The Perpetuation Of Slavery

January 21, 2007

Once again we have a person (or group) fingered for having a hand in the "perpetuation of slavery," or "fighting to keep blacks in bondage." This time it is the famous General Robert E. Lee whose 200th birthday was celebrated in North Carolina on January 19th. The usual suspects raised the hue and cry, and as usual, without a shred of historical documentation or evidence to prove or substantiate their claims.

First, Lee is still a revered figure of American history who was descended from a father who fought in the Revolutionary War. He served ably in the US Army after graduating from West Point in 1829, and without a single demerit which is somewhat of a miracle in itself. He served on the plains, in the Mexican War, was superintendent of West Point, and was so well-thought of by 1861 that he was offered command of the army Lincoln was raising (without Congressional sanction) to invade South Carolina.

In a long-forgotten concept of American political liberty handed down from the Founders themselves, Lee declined the offer of command as he rightly understood that the US Constitution gave no authority to the federal government to invade sovereign States, and that to get to South Carolina, that army would need to invade Virginia, his home and "country," first.

As we know, Lee went on to achieve fame fighting against forces three to four times his own strength, and usually winning decisively. No American military leadership since that time has duplicated such ability, and it would be quite interesting today to hear of an American military officer refusing to carry out an unconstitutional order, of which there now seems to be many.

Nonetheless, Lee is now tainted with the claim that he was "fighting to perpetuate slavery" with his patriotic decision to defend his State and country, and his detractors demand no celebration of his birthday, despite it being a legal holiday in North Carolina. Let’s look at some facts that have eluded media scholars.

Lee never owned slaves himself, though as executor of his father-in- law’s estate he had to free 196 slaves within 5 years of his death. This Lee did, freeing all by 1862, and only after he was assured that they could care for themselves. In contrast, the families of Grant and Lincoln would not free their slaves until forced to do so by the 13th Amendment, after the war.Lee’s personal feelings about slavery were centered on Christianity being a moderating influence in settling this question, and that the institution, forced upon the colonies by the British, would end in due time. Clearly, he no more fought to perpetuate this institution than did Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, et al, during the Revolution.

Though detractors of the Confederacy like to point to the small number of black troops (186,000) who wore blue as fighting for their freedom, they were in truth primarily slaves taken from plantations in the South, and then mostly-conscripted in the Northern military as cannon-fodder and to avoid drafting Northern men. At Battery Wagner (the movie "Glory" was based on this battle), the white New York and Pennsylvania troops gladly allowed the black troops to be the first assault wave, for which the latter suffered greatly from musketry and grapeshot. Nearly half of the 600 black mercenaries were dead or wounded after being prodded to attack the nearly-impregnable position of the South Carolinians. In contrast, the remaining 3.8 million blacks, free and slave, either faithfully served in integrated Southern military units fighting to defend their homes and families, or performed an agricultural role to feed the Southern armies. Prior to the war, voluntary emancipation of slaves was common in the South and a large population of free blacks lived and worked alongside whites, with far less discrimination as free blacks endured in the North. In fact, two Virginia plantation owners in particular freed far more slaves before the war than Harriet Tubman allegedly carried northward on her fictitious railroad.

With the war fundamentally changing views toward slavery in the South by 1864, many military leaders were recommending the active recruitment of slaves to replace the South’s battle-dead, though this would disrupt the crop production of farms and plantations.

By early 1865, the Confederate Congress had approved the raising of 300,000 black troops who would be emancipated by their owners first, making it difficult then to claim that Lee, or the South, were fighting to perpetuate slavery any more than the Northern States were. The South was actively freeing slaves, and we must remember, Lincoln’s proclamation only claimed to "free" slaves in areas not under the control of Northern armies-all others remained slaves in the Northern mind.

We can look to the South for the very first all-black fighting unit in the war with the Louisiana Native Guards being mustered into State service in May 1861. This was well before any US Colored Troops appeared. There were 10,000 black soldiers with Stonewall Jackson’s army in the Shenandoah Valley, and black enlisted men were among the North Carolinians who surrendered at Fort Fisher in January 1865. Were they also "fighting to perpetuate slavery?"

It is certainly time to cease the revisionist history and nonsense about the American Confederacy’s alleged responsibility for slavery, and point the finger in the proper direction. Let’s be honest-we can look to the British and the New England States of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York as those to blame for the nefarious traffic in human flesh from Africa, and they purchased their human cargo from the African tribes themselves. We know too that Massachusetts was the first colony to establish slavery, Fanueil Hall and Brown University were constructed on a foundation of slave-trade profits, and as late as 1859, Captain John Newland Maffitt of Wilmington blockade running fame was capturing New England-financed and crewed slavers off the coast of Cuba.

There is your true "perpetuation of slavery," and it becomes very easy to conclude that if anyone, or any group, or any country can be said to have perpetuated slavery in North America, it quite rightly was the African kings, England and New England-not Robert E. Lee or the American Confederacy.

Beyond recognizing the real perpetrators of the slavery which once blighted our country, let’s also take it out of the political arena where race-hustlers and demagogues use it to gain votes the wrong way, or earn a living from guilt-ridden white liberals with more money than common sense. And if we are truly interested in respecting "diversity" as well, let’s show some respect for all American ethnic groups and their respective heritage, symbols and leaders-Robert E. Lee included.

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