Robert E. Lee and Distraction Tricks
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
"But it was no allegiance to the Confederacy that he felt ; no sympathy with basic Confederate principles; it was simply loyalty to the proud Old Dominion with which the Lees had for nearly two and a half centuries been associated. Nobody today dreams of questioning Lee’s sincerity, devotion to duty, or nobility of mind."
The Naming Commission has to deal with more assets related to Robert E. Lee than any other Confederate. The nonsense comments regarding other colonels and Lee's imaginary ties to slavery (previously debunked) is only a distraction from the main issue, which is whether Lee served voluntarily. As The Naming Commission does not define "voluntary," does not define "citizen" and does not review the individual circumstances of men like Lee, it has not done its duty as outlined in section 370 of the 2021 NDAA.. The comment by historians like the great Allan Nevins suggest that Lee was bound to his state. So then why did Lee join the Confederate Army? Well, you may be surprised to know this important detail: he didn't.
Robert E. Lee was offered an important command in the Union Army on April 18th, 1861, one day after Virginia's Convention voted to secede. At this point, Virginia was still in the Union because secession needed to be confirmed by the people of Virginia in a popular vote to take place on May 23rd, 1861. Lee's private letters as far back as January 1861 to family reveal that he did not intend to attack his home state, regardless of his feelings against secession:
"Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labour, wisdom & forbearance in its formation & surrounded it with so many guards & securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the confederacy at will....Still a union that can only be maintained by swords & bayonets, & in which strife & civil war are to take the place of brotherly love & kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country, & for the welfare & progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved & the government disrupted, I shall return to my native State & share the miseries of my people & save in her defence will draw my sword on none. Give much love to Charlotte to my dear little son & believe me always your devoted father"
It is important to note that Lee did not take the action of the secession convention as binding on him because the people had to ratify the decision on May 23rd, 1861. How can we be absolutely sure that this was Lee's position? He said it in another letter to his brother on January 20h, 1861:
"I wished to wait till the Ordinance of Secession should be acted on by the people of Virginia but war seems to have commenced, and I am liable at any time to be ordered on duty which I could not conscientiously perform. To save me from such a position, and to prevent the necessity of resigning under orders, I had to act at once, and before I could see you again on the subject, as I had wished. I am now a private citizen, and have no other ambition than to remain at home. Save in defense of my native State, I have no desire ever again to draw my sword. I send you my warmest love."
Lee considered his military career over as of January 20th, 1861. He maintained in multiple letters to family and General Winfield Scott, that he would only fight in defense of his native state.
On April 22nd, 1861, the Governor of his state called upon him to lead the Virginia Military forces. We must repeat: as of April 22nd, 1861 Robert E. Lee took a position in his state militia, which was fully part of the Union, in the eyes of the US President and in the eyes of the State of Virginia. When Lee was introduced to the convention by its President, John Janney, he clearly stated: "I will devote myself to the defense and service of my native state, in whose behalf alone I would ever draw my sword."
On April 25th the State of Virginia made a military alliance with the Confederacy for the defense of the state, which is entirely consistent with Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution that would allow such alliances if the state is in "imminent danger." While Congress did not make any exception for legal actions under section 370, it did say that service in the Confederate Army must be voluntary. While Lee's service was most certainly legal, the only question is when did it become "voluntary." The Naming Commission has multiple members of the military, and they would be as concerned as Lee was on April 20th 1861 with resigning as a protest to an order. What would be the potential penalty for such an action? And if it was to be severe, can his service which was later aligned with the Confederacy still be called "voluntary?" .
The Senator from Virginia, an advocate of secession, James Murray Mason, stated in a letter on May 16th, 1861 that if the people of VA rejected secession, the Virginia Military would be turned over to the Government of the United States (this would mean Robert E. Lee also), and those that refused to serve the United States, may be guilty of treason. Likewise, if the people of Virginia voted for secession on May 23rd, then all those that oppose must leave the State. (see pg. 254 of the Rebellion Record)
Under the command of the state of Virginia and its duly elected political authorities, Lee was required to follow orders. Once again, The Naming Commission needs to answer these questions, and until they do, no asset can legally be renamed and removed with Lee's name if it is just to honor him and not the Confederacy.