Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

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PaulaO
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Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby PaulaO » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:58 pm

I am 60 years old, and up until the recent events in Charlottesville, had no interest in the Civil War, other than Gone
With The Wind. I still don't have a whole lot of interest, but I am curious as to REL. Was he a traitor for choosing state over country? I guess technically he was, but I never thought about the issue before all this.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby boots-aregard » Tue Aug 29, 2017 10:59 pm

I don't know much about Lee, granted. And I understand what people mean when they say 'chose state over country' as that was a bigger focus for many at the time.

But we WERE a country at the time, not merely a collection of states. And he could have said no. So, yes, sorry, traitor in my book, even though I understand the leniency practiced toward many from the south after the war was settled.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby Tsavo » Tue Aug 29, 2017 11:19 pm

I don't know about that but I think it's funny how Grant had a horse named "Jeff Davis." LOL

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_h ... _Civil_War

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby Literiding » Wed Aug 30, 2017 4:43 pm

Technically yes, but . . . . . .

From my long ago days as a “History Major,” one of the traps that an academic historian (as opposed to a popular historian) must avoid is trying to interpret and analyze the actions of historical figures with a “modern” mind set. You have to get into the person’s of interest mind based on the attitudes and bigotries of the time they lived rather than using the present “gestalt” we all view the world through. Without falling into the trap of “relativism,” you have to look how the historical figure rose above, or not, compared his or her contemporaries. Also, being on the loosing side of a war ensures that you and your cause are always viewed in the worst way because the victor always re-writes history to glorify their cause.

The Civil War is not a war of great interest to me and my interest is limited to the qualitative difference it has to all the combat that came before because it is the first “modern” technological war. So I tend to focus on the technological advances that made it so different from past wars and how it affected the wars I fought in or surrounded me as I completed my duties as a military officer. My areas of study were the Indian wars of the American West and WWII.

Modern popular thought about the Civil War focuses on slavery. But slavery was but one of the underlying reasons, and the “casus belli” starting the Civil War. The agricultural south tried to secede from the industrialized Union controlled by the states north of the Mason-Dixon Line to protect and control the Southern economy. Slavery is not particularly economically efficient and there are several authors I’ve read long ago that state that American slavery was actually on the decline and would have vanished on it own had it not become a “cause de celebre” of Northern reformers. While the numbers are pretty foggy in my head, relatively few individuals owned even a single slave, I seem to remember that less than 30% of residents of southern states owned one or more slaves. The overwhelming number of slaves were owned by the big land owners such as George Washington. So a relatively few (though very rich) people had a direct interest in the protection of slavery. The real cause of the Civil War was a long standing economic difference with the Northern states and the fact that all the major financial institutions were located in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Other than relatively small home grown banking institutions in Charleston and Savannah, money came from the North. As a result, most of the southern debt was held by Northerners. Being beholding to people far away and not particularly interested in southern things except as a source of income led to long standing regional differences. The Wikipedia article on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 gives a good summary the regional differences and the economic reasons that the “Union” was rather fragile and had deep seated differences:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitut ... ted_States)

As you can see, the relative strengths of the Federal Government as compared to the state’s government has been a long standing friction between the North and the South. These differences affected everything the 13 colonies tried to coordinate almost from the earliest days of being English colonies. The Constitution that was adopted favored the Southern view of a weak Federal Government. But though time, the concept of a strong Federal government became increasingly part of the dialogue of the parties and individual politicians. That was strongly opposed by others and eventually reached a point that compromise was no longer possible. The Civil War forever ended the debate in favor of the strong Federal government.

If you want a brief history of the North verses South, look up the histories of the various political parties starting with the Federalists. You’ll need to take notes because political positions flipped several times though the 1800s. As you read through the various histories you’ll find strong opinions and equally strong opposing views.

Robert E. Lee was perhaps a patriot for defending the concept of a strong regional government as was originally stated by the Constitution but he had the unfortunate luck to be on the loosing side of the resulting war so therefore is a traitor.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby heddylamar » Fri Sep 01, 2017 3:11 am

Lee was opposed to breaking up the Union, but then went on to fight for his state.

I don't know how to reconcile that for myself. Many well respected historians struggle (Foner, Blight, among others) with the issue too.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby khall » Fri Sep 01, 2017 12:53 pm

literiding, slavery absolutely was the main reason why the southern states seceded from the Union.

https://www.civilwar.org/learn/articles ... -secession

https://www.civilwar.org/learn/primary- ... ing-states

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone_Speech



Quote from wikipedia re Casus belli:
American Civil War[edit]
While slavery was the long term cause of the American Civil War, the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter (April 12–14, 1861) served as casus belli[7] for igniting the deadliest war in American history.

I am born and raised in the south, have ancestors that owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy. Please do not try to rewrite history when all anyone has to do is to read the actual words of the states and their leaders as to why the states seceded and a Civil War was fought.

This is why there is such an uproar over the statues that were erected in honor of the Confederacy, which was formed because the people of those states wanted to own slaves. Not to mention many of those statues were erected years after the Civil War during the height of Jim Crow laws, designed to keep the African Americans as second class citizens.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby Literiding » Fri Sep 01, 2017 4:52 pm

I don’t think our positions are all that different, just we’re operating on different levels of understanding. In the beginning of my post, I mentioned there is a difference between popular history and academic history. Popular history is content to get the events in proper chronological sequence and establish their relative importance. Academic history tries (and doesn’t always succeed) to understand the reason why the events occurred and caused their importance.

As I stated, I’m no expert nor do I care to become one on the fundamental causes of the Civil War. The U.S. Civil War was an ugly war for an ugly reason, more so than most. But having been trained long ago as a military historian, I tend to focus on causes rather than events.

My primary reference about the nature of American slavery is Kenneth M. Stamp’s “The Peculiar Institution.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_M._Stampp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Peculiar_Institution

Now I must admit is been a very long time ago that I read this book from cover to cover for a college post grad history class — so long ago that 440 page academic paperback only cost me $1.95. (I took the course a little over 50 years ago <sigh - where has the time gone!!!>). But reviewing the parts I remembered and used in my original posting, I have remembered quite well to my own surprise.

Nearly three-fourths of all free Southerners had no connection with slavery through either family ties or direct ownership. The “typical” Southerner was not only a small farmer but also a nonslaveholder. (Sic)
Page 30.

But that statement is in general and does not apply to all parts of the South. So depending on location, your knowledge may be more correct.

Regarding “Cases belli” I may have a bit too generous in viewing “The Peculiar Institution” as, “an event or action that justifies or allegedly justifies war or conflict.” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary — the book kind). So perhaps we are both viewing the institution of slavery as the cause for the U.S. Civil War.

The biggest difference in our view points is that I am looking at slavery as part of an economic system. Why did people in the South have slaves? To gain access to their labor, as Mr. Stampp stated in his book:

The use of slaves in southern agriculture was a deliberate choice (among several alternatives) made by men who sought greater returns than they could obtain from their own labor alone, and who found other types of labor more expensive. “For what purpose does the master hold the servant?” Asked an ante-bellum Southerner. “Is it not that by his labor he, the master, may accumulate wealth?”
Page 5

So to honor an old saw, “Follow the money” allows a greater understanding of the political machinations and the reason that those living south of the Mason-Dixon Line preferred a less powerful central government to interfere with their economic activity. But again, this economic activity was limited to those who were better off than most of their contemporaries. According to Mr. Stampp, depending on location and when the price was quoted, farm quality slaves would cost in the 1850’s between $1000 and $2000. A blacksmith slave was listed at $2500. A good quality farm horse during the same period was valued at $75 to $200, one tenth as much. A “typical” yeoman family farmer couldn’t afford a slave workforce for his farm. An interesting question I have no answer for is why did so many yeoman farmers and tradesmen sign up to defend an economic system dependent on slavery?

So going back to the original question, “Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?” By the original shape of the Constitution, the southern states had negotiated a more powerful regional government (State) over the central Federal government. The Northern states had agreed to this by ratifying the Constitution. The Northern states chipped away at this agreement incrementally by case law rather than a Constitutional Amendment. When the collective group of Southerners decided that through a series of complex events that they could no longer participate in the Union they followed an example of 75 years before when 13 colonies of the English Crown decide they couldn’t follow the King any longer and rebelled. Robert E. Lee was a law abiding citizen of the U.S. and opposed the rebellion despite his disagreement with strong Federal Government over the state governement. Yet as events progressed, he felt that the lack of responsiveness of the Federal Government justified “Civil Disobedience” and eventually violence. In democracy, having a dissenting opinion is not treason but taking up arms against one’s lawful government is. Had the South managed to by force of arms to make the North to accept their succession which was the Southern goal, our modern view of the events 1860’s would be markedly different. As an example, had King George of England successfully squashed the American Revolution, we would be learning how George Washington, Francis Marion (Swamp Fox), and Marquis de Lafayette were hung for treason and Benedict Arnold was a hero for his loyalty to the King.

So the question is, and very timely for today's events, when does dissent become rebellion, what test do we apply to distinguish between a dissenting patriot and an unlawful rebel? What test determines that a government has become oppressive and requires replacement?

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby khall » Fri Sep 01, 2017 6:01 pm

literiding but it was the leaders of the states that voted on seceding, not the general public. Those leaders wrote the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States for each state. My level of understanding comes directly from reading these statements composed by each state's leaders on why they voted to leave the Union. Trying to white wash this began right after the Civil War ended, revisionist history began early and continues until today. What was believed at those time (some still do today just look at Charlottsville) was that African Americans were not equal to the white man, even those who did not own slaves believed this and why they too were in favor of slavery at that time. This was the basis of the Confederate Union, white supremacy beliefs that were widespread in the population of the south. They fought killed and died for those beliefs, thankfully losing their "war between the states".

Yes REL was a traitor, he fought and killed and directed others to kill their fellow Americans. I cannot imagine our nation if the south had not lost.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby Literiding » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:23 pm

khall wrote:Trying to white wash this began right after the Civil War ended, revisionist history began early and continues until today.


I'll not irritate you by saying something you cannot agree with.

The Civil War was begot in hatred and 152 years after it ended, the hatred lives on. It was a total waste of lives, both Blue and Gray, because it solved nothing.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby Ponichiwa » Thu Sep 07, 2017 4:20 pm

Lee was considered by many in his time to be a traitor. Obviously, not Confederate supporters or the majority of Virginians shared this view. If you were a parent from Pennsylvania and Lee's army had just killed your son in Gettysburg, you might have a different view.

Simply put, though, the Constitution (Article III, Section 3) defines treason as follows:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.


Hard to argue that leading an army against the United States _doesn't_ constitute treason-- regardless of his reasons for doing so.

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Chisamba
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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby Chisamba » Thu Sep 07, 2017 5:12 pm

I do bet that if the people so appalled by the actions of those living during the civil war, actually lived during the civil war, their opinion would have very similar to those expressed at the time. we tend to use the present "gestalt" to assume we would have behaved better than our predecessors.

I would be more convinced that the civil war was mostly about slavery if a hundred years did not pass before there was any semblance of equal rights for black americans.

was George Washington a traitor? if the war had been lost, he was since it was won, he is a hero. Can you let go of your self righteousness enough to give Robert E Lee the same understanding? Only if you can actually be objective in the face of your current "correctness" for the purpose of this discussion you and your is everyone and anyone, not a particular person

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby Ponichiwa » Thu Sep 07, 2017 6:53 pm

George Washington was a traitor-- to Great Britain. Similarly, Benedict Arnold was a patriot. Again, to Great Britain's cause.

The loss of the war did not immediately grant all black Americans equality, despite the 13th-15th amendments. As early as the Reconstruction era, the governments of the erstwhile Confederate states set about enacting legislation and societal pressure to ensure that didn't happen (Jim Crow laws, rise of the KKK/White Legion/"rifle clubs" in the 1870s, etc.). The failure to reach equality over a 100-year (or more, depending on perspective) span doesn't mean that slavery wasn't an issue or even the primary driver of the Civil War.

Lee was a complex man. He's been venerated as a hero to the South in many states where he did not even lead-- my home state of Texas, for one. There are many others. He's become a romanticized figurehead of the nobility of Southern resistance. But he did hold strong anti-abolitionist views, and I can see how his statues represent an ugly past that many Americans would rather see behind them.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby khall » Fri Sep 08, 2017 2:04 am

Chisamba read the corner stone speech, read the articles of secession by the Confederate states. The Civil War absolutely was about continuing the slavery in the South.

Just because the North won the Civil War did not automatically eradicate racism in the South. In fact it is still alive and well here even today.

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Re: Was Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Postby Chisamba » Sun Sep 10, 2017 1:30 pm

I found myself being curious about what Robert E Lee did after the war. Do any of you know.

I didn't. It's interesting


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