I have been asked about my thoughts on the removal of the General Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. To be absolutely clear: I support the removal of the statue from public viewing for what it stands for and its historic context in the history of the United States. I also support free speech to the limits of the federal constitution – speaking your mind, demonstrating, but not inciting or engaging in violence.
The statue of Robert E. Lee at issue in this matter is Robert E. Lee the general, not Robert E. Lee the educator or Robert E. Lee the author. General Robert E. Lee was first the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and later the General-in-Chief of the Confederate States of America. History has taught us that Lee privately had reservations about both the legal legitimacy of secession and the moral legitimacy of slavery but the record is absolutely clear: despite being offered a command in the federal army, Lee chose to join the rebellion in his home state of Virginia. Despite his personal reservations, Robert E. Lee took up arms against the United States of America in armed, open rebellion. Despite his own views, he was personally responsible as a commander for the killing and maiming of federal troops fighting for the United States. This was Lee’s choice, and he must now own it in the light of history.
Lee’s own personal correspondence clearly indicates he understood the strong economic link between the Confederacy and the institution of slavery. There is no question in my mind – and I hope any reasonable person’s mind – that Lee knew precisely that he was taking up arms in support of a cause that wanted to maintain the status quo of owning and exploiting human beings for economic gain. The following quotations come directly from the official Declaration of Causes of Seceding States, drafted, debated, and passed by various rebel states during the Confederacy period. This is not history – these are actual, contemporary statements drafted by the Confederacy and intended to be the conclusive statement as to why they seceded and, in some cases, provide the legal and constitutional basis for such secession:
“The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery….
“The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers.
“With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers.
“The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization….
“Such are the opinions and such are the practices of the Republican party, who have been called by their own votes to administer the Federal Government under the Constitution of the United States. We know their treachery; we know the shallow pretenses under which they daily disregard its plainest obligations. If we submit to them it will be our fault and not theirs. The people of Georgia have ever been willing to stand by this bargain, this contract; they have never sought to evade any of its obligations; they have never hitherto sought to establish any new government; they have struggled to maintain the ancient right of themselves and the human race through and by that Constitution. But they know the value of parchment rights in treacherous hands, and therefore they refuse to commit their own to the rulers whom the North offers us. Why? Because by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides. To avoid these evils we resume the powers which our fathers delegated to the Government of the United States, and henceforth will seek new safeguards for our liberty, equality, security, and tranquility.”
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.”
“We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”
“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
“That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.
“By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.”
There is no question taking these declarations that the genesis of the Confederate States of America was preservation of the institution of slavery – whether the federal government has authority to interfere with a state’s traditional power to determine property. Of course this means property interests in human beings.
The Robert E. Lee statute honors a person who took up arms against the United States in support of a philosophy that subjugated an entire race of human beings to mere capital property. Such history belongs in a museum; not on a marble pedestal in a public space paid for by tax dollars. Take it down; take the other Confederate monuments down; and place them in a museum where their context can be properly made.
— Chris Minelli