Robert E. Lee’s plantation home – Arlington Virginia
Ah yes. There is so much going on here in the United States each day it is almost impossible for an old blogger to keep up. Trying to write a post on each incident deserving of comment is simply not practical.
So many fictions, conspiracies, outright lies, misrepresentations, outrageus claims and falsehoods – what to choose, what to choose.
Almost daily a lie from the White House or a claim never proven even though “I have proof!” is regularly pushed to the fore as “evidence.”. The despicable Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands before media representatives and without flinching a face muscle lies directly into the cameras. One big deal this week was that someone characterized her as “a somewhat chunky soccer mom.” One would think the world was ending – calling her a lying sleazebag like her father would have been more appropriate I guess.
A couple of Trump campaign members were indicted this week by Special Counsel Mueller bringing further rage from the WH now pushing to get something, anything through Congress – this time a “tax cut” which will mostly cut taxes for the corporate class and the phenomenally wealthy. Did you expect anything else?
With so much to choose from I’ve decided to go back to General Kelly, WH Chief of Staff and his comments concerning the Civil War and Robert E. Lee last week. The General showed a phenomenal lack of knowledge of American history and of the country he has given his life serving.
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Monday. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state which in 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today.”
The comment was made in the context of the recent disagreements over statues and monuments honoring the Confederacy. Kelly added, “But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had to make their stand.”
Unfortunately General Kelly is flat out wrong.
Slavery was incorporated into the Constitution through the three-fifths Dred-Scott Supreme Court decision and compromise (i.e., allowing slaves to be counted as three-fifths of human beings for taxation and representation purposes in the House ) and was continued, despite fierce opposition by abolitionists, through political compromises in 1820 and 1850, as well as with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
During 49 of the 72 years between 1789 – 1861 the Presidents were Southerners. All of them were slave holders. Two thirds of the Speakers of the House and President pro tem of the Senate were Southerners. At all times prior to1861 the majority of the Supreme Court were of Southern origin. Six of the eight Supreme Court Justices appointed by the Tennessean Andrew Jackson and his hand picked successor were Southerners, including Justice Roger Taney, author of the notorious Dred Scott decision.
Lincoln ran on a platform that declared that slavery would not be allowed to expand into the Western states. He even proposed paying reparations to slave holders – $300 per slave and shipping slaves back to the African continent. No compromise was acceptable to slave holders who had dreams of expansion of slavery.
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. ”
The above quotation is from “A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union ” and is typical and similar of secession documents of other Confederate States,
The Confederacy had dreams of expansion – it wanted Cuba from “the decrepit Spanish monarchy” and two Mexican provinces for plantation expansion as well as vast portions of Central America.
South Carolina railed “the Government itself has been made destructive by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection” in it’s secession document.
Lincoln did not call the North to arms in 1860 to abolish slavery but to save Union. Yet there could be no compromise as Southerners wanted the expansion of slavery and would not accept limitations on its expansion.
So much for compromise General Kelly.
Even after the war, compromise continued. Southern States were readmitted into the Union nd took their seats in Congress with Lincoln asking only 10% of the population of each individual seceding state signed a loyalty oath. The election of Rutherford B. Hayes over the popular vote winner Samuel Tilden and the agreement to withdraw Federal troops from the South opened the door to 100 years of Jim Crow. Compromise with white supremacy in the South when more than half of the population of South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were black and previously enslaved, was how the nation achieved reunion.
Finally, as historian David Blight makes clear in “Race and Reunion,” the romanticized interpretation of the Lost Cause, creating a moral equivalency between the two sides, as well as the proliferation of Civil War monuments honoring the Confederacy, were deliberate efforts by white America to increase its unity and the “unity” of the United States. The romanticized fable of the ante-bellum South continued with “Gone with the Wind” and “Birth of a Nation.” In North Carolina in the 1970’s I had a man say to my face “But my great-grand=pappy’s slaves loved him!”
As for Robert E, Lee his heavy hand at his Arlington plantation, now the national cemetery, nearly caused a slave revolt. His slaves expected to be freed on the death of their former master but Lee fought the will tooth and nail until he lost in the Virginia courts.
When two of his slaves escaped and were recaptured he ordered his overseer to “lay it on well”. Not content wth simply lacerating flesh he had their backs washed in salt and brine. So said one of the slaves, Wesley Norris – “Lee wasn’t content with simply laceration.”
Lee’s army in Pennsylvania routinely captured free blacks and shipped them South to be sold into slavery, all done under his command and under the direction of his officers. Records indicate that virtually every infantry and calvary unit in Lee’s army was involved.
In 1864 soldiers under Lee’s command massacred black Union troops who tried to surrender at the Battle of the Crater. The survivors were paraded through the streets of Petersburg Virginia to the curses and slurs of the populace. Lee never discouraged such behavior. As Richard Slotkin wrote in his “No Quarter – The Battle of the Crater” Lee’s silence was permission.
As for his “conscience” and abandoning his country for his state, General Winfield Scott, born and educated in Virginia did not. He was one of the longest serving Generals in the Army and is ranked by many as the greatest commander of his time. He is unknown to the young who see only statues of Lee.
These were people committed to owning other people – like you own a car or a dog – and were committed to expanding that right to more and more territory.
Now, all of this is known. It is not hidden away in dusty state capitols. There is vast material from records, books and the census available to anyone who wants to know.
And I find it sad indeed that I sit in my home alone in Florida and know this – and that the Chief of Staff in the White House, the former Commander of the United States Marines does not.