Robert E. Lee's testimony before the Joint Committeee on Reconstruction

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Kenneth Almquist

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Lee on secession and treason:

Q. ... Suppose a jury was impanelled in your own neighborhood, taken up by lot, would it be practicable to convict, for instance, Jefferson Davis, for having levied war upon the United States, and thus having committed the crime of treason?

A. I think it very probable that they would not consider he had committed treason.

Q. Suppose the jury should be clearly and plainly instructed by the Court that such an act of war upon the United States, on the part of Mr. Davis or any other leading man, constituted in itself the crime of treason under the constitution of the United States, would the jury be likely to heed that instruction, and if the facts were plainly in proof before them, convict the offender?

A. I do not know, sir, what they would do on that question.

Q. They do not generally suppose that it was treason against the United States, do they?

A. I do not think that they so consider it.

Q. In what light would they view it? What would be their excuse of justification? How would they escape in their own mind? ...

A. ... So far as I know, they look upon the action of the State in withdrawing itself from the Government of the United States as carrying the individuals of the State along with it; that the State was responsible for the act, not the individuals.

Q. And that the ordinance of the secession, so called, or these acts of the State which recognised a condition of war between the State and the general Government, stood as their justification for their bearing arms against the Government of the United States?

A. Yes, sir. I think they considered the act of the State as legitimate; that they were merely using the reserved right which they had a right to do.

Q. State, if you please (and if you are disinclined to answer the question you need not do so) what your own personal views on that question were?

A. That was my view — that 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.

Q. And that you felt to be your justification in taking the course you did?

A. Yes, sir.
 

Kenneth Almquist

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Lee on the black man:

Q. General, you are very competent to judge of the capacity of black men for acquiring knowledge; I want your opinion on that capacity, as compared with the capacity of white men?
A. I do not know that I am particularly qualified to speak on that subject, as you seem to intimate; but I do not think that he is capable of acquiring knowledge as the white man is. There are some more apt than others. I have known some to acquire knowledge and skill in their trade or profession. I have had servants of my own who learned to read and write very well.

Q. Do they show a capacity to obtain knowledge of mathematics and the exact sciences?
A. I have no knowledge on that subject. I am merely acquainted with those who have learned the common rudiments of education.

Q. General, are you aware of the existence, among the blacks of Virginia, anywhere within the limits of the State, of combinations having in view the disturbance of the peace, or any improper or unlawful acts?
A. I am not. I have seen no evidence of it, and have heard of none. Wherever I have been they have been quiet and orderly, not disposed to work, or rather not disposed to any continuous engagement to work, but just very short jobs, to provide them with the immediate means of subsistence.

Q. Has the colored race generally as great a love of money and property as the white race possesses?
A. I do not think it has; the blacks with whom I am acquainted look more to the present time than to the future.

Q. Does that absence of a lust of money and property arise more from the nature of the negro than from his former servile condition?
A. Well, it may be in some measure attributable to his former condition. They are an amiable, social race. They like their ease and comfort, and, I think, look more to their present than to their future condition.

...

(Congress was considering a Constitutional Amendment that would not count blacks for purposes of determining Congressional representation unless those black were allowed to vote.)

Q. Would [Virginia] consent, under any circumstances, to allow the black people to vote, even if she were to gain a large number of representatives in Congress?
A. That would depend upon her interest. If she had the right of determining that I do not see why she should object. If it were to her interest to admit these people to vote that might overrule any other objection that she might have to it.

Q. What, in your opinion, would be the practical result? Do you think that Virginia would consent to allow the negro to vote?
A. I think that, at present, she would accept smaller representation. I do not know what the future may develop. If it should be plain to her that these persons will vote properly and understandingly, she might admit them to vote.

Q. Do you not think it would turn a good deal in the cotton States upon the value of the labor of the black people — upon the amount which they produce?
A. In a good many States in the South, and in a good many counties in Virginia, if the black people now were allowed to vote, it would, I think, exclude proper representation——that is, proper, intelligent people would not be elected——and rather than suffer that injury they would not let them vote at all.

Q. Do you not think that the question as to whether any Southern State would allow the colored people the right of suffrage, in order to increase representation, would depend a good deal on the amount which the colored people might contribute to the wealth of the State, in order to secure two things——first, the larger representation, and, second, the influence derived from these persons voting?
A. I think they would determine the question more in reference to their opinion as to the manner in which those votes would be exercised, whether they consider those people qualified to vote. My own opinion is that at this time they cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the right of suffrage would open the door to a great deal of demagoguism and lead to embarrassments in various ways. What the future may prove, how intelligent they may become, with what eyes they may look upon the interests of the State in which they may reside, I cannot say more than you can.

...

Q. What is your opinion about its being an advantage to Virginia to keep them there at all? Do you not think that Virginia would be better off if the colored population were to go to Alabama, Louisiana, and the other Southern States?
A. I think it would be better for Virginia if she could get rid of them. That is no new opinion with me. I have always thought so, and have always been in favor of emancipation — gradual emancipation.

Q. As a question of labor alone, do you not think that the labor which would flow into Virginia, if the negroes left it for the cotton States, would be far more advantageous to the State and to its future prosperity?
A. I think it would be for the benefit of Virginia, and I be- lieve that everybody there would be willing to aid it.

Q. Do you not think that the State of Virginia is absolutely injured and its future impaired by the presence of the black population there?
A. I think it is.

Q. And do you not think it is peculiarly adapted to the quality of labor which would flow into it from its great natural resources in case it was made more attractive by the absence of the colored race?
A. I do.
 
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unionblue

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I have to wonder what Lee was actually thinking at the time he was taking and answering these questions.

As for the answers by him that are recorded in the above posts, the labels, 'tap dancing' and 'artful dodger' come to my mind, but I wonder what choice he had in perhaps doing such.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

M.Warren

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I have to wonder what Lee was actually thinking at the time he was taking and answering these questions.

As for the answers by him that are recorded in the above posts, the labels, 'tap dancing' and 'artful dodger' come to my mind, but I wonder what choice he had in perhaps doing such.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
My guess would be, he was thinking hanging couldn't be any worse than the last 4+ years. I also thought he did a very thorough job answering the questions he was asked. If nothing else his responses seemed to be honest.


Q. ... Suppose a jury was impanelled in your own neighborhood, taken up by lot, would it be practicable to convict, for instance, Jefferson Davis, for having levied war upon the United States, and thus having committed the crime of treason?

A. I think it very probable that they would not consider he had committed treason.


I have little doubt any jury from VA would have convicted Lee, or Davis of treason, regardless of the law. Jury nullification was the first thought in my mind when I read the question. VA without a doubt didn't think "levying war" on the US gov. was a crime at the time but a burden they had to bare for what they saw as an invasion of their state by a foreign gov. I think a vote of conscience would have been the case due to what they viewed as an unjust law, just like juries used in the 1850-60's to avoid convicting blacks under fugitive slave law.

My study of this in depth got me tossed off a jury just last week for only mentioning jury nullification. It was due to a young Black man having been caught with a very small amount of what most see as a harmless plant, and also having possessed a firearm at the time. Possessing a firearm is perfectly legal as he wasn't a felon, had no prior record,(I asked the DA why he was charged with possessing a firearm, and was not answered) and I couldn't see voting to convict him for a gram or 2 of plant matter knowing his life would be ruined by such a useless waste of everyone's time and tax dollars. Next thing I know, myself and 3 others that showed interest in the questions I asked were dismissed, thanked for our service and sent away.
Attorneys no doubt like to argue law and have little use for conscience. At least not in this case. Sorry for rambling but this discovery has weighed heavily on my mind for the past 2 weeks. :nah disagree:
 

brass napoleon

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My guess would be, he was thinking hanging couldn't be any worse than the last 4+ years. I also thought he did a very thorough job answering the questions he was asked. If nothing else his responses seemed to be honest.
I agree. The answers seem quite candid to me. The answers about treason probably reflect the viewpoint of most Southerners, and the answers about race probably reflect the viewpoint of most white Americans (of the era, of course).
 
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