An Antislavery R. E. Lee?

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#1
Lee wrote this letter to his son, W. H. F. "Rooney" Lee, on July 9, 1860:

San Antonio, Texas

9 July 1860

My precious Son

I have recd your long satisfactory letter of the 24th ulto, which has given me pleasure in every way but one, viz: your account of the sickness of Chass & my grd son: I am very glad to hear that they are well over it, & hope they may meet with no drawbacks or return. Where does the sweet child think of going this Summer? Your mother wrote she talked of old Point, which will be very Convenient, if it will suit her in other respects. As she cannot come out to her Pa’a, I want her to go where she prefers, believing she will decide upon the best place under all the circumstances. The sea breeze & salt bathing of the Point, were considered in my day fine for the babies, & the oysters & hog fish in addition, equally good for their mamas. I do not know how it is now. When you decide you must let me know. I hope Chass has recd my letters, one from the Rio Grande & one from this place, for I would not like her to think I had neglected her So long. I am glad to hear that you like the improvements to your house & hope you will have much enjoyment in all you have done. Have the mechanics completed entirely & have the accounts all been paid? I ask that I may know if you want any assistance. On hearing that you had not sold the corn & could not do so at once, I sent Custis all the funds I had, & orders for my July dividends, that he might pay Mr Winston’s asst the repairs of the Arlington Mill & supply your mother with funds for her summer expedition. I can therefore pay myself out of the Sales of the Corn, & spare you some if you want it. I hope therefore you will let me know, I am very sorry for the death of your horse. The breaking of the pair, is a serious loss, independent of the horse himself. Can you replace him? I hope in time you will be able to raise your own horses. That wretched bull. He must be a very fine one to indemnify you for your loss. I am very glad to hear such good accounts of the wheat crop. I have been fearing that the various injuries to the crops in other sections of the state had extended to yours, though I had seen none reported in the papers. I hope now you will make a fair one get a remunerative price. The plan you propose for selling it is very judicious. I am an advocate for early Sales of every crop. The reasons you give for the sale of the wheat, hold good for the sale of the Corn, which I have always desired to be sold as early in the spring as possible. Except in the event of a calamity, the prices do not vary much, & the wastage is certain. When the Cornhouses are full of corn it is seen to be used more profusely than when you have only a sufficiency. That may be one cause why the crop of Romankoke falls short of the estimate. As regards what I believe the quicker you can get it to market, the better the price. By selling it in the way you propose it will save the construction of additional barns which is a consideration, at this time. I am sorry to hear of the death of Mildred. You know you must make particular records of all the deaths & births. I shall have to account for everything on the inventories at both places, taken Jany 1858. On the inventories you take at the end of the year, enumerate the deaths &c. I am glad to hear of the successful fishing & the good conduct of the people.1 I hope they will continue in good health & that every thing will prosper under your management. It will require enumerating attention on your part. As regards the use of the reapers, Mr Nelson made large expenditures in their purchase, with my approbation, but always had to abandon them before the end of harvest & take to the scythes. Whether it was bad management or bad machinery I do not know. I should think they would be a great relief in those large fields, that were free of stumps, but Mr N said the soil was unfavourable for driving the grains. As I never was there during harvest I was obliged to take his word for it. I think some of the reapers are there now. I am very glad to hear that the Corn is looking so well. I hope it may turn out So. Deep plowing with lime is the basis of the improvement of the Soil. If you can keep that up, the land must improve & crops increase. By attention & Comparison you will soon satisfy yourself the best system to pursue. You will learn a great deal from the management & progress of your neighbors. I hope this year something will be done to the payment of the legacies. After Mr Winston is paid, I believe I will be the only creditor to the Estate. I have written to Custis to send me the amt: after the Commissioner shall have settled the accounts, after paying which, the balance of the crops will go to the legacies.

There is another thing I wish to speak to you of. I fear I shall have to purchase a servant. I find it almost impossible to hire one, & nearly all the officers in the Dept have been obliged to resort to purchase. Sometimes you can get a discharged soldier, that will answer on a campaighn [sic], but that is uncertain, & not to be relied on. At present I have a boy belonging to Major Martin for whom I pay $20 per month. I have thought some one about Richmond might have a good family servant from whom they are obliged to part, & for whom they would like to procure a master. Do you know of any? Do you think Anthony has any ideas about Hog driving, or could he be made any thing of? I would rather hire a white man than purchase if I Could. I have no news. The indians are quiet at this time, & we have no trouble from Cortemas. The troops are out, as hot as it is, but I suppose in the Fall we shall have more work. I am expecting the 3rd Infy from new mexico, & many of the officers of the Regt, who have been in the States, have arrived here to join it. Col Backus, Capts, Gordon, Bowman Trevitt, & Lt Holt, Col Chandler & Captain ****z are on the way. The officers here are all well & frequently ask after you. I wish I could get you a horse I have. He is a bay & strong & muscular 7 years old. I think he is larger than yours. I know much broader & heavier. He is a fine trotter. I bought him before I went to the Rio Grande, & while there I purchased a Zacatecas mare. Since my return I have purchased from Chudie2 a mare that was originally offered me, but which I let Mr Radjiminski3 have. She was brought from Kentucky with the horses of the Regt: & they kept here for me. She is a fine animal & well broken though is 9 or 10 years old. The horse I speak of is broke to Harness though I have never driven her. I have been trying to match him for my wagon, but cannot. Major C. says I will not find a match in the Dept. He was poor & reduced when I bought him in this place. Every one is asking me where I procured him now.

Kiss my sweet Chass for me. Tell her I am wishing to see her all the time & hope to do so some of these days. You must also kiss my grd son for me & take care of him at nights. Good bye my dear son. your affn father R E Lee
 

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BlueandGrayl

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#2
Well from that letter and Robert E. Lee's famous "moral and political evil" quote he was not a supporter of slavery but he was by no means an abolitionist however here's the thing Robert E. Lee wasn't a Fire-Eater Secessionist like Robert Barnwell Rhett or William Lowndes Yancey he himself only saw slavery as simply harsh discipline to help civilize blacks and viewed it as harmful to White Southerners like him he wasn't an abolitionist either since he also was a supporter of colonizing blacks to Africa as with many whites (North and South) advocated including Abraham Lincoln and while Lee did own slaves that was inherited by a distant relative and he didn't own that many. He also originally opposed secession as with much of the Upper South (the soon Confederate states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas plus the border states of Missouri and Kentucky) a position shared even by some Confederates and really only after Fort Sumter and his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union as with the other Southern states did he support the Confederacy on the basis of loyalty to his home state (back then many Northerners and Southerners saw themselves as defending their states first, nations second).
 

WJC

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#3
Well from that letter and Robert E. Lee's famous "moral and political evil" quote he was not a supporter of slavery but he was by no means an abolitionist however here's the thing Robert E. Lee wasn't a Fire-Eater Secessionist like Robert Barnwell Rhett or William Lowndes Yancey he himself only saw slavery as simply harsh discipline to help civilize blacks and viewed it as harmful to White Southerners like him he wasn't an abolitionist either since he also was a supporter of colonizing blacks to Africa as with many whites (North and South) advocated including Abraham Lincoln and while Lee did own slaves that was inherited by a distant relative and he didn't own that many. He also originally opposed secession as with much of the Upper South (the soon Confederate states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas plus the border states of Missouri and Kentucky) a position shared even by some Confederates and really only after Fort Sumter and his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union as with the other Southern states did he support the Confederacy on the basis of loyalty to his home state (back then many Northerners and Southerners saw themselves as defending their states first, nations second).
The question isn't whether Lee was a 'fire-eating' secessionist. It is what were his views on slavery?
It is clear that he shared the opinion of most of his fellow wealthy Virginians on that issue. To use a term coined years later, he viewed slavery as "the white man's burden."
Lee's greatness is secure. Unfortunately, some try to erase his support for the 'peculiar institution' in an attempt to endow him with modern values he clearly did not share.
 

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#4
Well from that letter and Robert E. Lee's famous "moral and political evil" quote he was not a supporter of slavery but he was by no means an abolitionist however here's the thing Robert E. Lee wasn't a Fire-Eater Secessionist like Robert Barnwell Rhett or William Lowndes Yancey he himself only saw slavery as simply harsh discipline to help civilize blacks and viewed it as harmful to White Southerners like him he wasn't an abolitionist either since he also was a supporter of colonizing blacks to Africa as with many whites (North and South) advocated including Abraham Lincoln and while Lee did own slaves that was inherited by a distant relative and he didn't own that many. He also originally opposed secession as with much of the Upper South (the soon Confederate states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas plus the border states of Missouri and Kentucky) a position shared even by some Confederates and really only after Fort Sumter and his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union as with the other Southern states did he support the Confederacy on the basis of loyalty to his home state (back then many Northerners and Southerners saw themselves as defending their states first, nations second).
Lee and slavery:
https://studycivilwar.wordpress.com/2017/08/24/did-robert-e-lee-oppose-slavery/

https://studycivilwar.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/robert-e-lee-slave-owner/

https://studycivilwar.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/was-robert-e-lee-a-woman-whipper/

https://studycivilwar.wordpress.com/2018/01/19/reading-the-man-chapters-6-10/

https://studycivilwar.wordpress.com/2018/01/30/reading-the-man-chapters-16-20/
 

TomV71

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#5
Lee was just a man of his time. No strong advocate for slavery, nor its ending. Lee was a professional soldier and that was his first priority beside loyalty to his state and family..
He probably considered the black race inferior, but so did everyone else in those days! Also most people in the north and even Lincoln. Everyone was people of their time and they should not be judged by 2018 views and standards.
 

BlueandGrayl

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#6
Lee was just a man of his time. No strong advocate for slavery, nor its ending. Lee was a professional soldier and that was his first priority beside loyalty to his state and family..
He probably considered the black race inferior, but so did everyone else in those days! Also most people in the north and even Lincoln. Everyone was people of their time and they should not be judged by 2018 views and standards.
Yeah exactly. Given that this was the 18th-19th century period if an American (Northerner or Southerner) aside from a abolitionist were to get into a debate with a post-Civil Rights 20th-modern day 21st century American they would be so conflicted. Keep in mind this was before genocide which took ideas of racial pseudoscience and institutionalized discrimination to their extremes and made them widely unpopular (not being political, historical context).
 

MattL

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#7
Yeah exactly. Given that this was the 18th-19th century period if an American (Northerner or Southerner) aside from a abolitionist were to get into a debate with a post-Civil Rights 20th-modern day 21st century American they would be so conflicted. Keep in mind this was before genocide which took ideas of racial pseudoscience and institutionalized discrimination to their extremes and made them widely unpopular (not being political, historical context).
I agree with you to a degree. I would clarify that there is a distinction between Americans that were "abolitionists" and those that were anti-slavery.

Let's remember that the groups specifically identified as abolitionists, the more radical anti-slavery groups might not have represented all Northerners but let's remember in this era when the South exited Congress and the North in general remained they passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Making slavery illegal and protecting a great deal of Black rights including suffrage. Even though they were a tough fight even in the North they did indeed achieve this, keeping in mind passing amendments requires a great deal of support to happen. This shows that a great deal of Northerners contemporary to this time were indeed anti-slavery even if not full "abolitionists." Those amendments were forced on the South for readmission with them kicking and screaming.

So given that context contemporary Northerners vs Southerners were in fact a world apart in this time period in a generalized sense.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#8
It would be a little unsurprising for Lee to be at least lukewarm on the subject. R.E. grew up around the family he eventually married into- Mary Randolph Custis was brought up by a mother who insisted on ensuring enslaved were equipped to live in a free society- taught those at Arlington to read, too. Mary Custis Lee spoke out against the war, not through any idea of disloyalty to the South, but because she was drenched in American History- break up the Union? Father was raised by George Washington, for Heaven's sake, what did anyone think she'd feel about it? Have an idea it's one reason she seems ignored by History, having made her Union sentiments clear in letters ( some remain unpublished, it's still such a big deal ) and being intent on freeing enslaved. Well, R.E. married her.

Point being you can't see Lee pursuing, marrying and creating a life with a woman whose views were radically different than his. Both of these old family Southerners could pick and choose, Mary having the edge because the Custis family fortune was intact at the time, Lee's family had had ' reverses '. Like I said, R.E. knew that family extremely well- have no idea exactly what were his sentiments but can't see him marrying Mary if he viewed enslaved dissimilarly.
 

gem

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#9
It was a fairly common viewpoint during that period for slaveowners to express regret about owning slaves. (Ironic as it may seem)

Jefferson for example, called slavery a necessary evil.

One would be hard pressed to say being slaveowners were antislavery.

What it does show , however, is many people even slaveowners were morally conflicted about the institution.
 

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#10
Lee was just a man of his time. No strong advocate for slavery, nor its ending. Lee was a professional soldier and that was his first priority beside loyalty to his state and family..
He probably considered the black race inferior, but so did everyone else in those days! Also most people in the north and even Lincoln. Everyone was people of their time and they should not be judged by 2018 views and standards.
Most men of the time in the United States were antislavery, unlike Lee.
 

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#11
Yeah exactly. Given that this was the 18th-19th century period if an American (Northerner or Southerner) aside from a abolitionist were to get into a debate with a post-Civil Rights 20th-modern day 21st century American they would be so conflicted. Keep in mind this was before genocide which took ideas of racial pseudoscience and institutionalized discrimination to their extremes and made them widely unpopular (not being political, historical context).
Most Americans were antislavery in 1860.
 

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#14
It would be a little unsurprising for Lee to be at least lukewarm on the subject. R.E. grew up around the family he eventually married into- Mary Randolph Custis was brought up by a mother who insisted on ensuring enslaved were equipped to live in a free society- taught those at Arlington to read, too. Mary Custis Lee spoke out against the war, not through any idea of disloyalty to the South, but because she was drenched in American History- break up the Union? Father was raised by George Washington, for Heaven's sake, what did anyone think she'd feel about it? Have an idea it's one reason she seems ignored by History, having made her Union sentiments clear in letters ( some remain unpublished, it's still such a big deal ) and being intent on freeing enslaved. Well, R.E. married her.

Point being you can't see Lee pursuing, marrying and creating a life with a woman whose views were radically different than his. Both of these old family Southerners could pick and choose, Mary having the edge because the Custis family fortune was intact at the time, Lee's family had had ' reverses '. Like I said, R.E. knew that family extremely well- have no idea exactly what were his sentiments but can't see him marrying Mary if he viewed enslaved dissimilarly.
Lee wrote a single letter in which he made the claim that slavery was a "moral and political evil." But if we read the entire letter, we can see he was not taking an antislavery position. He was decidedly in the proslavery column. If we read his other letters, we can see a proslavery man. If he and Mary felt the same, then she was proslavery as well.
 

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#16
On what basis can you say that ? Did they do polling at that time?
Most white voters voted against the Slave Power. Most Americans chose to live in states without slavery. And I think we can safely say 40% of all southerners were against slavery. Indeed, we can safely say most of the people who lived in South Carolina and Mississippi would have liked to see slavery ended as quickly as possible.
 
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#17
By 1860 most of the English speaking world was shutting down the international slave trade, and discarding slavery.
There were fundamental reasons why slavery did not gain traction in Kansas, California or Oregon.
A person who did not ignore northern and English publications knew that slavery was being discarded as not efficient.
Judging Colonel Lee by the standard of the times, he was willfully ignoring the direction and pace of change.
 

gem

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#18
By 1860 most of the English speaking world was shutting down the international slave trade, and discarding slavery.
There were fundamental reasons why slavery did not gain traction in Kansas, California or Oregon.
A person who did not ignore northern and English publications knew that slavery was being discarded as not efficient.
Judging Colonel Lee by the standard of the times, he was willfully ignoring the direction and pace of change.
The letter shows he was antislavery, no?
 

BlueandGrayl

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#20
No, it doesn't.
Look no offense to you and wausabob (which I disagree with him on another threads) but while most white Northerners certainly had no love for the peculiar institution they did not think blacks should ever have equal rights (see Complicity: How the North Profited, Promoted, and Prolonged Slavery) and most supported the idea of colonization as in sending blacks back to Africa because they thought they would be better off there.
 



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