We’re finally to the end of this source of tinder for your fireplace.
Adams claims, “Some Northerners erroneously believe that Lee was fighting to perpetuate slavery. They don’t know that he was against slavery; that he opposed secession and loved the Union.” [p. 214] For opposing secession, Lee became a secessionist very quickly. He didn’t even wait to be officially out of the US Army before he accepted a commission from Virginia, whose secession convention voted approval of an ordinance of secession three days prior. As to whether or not he was against slavery, I’ve discussed that here. Lee supported the institution both as a practitioner and as a high confederate official.
Adams claims, “A strongly pro-Northern newspaper, the North Carolina Standard, reacted as Lee did. The editor wrote on 9 March 1861: ‘We cannot become parties to the subjugation of our Southern brethren.’ ” [p. 215]
Adams once again shows his incompetence as a scholar. Here is the editorial in question:
Mr. Lincoln’s Inaugural
North Carolina Standard, March 9, 1861
Our readers will find this document in our paper of to-day. On all sides we hear the question, what do you think of the Inaugural? We have read it with the utmost attention—we have formed an opinion upon it, and we intend to express that opinion.—We shall do this fearlessly and firmly.
Our opinions in relation to the Chicago platform, Abraham Lincoln, and the Black Republican party are well known. We are as hostile to Mr. Lincoln and to the sectional party that elected him as any reasonable man in the South. We will never submit to the administration of the government on the principles of that party so far as they relate to slavery in the Territories; but while we say this for the hundredth time, we also hold that justice should be done even to Mr. Lincoln and his party, and that he who would deliberately fan the flame of sectional strife, instead of doing all he can to put out the fires of discord which threaten to consume the temple of the Union, is guilty of an inexpiable crime. We want peace, not war. We want Union, not disunion. We want justice for the South, but we must do justice to the North. We long for light, not darkness. We believe that the Union can be preserved, and we are willing to bear and forbear—to watch and wait—to labor in a fraternal spirit to achieve this most desirable result. When the enemy offers us the olive branch we will not reject it. When he approaches us pointing to his oath, yet in a spirit of amity, we will not rush upon him with the sword. When he pleads for the Union we will point to the Constitution; and if both of us should then pause, we would then go with him to the fountain of all power, the people of the States, and seek there, and establish there, if possible, new foundations for equality and brotherhood.
So far as coercion is concerned, Mr. Lincoln occupies the very ground occupied by Mr. Buchanan.—We have compared the Inaugural in this respect with Mr. Buchanan’s message, and the fact is so.—We cannot, as an honest man, denounce in Mr. Lincoln what we approved in Mr. Buchanan. The man had just taken an oath to support the Constitution and to enforce the laws. What was he to do? Was he to say to the seven cotton States, you are out of the Union? Who gave him that authority? Has Congress said it? No. Have the American people said it. No. The mails are still furnished to these States, and Mr. Lincoln says he will continue to furnish them unless they are repelled. But he says he must execute the laws, and in the next breath he virtually omits the cotton States as Mr. Buchanan omitted South Carolina, for the simple reason that he has no officers in those States and cannot execute them. He says that in “interior localities” where competent resident citizens will not or cannot hold the offices, “there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers” on the people. But he says he will collect the revenue in the cotton States. How? He must do it, if at all, at the Custom Houses, for he has no authority to do so on shipboard. The law provides only for the collection of the revenue at the Custom Houses. Congress has made no other provision. What then? Why he can do nothing in this respect. Mr. Buchanan could do nothing in this respect in South Carolina, yet he said, as Mr. Lincoln says, that the laws must be enforced.
If Mr. Lincoln were mad enough to attempt to subjugate the Southern States, or even if he were disposed to do so—as his Inaugural shows he is not—he has no army at his command. He might spare a thousand troops from the forts and frontiers, but what could these do against the armies of the fifteen slaveholding States? Then he has no money. The Treasury is empty. Then he has no authority for raising troops, even if he had money to pay them with. The “force bill” so-called, was defeated in the House of Representatives. What then? He is powerless. He is not only powerless at present, but the tone of his Inaugural shows that he is alarmed in view of the calamities that impend. Will he be stronger in future? We do not believe he will.—His party is already demoralized, and in addition to this, the great body of the Northern people will never consent to an aggressive war on the South.—If the seven cotton States had remained in the Union, both branches of Congress would have been against Mr. Lincoln by large majorities, and the Senate could have dictated all his important appointments. But they abandoned the Union—abandoned it selfishly and for no sufficient cause, and left us at the mercy, as they say, of a dominant sectional party. Shall we go out simply because they did? We trust not. Have we of the middle States no self-respect—no will of our own? We think we have some will of our own, for we are still in the Union.
Mr. Lincoln will have no more power to enforce the laws in the “Confederate States” than the late President had; and we all know that Mr. Buchanan enforced no law in South Carolina after that State assumed to secede, and the only coercion he attempted was in the shape of letters and newspapers which he showered from his mail batteries all over that State.
Mr. Lincoln is inclined to favor a Convention of all the States. We think the condition of the country and the progress of events will compel him to assemble Congress at an early day. If he should do that, a Convention of all the States could be called, and such a body, we make no doubt, would be able to reconstruct the Union on an enduring basis. Failing to do that, however, it could at least provide for a peaceable separation of the States.
We do not propose to comment further on this document. It is before our readers, and each one of them will read and study it carefully for himself.—We approve portions of it, and we disapprove other portions. It is not a war message. It is not, strictly speaking, a Black Republican message; for while he recognizes slavery in the States as perpetual, and as never to be interfered with in any way by the abolitionists, he deliberately refrains from pressing the main principle in his platform, to wit, the exclusion of the South from all the Territories of the Union. It is not unfriendly to the South. It deprecates war, and bloodshed, and it pleads for the Union. That any portion of it will be approved by the Disunionists we have no idea. If it had breathed violence and war—if it had claimed the government for the North exclusively, and had threatened the South with subjugation, the Disunionists would have shouted for joy, as they did in Charleston when they learned that Lincoln was elected, for they would then have been sure of the attainment of their darling purpose, the permanent and final disruption of the Union.
As we can see, it doesn’t say what Adams claimed it says. The actual editorial that says those words was on April 20. Note that this newspaper is hostile to Lincoln and to the Republican Party. Is that “strongly pro-Northern” as Adams would have us believe? They are most probably strongly pro-Northern Democrat, but they most certainly are against Republicans and against Lincoln.
Adams writes, “In December 1866, Lee wrote a letter to Lord Acton (the great libertarian historian who said ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’). He expressed the basic Southern position that the limitation fo federal power was necessary to ‘the continuation of a free government.’ It is only today that the people of the United States are finally realizing the truth of that. He then emphasized that an overblown, powerful national government would engage in aggression abroad and despotism at home.” [p. 217]
Acton’s request was, “If, Sir, you will consent to entertain my request, and will inform me of the light in which you would wish the current politics of America to be understood, I can pledge myself that the new Review shall follow the course which you prescribe and that any communication with which you may honour me shall be kept in strictest confidence, and highly treasured by me.”
As an aside, an interesting part of Acton’s letter seeks to explain why some Britons supported the confederacy: “It cannot have escaped you that much of the good will felt in England towards the South, so far as it was not simply the tribute of astonishment and admiration won by your campaigns, was neither unselfish nor sincere. It sprang partly from an exultant belief in the imminent decline and ruin of Democratic institutions, partly from the hope that America would be weakened by the separation, and from terror at the remote prospect of Farragut appearing in the channel and Sherman landing in Ireland.” Not really what Adams was telling us before, was it?
Lee’s response cannot, despite Adams’ efforts, be divorced from the context in which it was written. It is, of course, an early expression of lost cause orthodoxy that slavery wasn’t involved in secession, that it was due to an overbearing central government, even though the states who seceded and told us why all said it was in order to protect slavery. And the central government wasn’t any more overbearing under Lincoln, prior to the war, than it was under any previous president. In fact, if you look at their secession documents, some of the states complained the central government wasn’t overbearing enough when it came to stepping on the rights of free states to protest slavery and to protect their citizens. Look at the complaints regarding the “virtual nullification” of the so-called “Fugitive Slave Law.” Look at the complaints regarding what was said about slavery and the slave states in the free states. Lee is writing this document during Reconstruction, after the death of slavery. Douglas Southall Freeman, in his 4-volume biography, R. E. Lee, incidentally, does a pretty creditable job in laying out the context of the times when Lee was engaged in this correspondence, though we have to account for his near worship of Lee in his biography.
Adams writes, “Lee’s final words of wisdom came shortly before his death in 1870. Under the yoke of Reconstruction and its military dictatorship, Lee was invited by the commanding Union general to arrange a meeting with a number of leading ex-Confederates. The general asked Lee to make a statement, supposedly to indicate how happy he was to be back in the Union with the stars and stripes. Lee said no. He had seen what defeat had brought and the ugliness of Northern occupation. He did, however, set up a meeting for many ex-Confederates to have a say. The last to leave the meeting was the former Confederate governor of Texas, Fletcher Stockdale. Lee took him aside and said, ‘Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people [Yankees] designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; no sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in my right hand.’ A month later Lee suffered a stroke and died on 12 October 1870.” [pp. 219-220]
Adams’ incompetence as a scholar is again on display.
He found a large gathering of former Confederates there, including many of his old generals and not a few of the civil officials of the dead government. Nearly all of them were talking politics. Grant and Schuyler Colfax had been nominated by the Republicans. Against them the Democrats had entered Governor Horatio Seymour and Francis P. Blair. Recent as was the war, some of the Democrats believed that they had a chance of electing their candidates, and certain of those at the springs were busily devising ways and means to that end. Already the alarmed Republicans were warning the North that the South was unreconciled, and that the Negroes were being unfairly treated, and that the election of Seymour and Blair would undo the victory won at the cost of so much blood. General Lee, of course, had little part in these discussions. In fact, he avoided politics so sedulously that more than one of his comrades complained privately that he was distinctly cool to them.
Unexpectedly, however, he found himself involved in the controversy. General W. S. Rosecrans, one of the managers of the Democratic campaign, knew that some of the leading Southerners visited “The White” every summer, and he came down from New York to see if he could procure from them a statement of their acceptance of the results of the war, and of their willingness to deal justly with the Negroes. This, in General Rosecrans’s opinion, might offset the Republican propaganda and help the Democratic thicket.
Naturally, Rosecrans consulted Lee first of all upon his arrival, and explained that Lee was a representative Southerner, his assurance of the South’s loyalty to the Union would carry weight in the North. Lee demurred. He could not assume to speak for the South, he said; if Rosecrans wished to know the feeling of the former Confederacy, he could inquire of the public men who were at the springs.
Being willing to ask in the name of politics what he would not have sought for himself personally, Rosecrans requested Lee to bring these gentlemen together that he might meet them. Lee’s politeness and his desire to help in the restoration of good feeling prompted him to accede and to invite a number of former soldiers and publicists to his cottage. There, while Lee was noticeably quiet, General Rosecrans exchanged opinions with Beauregard, Alexander H. Stephens, and others. Nearly all of them assured him of the willingness of the people to support the Union and to deal justly with the Negro. Only the last man to be asked for his views, ex-Governor F. W. Stockdale of Texas, spoke out bluntly and said that the South would keep the peace but was not a dog to lick the hand of the man that kicked it. Lee then rose and brought the conference to an end.
Rosecrans was not through. On August 26 he addressed Lee a formal letter asking that the Southerners with whom he had conferred at the cottage unite in a formal statement of their views. Anxious as Lee was to allay ill-feeling and to heal the wounds of war, such a request was embarrassing. He had never written a line on politics for publication since the war, and he hesitated to break his rule, especially as he was unfamiliar with the language of political discussion.
What, then, should he do? Among the guests at the springs was Alexander H. H. Stuart, a Virginia lawyer of much sagacity and judgment, who had been Secretary of the Interior under Fillmore. Stuart’s good sense showed him that Virginia had to pay a price for a return of her rights of statehood and he was working quietly but skillfully to that end. He was the man Lee needed to help him, for he could be relied upon to show conservatism along with candor. Through General John Echols, Lee sent Rosecrans’s letter to Stuart and asked him to write an answer. In a short time Stuart brought a draft which Lee read over carefully and slowly in the lawyer’s presence. It was to this effect:
“I have the honor to receive your letter of this date, and, in accordance with your suggestion, I have conferred with a number of gentlemen from the South, in whose judgment I have confidence, and who are well acquainted with the public sentiment of their respective States.
“They have kindly consented to unite with me in replying to your communication, and their names will be found, with my own, appended to this answer.
“With this explanation, we proceed to give you a candid statement of what we believe to be the sentiment of the Southern people in regard to the subjects to which you refer.
“Whatever opinions may have prevailed in the past with regard to African slavery or the right of a State to secede from the Union, we believe we express the almost unanimous judgment of the Southern people when we declare that they consider these questions were decided by the war, and that it is their intention in good faith to abide by that decision. At the close of the war, the Southern people laid down their arms and sought to resume their former relations to the government of the United States. Through their State conventions, they abolished slavery and annulled their ordinances of secession; and they returned to their peaceful pursuits with a sincere purpose to fulfil all their duties under the Constitution of the United States which they had sworn to support. If their action in these particulars had been met in a spirit of frankness and cordiality, we believe that, ere this, old irritations would have passed away, and the wounds inflicted by the war would have been, in a large measure, healed. As far as we are advised, the people of the South entertain no unfriendly feeling towards the government of the United States, but they complain that their rights under the Constitution are withheld from them in the administration thereof. The idea that the Southern people are hostile to the negroes and would oppress them, if it were in their power to do so, is entirely unfounded. They have grown up in our midst, and we have been accustomed from childhood to look upon them with kindness. The change in the relations of the two races has brought no change in our feelings towards them. They still continue an important part of our laboring population. Without their labor, the lands of the South would be comparatively unproductive; without the employment which Southern agriculture affords, they would be destitute of the means of subsistence and become paupers, dependent upon public bounty. Self-interest, if there were no higher motive, would therefore prompt the whites of the South to extend to the negro care and protection.
“The important fact that the two races are, under existing circumstances, necessary to each other is gradually becoming apparent to both, and we believe that but for malign influences exerted to stir up the passions of the negroes, the relations of the two races would soon adjust themselves on a basis of mutual kindness and advantage.
“It is true that the people of the South, in common with a large majority of the people of the North and West, are, for obvious reasons, inflexibly opposed to any system of laws that would place the political power of the country in the hands of the negro race. But this opposition springs from no feeling of enmity, but from a deep-seated conviction that, at present, the negroes have neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power. They would inevitably become the victims of demagogues, who, for selfish purposes, would mislead them to the serious injury of the public.
“The great want of the South is peace. The people earnestly desire tranquillity and restoration of the Union. They deplore disorder and excitement as the most serious obstacle to their prosperity. They ask a restoration of their rights under the Constitution. They desire relief from oppressive misrule. Above all, they would appeal to their countrymen for the re-establishment, in the Southern States, of that which has been justly regarded as the birth-right of every American, the right of self-government. Establish these on a firm basis, and we can safely promise, on behalf of the Southern people, that they will faithfully obey the Constitution and laws of the United States, treat the negro populations with kindness and humanity and fulfil every duty incumbent and peaceful citizens, loyal to the Constitution of their country.”
All this was what Lee had been thinking and saying ever since May, 1865. The language was slightly more rhetorical than he would have employed, but the sentiments were precisely his. A single change was all Lee thought necessary. Stuart, in speaking of the development of better relations between the races, had said, “but for malign influences exerted to stir up the passions of the negroes,” etc. That grated on Lee. “Mr. Stuart,” he said, “there is one word I would like to strike out if you have no objection. You have used the word malign. I think that is rather a harsh word, and” — he smiled as he went on, “I never did like adjectives.”
Mr. Stuart immediately erased the offending word, and the letter was approved. Lee signed it, as did thirty-one other leading Southerners at the springs. It was forwarded to Rosecrans and was soon published. Its reception varied with the feelings and political opinions of those who read it. Lee followed it up by suggesting to Wade Hampton that, if he approved the letter, he get other Southern leaders to add their signatures and forward them to him or to General Rosecrans. And at Rosecrans’s request Lee gave him the names of some Southern generals residing in New York.
Whether it was that the air was too heavily surcharged with politics, or whether it was that Lee was exhausted by his long nursing of Mildred, he did not enjoy the social life of “The White” so much as he had the previous summer. He tried to be enthusiastic about the place and the company, but he left early in September for the Hot Springs, and by September 14 was back home.
As we can see, the White Sulphur Springs Conference was in August of 1866, not September of 1870. There is no hint of anything Adams related, and Rosecrans was not “the commanding Union general.” Adams’ claim is completely at odds with the facts.
Let’s look at Lee’s actions in September of 1870. Toward the end of August, Lee was in Hot Springs. Freeman tells us what Lee did:
The General felt somewhat improved as his stay was prolonged, but on August 29 he left the springs for Staunton, to attend a meeting of the stockholders of the Valley Railroad. The project for the construction of this line was now slowly taking shape. Although Baltimore had subscribed nothing, the town of Staunton had bought 1000 shares, Botetourt County had subscribed for 2000, and Rockbridge County had taken up 4000. The general feeling was that the rest of the money could be raised for the road, and that if the enterprise got the support of individuals of means in the territory it was to serve, construction could be commenced. Colonel M. G. Harmon, the president of the company, had done much, but when the stockholders met in Staunton on the morning of August 30 he announced that he could not stand for re-election and that he desired General Lee be named his successor. Lee’s name, influence, and management, in the opinion of Colonel Harmon, were precisely what was needed to carry the railroad into the realm of reality.
Lee, of course, had no wish to take on new burdens and, from his knowledge of the poverty of the people, he had no great faith in the enterprise. “It seems to me,” he wrote Cyrus H. McCormick, “that I have already led enough forlorn hopes.” At another time he would have reasoned that it was not prudent for a struggling railroad to have a president whose death might come any day. When, however, old friends and associates insisted that he and he alone could make a success of a carrier that would serve the Valley, help the town of Lexington, and benefit the college, he accepted the post. His salary, which had been fixed, and may not even have been mentioned until after he consented to take the place, was put at $5000 a year. This money was hardly a consideration, for it is said, though on vague authority, that he declined, the same summer, a business offer of $50,000 per annum.
Upon the conclusion of the stockholders’ meeting, General Lee returned to Lexington. It was his last journey. The session was scheduled to be opened shortly, and many preliminaries had to be arranged. On September 5 the faculty met and discussed, among other things, the means of procuring a better representation of students at chapel, a subject that had concerned the trustees.
Once again, not a hint of anything Adams claimed. The story Adams relates is completely fabricated. If Adams was any type of “scholar” at all, he would have known that simply from reading Freeman’s biography of Lee.
The last chapter of the book is primarily a repeat of previous falsehoods. He does write the following, though: “Today, the South’s slave system has done much to tarnish the Confederate battle flag, even though in the 1860s the flag no more stood for slavery than did the Stars and Stripes in 1861 or our revered Constitution. The Confederate battle flag stood for the cause of states’ rights and Southern independence, and the desire of the Southern people to control their own destiny.” [p. 228]
What specific “state’s right” was in jeopardy in 1861? Why did the confederates want their independence? How were they not going to be able to “control their own destiny” in the United States?
It all goes back to the preservation of slavery, which is what they told us in the first place. The victory of the troops fighting under the confederate flag mean the continuation of slavery in North America. Therefore, it does indeed symbolize a fight for slavery, not to mention symbolizing opposition to civil rights for African-Americans after the war. More here.
So what have we learned through these posts? Primarily, we learned Charles Adams has no business calling himself a historian or a scholar. We learned we can’t trust a word he says or writes. We learned his book has only two legitimate uses: tinder for a fire or a replacement for the Sears Catalog in an outhouse. Well, okay, three uses. I suppose we can line the bottoms of birdcages with its pages.