17 January 2014

Happy Lee-Jackson Day From Old Virginia

From a time when our national conscience wasn't infected with political correctness and our sensitivities were much more sensible in regards to American heroes . . .

The exchange below between a critic of Robert E. Lee and President Eisenhower offers perfectly contrasting views on this subject. What makes Eisenhower's response so fascinating to me is who he was at the time he wrote this letter. He was President of the United States and a war hero of the United States Military. But not just any war hero. He had served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during WWII and was also the first Supreme Commander of NATO. No one can doubt Eisenhower's loyalty to the U.S. military, to his country, nor his concept of what defines an American patriot and, conversely, a traitor. His perspective, experience, and position adds much weight, in my view, to the argument that Lee is one of the most honorable and patriotic men to have served his Nation(s). The fact a modern sitting President, 5-Star Army General and war hero would offer such a clear, pointed, and strong defense of a man who waged war against the United States speaks volumes. Also worth noting is Eisenhower's use of the term "War Between the States" and his defense/explanation of secession. Eisenhower would, today, no doubt be labeled a "neo-Confederate" by certain historians and academics. That, too, is something worth contemplating.

Dear Mr. President [Eisenhower]:

    "At the Republican Convention I heard you mention that you have the pictures of four (4) great Americans in your office, and that included in these is a picture of Robert E. Lee.

    I do not understand how any American can include Robert E. Lee as a person to be emulated, and why the President of the United States of America should do so is certainly beyond me.

    The most outstanding thing that Robert E. Lee did was to devote his best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government, and I am sure that you do not say that a person who tries to destroy our Government is worthy of being hailed as one of our heroes.

    Will you please tell me just why you hold him in such high esteem?"

    Sincerely yours,

    Leon W. Scott, DDS
    New Rochelle, NY

Below, and in response to the above letter, President Eisenhower simply explains why Lee is a worthy role model and American patriot worthy of respect and emulation.

    August 9, 1960

    Dear Dr. Scott:

    Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.

    General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.

    From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.

    Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower


ropelight said...

Ike's polite response is as impressively comprehensive as it is brief and to the point.

Dr Scott's inability to understand how any American let alone a US President could admire Robert E Lee stems from his assumption Lee ...devoted his best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government.

But, that isn't an accurate description of General Lee's activities during the war.

Lee wasn't trying to destroy the US Government, on the contrary, Lee's efforts were designed to prevent the US Government from destroying the Confederacy. The North was the aggressor, time after time Northern forces invaded the South and/or blocked Southern seaports.

Most importantly, Scott fails to grasp the fundamentals of how the citizens of free and independent States retain their unalienable rights, yet agree to the creation of a powerful federal government.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights set written limits on federal power but unless central government officials respect the letter and spirit of those restraints States in the minority have no recourse except to submit to federal dictates or to withdraw from the previous association.

The ultimate protection against federal overreach was always secession, till Abraham Lincoln decided to use naked military force to prevent once free and independent States from withdrawing from the Union they founded. Under Lincoln's leadership the federal government turned against many of the States that brought it into being and waged war to prevent them from forming a new Confederation.

Both Lee and Eisenhower could see the deep significance of those essential distinctions, Dr Scott and his ilk are either blind to them or deny their enduring relevance.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Correct Sir. He sounds like a 21st century Civil War blogger with an axe to grind. One can argue about the wisdom of secession and the multiple causes, but there was not any attempt to destroy the US govt. The two nations were at war so, of course, there was an intent to inflict damage, but for the South, only to the point of independence. Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that the U.S. Mint in New Orleans, and one mint in Georgia, were seized by the states in Feb. 1861. This was in addition to arsenals and ports where the tariffs were collected. The logistics of separating the states from the Union would seem rather complicated from this viewpoint.