Ryan: Robert E. Lee and slavery

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matthew mckeon

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Interesting analysis of the famous "slavery is an evil" letter.

Lee was a well educated man, who had lived in North, as well as the south and west. He was self aware enough to understand how slavery was viewed by what he would consider "peer" societies. He had the example of his father in law and Washington. But in practically all ways he acted as other slave holders acted. His view of "gradual" emancipation was really, really gradual. At heart I think he was a conservative, not necessarily politically, but in that he distrusted change, and didn't think there was anything he had to do, personally, to promote change.

The exception to his conservatism was his extreme views on war making and what it would take to achieve victory. He's ready to throw slavery over the side for military advantage.
 

matthew mckeon

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Its funny, because I don't think that Lincoln and Lee were similar people. But in one instance they seem to frame slavery in similar ways. Lincoln spoke of slavery being an "offense" that God willed to happen, but now wills to end. Lee also describes slavery was something that God will eventually end. The difference is that Lincoln understood the time to end this offence was now in the midst of the terrible "scourge of war." while Lee was banking on it happening in an undefined future.
 
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KeyserSoze

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Its funny, because I don't think that Lincoln and Lee were similar people. But in one instance they seem to frame slavery in similar ways. Lincoln spoke of slavery being an "offense" that God willed to happen, but now wills to end. Lee also describes slavery was something that God will eventually end. The difference is that Lincoln understood the time to end this offence was now in the midst of the terrible "scourge of war." while Lee was banking on it happening in an undefined future.
Lincoln also believed that moral people needed to take steps to hasten the end of slavery while Lee wanted to leave it entirely in God's hands and thought man should not interfere.
 

5fish

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Here is a link to an article that brings into focus on Lee and Slavery...

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/the-myth-of-the-kindly-general-lee/529038/

Snippet...

White supremacy does not “violate” Lee’s “most fundamental convictions.” White supremacy was one of Lee’s most fundamental convictions.

Lee was a slaveowner—his own views on slavery were explicated in an 1856 letter that it often misquoted to give the impression that Lee was some kind of an abolitionist. In the letter, he describes slavery as “a moral & political evil,”but goes on to explain that:
I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted 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.
The argument here is that slavery is bad for white people, good for black people, and most importantly, it is better than abolitionism; emancipation must wait for divine intervention. That black people might not want to be slaves does not enter into the equation; their opinion on the subject of their own bondage is not even an afterthought to Lee.

Snippet...

Lee’s cruelty as a slavemaster was not confined to physical punishment. In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.”

The trauma of rupturing families lasted lifetimes for the enslaved—it was, as my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates described it, “a kind of murder.” After the war, thousands of the emancipated searched desperately for kin lost to the market for human flesh, fruitlessly for most.


Snippet...

There were at least two attempted lynchings by Washington students during Lee’s tenure, and Pryor writes that “the number of accusations against Washington College boys indicates that he either punished the racial harassment more laxly than other misdemeanors, or turned a blind eye to it,” adding that he “did not exercise the near imperial control he had at the school, as he did for more trivial matters, such as when the boys threatened to take unofficial Christmas holidays.” In short, Lee was as indifferent to crimes of violence toward blacks carried out by his students as he was when they were carried out by his soldiers.
 

Andersonh1

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The difference is that Lincoln understood the time to end this offence was now in the midst of the terrible "scourge of war."
Lincoln understood that it was a "fit and necessary war measure" that would greatly damage the Confederate war efforts. It was that, far more than any moral impulse, that motivated him. With no war, he'd have been as willing to wait as Lee was.
 
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MajorCrisis

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I think to make a statement about what Lincoln would have done in such and such a situation makes Lincoln, the man, sound too monolithic. I think you need to specify which Lincoln you are talking about. 1861 Lincoln might very well have been willing to wait for emancipation but 1864/65 Lincoln had very different feelings about slavery and its place in the social order. Lincoln's view of slavery evolved during the war and that change should not be hastily papered over.
 

unionblue

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Lincoln understood that it was a "fit and necessary war measure" that would greatly damage the Confederate war efforts. It was that, far more than any moral impulse, that motivated him. With no war, he'd have been as willing to wait as Lee was.
And yet none in the slaveholding states believed such of Lincoln or "Black Republicans" after the 1860 election, and even before it. They were without doubt that slavery would not be secure under Lincoln and his Republican administration.
 

Bruce Vail

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And yet none in the slaveholding states believed such of Lincoln or "Black Republicans" after the 1860 election, and even before it. They were without doubt that slavery would not be secure under Lincoln and his Republican administration.
The secessionists of 1860-1861 were quite right that slavery was no longer safe with the federal government in Republican hands. Just finished reading Foner's Lincoln: The Fiery Trial and Foner makes clear that the majority elements of the Republican Party were committed to the destruction of slavery, sooner or later. The position that the Republican Party wanted only to restrict expansion of slavery and was not committed to eliminating slavery where it existed was merely a ruse to gain power.
 
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Bruce Vail

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@Bruce Vail ,

Read the same book and got that indication also.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
I'm not normally interested in Lincoln books but I have become a big fan of Foner, so I tried this book when I saw it on the shelf at the library. Really great book -- and an eye opener about the nature of the Republican Party in 1860.
 

matthew mckeon

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Lincoln understood that it was a "fit and necessary war measure" that would greatly damage the Confederate war efforts. It was that, far more than any moral impulse, that motivated him. With no war, he'd have been as willing to wait as Lee was.
I don't think this is accurate. Lincoln, with no war, was pursuing a policy he thought would led to "the ultimate extinction" of slavery. He was going to pursue a policy that would peacefully, constitutionally create the conditions where the slave states would abolish slavery themselves. The secessionists also thought he would, if he got the chance.

The war changed the situation. Slavery was fraying. While the EP was supposed to help win the war, it was a bold, large scale and irreversible change with repercussions beyond that. He promoted the 13th Amendment, which would settle slavery's hash, well after the war was decided.

I don't think Lee and Lincoln had the same views about slavery and abolition.
 
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Bruce Vail

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"There are former Confederates who sought to redeem themselves—one thinks of James Longstreet, wrongly blamed by Lost Causers for Lee’s disastrous defeat at Gettysburg, who went from fighting the Union army to leading New Orleans’s integrated police force in battle against white supremacist paramilitaries. But there are no statues of Longstreet in New Orleans.* Lee was devoted to defending the principle of white supremacy; Longstreet was not. This, perhaps, is why Lee was placed atop the largest Confederate monument at Gettysburg in 1917, but the 6-foot-2-inch Longstreet had to wait until 1998 to receive a smaller-scale statue hidden in the woods that makes him look like a hobbit riding a donkey. It’s why Lee is remembered as a hero, and Longstreet is remembered as a disgrace."

I laughed out loud at the hobbit crack.
 

Tailor Pete

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And yet none in the slaveholding states believed such of Lincoln or "Black Republicans" after the 1860 election, and even before it. They were without doubt that slavery would not be secure under Lincoln and his Republican administration.
@unionblue, I couldn't agree more. His fellow politicians knew Lincoln was an adept politician, and politicians are quick to modify their views as conditions require...

However, the 1860 election was a unique case. Many felt Lincoln would become a puppet of the relatively new Republican Party, a party that featured abolition as a platform ideal. The fact that he resisted ANY form of abolition declaration demonstrates that his political survival was an important factor in his early war decisions.
 

unionblue

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Lincoln understood that it was a "fit and necessary war measure" that would greatly damage the Confederate war efforts. It was that, far more than any moral impulse, that motivated him. With no war, he'd have been as willing to wait as Lee was.
And yet none in the slaveholding states believed such of Lincoln or "Black Republicans" after the 1860 election, and even before it. They were without doubt that slavery would not be secure under Lincoln and his Republican administration.
@unionblue, I couldn't agree more. His fellow politicians knew Lincoln was an adept politician, and politicians are quick to modify their views as conditions require...

However, the 1860 election was a unique case. Many felt Lincoln would become a puppet of the relatively new Republican Party, a party that featured abolition as a platform ideal. The fact that he resisted ANY form of abolition declaration demonstrates that his political survival was an important factor in his early war decisions.
@Tailor Pete ,

I really don't see your above statement is an agreement with my own posted at the second from the top of this reply to @Andersonh1 post..

What I get from your "agreement" is that Lincoln was a crafty politician who would change directions in whatever political wind was blowing at the time.

This was NOT what I was getting at when I answered @Andersonh1 post. He gave the impression Lincoln would have went along with slavery and left it alone if not for the war. My answer was that even the Southerners of the time did not think such. They were definately afraid slavery would not be secure under Lincoln and his admisistration, hence the reason for their secession. And I recall that the slaveholding South earlier than 1860 had promised secession if ANY Republican candidate, they would leave the Union.

I hope I have been more clear in my meaning.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
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jackt62

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Lincoln understood that it was a "fit and necessary war measure" that would greatly damage the Confederate war efforts. It was that, far more than any moral impulse, that motivated him. With no war, he'd have been as willing to wait as Lee was.
I must respectfully disagree. Lincoln's abhorrence of slavery was of long standing. He did modify his negative racial views as the war progressed, and, which early on were clearly biased against African Americans. Nevertheless, he was clearly opposed to enslavement from early days and his use of the EP as a war measure was the only practical means that Lincoln had to attack that institution at that time. I know that some folks will point to his response to Horace Greeley about keeping slavery if the union could be preserved, but he was using that comparison to reinforce the goverment's war aim in 1861-1862, which was all about ending the secessionist rebellion, rather than abolishing slavery. The expansion of war aims to included emancipation came in time.
 

Tailor Pete

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@Tailor Pete ,

I really don't see your above statement is an agreement with my own posted at the second from the top of this reply to @Andersonh1 post..

What I get from your "agreement" is that Lincoln was a crafty politician who would change directions in whatever political wind was blowing at the time.

This was NOT what I was getting at when I answered @Andersonh1 post. He gave the impression Lincoln would have went along with slavery and left it alone if not for the war. My answer was that even the Southerners of the time did not think such. They were definately afraid slavery would not be secure under Lincoln and his admisistration, hence the reason for their secession. And I recall that the slaveholding South earlier than 1860 had promised secession if ANY Republican candidate, they would leave the Union.

I hope I have been more clear in my meaning.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
Where I was in agreeance was in the Cotton States belief that a Lincoln administration was a threat to their economic peculiarity, namely, slavery.
How that threat was to ultimately play out is where we disagree.

Lincoln had ample opportunity to put an end to slavery early in his tenure, but his decision to wait was clearly motivated by political survival. He needed support from the more timid legislators in Washington, so he had to play the 'game' as it were.

Once conditions were favorable, he turned up the heat on the rebellious states, NOT because we was a waffler, but because it had always been the right thing to do, though the time wasn't conducive any earlier.

This has led a great many to contend Lincoln was a reluctant abolitionist, which he was not. He WAS a shrewd politician, and was probably the ONLY Ieader of national stature at the time, capable of leading our Nation through this Civil Morass.

As far as Lincoln the Puppet goes, there WERE a great many, early on, who assumed he would allow his party to direct his actions. I contend that this was a primary reason for the Cotton States' decision to secede when they did... a miscalculated attempt to force Buchanan to the bargaining table before the Republican forced them into economic ruin (not my opinion, but seemingly the opinion of the Deep South at that time.)

I'm sorry for the confusion, and hope too, that my position is a bit more clear.
 

unionblue

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Where I was in agreeance was in the Cotton States belief that a Lincoln administration was a threat to their economic peculiarity, namely, slavery.
How that threat was to ultimately play out is where we disagree.

Lincoln had ample opportunity to put an end to slavery early in his tenure, but his decision to wait was clearly motivated by political survival. He needed support from the more timid legislators in Washington, so he had to play the 'game' as it were.

Once conditions were favorable, he turned up the heat on the rebellious states, NOT because we was a waffler, but because it had always been the right thing to do, though the time wasn't conducive any earlier.

This has led a great many to contend Lincoln was a reluctant abolitionist, which he was not. He WAS a shrewd politician, and was probably the ONLY Ieader of national stature at the time, capable of leading our Nation through this Civil Morass.

As far as Lincoln the Puppet goes, there WERE a great many, early on, who assumed he would allow his party to direct his actions. I contend that this was a primary reason for the Cotton States' decision to secede when they did... a miscalculated attempt to force Buchanan to the bargaining table before the Republican forced them into economic ruin (not my opinion, but seemingly the opinion of the Deep South at that time.)

I'm sorry for the confusion, and hope too, that my position is a bit more clear.
@Tailor Pete ,

MUCH more clear and thank you for taking the time to explain it to me in more detail.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
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