My own view is that we should preserve most Confederate memorials out of respect for the common soldiers. We should keep Lee’s name on institutions that reflect postwar service, like Washington and Lee University, where he was president. But we should remove Lee’s name from most schools, roads and other institutions, where the name could be seen as acceptance of what he did and stood for during the war.But even proposing this half-measure pains Brooks, because Lee was such a fine man:
The case for Lee begins with his personal character. It is almost impossible to imagine a finer and more considerate gentleman.Also:
As a general and public figure, he was a man of impeccable honesty, integrity and kindness. As a soldier, he displayed courage from the beginning of his career straight through to the end. Despite his blunders at Gettysburg and elsewhere he was by many accounts the most effective general in the Civil War and maybe in American history. One biographer, Michael Korda, writes, “His generosity of spirit, undiminished by ideological or political differences, and even by the divisive, bloody Civil War, shines through in every letter he writes, and in every conversation of his that was reported or remembered.”
In theory, he opposed slavery, once calling it “a moral and political evil in any country.”Well, yes -- but as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in 2010, that quote, from a letter Lee wrote to his wife in 1856, is the only evidence of Lee's opposition to slavery. What's more, as Coates writes, this is "a highly-selective, Breitbart-style quote that cuts against the context of the larger letter." In the letter, Lee goes on to say of slavery:
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.Or, in Coates's paraphrase:
Shorter Lee: slavery sucks, sure, but it's God's will. It's good for you, too. You're welcome.And as for Lee the "considerate gentleman," the man of "kindness" and "generosity of spirit," well, there's the little matter of his treatment of escaped slaves.
Citing Elizabeth Brown Pryor's book Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters, Coates reminds us that Lee inherited his father-in-law's slaves -- slaves who'd been reasonably well treated. Some of these slaves went on to escape. When they were captured and returned, Lee oversaw brutal whippings, according to firsthand accounts. Lee's admirers dispute these reports -- but Pryor found seven of them and believes they're accurate. One letter, published in an anti-slavery newspaper in 1866, is from one of the whipped slaves. It reads in part:
... we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to "lay it on well," an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.(Emphasis added.)
Oh, but it's "almost impossible to imagine a finer and more considerate gentleman" than Lee, according to Brooks. Plus, he liked having his feet tickled!
As a family man, he was surprisingly relaxed and affectionate. We think of him as a man of marble, but he loved having his kids jump into bed with him and tickle his feet. With his wife’s loving cooperation, he could write witty and even saucy letters to other women. He was devout in his faith, a gifted watercolorist, a lover of animals and a charming conversationalist.So pay no attention to the whippings or the brine.
(Coates link via Alicublog.)