Robert E. Lee at 200


The 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Lee occurs on January 19th, and this year the number and variety of Lee celebrations may set a new record. In Britain, the American Civil War Round Table will hold a series of lectures honoring General Lee during the month of January. In America, commemorative events are planned throughout the year.

Lee celebrations have proliferated in recent years despite demands for the removal of Lee memorabilia by local chapters of the NAACP and other militant groups. The self-serving rhetoric of these groups has provoked others to commit acts of vandalism resulting in the smashing of Lee statuary and the firebombing of murals containing depictions of the General.

Lee admirers are sorely disappointed by the capitulations of elected officials to demands by these belligerent activists. Rather than making an effort to defend Lee memorabilia or allowing the public to decide its fate, many elected officials have simply caved in to removal demands, often covertly eliminating Lee tributes to avoid public recriminations — such was the case when then Texas Governor, George W. Bush conspired with his crony, Texas Supreme Court Justice, Albert Gonzales, to have a Robert E. Lee plaque furtively removed from the Texas Supreme Court building on a weekend when the Court was not in session.

Regrettably, Bush’s deceitful act is typical of many of our politicians. They are ruled by political expediency, and will not do anything that has not been scrutinized by spin doctors who evaluate how interest groups might react; how media will respond, or what the potential impact on political careers might be. So what we get is a committee-sanctioned maneuver designed to conceal the politician’s true actions or to allow him to give the appearance of having taken a stand without actually doing so.

Our leaders were not always so weak-willed in prior generations. And, I maintain, they had a better grasp of history than today’s crop of obsequious political hacks. As an illustration, I offer a letter from President Eisenhower written in response to a critic. The complainant’s letter, dated August 1, 1960, takes issue with President Eisenhower’s expressed admiration for Robert E. Lee and reads as follows:

Dear Mr. President:

"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

To his credit, President Eisenhower did not embarrass his correspondent by correcting his extraordinary misreading of American history but simply explained why he held Robert E. Lee in such high regard.

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.

Sincerely, Dwight D. Eisenhower