The controversy about statues of Robert E. Lee continues to burn. Several Texas cities wish to follow New Orleans in removing statues of General Lee. The current uproar has been in Dallas.
The New Orleans Uptown Messenger of May 15, 2017, published a column by Owen Courrèges that dug up statements by postwar Presidents in praise of General Lee:
President Roosevelt had the following to say about the unveiling in 1936 of the statue of General Lee statue in Dallas:
“I am very happy to take part in this unveiling of the statue of General Robert E. Lee.
“But, also, all over the United States I believe that we recognize him as something much more important than that. We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”
Then I stumbled upon a video clip of a press conference by President Eisenhower on You Tube. British Pathe News filmed the press conference in the White House.
Ike was asked about a statement by the British General Montgomery, who said General Lee should have been fired for losing the battle of Gettysburg.
As I wrote down the answer from the video, Eisenhower said,
“I think a great many of you people – both photographers and reporters – have been going into my office in the past four and a half years, occasionally. As you’ve noticed, on the walls are the prints of four men that I consider, in my book, are about the four top Americans of the past. They are Franklin, Washington, Lincoln, and Lee. And anyone who tries to put me in any other relationship to General Lee is mistaken.”
Owen Courrèges in the Uptown Messenger reported that a man wrote Eisenhower in 1960 asking how he could hold Lee – “a man who wanted to destroy our government” — in such high esteem. Eisenhower replied:
“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.”
Assorted academics and newspaper columnists, such as David Brooks, continue to accuse General Lee of treason. These commentators show prove only their ignorance of American law.
Treason is a crime. No one can be convicted of treason without due process of law. Due process requires a jury trial in criminal cases. No jury ever convicted Lee of treason.
A Federal judge in Virginia did bring about an indictment against Lee for treason shortly after the end of the war.
General Grant protested the charge as a violation of the parole he had granted at Appomattox, and the Union government dropped the charge.
President Andrew Johnson ultimately pardoned all Confederates – including Lee and Jefferson Davis. It is wrong — and ignorant — to accuse Robert E. Lee of treason.