Lee as a Slaveholder: Reputable Primary Sources?

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
You don't have to thank me, after all, it was your argument.
This isn’t an assignment, you don’t have to keep wracking your brain for new straw men. You can relax, you have an A+.

Seriously, I do thank you. I am helping out with a distance learning class. The teacher has COVID with thankfully low grade symptoms. This is new ground & keeping their attention is a real challenge.

I was taught to avoid the straw man fallacy 50 years ago. The examples I came up with on my own were pathetic. Your posts will be used anonymously.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
The newspaper is the source. Newspapers that are of the period are sometimes regarded as primary sources and sometimes as secondary ones.
The quote is from a northern newspaper (now defunct). It was said as part of an overall assessment of General Lee's character and I can see no reason or benefit to the paper for stating it [a southern newspaper may have some ulterior motive but I can see none for a New York one]. It's certainly a far superior source to opinions and contemporary articles that I have seen submitted to this thread as 'evidence'.

The OP said:
"I've a professor who undoubtedly holds the converse view, and who claimed quite a bit in reference to Lee being a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner, giving the Virginia Gentleman hand to the whites and the whip hand to people of color"."
I'm seeing no such evidence.

Did General Lee own slaves? Yes, guilty as charged.
Was General Lee a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner"? No: there is no substantial evidence to prove such a thing. In the absence of any such evidence he must be given the 'presumption of innocence' otherwise we end up in the farcical situation of the When did you stop beating your wife where an accusation is assumed to be true and the onus is on the innocent to disprove it.

I don't get this on the one hand people discard an eyewitness account of Wesley Norris as being false and in the other its ok to quote newspaper articles if it paints Lee in a favourable light.

Is it me or is their a distinct smell of hypocrisy here.

Like i said before Lee could have debunked the whole myth of him whipping his slaves by going public and denouncing Norris to prove the fact , But he didn't what was he so afraid of if he was innocent surely god would be on his side?.
 

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
The premise of this thread is that the RE Lee created by Jubal Early, et al, in the fifty years following the Civil War really existed. That was a demigod morally detached & superior to us ordinary mortals. The slaves he got stuck with in his father in law’s will all loved RE Lee because he was so kind to them is just another counter factual. As the documentation & ample evidence from other sources clearly show, the Lee slaves wanted nothing more than to be freed & go live their own lives as they pleased. Freedmen had to leave the state, so it was a don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out situation.

Somewhere behind the headlines that shouted that Lee was a traitor, Grannie Lee, the imbecile who lost West Virginia, King of Spades, the Greatest Military Genius who ever lost a war & demigod Marble Man is the mundane man of his time that really was RE Lee.

The "premise" of the thread is a request for primary source information. Your opinion has been shared, so if you have actual evidence that fits the OP's request, that would be welcome.
 

Quaama

Corporal
Joined
Sep 13, 2020
Location
Port Macquarie, Australia
[1]I don't get this on the one hand people discard an eyewitness account of Wesley Norris as being false and in the other its ok to quote newspaper articles if it paints Lee in a favourable light.

Is it me or is their a distinct smell of hypocrisy here.

[2]Like i said before Lee could have debunked the whole myth of him whipping his slaves by going public and denouncing Norris to prove the fact , But he didn't what was he so afraid of if he was innocent surely god would be on his side?.

[1] I did not discard it but I can not speak for other CWT members. I do believe there was some question of motive behind the Norris claim.

[2] Was not the letter presented in post #20 a letter from Lee that explained his position on such things in that he chose not to reply to them and also said "No servant, soldier, or citizen, that was ever employed by me, can with truth charge me with bad treatment'?
Not dignifying slander or accusations against himself would seem conversant with the character and dignity of Robert E. Lee.
 

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
The premise of this thread is that the RE Lee created by Jubal Early, et al, in the fifty years following the Civil War really existed.
I'm sorry that you are so fixated on "Jubal did it." How many references of Lee as 'bold' and 'great' from the war years do you need to dispel you of your wrong-headed idea. (PS-None are from Jubal.)
 
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Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
[2] Was not the letter presented in post #20 a letter from Lee that explained his position on such things in that he chose not to reply to them and also said "No servant, soldier, or citizen, that was ever employed by me, can with truth charge me with bad treatment'?
Not dignifying slander or accusations against himself would seem conversant with the character and dignity of Robert E. Lee.

I totally agree it would have been completely beneath Lee considering his status and class to respond to a mere Slave.

However the Norris account is not the only account by enslaved labour at Arlington that painted Lee in a bad light.

We know that Lee really could not be bothered in the day to day running of Arlington is it possible the mistreatment of the enslaved was contracted out , If Lee hired his slaves out which he did its quite plausible they were mistreated but quite possibly blamed Lee anyway as their previous owner had never indulged in such a practice.

Do we have any sources that indicate who Lee hired his slave out too?.
 

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
I don't get this on the one hand people discard an eyewitness account of Wesley Norris as being false and in the other its ok to quote newspaper articles if it paints Lee in a favourable light.

Is it me or is their a distinct smell of hypocrisy here.

Like i said before Lee could have debunked the whole myth of him whipping his slaves by going public and denouncing Norris to prove the fact , But he didn't what was he so afraid of if he was innocent surely god would be on his side?.
"one hand people discard an...account of Wesley Norris"

We don't necessarily discard it - it's just that all you have is Lee's word against Norris' word (or rather the Anti-Slavery Standard's word).
 

Quaama

Corporal
Joined
Sep 13, 2020
Location
Port Macquarie, Australia
I totally agree it would have been completely beneath Lee considering his status and class to respond to a mere Slave.

However the Norris account is not the only account by enslaved labour at Arlington that painted Lee in a bad light.

We know that Lee really could not be bothered in the day to day running of Arlington is it possible the mistreatment of the enslaved was contracted out , If Lee hired his slaves out which he did its quite plausible they were mistreated but quite possibly blamed Lee anyway as their previous owner had never indulged in such a practice.

Do we have any sources that indicate who Lee hired his slave out too?.

I didn't say "it would have been completely beneath Lee considering his status and class to respond to a mere Slave". I did quote Lee as saying ""No servant, soldier, or citizen, that was ever employed by me, can with truth charge me with bad treatment'."

If Lee "could not be bothered in the day to day running of Arlington" then that tends to exonerate him and we need to look elsewhere for the culprit as I do think it plausible that they "blamed Lee anyway as their previous owner had never indulged in such a practice".

In the absence of any such evidence he must be given the 'presumption of innocence'.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
In the absence of any such evidence he must be given the 'presumption of innocence'.

Well their is evidence in both Lees actions and words also eye witness testimony at the time , The fact that Norris names both the Overseer and Constable as being present at the time seals it for more me personally but we see no correspondence from either of them to back up Lee's story which i find strange as the overseer had been with the Arlington estate for a good number of years and was loyal to Lee.

But what it comes down to is a testimony of a slave against one of the most respected men in the United States as the time.

This incident was never going to court as Lee had broken no laws at the time it happened , However my own personal opinions does not mean Lee is guilty its my opinion he was but as you say until more evidence is uncovered then Lee indeed will be presumed innocent.
 
Joined
Aug 6, 2018
Location
Virginia
All,

The thesis I have chosen for my Masters Course in military philosophy (I am studying American Military History at AMU) contends that General Robert E Lee's moral upbringing and christian faith are mutually inclusive with his military brilliance, and that both were key considerations on both the tactical and strategic level.

I've a professor who undoubtedly holds the converse view, and who claimed quite a bit in reference to Lee being a "brutal and barbaric slave-owner, giving the Virginia Gentleman hand to the whites and the whip hand to people of color"...I have seen this said, and as a Southerner and Lee Admirer have a hard time believing it. Of course, he was a man of his time and I aim to always remain an objective historian, so my question is...

Can anyone here provide me reputable primary sources- not modern SJW foolishness- as to Lee's conduct as a slaveowner? What was his actual owner status? Thanks.

Nick C.
One should read Lee's pre-Civil War letter to his wife from Texas in which he refers to slavery as being "evil" and wonders why those who left western Europe to escape bondage would practice it in America. He didn't own slaves, but was charged as the executor by his father-in-law's will to free those at Arlington under certain conditions and he did so. Like most things nowadays, those who think they know something never let facts get in their way. Sadly, many of them call themselves educators.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
One should read Lee's pre-Civil War letter to his wife from Texas in which he refers to slavery as being "evil" and wonders why those who left western Europe to escape bondage would practice it in America. He didn't own slaves, but was charged as the executor by his father-in-law's will to free those at Arlington under certain conditions and he did so. Like most things nowadays, those who think they know something never let facts get in their way. Sadly, many of them call themselves educators.

It obvious you have not read all of Lee's Letters but chose to cherry pick the bits that suit you own view of Lee.

Quote:

"The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race".

Robert E Lee.

End Quote:

Not only is Lee condoning punishment he also has the almighty view that they should be thanking the white man from removing them from there homeland and freedom by inferring they are better off enslaved in America.
 

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
Not only is Lee condoning punishment he also has the almighty view that they should be thanking the white man from removing them from there homeland and freedom by inferring they are better off enslaved in America.

Not so, as a believer in divine providence, Lee's focus is on God, not "the white man". That whole portion of his letter discusses how and when slavery will end, something Lee thinks would better happen "mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy." He is criticizing the stirring up of harsh feelings by the abolitionists and saying that will lead to more harm than good, and they can only accomplish their goals in their way "through the agency of a civil & servile war", which considering what happened was almost prophetic of him. How long slavery will last "is Known & ordered by a wise & merciful Providence". In other words, God knows and will make it happen in his time.

The abolitionists are trying to hurry things along, Lee says, and thinks it "strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others." They left England so they could live as they chose, and now their descendants refuse to accord that same liberty to others. Slavery would end when and how "it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes."



They restrain supposition & Conjecture, Confirm faith & bring Contentment. I was much pleased with the Presidents message & the report of the Secr of War, the only two documents that have reached us entire. Of the others synopsis have only arrived. The views of the Pres: of the systematic & progressive efforts of certain people of the North, to interfere with & change the domestic institutions of the South, are truthfully & faithfully expressed. The consequences of their plans & purposes are also clearly Set forth, & they must also be aware, that their object is both unlawful & entirely foreign to them, their duty; for which they are irresponsible & unaccountable; & Can only be accomplished by them through the agency of a civil & servile war. In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly interested in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is Known & ordered by a wise & merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy. This influence though slow is sure. The doctrines & miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to Convert but a small part of the human race, & even Christian nations, what gross errors still exist! While we see the Course of the final abolition of human slavery is onward, & we give it the aid of our prayers & all justifiable means in our power we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who Sees the end; who Chooses to work by slow influences ; & with whom two thousand years are but a single day. Although the abolitionist must Know this; & must see that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means & suasion, & if he means well to the slave, he must not create angry feelings in the master; that although he may not approve the mode by which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same: that the reasons he gives for interference in what he has no Concern, holds good for every Kind of interference with our neighbours when we disapprove their Conduct; Still I fear he will persevere in his evil Course. Is it not strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others.​
 

DanSBHawk

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
Not so, as a believer in divine providence, Lee's focus is on God, not "the white man". That whole portion of his letter discusses how and when slavery will end, something Lee thinks would better happen "mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy." He is criticizing the stirring up of harsh feelings by the abolitionists and saying that will lead to more harm than good, and they can only accomplish their goals in their way "through the agency of a civil & servile war", which considering what happened was almost prophetic of him. How long slavery will last "is Known & ordered by a wise & merciful Providence". In other words, God knows and will make it happen in his time.

The abolitionists are trying to hurry things along, Lee says, and thinks it "strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others." They left England so they could live as they chose, and now their descendants refuse to accord that same liberty to others. Slavery would end when and how "it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes."



They restrain supposition & Conjecture, Confirm faith & bring Contentment. I was much pleased with the Presidents message & the report of the Secr of War, the only two documents that have reached us entire. Of the others synopsis have only arrived. The views of the Pres: of the systematic & progressive efforts of certain people of the North, to interfere with & change the domestic institutions of the South, are truthfully & faithfully expressed. The consequences of their plans & purposes are also clearly Set forth, & they must also be aware, that their object is both unlawful & entirely foreign to them, their duty; for which they are irresponsible & unaccountable; & Can only be accomplished by them through the agency of a civil & servile war. In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly interested in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is Known & ordered by a wise & merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy. This influence though slow is sure. The doctrines & miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to Convert but a small part of the human race, & even Christian nations, what gross errors still exist! While we see the Course of the final abolition of human slavery is onward, & we give it the aid of our prayers & all justifiable means in our power we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who Sees the end; who Chooses to work by slow influences ; & with whom two thousand years are but a single day. Although the abolitionist must Know this; & must see that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means & suasion, & if he means well to the slave, he must not create angry feelings in the master; that although he may not approve the mode by which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same: that the reasons he gives for interference in what he has no Concern, holds good for every Kind of interference with our neighbours when we disapprove their Conduct; Still I fear he will persevere in his evil Course. Is it not strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others.​
Interesting how Lee accuses abolitionists of intolerance of the spiritual liberty of whites, when the abolitionists were in truth advocating for the actual liberty of blacks.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
I totally agree it would have been completely beneath Lee considering his status and class to respond to a mere Slave.

However the Norris account is not the only account by enslaved labour at Arlington that painted Lee in a bad light.

We know that Lee really could not be bothered in the day to day running of Arlington is it possible the mistreatment of the enslaved was contracted out , If Lee hired his slaves out which he did its quite plausible they were mistreated but quite possibly blamed Lee anyway as their previous owner had never indulged in such a practice.

Do we have any sources that indicate who Lee hired his slave out too?.
According to his statement, Norris was sent to "what is now called the Northeastern Railroad". Not having any kind of knowledge about Confederate railroads, I only guess that it might have been an ancestor of the New Orleans & Northeastern Railroad. In any case, it clearly had a line from Alabama up to Richmond which ought to narrow it down.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Not so, as a believer in divine providence, Lee's focus is on God, not "the white man". That whole portion of his letter discusses how and when slavery will end, something Lee thinks would better happen "mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy." He is criticizing the stirring up of harsh feelings by the abolitionists and saying that will lead to more harm than good, and they can only accomplish their goals in their way "through the agency of a civil & servile war", which considering what happened was almost prophetic of him. How long slavery will last "is Known & ordered by a wise & merciful Providence". In other words, God knows and will make it happen in his time.

The abolitionists are trying to hurry things along, Lee says, and thinks it "strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others." They left England so they could live as they chose, and now their descendants refuse to accord that same liberty to others. Slavery would end when and how "it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes."

You would make a fine politician https://civilwartalk.com/members/andersonh1.16747/ You managed to to tip toe around part of the letter i quoted not caring to address those points but then focus attention on Lee's religious beliefs and his letter overall.

If Lee believed that slavery was a great evil and that god in time would free the slaves then why did he support the Crittenden compromise which would mean the Slaves in the South would stay enslaved forever? , Why did he fight for the Confederacy a country that had slavery as part of its constitution it seems Lee did not think God could be trusted and would have to intervene.

Lee's letter smacks of hypocrisy of the highest calibre.

How long their subjugation may be necessary is Known & ordered by a wise & merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity

Complete hogwash Lee did his level best to make sure Slavery would exist in the South for a very long-time.

we give it the aid of our prayers & all justifiable means in our power we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who Sees the end

Again hogwash , Lee had no intention on waiting on God , He even entertained an idea of replacing Blacks with poor Irish as servants

The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things.

You never answerd this but this line is critically important as it shows us a glimpse of the real Lee in my view , While he sounds all nice and noble to his wife he lets this sentence slip in his letter.

And lets not forget this letter was written before the Lee's inherited the Slaves , Lee pretends he knows what's right for the Slaves and that "mild & melting influence of Christianity" And yet he hires them out because he cant be bothered managing them properly nor the day to day running of a plantation in essence Robert E Lee is a poor slaveowner.

Lee has to be the biggest Hypocrite when it comes to Slavery anyone who cant see this is blind sir blind.
 

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
You would make a fine politician https://civilwartalk.com/members/andersonh1.16747/ You managed to to tip toe around part of the letter i quoted not caring to address those points but then focus attention on Lee's religious beliefs and his letter overall.

Because that was Lee's focus. You completely misstated what he said in your earlier post, and that's what I was responding to. We have to look at what these historical figures actually said and actually believed in order to properly critique them.

If Lee believed that slavery was a great evil and that god in time would free the slaves then why did he support the Crittenden compromise which would mean the Slaves in the South would stay enslaved forever? , Why did he fight for the Confederacy a country that had slavery as part of its constitution it seems Lee did not think God could be trusted and would have to intervene.

I've never seen where Lee supported the compromise, but assuming that he did, my guess would be that at that point he hoped it would avert secession and war. If you've read his letters from around that time, he was deeply concerned about both, and probably saw that as an immediate problem that had to be dealt with.

As for the second part, has it occurred to you that slavery was legal and protected as a State prerogative under the United States Constitution? Whichever side Lee picked, he would be fighting for a slave owning country, at least when the war began.

With respect, one of the problems with the almost obsessive focus today on slavery as the be all and end all of the Civil War is that it's blinding people to the other issues that drove men to participate in that war, and which forced them to choose between North and South. I have no doubt you are far more focused on the issue of slavery than Lee was when he made his decision to side with Virginia. You have to look at what he actually said and thought, not put words in his mouth that he did not say, or you won't understand the man.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
That Lee supported the Crittenden Compromise was pretty much of a given, I thought. In a letter to his daughter Agnes written at the time, he states that it “deserves the support of every patriot.” Although we today don't see it as much of a compromise, the General apparently did--and he was anxious to see a way out of conflict.
 
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