From: "William Flax" <>
    Date: January 20, 2009 2:31:19 PM EST

    Yesterday, I posted a brief note on the noble life of Robert E. Lee, in recognition of the 202nd anniversary of his birth.  It did not call for any comment.  It was a note of tribute, but also one of admiration for Lee as a true role model for Americans, down through the generations.  Anyone who did not see Lee as a role model need not have made any comment.  Yet, it seems, some felt contrained to.

    The first suggested that Lee had chosen the "morally wrong" side of a conflict.  Another called him a "traitor," and suggested that he should have been prosecuted.  Yet another declared that the States had no rights that the Federal Government denied!  Another suggested that the tragic war of the 1860s was "all about" slavery, and cited a well known poet (!), for that bit of historic misinterpretation.  Of course, there were others who chimed in in defense of General Lee, with good and valid points.  But my purpose here, is simply to point out the depth of the errors, represented by Lee’s detractors.  My motive, to try to offer a bit of enlightenment in an era, when so many academics and media personalities expound an absurdly simplistic view of our history and institutions–a view which focuses on the "trees," rather than the "forest," yet, even sadder to say, "trees" that never really existed.

    1.  While, one must recognize that there would be an, individually important, moral debate to resolve in the case of one in Lee’s position at the start of 1861; there is no basis for anyone to conclude that he chose the "morally wrong" side of what was to come.  There was nothing in  the Constitution, nor in Virginia’s ratification of that Constitution, that required permanent adherence to the Federal Government; nothing in 1861, which required Lee, or any other Virginian, to put loyalty to the Federal Institution ahead of loyalty to his own political society, one already two centuries old at the time of his birth, only 18 years after that Federal institution commenced operations.  The poster, evidently, concluded that anyone who would have disagreed with the choice the poster might have made, in Lee’s circumstances, was "morally wrong"; but that hardly makes a point to anyone less subjective.

    2.  America is a Union of States.  In 1861, one could only be an American by virtue of being a citizen of one of those States.  It is foolish–downright silly–to suggest that someone who rises to defend his State, when faced with a Federal invasion, is a "traitor."  While there was–and still is–a question as to which loyalty should have priority, let us not "beg the question" by aspersing the character of a man who made the chronologically more rational choice.  Whatever loyalty one may owe to the Federal Government–the Federal Institution;–there is no reason offered why that should terminate one’s loyalty to one’s own State–to one’s neighbors, with whom one’s fathers shared a common history through the generations.  As for trying General Lee for "treason?!"  While the vicious radical Reconstructionists might well have sought so outrageous a show trial–after all, some of them were avowed sympathizers with Karl Marx and the early Communists–they dared not actually attempt it.  General Grant had extended his personal protection to Lee & the Officers of the Army of Northern Virginia, men whom he personally honored even in his victory over them, and had left no doubt that he would have intervened in the event of any such persecution.

    3.  As for the war being only about slavery?  Lee’s own history gives the lie to that.  Lee had, much earlier, freed the Lee family slaves.  While slavery was a factor on the Northern side, the Abolitionist minority seeking to supplant the Constitutional guarantees with its own extra-legal agenda, that hardly defined Robert E. Lee’s sense of duty.  If there was anything morally reprehensible, it was the idea, on the part of the Abolitionists, that they could redo Constitutional bargains, unilaterally, because of  a unilateral change in their attitude.  That is not how contract or compact law is determined.  That is not how anyone with even a modicum of honor behaves.  Let one’s response to that notion, be as forthright as was Senator Daniel Webster’s in 1850, who even though he was one of those who did put Federal loyalty first–as well as a lifelong foe & eloquent critic of slavery–understood the fundamental wrong that the Abolitionists sought to wreak on the Southern States:

    And speaking of fundamental wrongs, let all who are interested, consider the fundamental outrage that the Reconstructionists and their revivalists in the 20th Century, have wreaked on the American Negro–supposedly the intended beneficiary of their unconstitutional forays:

    Robert E. Lee represented the very morality, honor & integrity, that his detractors have always lacked.

    William Flax
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    January 20, 2009