Hara was more easily accepted as a plantation owner than his counterpart in the North would be at any other station, sure there were the old Tobacco planters who could trace their origins back to the 17th century and wouldn't touch cotton because it wasn't a "noble" crop and was more about making a quick buck than anything else. You couldn't get into the dinners of the Astors and the Vanderbilts even if you had more money than all the old money families put together. Getting accepted into Atlanta society took some effort but show enough flair and panache and you could fit right in.

As I said above, Lee was a successful man by Northern Standards, he was well-liked, respectable and while he did join the Virginian Army, he was not at all anti-Union unlike others and he did have a bit of a conscience problem for having to have to make that choice, it went against his own instincts and inclinations. He was without a doubt very loyal to his state as were many Americans, but the difficult birth of the United States was still almost within living memory and they had seen the back and forth of pre-war politics, the compromises and the settlements many predicted would cause trouble down the road as politicians tried to postpone the inevitable problem of having to confront a fundamental issue that had existed ever since the nation was founded.

I certainly can't fault Lee for his choices. He made his decisions under less than optimal circumstances. He certainly wasn't infallible and made many mistakes, he assumed many things and let himself be blinded at times and he didn't always pick the most logical approach, since he kept himself beholden to Davis' approval in everything he would attempt. But as I also said, he was a remarkable and likeable man who would have shone even brighter and more deservedly if conditions had been different.

Cacique Caribe02 Sep 2017 9:46 a.m. PST

Mark (Pan Marek): "Why do you dismiss the opinions of the vast majority of African Americans because of this one odd personal experience?"

Lol. I've lived in the South since I was 14, and am now 52. So, no I didn't conclude that there were many black fans of Robert E Lee solely on this one example. It was just the first of very many eye-opening examples that went against what I was taught up North and via the media.

My 38 years of going to school alongside Southern blacks, church, rooming, work and dating showed me that to think of all "African-Americans" as a monolith that must somehow vote one way on this issue just because that's what you want them to do is simply silly and downright condescending.

(His extensive tweets on this matter were extremely refreshing and sobering and, if you read them all and take them as a whole, you'll see that he is one of many who dismisses the most of the opinions of the "vast majority")

Now, if it's ok with you guys, I'm stepping out of this discussion for good.

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LostPict Supporting Member of TMP02 Sep 2017 1:51 p.m. PST

So who were the Speer and Himmler of the Union?

wrgmr103 Sep 2017 4:15 p.m. PST

Very well said Patrick R.

donlowry04 Sep 2017 7:47 a.m. PST

I thought that the main reason RE Lee went South is that he could not fight against his state, Virginia.

What Lee said was, that he couldn't fight against his own FAMILY -- his wife and sons having inherited property in Virginia. He also admitted that secession was revolution.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2017 3:01 a.m. PST

It needs to be said that RE Lee's childhood was spent in a seriously fallen social status. There were severe loss in family fortunes and the family struggled to avoid sinking into the middle an lower classes.

In 1809, Harry Lee was put in debtors prison; soon after his release the following year, Harry and Anne Lee and their five children moved to a small house on Cameron Street in Alexandria, Virginia, both because there were then high quality local schools there, and because several members of her extended family lived nearby.[21] In 1811, the family, including the newly born sixth child, Mildred, moved to a house on Oronoco Street, still close to the center of town and with the houses of a number of Lee relatives close by.[22] In 1812, Harry Lee was badly injured in a political riot in Baltimore and traveled to the West Indies. He would never return, dying when his son Robert was eleven years old.[23] Left to raise six children alone in straitened circumstances, Anne Lee and her family often paid extended visits to relatives and family friends.[24] Robert Lee attended school at Eastern View, a school for young gentlemen, in Fauquier County, and then at the Alexandria Academy, free for local boys, where he showed an aptitude for mathematics. Although brought up to be a practicing Christian, he was not confirmed in the Episcopal Church until age 46.[25] Anne Lee's family was often supported by a relative, William Henry Fitzhugh, who owned the Oronoco Street house and allowed the Lees to stay at his home in Fairfax County, Ravensworth. When Robert was 17 in 1824, Fitzhugh wrote to the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, urging that Robert be given an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

If he left Virginia and served the federal army, he would have lost all his "nobility status" and new found plantation from his wife. He would just be a soldier, rather than a wantta-be prince. That is what his claim to "friends and neighbor loyalty" was about.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2017 5:59 a.m. PST

Two great posts Patrick R. Since I could not of said it better, I will not comment further.

steve186513 Oct 2017 2:58 p.m. PST

I agree with 1968billsfan. Lee never got anything from his state. His father was a hero of the war for Independence. ALL his achievements' came from the Federal government. ALL his State did was put his Father in Prison. In fact his Father was NOT interred in VA, because of his debts.

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