Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bad NewsThis Morning

There They Go Again

Lee in Repose

Lee Chapel
In the mornings, after I get Lucy, Josh, and Jackson breakfast ( the dog is invariably the most pleasant of the three), I usually sit down and read Calvin's newspaper. This morning there was bad news. Seven "mulit-racial" law school students are demanding that Washington and Lee University admit the "dishnorable past" of both Robert E. Lee and the school which he served as President after the War. They also require that the University remove any Confederate flags including those battle flags in the Lee Chapel where the general and his family members lie in repose. 

Offensive Plaque?
Angelica Hendricks, one of the seven members of The Committee (the group's self-designation), said, “During orientation we had to go inside Lee Chapel and sign an honor contract to uphold our honor according to the honor of Robert E. Lee. Signing that contract in the shadow of a slave owner, and beneath plaques honoring Confederate soldiers and battle flags bowing to a movement to keep black people enslaved is hurtful."

Inside Lee Chapel

The Law School students, who presumably will one day be officers of courts, whose duty is to uphold the law, have vowed that if their demands are not met by September 1, they will engage in civil disobedience. As one who was a college student in the 60's I say, "There they go again."

Where Lee Sat
Yes, Robert E. Lee was a man of his time and flawed.  He is not unique. All of us are men and women of our times and flawed. Lee knew something of his flaws. When he lost Arlington (his home) in the first year of the War (which a vengeful Georgian turned into a cemetery) he wrote to his daughter: "You see what a poor sinner I am, and how unworthy to possess what was given me; for that reason it has been taken away."

The particular flaws which offend the members of The Committee are his having owned slaves for awhile and his having fought for the Confederacy. These are sins unforgiveable against the spirit of the age. 

Washington and Lee was on hard times after the War when Lee accepted the presidency. Lee revived the school, revised the curriculum, and renewed the honor code. According to one of his biographers, Emory Thomas, when a new student asked him for a copy of the rules, Lee replied, "Young gentelman, we have no printed rules. We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman."  

From that one rule came the honor code:  "A gentleman does not lie, cheat, or steal; nor does a gentleman tolerate lying, cheating, or dishonesty in those persons claiming to be gentlemen." Of course, since students of Ms. Hendricks' gender are admitted, the rule extends as well to gentlewomen, or, what used to be called ladies. One result of the honor system is that exams are not proctored and that students may take individual exams at any time they wish during the exam period. The system works on the principle of "one strike and you're out." It is enforced by the all student Executive Committee (not to be confused with The Committee) which, if after an extensive hearing finds a student guilty, asks him or her to leave.

What did Lee think about slavery? His views were at least as enlightened as those of Abraham Lincoln:
In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. (Before War)
So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained. (After War)
 What did he think about the Union and secession?
I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honour for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labour, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It is intended for 'perpetual Union,' so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession: anarchy would have been established, and not a government, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and all the other patriots of the Revolution. ... Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and, save in defense will draw my sword on none. (1861)
What was his attitude after the War?
The questions which for years were in dispute between the State and General Government, and which unhappily were not decided by the dictates of reason, but referred to the decision of war, having been decided against us, it is the part of wisdom to acquiesce in the result, and of candor to recognize the fact. (1865)
The interests of the State (of VA) are therefore the same as those of the United States. Its prosperity will rise or fall with the welfare of the country. The duty of its citizens, then, appears to me too plain to admit of doubt. All should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war, and to restore the blessings of peace. They should remain, if possible, in the country; promote harmony and good feeling; qualify themselves to vote; and elect to the State and general Legislatures wise and patriotic men, who will devote their abilities to the interests of the country, and the healing of all dissensions. I have invariably recommended this course since the cessation of hostilities, and have endeavored to practice it myself. (1865)
Madam, don't bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.
Sir, if you ever presume again to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this university. (To a W&L faculty member)
What was his definition of a gentleman?
The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.
The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly — the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.
The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.
They won't, but it would be a good idea for Ms. Hendricks and The Committee to consider the repsonse of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to a letter he received questioning how he could include among the portraits of four great Americans in his office one of Robert E. Lee:

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.
When Jimmy Carter in debate with Ronald Reagan raised the old bugaboo of Reagan and Medicare, Reagan turned the debate and probably the election when he replied, "There you go again." Would that we could similarly dismiss and disarm The Committee. Alas, it will not be. 

Meanwhile, I must say that I find this hurtful.

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