Not all that long ago, most Southron states honored Lee’s birthday as an official state holiday. That tradition, alas, is now honored more in the breach. The birthday of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr has slowly gained to Lee’s detriment. In solomonic fashion, Mississippi, to its credit celebrates the birthdays of both men on this day. Indeed, all Americans should celebrate his birthday. Unfortunately the quality of spinelessness is preponderant among our political class.
I mean no invidious comparisons to Dr King. Lee himself would not have countenanced anything of the sort were he alive today. He was a deeply Christian man of humble spirit and would have been embarrassed by any adulation directed his way. During his presidency of Washington College (later to become Washington and Lee), he forbad any negative comments against Ulysses S Grant, the Unionist commander to whom he surrendered at Appomatox. Nor would he publish any memoirs, saying that he “would not trade on the blood of his men.” The man was a Christian warrior in the truest sense of the word.
Alas, we live in a day in which mercenary officeholders have no such compunctions. Lee’s life was one of selfless devotion to duty, honor, and country; so much so that I find it hard to find another such character in the annals of Western Civilization. His military exploits were of such caliber that no less a person than Winston Churchill in his book A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, wrote that may have been “one of the greatest captains in history.”
Lee’s was more than military heroism however. There was a moral component as well. His devotion to his friends, his soldiers, and to God was legendary. Some would say that because he was a slave-owner, he could not have been moral. Yet he emancipated his slaves at the outset of the war and more than that, he trained them so that they could make their way as freedmen and women. (More than could be said for the Abolitionists who cared not a whit for the wellbeing of freedmen just as long as they were “free.”) His own views on slavery could be summed up in this letter that he wrote in 1856, some six years before the War Between the States:
“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”
Some may well ask, that if Lee felt this way, then why didn’t he take command of the Union forces when he was asked to by the Secretary of War? The answer to that is simple: he was asked five days after Virginia voted on Secession. “You would ask me to raise my sword against my own State?”
Like Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and scores of other Southron commanders, the hundreds of officers, and myriads of soldiers, the South could not be understood without recourse to a devotion to the Christian faith. Unlike the Yankee Northeast, the abominable heresies of Universalism and Transcendentalism never made their presence known in the South. The mercantilism and industrialism of the North was obvious in contrast. America to this day suffers from an aggressive consumerism made possible by the Unionist defeat of the South –a materialism that gnaws away at our very souls. It was for reasons such as these that the agrarian and traditionalist Europeans sided with the South as did L’Ossevetoro Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican.
That is all water under the bridge however. The question as to whether the various States can secede from the Union (a Union by the way which they created) has been decided by force of arms. As to Lee himself, he never felt any bitterness, again because of his Christian faith: “I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South dearest rights. But I have never cherished them bitter or vindictive feelings, and I have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.”
If we are to survive as a nation, these virtues must again be inculcated. General Robert E Lee has left us the moral blueprint with which to do so.