The removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee was the flashpoint that brought white supremacists to Charlottesville, Virginia, and reignited a national debate over Confederate monuments. But what do most Americans know about the Confederate general?
Not enough, says George Rasley, editor of Conservative HQ — especially racists want to use Lee as a symbol of white supremacy and liberals want to see him erased from American history. In a Conservative HQ n op-ed titled “Misusing Robert E. Lee,” Rasley argues that both sides in the debate over Lee’s legacy miss that he opposed slavery and helped end the Civil War before it turned into a bloody guerrilla war.
Knowing Lee’s place in history is important, particularly as the left seeks to use him as a symbol of division. Progressives know that Lee has many defenders — and they also know that conservatives who stand up for Lee’s memory can be falsely painted as apologists for slavery and the old order of the Confederacy.
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Yet, few involved in the debate actually know Lee’s complicated history.
Offered a position as the commander of the Union forces, Rasley points out, “Lee refused the command on the grounds that he was a Virginian and owed his first allegiance to the state he believed was a sovereign entity with the right to stay in or leave the Union as it saw fit. He would, he said, not make war on the Union, but he would defend the state of his birth.”
However, when Virginia seceded, the general felt his sympathies residing with his home state. “I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty,” he said.
As for his feelings on slavery, Rasley notes that “(w)hile Lee espused the paternalistic attitudes many Nineteenth Century Americans felt toward Africans, it certainly wasn’t because he believed slavery was just.” In fact, what Lee said about slavery may surprise a number of people who aren’t familiar with Lee’s views on the matter… [CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE]