Robert E. Lee on Slavery

Truth-seeking versus Intolerant Virtue-signaling

Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807. His birthday passed almost unnoticed this year, although it is still an official holiday in many Southern states and was once observed more widely in the South.

Yet Lee is still one of the most revered military leaders in American history. In fact, Robert E. Lee remains one of the most studied and respected military commanders in world history, although he was ultimately on the losing side.

However, it was Lee’s character over and above his military fame that made him so revered among his soldiers and among the Southern people for many generations.

It is a sad commentary on our present culture to see such manly courage, godly wisdom, and devotion to duty lost to this and future generations.

Following Lee’s death at his home in Lexington, Virginia, on October 12, 1870, former Confederate President Jefferson Davis gave a moving eulogy honoring Lee at a Memorial meeting in Richmond on November 3.

This was probably the largest gathering of Confederate generals and officers since the end of the War. In the course of his speech, he gave this praise of Lee:
“This good citizen, this gallant soldier, this great general, this true patriot, had yet a higher praise than this or these; he was a true Christian.”

John Brown Gordon, Confederate Lieutenant General and later Governor of Georgia and U.S. Senator, said this about Lee:
“Intellectually, he was cast in a giant mold. Naturally he was possessed of strong passions. He loved the excitement of war. He loved grandeur. But all these appetites and powers were brought under the control of his judgment and made subservient to his Christian faith. This made him habitually unselfish and ever willing to sacrifice on the altar of duty and in the service of his fellows…He is an epistle, written of God and designed by God to teach the people of this country that earthly success is not the criterion of merit, not the measure of true greatness.”

Lee had inherited slaves from his father-in-law, but he had freed them all by 1862, as soon as he was sure that each of them had the education training to make their own way in the world.

The true history and nature of American slavery is a taboo subject, fettered by many chains of past and current political correctness. Yet there are few subjects in American history that deserve more scholarly attention and open discussion. Yet we are living in an age of mandatory ignorance, rigid restrictions of thought and speech, and obligatory social and political lies. If there is to be a real and lasting healing among races and regions in America, it must be based on a common recognition and understanding of truth.

In this article, I simply want to quote some of Lee’s letters related to the slavery issue. Some of the quotes may be controversial, but our country desperately needs to discuss rather than shout down controversy. Salem-style hysteria and witch-hunts are cultural and national suicide. The quotes below were taken from Lee’s letter to his wife in December 27, 1856, while in Texas. I have taken the liberty to break his comments into shorter paragraphs for easier reading and comprehension. Some of the grammar is difficult, but I have left it unchanged.

“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any Country, It is useless to expatiate upon its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white than to the black race, and while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter (blacks) my sympathies are more strong for the former (whites). The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically.”

“The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and I hope will prepare and lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known and ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity, than the storms and tempests of fiery Controversy.”

“This influence though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles or our Savior have required nearly two thousand years, to convert but a small part of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the Course of the final abolition of human slavery is onward, and we give it the aid of prayers and all justifiable means in our power, we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who sees the end; who Chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom two thousand years are but a single day.”

Although the Abolitionist must know this, and must See that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means and suasion, and if he means well to the slave, he must not Create angry feelings in the Master; that he may not approve the mode by which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same; that the reasons he gives for interference in what he has no Concern, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbors when we disapprove their Conduct; still, I fear he will persevere in his evil course. Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?”

A few contextual notes are necessary here. In my January 21 article, “Kevin McCarthy and the Party of Lincoln,” I pointed out by several quotes that while Lincoln opposed slavery, he favored “Colonization,” hoping to resettle most blacks in Central America or Africa. Both Lincoln and Lee and most Americans North and South considered the Abolitionists radical and willing to justify ruthless violence to achieve their objectives. Most were Unitarians rather than Christians.

The last two paragraphs below are from Lee’s comments after the War in 1868 as noted in Douglas Southall Freeman’s 1934 multi-volume biography of Lee.

“The idea that the Southern people are hostile to the Negroes and would oppress them, if it were in their power to do so, is entirely unfounded…They still constitute an important part of our laboring population.”

“It is true that the people of the South…are for obvious reasons, inflexibly opposed to any system of laws that would place the political power of the country in the hands of the Negro race. But the opposition springs from no feeling of enmity, but a deep-seated conviction that, at present, the Negroes have neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power. They would inevitably become the victims of demagogues, who, for selfish purposes, would mislead them to the serious injury of the public.”

Although it is obvious from the greater context of Scripture that freedom is usually a better and more desirable condition than slavery, Scripture neither endorses nor condemns slavery, but regulates the conduct of both master and slave in their respect, kindness, and ethical obligations to one another. Neither does the master have a higher status than the slave in God’s perspective.

Slavery as a system, however, is unlikely to maximize human potential and brings with it civic and cultural dangers. It is better to be rid of it. What seems very inappropriate and extremely damaging to civic order and peace is the grandstanding and virtue-signaling that surrounds any discussion of race or slavery. Life would be better for all without political correctness police and puffed up virtue-signalers re-enacting the Salem Witch Trials.

In I Timothy 6: 1-5 (ESV) Paul sends some sound and humbling advice to those who stir up resentments, spew out constant accusations and slander, and are puffed up with their own virtue-signaling self-righteousness.
“Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.

Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil, suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”


Mike Scruggs
Author and Columnist
a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs

Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.

He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.

His viewpoint is unapologetically Christian, conservative, and patriotic. He has been a Republican County Chairman in two Southern states and remains an active participant in church, political, and veterans’ affairs.



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