Lee and Reconstruction

cash

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#1
Robert E. Lee did everything in his power for Reconstruction, for one.
In a May 12, 1866 interview published in the Lewiston Journal, Ulysses S. Grant said, " 'Some of the rebel generals are behaving nobly and doing all they can to induce the people to throw aside their old prejudices and to conform their course to the changed condition of things. Johnston and Dick Taylor particularly are exercising a good influence; but, he added, 'Lee is behaving badly. He is conducting himself very differently from what I had reason, from what he said at the time of the surrender, to suppose he would. No man at the South is capable of exercising a tenth part of the influence for good that he is, but instead of using it, he is setting an example of forced acquiescence so grudging and pernicious in its effects as to be hardly realized.' " [PUSG Volume 16, page 258]
 

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unionblue

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#2
In a May 12, 1866 interview published in the Lewiston Journal, Ulysses S. Grant said, " 'Some of the rebel generals are behaving nobly and doing all they can to induce the people to throw aside their old prejudices and to conform their course to the changed condition of things. Johnston and Dick Taylor particularly are exercising a good influence; but, he added, 'Lee is behaving badly. He is conducting himself very differently from what I had reason, from what he said at the time of the surrender, to suppose he would. No man at the South is capable of exercising a tenth part of the influence for good that he is, but instead of using it, he is setting an example of forced acquiescence so grudging and pernicious in its effects as to be hardly realized.' " [PUSG Volume 16, page 258]
Cash,

Was Grant "behaving badly" by singling out Lee? You don't suppose that Grant held a grudge against because of the war, do you?
 

cash

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Cash,

Was Grant "behaving badly" by singling out Lee? You don't suppose that Grant held a grudge against because of the war, do you?
Did he? He won, after all. This was in 1866, a year after Lee's surrender. Grant's reputation was very high. In fact, in two years he would be elected President of the United States. What grudge did he have?
 

unionblue

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#4
Did he? He won, after all. This was in 1866, a year after Lee's surrender. Grant's reputation was very high. In fact, in two years he would be elected President of the United States. What grudge did he have?
Some will point to the idea that Grant was making his statement due to personal feelings, after all, wasn't there some buzz about who Lee considered the better general he faced during the war?
 

Yankeedave

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#6
Longstreet talks of “a sly undercurrent of mis-representation”. Although written about Gettysburg, lead was taken from Lee on the "facts" of the ANV during the course of the war.
Possibly one reason is that in the military if you don't respect the officer you respect the office. Longstreet, in a way, disrespected both, imho. After the war Lee's men continued to respect Lee and Gen. Lee.
 

cash

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Longstreet talks of “a sly undercurrent of mis-representation”. Although written about Gettysburg, lead was taken from Lee on the "facts" of the ANV during the course of the war.
Possibly one reason is that in the military if you don't respect the officer you respect the office. Longstreet, in a way, disrespected both, imho. After the war Lee's men continued to respect Lee and Gen. Lee.
This thread is about what Lee did during Reconstruction, not anyone else. Thank you.
 

cash

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#8
Chapters 24 and 25 of Elizabeth Brown Pryor's book, Reading the Man, looks at Lee in the postwar/Reconstruction years.

Soon after the war, Thomas Cook, a reporter with the New York Herald, secured an interview with Lee. “Lee took care to present himself as confident, robust, and anxious for reconciliation. He was quick to point out, however, that ‘should arbitrary, or vindictive, or revengeful policies be adopted, the end was not yet.’ He stated that the issue of states’ rights had been decided by military power, not philosophical justice, then trivialized the entire conflict as a difference of political opinion–hardly grounds for accusations of treason. He excused Jefferson Davis’s actions and proposed that Davis should be shown leniency because he had been a late and reluctant convert to secession. He explained his own actions in the same way. Lee further stated that the ‘best men of the South’ were pleased to see the end of slavery, and they had only continued the institution because of their Christian concern for black people. According to the reporter, Lee then showed his hand a bit more and said: ‘The negroes must be disposed of, and if their disposition can be marked out, the matter of freeing them is at once settled,’ suggesting that without such a ‘disposal’ the former Confederate states would work to undermine emancipation. Lee’s main message, however, was that the South had waged a ‘half earnest’ rebellion, that every Southerner had overcome his moment of passion, and that no one should ‘be judged harshly for contending for that which he honestly believed to be right.’ Above all, Lee argued that the former Confederate states be treated with moderation so that the sons who were the country’s ‘bone and sinew, its intelligence and enterprise’ might stay and work for its future.” [p. 431] As we can see, Lee was not above prevarication and outright fabrication if it served his purposes. Lee also was not afraid to issue demands to the victors. Lee’s words were met with scathing criticism in the loyal states. Lee would eventually accept an offer to be president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, where he took a hands-on approach, making a number of changes, such as using Sylvanus Thayer’s running of West Point as a model for his own direction of Washington College. While he made a number of improvements, it wasn’t easy on those at the college. “Lee was known for his ‘fierce and violent temper, prone to intense expression,’ and his administrative staff, as well as the students and faculty, learned to be wary, especially as the explosion often carried over to those not responsible for annoying the president. Some were concerned that nothing seemed to impress him; that he never apologized when clearly in error; that he had a way of testing the youths and their teachers to prove his superiority.” [p. 439]

“Lee’s progressive stance toward education, and his belief that Southerners should stay with their homes as they faced uncertain prospects, was an exceptional moment of foresight–justly admired and still resonant after fifteen decades. This long-range outlook, however, seems to have been relegated to one compartment of his mind. Lee’s political precepts, as well as his efforts to accept the tragic events of the war (and his part in them), would be far more myopic. … [H]e planted himself in his favorite aggressively defensive position, denying any positive outcome to the conflict and balking at social change. [In the letter that opened the chapter] His struggle is quickly visible in this draft, for Lee stumbles over nearly every word, trying to reformulate his thoughts in a gently defiant fashion. He is anxious to state his opinion on the war’s outcome, and do a little revisionist history on the reasons for his participation in it.” [p. 445] Although he denied in public that he read the newspapers, he assiduously followed the press in both the North and the South. “Most of his opinions sought to justify the preeminence of states’ rights, and he expressed an overt dislike–even fear–of majority politics and strong federal government.” [p. 450] Lee portrayed himself outwardly as accepting the results of the war, yet inside he seethed with anger. “In private he penned political treatises that throb with controlled rage, containing harsh words about ‘a national civilization which rots the life of a people to the core’; ‘the gaol [sic] to which our progress in civilization is guiding us’; or ‘unprincipled men who look for nothing but the retention of place & power in their hands.’ This and several other draft essays he wrote were never published, but their cross-hatched and unfinished pages are like the smoke from a roiling volcano.” [p. 450] The biggest political issue of Reconstruction was the status of African-Americans. “Lee had never been comfortable with the idea of intermingling with blacks, and the issue of race and power was one that seemed to jar his most fundamental assumptions. … Like others of his region, he persisted in truly believing that blacks were incapable of functioning on their own, that they had no inclination to work, and aspired to nothing beyond daily comfort and amusement. Such attitudes not only justified the adherence to slavery in the first place, they calmed the unspeakable worry that the freed blacks might succeed, thereby becoming a threat to status, economy, and pride. Lee’s worldview was still strongly hierarchical–even within his enlightened vision of widespread education, he could not see beyond offering only as much ‘knowledge & high mental culture as the limited means of the humble can command.’ From the end of the war he took care to distance himself from the ex-slaves as much as possible, maintaining his control by aloofness. He tried to employ white rather than black servants in his household, though in the end the family acquiesced to hiring three or four ‘tolerable … respectable, but not energetic’ freedmen. As before the war, his expectations fulfilled long-honed stereotypes. He told Congress he thought the ex-slaves less able than whites to acquire knowledge and inclined only to work sporadically on ‘very short jobs … they like their ease and comfort, and I think, look more to their present than to their future condition.’ He advised his planter friends to shun black labor, for he felt the freedmen would work against their former owners and destroy property values. ‘I have always observed that wherever you find the negro, everything is going down around him,’ he told one cousin, ‘and wherever you find the white man, you see everything around him improving.’ Although he did not always state it so starkly, he continued to think, as he had told the Herald, that the blacks had best be ‘disposed of’ and endorsed the idea of importing European workers to replace them. Lee particularly hoped that English immigration could be increased so that the South would benefit from ‘good citizens whose interests & feelings would be in unison with our own.’ … Lee’s vision did not include granting African-Americans the same option of productive citizenship that he wished to offer to immigrants. He explained to the Joint Committee on Reconstruction that ‘at this time,t hey cannot vote intelligently’ and that he opposed black enfranchisement on the grounds that it would ‘excite unfriendly feelings between the two races.’ He was also concerned about the educational opportunities being provided to the blacks by the Freedmen’s Bureau and private northern charities, preferring they be taught by white Southerners, who were ‘acquainted with their characters and wants.’ Most of all he feared that blacks might procure enough political leverage to offset white control.” [pp. 452-453]
 

Bee

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#9
Chapters 24 and 25 of Elizabeth Brown Pryor's book, Reading the Man, looks at Lee in the postwar/Reconstruction years.
Thank you for providing this context. Until recently -- through these letters/book -- I had been under a completely different impression of Lee's attitude regarding Reconstruction.
 
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#10
Well done. However you could contrast these attitudes to those of other Confederates, or other southerners, to show that they were not inevitable, and were the basis of Lee's personal experiences.
 

unionblue

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#13
Was there? When did Lee make that claim, and when did it become public knowledge?
cash,

I am asking you out of pure lack of knowledge and as one of the most informed people I know on this forum. I want to know what you know as we both know, there will be people to bring this up to counter Grant's comment about Lee and Reconstruction.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

cash

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#14
cash,

I am asking you out of pure lack of knowledge and as one of the most informed people I know on this forum. I want to know what you know as we both know, there will be people to bring this up to counter Grant's comment about Lee and Reconstruction.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
UB,

As I intimated with my questions, the Lee claims didn't appear until after Lee's death, so Grant couldn't have known about them when he made his statements.
 

Bruce Vail

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#15
Perhaps somebody can shed some light on Lee's attitude toward the KKK. I have a vague recollection that the KKK became active at Washington College during Lee's tenure as president there. If Grant's comment about Lee was from May 1866, that sounds like it would have been too early to have any reference to the KKK.
 

Bruce Vail

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#16
Chapters 24 and 25 of Elizabeth Brown Pryor's book, Reading the Man, looks at Lee in the postwar/Reconstruction years.

Soon after the war, Thomas Cook, a reporter with the New York Herald, secured an interview with Lee. “Lee took care to present himself as confident, robust, and anxious for reconciliation. He was quick to point out, however, that ‘should arbitrary, or vindictive, or revengeful policies be adopted, the end was not yet.’ He stated that the issue of states’ rights had been decided by military power, not philosophical justice, then trivialized the entire conflict as a difference of political opinion–hardly grounds for accusations of treason. He excused Jefferson Davis’s actions and proposed that Davis should be shown leniency because he had been a late and reluctant convert to secession. He explained his own actions in the same way. Lee further stated that the ‘best men of the South’ were pleased to see the end of slavery, and they had only continued the institution because of their Christian concern for black people. According to the reporter, Lee then showed his hand a bit more and said: ‘The negroes must be disposed of, and if their disposition can be marked out, the matter of freeing them is at once settled,’ suggesting that without such a ‘disposal’ the former Confederate states would work to undermine emancipation. Lee’s main message, however, was that the South had waged a ‘half earnest’ rebellion, that every Southerner had overcome his moment of passion, and that no one should ‘be judged harshly for contending for that which he honestly believed to be right.’ Above all, Lee argued that the former Confederate states be treated with moderation so that the sons who were the country’s ‘bone and sinew, its intelligence and enterprise’ might stay and work for its future.” [p. 431] As we can see, Lee was not above prevarication and outright fabrication if it served his purposes. Lee also was not afraid to issue demands to the victors. Lee’s words were met with scathing criticism in the loyal states. Lee would eventually accept an offer to be president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, where he took a hands-on approach, making a number of changes, such as using Sylvanus Thayer’s running of West Point as a model for his own direction of Washington College. While he made a number of improvements, it wasn’t easy on those at the college. “Lee was known for his ‘fierce and violent temper, prone to intense expression,’ and his administrative staff, as well as the students and faculty, learned to be wary, especially as the explosion often carried over to those not responsible for annoying the president. Some were concerned that nothing seemed to impress him; that he never apologized when clearly in error; that he had a way of testing the youths and their teachers to prove his superiority.” [p. 439]

“Lee’s progressive stance toward education, and his belief that Southerners should stay with their homes as they faced uncertain prospects, was an exceptional moment of foresight–justly admired and still resonant after fifteen decades. This long-range outlook, however, seems to have been relegated to one compartment of his mind. Lee’s political precepts, as well as his efforts to accept the tragic events of the war (and his part in them), would be far more myopic. … [H]e planted himself in his favorite aggressively defensive position, denying any positive outcome to the conflict and balking at social change. [In the letter that opened the chapter] His struggle is quickly visible in this draft, for Lee stumbles over nearly every word, trying to reformulate his thoughts in a gently defiant fashion. He is anxious to state his opinion on the war’s outcome, and do a little revisionist history on the reasons for his participation in it.” [p. 445] Although he denied in public that he read the newspapers, he assiduously followed the press in both the North and the South. “Most of his opinions sought to justify the preeminence of states’ rights, and he expressed an overt dislike–even fear–of majority politics and strong federal government.” [p. 450] Lee portrayed himself outwardly as accepting the results of the war, yet inside he seethed with anger. “In private he penned political treatises that throb with controlled rage, containing harsh words about ‘a national civilization which rots the life of a people to the core’; ‘the gaol [sic] to which our progress in civilization is guiding us’; or ‘unprincipled men who look for nothing but the retention of place & power in their hands.’ This and several other draft essays he wrote were never published, but their cross-hatched and unfinished pages are like the smoke from a roiling volcano.” [p. 450] The biggest political issue of Reconstruction was the status of African-Americans. “Lee had never been comfortable with the idea of intermingling with blacks, and the issue of race and power was one that seemed to jar his most fundamental assumptions. … Like others of his region, he persisted in truly believing that blacks were incapable of functioning on their own, that they had no inclination to work, and aspired to nothing beyond daily comfort and amusement. Such attitudes not only justified the adherence to slavery in the first place, they calmed the unspeakable worry that the freed blacks might succeed, thereby becoming a threat to status, economy, and pride. Lee’s worldview was still strongly hierarchical–even within his enlightened vision of widespread education, he could not see beyond offering only as much ‘knowledge & high mental culture as the limited means of the humble can command.’ From the end of the war he took care to distance himself from the ex-slaves as much as possible, maintaining his control by aloofness. He tried to employ white rather than black servants in his household, though in the end the family acquiesced to hiring three or four ‘tolerable … respectable, but not energetic’ freedmen. As before the war, his expectations fulfilled long-honed stereotypes. He told Congress he thought the ex-slaves less able than whites to acquire knowledge and inclined only to work sporadically on ‘very short jobs … they like their ease and comfort, and I think, look more to their present than to their future condition.’ He advised his planter friends to shun black labor, for he felt the freedmen would work against their former owners and destroy property values. ‘I have always observed that wherever you find the negro, everything is going down around him,’ he told one cousin, ‘and wherever you find the white man, you see everything around him improving.’ Although he did not always state it so starkly, he continued to think, as he had told the Herald, that the blacks had best be ‘disposed of’ and endorsed the idea of importing European workers to replace them. Lee particularly hoped that English immigration could be increased so that the South would benefit from ‘good citizens whose interests & feelings would be in unison with our own.’ … Lee’s vision did not include granting African-Americans the same option of productive citizenship that he wished to offer to immigrants. He explained to the Joint Committee on Reconstruction that ‘at this time,t hey cannot vote intelligently’ and that he opposed black enfranchisement on the grounds that it would ‘excite unfriendly feelings between the two races.’ He was also concerned about the educational opportunities being provided to the blacks by the Freedmen’s Bureau and private northern charities, preferring they be taught by white Southerners, who were ‘acquainted with their characters and wants.’ Most of all he feared that blacks might procure enough political leverage to offset white control.” [pp. 452-453]
Lee's belief that granting the right to vote to the freedman was a bad idea was widely shared, North and South. That can't be the reason Grant criticized Lee.
 

WJC

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#18
Thanks for starting this thread.
Like most, I grew up believing the Lee myth. It was only when I started learning more that I realized that post-war he was not the powerful, reconciliatory influence I had been taught, but rather a man embittered by his experience- though seldom expressing his feelings in public. A great source is the record of his testimony before the Joint Congressional Committee, on Reconstruction in February 1866 where, among other claims, he stated: "I have always been in favor of Emancipation- gradual emancipation."
<U. S. Congress, Report of the Reconstruction Committee. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1866), p. 136.>
This was also the occasion when Lee absolved himself of his personal decision to support secession, by stating: "the act of Virginia, in withdrawing herself from the United States, carried me along as a citizen of Virginia, and that her laws and her acts were binding on me." <ibid, p. 133.>
Lee was by far the most influential man in the post-war south. He could have had far more impact in effecting reconciliation than anything later claimed by his biographers.
 

cash

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#20
Did Lee ever comment on Grant’s plan to ship black people out of the US to Santo Domingo?
Since Grant didn't plan to ship anyone anywhere, Lee couldn't have commented on it; however, had Grant actually planned to ship black people to Santo Domingo, Lee would probably have applauded and may even have donated money to help it along. Lee commented that he would have liked to have seen all black folks shipped out of Virginia and replaced by workers from Europe.
 



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