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Eisenhower on Lee

Discussion in 'Robert E. Lee' started by samgrant, Dec 10, 2007.

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  1. samgrant

    samgrant Captain Retired Moderator

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    "President Dwight Eisenhower wrote the following letter in response to one he received dated August 1, 1960, from Leon W. Scott, a dentist in New Rochelle, New York. Scott’s letter reads:

    “Dear Mr. President:

    “At the Republican Convention I heard you mention that you have the pictures of four (4) great Americans in your office, and that included in these is a picture of Robert E. Lee.

    “I do not understand how any American can include Robert E. Lee as a person to be emulated, and why the President of the United States of America should do so is certainly beyond me.

    “The most outstanding thing that Robert E. Lee did was to devote his best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government, and I am sure that you do not say that a person who tries to destroy our Government is worthy of being hailed as one of our heroes.
    “Will you please tell me just why you hold him in such high esteem?

    Sincerely yours,
    “Leon W. Scott”

    Eisenhower's response, written on White House letterhead on August 9, 1960 reads as follows:

    August 9, 1960

    Dear Dr. Scott:

    Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.

    General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was 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, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.

    Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.

    Sincerely, Dwight D. Eisenhower"


    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1721192/posts

    -
     

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  3. clara_barton

    clara_barton Private

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    Samgrant,

    What an inspiring text you've posted. Makes me think more highly of Eisenhower than I did. Some people have a talent for seeing the good in others, even when that good is on the 'other' side. Perhaps, military men have a gift for this.
     
  4. gary

    gary Captain

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    Thank you SamGrant
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 15, 2018
  5. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Yes! I wouldn't have ever expected such eloquence from a superior military man without a speechwriter at his side. Kinda shows that the dust jacket doesn't always tell you what's inside.

    ole
     
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  6. samgrant

    samgrant Captain Retired Moderator

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  7. whitworth

    whitworth 2nd Lieutenant

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    "that we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted."

    "General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America;"


    I can well understand General Eisenhower admiring General R.E. Lee; one great general admiring another.

    He also candidly and adroitly sidestepped the legal discussion of secession. Eisenhower had grown up in "bloody" Kansas, some thirty five years after the Civil War ended. There were people in Kansas and nearby Missouri, then, who knew the stories of local guerilla war well. Life had worked out in Kansas and Missouri. Why bring up old wounds?

    "He[Lee] believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865..."

    Whatever the constitutional validity, most of the people accepted the result of the Civil War, and secession would no longer occur after 1865.

    Eisenhower as President sent federal troops in Little Rock, Arkansas. There were objections, but no talk of secession.

    Some will still speak of secession as legal, but few of them would carry weapons for that legal opinion. For those few, it is all mindful theory.
     
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  8. samgrant

    samgrant Captain Retired Moderator

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  9. Missouri Guerrilla

    Missouri Guerrilla Cadet

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    Respect is an earned quality

    Both men were respected by their men and by their enemies as well, both were destinguished Americans.

    My 2 cents worth
     
  10. clara_barton

    clara_barton Private

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    Samgrant,

    Reading the link, I didn't see a real answer to why Lee, who certainly prior to the Virginia secession could be considered Unionist, went with Virginia rather than the Union. I suppose it's been asked and answered many times, but since you linked to one of my basic questions: why did Lee, Stephens, et.al., who prior to secession gave every indication of Union loyalty, choose to betray that loyalty? I can't quite grasp the idea of "as my state goes, I follow".
     
  11. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Join the crowd, Clara. I don't recall anyone ever giving more than the standard: "states were more important then than they are now."

    ole
     
  12. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011 Honored Fallen Comrade

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    I'll try. Clara, you might want to try to place yourself in Lee's brain in 1861. Yes, he was a Unionist of the first order. He was also a member of the 'aristocracy' of Virginia. That made a huge difference in his outlook on the world, from, say, a Tennessean of that period. (A Tenneseean of that time was more than likely of Virginia roots, but probably had forgotten it by that time. I'll keep my head down on that one as Ole has advised many times.) Lee was from one of the premier families of early Virginia, the Carters, through his mother. His Lee line, as you know, were very active in the American revolution and prior to that in establishing the country. Such was the pain of the civil war in the south. Many didn't (thank the Good Lord) want to give up a nation their ancestors had fought so hard to create, but felt things weren't going so well in Congress. Slavery, which was the key to labor which produced Virginia's tobacco, was a factor as Neil will quickly agree. Money was the root of this evil, let there be no doubt. Lee had slaves, as did most of Virginia's wealthy, but I suspect there was far more to his reasoning. Virginians of the time thought they were important in the fabric of the creation of that nation. Indeed they were, but so were folks from many other states. I surmise that in 1861 Virginia was a much less populated and simpler place than today. (Very few Hispanics or Asian immigrants running around, Blacks were still not so politically active, if at all. The one who was, John Brown, Lee had already dealt with as a Union soldier.) I feel that Lee was simply loyal to his roots and his neighbors, not to mention his love for Arlington, the family home he was to lose as his reward for surrender at Appamatox. If Dwight David Eisenhower thought Lee was an ok guy, there must have been good reason.
     
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  13. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011 Honored Fallen Comrade

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    Quote

    The consolidation of the States into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it. --General Robert E Lee
     
  14. clara_barton

    clara_barton Private

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    Any idea who the other 3 pictures were?
     
  15. samgrant

    samgrant Captain Retired Moderator

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  16. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 2nd Lieutenant

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    This thread is old, but still fascinating! When asked about portraits he had hanging in his office in the White House, President Eisenhower said he had four sketches of "four great Americans on the wall: one is--and the oldest--Benjamin Franklin; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Robert E. Lee." His reasoning for his selections was equally intriguing.

    Concerning Abraham Lincoln, he said (excerpted from his remarks at the Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, Hodgenville, Kentucky on April 23, 1954)...

    "Abraham Lincoln has always seemed to me to represent all that is best in America, in terms of its opportunity and the readiness of Americans always to raise up and exalt those people who live by truth, whose lives are examples of integrity and dedication to our country.

    I would like to speak about two or three characteristics of Lincoln that I think most of us could now remind ourselves, possibly with profit. He was a great leader. I would like to remind you of the methods he used in leadership. You can find no instance when he stood up in public and excoriated another American. You can find no instance where he is reported to have slapped or pounded the table, and struck the pose of a pseudo-dictator, or of an arbitrary individual.

    Rather, the qualities he showed and exhibited were forbearance in the extreme--patience. Once he called upon General McClellan, and the President went over to the General's house--a process which I assure you has been reversed long since--and General McClellan decided he did not want to see the President, and went to bed.

    Lincoln's friends criticised him severely for allowing a mere General to treat him that way. And he said, "All I want out of General McClellan is a victory, and if to hold his horse will bring it, I will gladly hold his horse."

    This means one thing: Lincoln's leadership was accomplished through dedication to a single purpose, the preservation of the Union. He understood deeply the great values that unite us all as a people, Georgia with New York, and Massachusetts with Texas--California with Florida. He knew that there were divisive influences at work, but he knew also they were transitory in character--they were flaming with heat, but they were made of stuff that would soon bum itself out.

    The true values of America, he understood, are enduring, and they hold us together. And so he was patient. He was forbearing. He was understanding. And he lives today in our hearts as one of the greatest that the English-speaking race has produced, and as a great leader. Yet never did he fall into the false habit of striking a Napoleonic attitude at any time and under any provocation."


    Concerning Robert E. Lee, he said (excerpted from a letter he wrote to Dr. Leon W. Scott on August 9, 1960)...

    "General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was 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 calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained."


    Some may point to Eisenhower’s well known friendship with Lee biographer Douglas Southall Freeman as the reason for his admiration of Robert E. Lee. However, there is no disputing that Dwight D. Eisenhower – a graduate of West Point, a Supreme Allied Commander of World War II, a five-star general, and President of the United States – admired both Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. And for that, I admire him. What do you think @RobertP and @Southern Unionist? I'd like to hear from others as well.

    Oh and Eisenhower's choices of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington for his office weren't bad either. :giggle:
     
  17. Southern Unionist

    Southern Unionist Sergeant

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    Eisenhower has most certainly earned the right to express an opinion on this subject, and have it receive some degree of respect from Americans. Who among West Point graduates has accomplished more?

    I also strongly agree with his positive comments on Grant.
     
  18. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson Captain

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    Lee, could not raise his hand (sword) against his family, his friends, his home (Virginia). Lee went with his home, his family, his friends. Lee could not strike a blow against them. Today, if you and I were faced with the same choice, would it not be as hard to choose? My country or my family (Mother/Father/Son/Daughter/Wife/Husband/ Grandson/
    Granddaughter) My home (Town/County/State).....................I am loyal to my country, but where does my first loyalty lie? And yet millions down through the decades have made that ultimate sacrifice. The agony that Lee and many, many others went through, both North and South.

    Respectfully,
    William

    One Nation, two countries............
    Confed-American Flag.jpg
     
  19. wausaubob

    wausaubob 1st Lieutenant

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    If the causes for which Lee and Grant fought were equivalent, then Eisenhower is right.
     
  20. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger 2nd Lieutenant

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    I would like to see what he had to say about Grant. In some ways it surprises me that he chose Lee over Grant, Grant having been a two term President himself as well as Lieutenant-General of Union forces during the CW.
     
  21. Northern Light

    Northern Light Major

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    I think that from our position today in a much different society than the one in which Eisenhower lived, it is very difficult to understand his attitude towards Lee. We can only respect his opinion as his opinion, and form our own based on our own ideals. Whether or not we agree with him is immaterial.
     

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