Did Robert E. Lee Whip Slaves?

(November 25, 2020) Notwithstanding currently popular interpretations there is no convincing evidence that Robert E. Lee ever whipped slaves. The argument that he ordered the flogging of three runaways in 1859 took on a new life after Elizabeth Brown Pryor published Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters in 2007. Contrary to her implications, she provides no new evidence regarding accusations made by runaway slave Wesley Norris, which were first publicized in 1859 by two anonymous letters to The New York Tribune and later in an 1866 article obtained “from the lips of Wesley Norris” also in The New York Tribune. 

Lee owned no slaves at the time but after his father-in-law died in 1857 he became executor of the estate that included two hundred slaves at three Virginia locations: Arlington House, Romancoke and White House Plantation. Although the will stipulated that the slaves were to be freed, it also gave Lee up to five years to release them, partly to comply with Virginia law that required they not be let loose into vagrancy.  The properties were also in debt, unprofitable and needed repairs. Finally the will required that Lee’s daughters be given legacies of $10,000 each, which meant that the properties either become profitable or sold in order to raise the cash. Lee decided to work the properties before freeing the slaves. Since there were far more slaves than required at Arlington House, he rented some out. As events transpired, Lee complied with the five year limit in December 1862 when he freed the slaves.

As might be expected, the slaves had misunderstood that they were to be freed immediately based upon alleged conversations with Lee’s father-in-law before he died. In response, Lee pointed critics to the court documents that revealed the five year limit. Nonetheless, Wesley Norris and a few other Arlington slaves set out for Pennsylvania where they hoped to live as presumptive free blacks. All were caught and returned. Norris left with his sister Mary and their cousin,  George Parks. When the three were recaptured, Norris claimed that all were whipped.

Notwithstanding that Lee denied the incident, author Pryor believed Norris’s story because she said there were five witnesses and other particulars of the narrative “ring true.” In reality, there were no witnesses. The five that Pryor implies were really just the two anonymous 1859 letters in The Tribune and anonymous versions of Norris’s 1866 Tribune article in other newspapers. The remaining particulars that Pryor feels validate the story involve Norris’a location at various times. The fact that Norris was recaptured and returned to Arlington on the date that he alleges the whipping occurred, for example, is no proof of an actual whipping. Finally, it should be noted that The Tribune was a newspaper with a long history of abolitionism.

In truth, there’s better evidence that Lee believed slaves should be well treated. The following excerpted letter suggests that he had friendly relations with the Arlington slaves. After the Civil War Lee was required to testify before a Senate committee in February 1866. While in Washington, one of the former Arlington slaves stopped by his hotel while he was out. The visitor was Amanda Parks, the sister of George Parks. If George had been whipped under Lee’s supervision in 1859 it seems unlikely that Amanda would want to visit with him. When Lee returned to his Lexington home he wrote Amanda as follows:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, March 9, 1866.

AMANDA PARKS.

I have received your letter of February 27th and regret very much that I did not see you when I was in Washington. I heard on returning to my room, Sunday night, that you had been to see me; and I was sorry to have missed you, for I wished to learn how you were, and how all the people from Arlington were getting on in the world. My interest in them is as great now as it ever was, and I sincerely wish for their happiness and prosperity. . .

I do not know why you should ask if I am angry with you. I am not aware of your having done anything to give me offense, and I hope you would not say or do anything that was wrong. While you lived at Arlington you behaved very well, and were attentive and faithful to your duties. I hope you will always conduct yourself in the same manner.

Wishing you health, happiness, and success in life, I am truly,

R. E. LEE.

Additionally, while he was working the properties he advised Robert, Jr. how to manage the Romancoke slaves:”attend to them and give them every aid and comfort in your power and they will be happier.” After lamenting a fire at a neighbor’s place, Lee counseled, “I trust you will so gain the affection of your people that they will not wish to do you harm.” Earlier, as a young man, after he inherited slaves from his mother Lee took one with him on duty to Savannah. It was an elderly personal servant in ill health who it was thought would do better in a warmer climate. He eventually died while Lee was on duty and is buried along the Savanah River.

In short, Pryor’s book appears to be an agenda-driven smear of Robert E. Lee disguised as a breakthrough study of previously undisclosed letters of kept private by the Lee family. In an era when The New York Times wins a Pulitzer Prize for “The 1619 Project,” it’s not surprising that Pryor won the $50,000 Lincoln Prize for her book.

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Readers can order signed copies of my new book, Causes of the Civil War, for $25. They may be purchased with credit card, PayPal, or check. If you’d like a copy email me: phil_leigh(AT)me.com. I will pay for shipping. Please provide your postal address. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon for $22.

Visit my Amazon Author Page to see the rest of my books.

Robert E. Lee Prewitt

(November 22, 2020) Prewitt is a fictional character in From Here to Eternity, which was James Jones’s debut novel. It won the National Book Award for fiction in 1951, was released as a movie two years later and broadcast as a TV mini-series in 1979. Like author Jones, at age 17 Prewitt joined America’s volunteer Army during the Great Depression and happened to be stationed on Oahu as an infantryman when the Japanese attacked in December 1941. Jones was from downstate Illinois whereas Prewitt was from Appalachia.

Although poor and uneducated, Prewitt repeatedly demonstrated admirable character. Before he transferred to Hawaii he had blinded a boxing opponent and resolved to never again box competitively. On principle he refused to volunteer for the new company’s boxing team despite steady abuse from team members that was instigated by the company’s commander who could advance his rank with a good team. Against the odds Prew also took revenge against a bullying stockade guard who had tormented one of his friends into madness and suicide.

Prew gradually won the heart of a beautiful girl, Lorene, who had initially rejected him because of his low social and economic status. Although Lorene wanted to return to the mainland financially independent from money made off of her beauty, she came to see the greater value in sharing her life with a man of Prewitt’s character.  She was ready to put her trust in the future with Prewitt when the Japanese attack changed everything. Prewitt realized that his military obligation must put their relationship on “hold” while Lorene was too afraid of losing the love she at last realized she had always wanted. Prewitt left her to rejoin his unit where he was killed by friendly fire the next day.

Shortly thereafter Lorene boarded a ship for the mainland. Another woman, Karen, who was similarly leaving an Army lover behind noticed a pretty girl among the forlorn tableau of women at the ship’s railing when it passed Diamond Head. Karen’s lover was a Master Sergeant who had been on friendly terms with Prewitt. He had shared the story of Prew’s death with Karen shortly before she left. Here is author Jones’s excerpted and edited description:

Karen had noticed the girl before. She looked remarkably like Hedy Lamarr. Watching her was like being in an art gallery.

“No one would know there was a war, from out here,” the girl said. I can almost see where I worked from here.”

“Where did you work?”

“American Factors,” said the girl. “I was a private secretary.”

“I should think that would have been a position to have hung onto.”

“It was, but I couldn’t stay. . . You see my fiancé was killed on December 7th.”

“Oh, I am sorry.”

“We were planning to be married next month,” said the girl. “He was shipped over here a year ago. I came over afterwards and took a job, so I could be near him. We were both saving our money. We were going to buy a little place up above Kaimuki”

Karen thought, It was these young people, like this couple, and their courage and their levelheadedness, unsung, unknown and unheroized, that were making this country the great thing it was, that made the winning of the war a foregone conclusion. 

“He was a pilot, stationed at Hickam Field,” said the girl. “He tried to taxi his plane off the apron and down to the revetments. They made a direct hit on it. Maybe you read about it in the papers?”

“No,” said Kaen, “I didn’t.”

“They awarded him the Silver Star and sent it to his mother. She wrote me that she wanted me to have it.”

“I think that is very fine of her,” said Karen.

“They are very fine people,” smiled the girl tremulously. “He comes from an old Virginia family, The Prewitt’s. They’ve lived there since before the Revolution. His great-grandfather was a General under Lee in the Civil War. That’s who he was named after: Robert E. Lee Prewitt.”

“Who?” Karen said numbly.

“Robert E. Lee Prewitt,” answered the girl on the verge of tears. “Isn’t that a silly old name?”

“No,” Karen said. “I think it’s a fine name.”

Yes. A fine name. A name that Karen realized helped to shape the people who won World War II and helped make this country a destination that attracts countless immigrants.

  

Keep Lee in Washington and Lee University

(November 15, 2020) This past summer a Washington & Lee journalism Professor wrote an article for The Nation urging that her school drop the Lee name because he was “a man who acted dishonorably throughout his life.” Such an overstatement may be dismissed by equally exaggerated interpretations from the opposite perspective in order to emphasize the hyperbole. The first paragraph of The Nation article complains of the symbols in the campus chapel that reek “of the lies of the Lost Cause myth” and are amplified by the “enduring stench” that comes from the buried “bones of the slave-owning Lee family.”

By turning the tables one might want to honor the chapel with the Lee name for containing the bones of the slave-emancipating Lee family. The General freed the few slaves he owned personally several years before the Civil War began, according to son Robert, Jr. During most of his prior life Lee was on military duty and had little use for slaves. Simultaneously, his wife had access to all the servants she needed from her father, George Custis, who owned over a hundred slaves. Lee’s slaveholding situation prior to the War was much like that of Ulysses Grant who worked the slaves owned by his father-in-law and owned at least one personally for a time. By the end of 1862, however, the Lee family apparently did not own any slaves. The last had been set free more than two years before the war ended, which was not true of Grant’s family. Similarly, the South’s reverence for Lee was not a myth that emerged after the Civil War as implied by the Lost Cause allusion. No commander, North or South, was more beloved by his troops during the war than was Robert E. Lee.

Consider the prof’s accusation that Lee’s postbellum reputation as a “proponent of reconciliation between North and South” is a product of “revisionist history and an effective PR machine.” That’s a stretch requiring a bungee cord.  Only four months after he surrendered his army, he wrote Washington College to accept their offer to make him President as follows:

I think it the duty of every citizen in the present condition of the country to do all in his power to aid the restoration of peace and harmony, and in no way to oppose the policy of the state or general [Federal] governments, directed to that object. It is particularly incumbent on those charged with the instruction of the young, to set them an example of submission to authority.

The prof follows by condemning Lee’s sin of fighting for a nation whose goal was to promote slavery. That accusation is an absurdity for two reasons. First, Lee made it clear that his first loyalty was to Virginia, not to her status as a slaveholding state. Second, like the other three states of the upper-South, Virginia did not secede to promote slavery. She seceded only after President Lincoln started organizing an army to coerce the seven states of the lower South back into the Union against their will. Virginia had warned Lincoln that she believed coercion to be unconstitutional and would fight to prevent it. Seventy-three years earlier when they ratified the U.S. Constitution, Virginians pointedly reserved the right to withdraw from the new government “whenever the powers granted unto it should be perverted to their injury or oppression.”

Next the prof adds that W&L must drop the Lee name “as people rise up around the world to protest institutional racism.” I don’t contest the incidents of lawless uprisings and vandalism, but I require that she prove her premise of institutional racism in America. More blacks voted against the Democrats in the past election than ever, notwithstanding that Party’s pledge to fight so-called systemic racism. It is hard for America to have systemic racism when her institutions, such as academia, the media, Hollywood, Big Tech, the Deep State and even Corporate America endorse BLM and so-called Diversity of gender and skin color agendas. Meanwhile the diversity of thought is practically non-existent as evidenced by campus censorship of speakers who will defend Robert E. Lee. In fact, the only legally sanctioned racism in America today is affirmative action which favors blacks over other minorities such as Asians and Ashkenazi Jews, among others. Although there will always be racists among us, systemic racism is extinct or a mere vestige.

The journalist follows with an accusation that Lee does not merit his reputation as an educator. She instead attributes W&L’s reputation to “the thousands of faculty, students and staff” who followed him. She ignores the contributions from generations of Confederate veterans, their descendants and others who endorse W&L’s traditional values including those planted and nurtured by General Lee. He even started the journalism school where she is employed. What is lacking is not Lee’s contributions, but the professor’s gratitude.

Lee’s name should also be dropped, she argues, because he was a traitor as well as a racist. In truth, he was never convicted of treason and even Confederate-hostile historian Allen Guelzo (who will be speaking at W&L in January) admits that Lee would likely have won his day in court based upon a defense of being a Virginian first and American second. As for racism, consider that prominent Northerners such as Abraham Lincoln were racist by today’s standards based upon a number of quotes including one during the 1858 Lincoln Douglas Debates: “ I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about the social and political equality of the white and black races. . . And inasmuch as . . . there must be the position of superior to inferior . . . I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Eventually the prof fabricates a straw man by observing that Lee did not originate W&L’s honor system. Like nearly all schools, Washington College had an honor system before Lee arrived, but the General transformed it by giving the students ownership of the pledge. The impact is reflected in his answer to a freshman student who asked that he provide a list of rules for students. Lee responded, “We have but one rule here and it is that every student must be gentlemen.” Encompassed in that solitary statement is the implication that the students must be beyond courteous; they must never lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate anyone who does.

She next accuses Lee of panicking when he applied for amnesty in June 1865 under the terms announced by President Andrew Johnson. She asserts that Lee’s application was a petrified response to a treason indictment. Although he first verified with General Grant that the Appomattox surrender terms were intended to exempt him from government persecution, the journalist implies that Lee was using a good-old-boys network to evade conviction because both Grant and Lee were West Point graduates. In reality, Lee wanted to set an example of reconciliation for other Confederate soldiers as exemplified in the following story:

Amnesty required a new allegiance oath. Friction resulted from efforts to ram the oath down everybody’s throat at once. Captain George Wise was called before the Provost to take the oath.

“Why must I take it?” he asked. “My parole covers the ground. I will not.”

“You fought under General Lee, did you not?”

“Yes. And surrendered with him and gave my parole. To require this oath of me is to put an indignity upon me and my general.”

“I will make a bargain with you, Captain. Consult General Lee and abide by his decision.”

The Captain went to the Lee residence and told the General, “They want me to take this thing, General,” extending a copy of the oath. “My parole covers it, and I do not think it should be required of me. What would you advise?”

“I advise you to take it,” said Lee quietly. “It is absurd that it should be required of my soldiers, for, as you say, [General Grant’s Appomattox parole] covers it. Nevertheless, take it, I should say.”

“General, I feel that this is submission to an indignity. If I must continue to swear the same thing over at every street corner, I will seek another country where I can at least preserve my self-respect.”

After a moment’s silence General Lee said quietly, “Do not leave Virginia. Our country needs her young men now.”

When the Captain told his father, Henry A. Wise, that he had taken the oath, the ex-governor shouted: “You have disgraced the family!”

“But, General Lee advised me to do it.”

“Oh, that alters the case. Whatever General Lee says is all right, I don’t care what it is.”

Beyond the Wise story, however, Lee demonstrated his courage when prosecutors were preparing a treason case (never tried) against Confederate President Jefferson Davis. When questioning the General they asked a series of questions that attempted to get Lee to admit that his actions were taken at the bidding of President Davis. Even though the prosecutors were hinting that it might immunize him from prosecution, Lee declined to take the bait. He replied, “I am responsible for what I did, and I cannot now recall any important movement I made which I would not have made had I acted entirely on my own responsibility.”

Finally, consider a thought experiment developed by a Princeton professor. According to Law Professor Robert George, nearly all his students declare that they would have been abolitionists had they lived in the South in the late 1850s. But he shows that only the tiniest fraction of them, or any of us, would have spoken out against slavery, or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them—and us—would have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and happily benefitted from it.

He tells the students that he will credit their abolitionist claims if they can show that in leading their present lives they have stood up for the rights of unpopular victims of injustice and where they have done so knowing:

  1. They would be loathed and ridiculed by powerful individuals and institutions in our society and;
  2. They would be abandoned by many of their friends and;
  3. They would be shouted down with vile names and;
  4. They would be denied valuable professional opportunities as a result of their moral witnessing and;
  5. They might even lose their jobs after such witnessing.

In short, he challenged the students to show where they have—at risk to themselves and their futures—stood up for a cause that is unpopular within the elite sectors of today’s society. It’s a revealing challenge to students but would be even more illuminating if applied academic historians and journalists. It evokes the ancient wisdom, “Courage is the rarest of virtues.”

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Readers can order signed copies of my new book, Causes of the Civil War, for $25. They may be purchased with credit card, PayPal, or check. If you’d like a copy email me: phil_leigh(AT)me.com. I will pay for shipping. Please provide your postal address. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon for $22.

Visit my Amazon Author Page to see the rest of my books.

Trump TV and W&L

(November 11, 2020) If Trump officially loses the election on the day the electoral votes are counted, he may want to start a new career as a TV mogul. Since Fox has abandoned his 70 million voters, there’s a need for a channel with a conservative viewpoint. Moreover, the Internet is ripe to become the new medium. Cable TV growth is as dead as General Custer. New Media will progressively rise from the Internet. One of the best examples is The Daily Wire, which promotes traditional values instead of Identity Politics and government dependency.

One place where such values are threatened is Washington & Lee University. The usual suspects want to remove Lee from the name. But there’s a group of alumni who are fighting back. If you want to keep the Lee name in W&L, visit the website for The Generals Redoubt.

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Readers can order signed copies of my new book, Causes of the Civil War, for $25. They may be purchased with credit card, PayPal, or check. If you’d like a copy email me: phil_leigh(AT)me.com. I will pay for shipping. Please provide your postal address. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon for $22.

Visit my Amazon Author Page to see the rest of my books.

Can Biden Stack the Supreme Court?

(November 10, 2020) If Biden is President it will depend upon what happens in the Georgia runoff elections for the Senate assuming that Republicans hold their leads in Alaska and North Carolina. If so the pre-runoff statistics would be:

50 Republicans
46 Democrats
2 Independents

If the two Georgia seats go to the Democrats and the Independents side with the Democrats, then a vote on stacking the Court could end up at 50-to-50 thereby giving the deciding vote to Kamala Harris as the Vice President.

A study of the Reconstruction period reveals the dangers of one-Party control. As this video explains, during the earlier era the Congressional Republicans were so strong that they overrode nearly all of President Andrew Johnson’s vetoes and even cowed the Supreme Court. If the Democrats gain the Presidency, as it seems they will, and they win the Georgia seats, they could attempt to stack the Supreme Court in order to gain control of all three branches of the Federal government thereby overriding the checks-and-balances architecture of the Constitution.

 

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Readers can order signed copies of my new book, Causes of the Civil War, for $25. They may be purchased with credit card, PayPal, or check. If you’d like a copy email me: phil_leigh(AT)me.com. I will pay for shipping. Please provide your postal address. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon for $22.

Visit my Amazon Author Page to see the rest of my books.

Lincoln’s Dubious 1864 Re-Election

(November 8, 2020) On 22 August the Washington Post published an article explaining how Democrats cheated President Lincoln in his 1864 re-election by stuffing votes against him among the soldier absentee ballots. Significantly, however, the New York Times published an article six years ago describing how it was Lincoln and his War Secretary who were the more effective manipulators of the 1864 solider vote.

Before The Post published their article they should have investigated enough to see that the so-called official returns gave Lincoln nearly 80% of the soldier vote. Evidently the Democrat ballot stuffing didn’t work, or the Republicans did a better job of it.

Today’s video investigates how Lincoln won such a big percentage of the solider vote while garnering only 55% of the total popular vote. It turns out that even the The New York Times readers of six years ago conceded in their online comments that ballot stuffing and election corruption has been a long American tradition.

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Readers can order signed copies of my new book, Causes of the Civil War, for $25. They may be purchased with credit card, PayPal, or check. If you’d like a copy email me: phil_leigh(AT)me.com. I will pay for shipping. Please provide your postal address. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon for $22.

Visit my Amazon Author Page to see the rest of my books.