From Robert E. Lee to Cliven Bundy

Robert E. Lee (1856):

The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. (1856)

Considering the relation of master and slave, controlled by humane laws and influenced by Christianity and an enlightened public sentiment, as the best that can exist between the white and black races while intermingled as at present in this country, I would depreciate any sudden disturbance of that relation unless it be necessary to avert a greater calamity to both. (1865)

Cliven Bundy (2014):

They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.

I’m wondering: Are they happier now under this government subsidy system than they were when they were slaves, when they was able to have their family structure together, and the chickens and a garden, and the people had something to do?

Bundy’s views on race and slavery, while shocking to most intelligent and decent people, have a long and distinguished pedigree.

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48 thoughts on “From Robert E. Lee to Cliven Bundy

  1. Paul Erickson

    Oh boy. Now you’ve done it, bringing Robert E. Lee into it. Don’t you understand that he was a *gentleman*? Sure, a slaveowner and a racist, but so *noble.*

    Reply
  2. Old Rebel

    “There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people to the idea of indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races … A separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation, but as an immediate separation is impossible, the next best thing is to keep them apart where they are not already together.” Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, on June 26, 1857.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Lincoln’s statement re: the inequality of the races are well known. However, as far as I am aware, Lincoln never claimed that African Americans were better off as slaves. In fact, he almost always distinguished between what he viewed as differences between the races and the morality of slavery. Nice try, but there is little to compare with what is contained in the post.

      Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I decided to post this particular comment so you would understand why your other comments have not been approved. You really need to do some basic reading on this subject if you want to be taken seriously.

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        2. adam Badeau

          Frank:

          Levin owes you an apology.

          Robert E. Lee did not own any salves on the eve of the Civil War. The slaves he freed during the war were owned by his wife who had inherited them upon the death of her father. Robert was merely executor of the estate.

          While that may seem like a technicality, it is important to realize that Ulysses Grant’s wife was also slaveholder during the war. Thus, anyone labeling Lee a slaveholder during the war must also apply the label to Grant.

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            1. adam Badeau

              No matter how false his claims, the chances of Levin ever apologizing are as slim as an Apache Indian getting elected pope. He owns an apology nonetheless, for the simple reason that Lee did not own slaves of the eve of the Civil War, as explained in the thread above.

              Levin’s link to the Julia Grant slave analysis is comical for two reasons. First, he commonly condemns others who rely upon research from websites. Second, in her memoirs Julia Grant refers to the black lady – also named Julia – who accompanied her to Holly Springs, Mississippi during the War as her slave.

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              1. Kevin Levin Post author

                He owns an apology nonetheless, for the simple reason that Lee did not own slaves of the eve of the Civil War, as explained in the thread above.

                We can go back and forth on the legal relationship that Lee occupied with slaves as the executor of Custis’s will. Keep in mind that this post had nothing to do with Lee as a slaveholder one way or another. It had to do with his views on slavery, which is something that you still have done everything to ignore. You are free to continue to flop around like a fish out of water, but Lee’s statement will still be there when you decided to stop.

                Levin’s link to the Julia Grant slave analysis is comical for two reasons. First, he commonly condemns others who rely upon research from websites.

                No, I criticize people when they use random websites. The author of this particular website is a historian at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.

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  3. Steve

    I believe , if the same level of morality was applied to the men of the North as the men of the South, this would be an honest open discussion. But as usual, this lopsided biased blog ONLY points the fingers at men of the South. Comparing Robert E. Lee to the Bundy is like comparing apples to Cadillacs. Lincoln, Sherman Grant and the citizens of the North were by far more racist than Robert E. Lee. Yet, I have never to see any honest open discussion of those individuals, or the laws the North had against black on this blog….shoddy very shoddy. But you are daggone quick to find a quote of Robert E. Lee to discredit or dishonor the man. Why?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      You are free to point out Northerners who held similar views. No doubt, there are many. Other than that, I am not qualified professionally to help you deal with aspects of history that you find troubling. Best of luck to you.

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    2. Andy Hall

      “Lincoln, Sherman Grant and the citizens of the North were by far more racist than Robert E. Lee.”

      Where does endorsing African slavery as having been ordained by God fall on the “racist” scale, Steve?

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      1. msb

        Not just ordained by God, but actually beneficial to the slaves (in “civilizing” and “Christianizing” them).

        Reply
    3. Christopher Shelley

      Always the Southern apologists with “Well, the North was worse.” Lincoln, Grant and Sherman may have been racists (although Lincoln was clearly evolving away from full-blown racism, as you would know if you had just read Lincoln’s own words closely). But but being a racist and advocating slavery two different things. And that trio of Northerners didn’t attempt to destroy the country in order to defend slavery.

      Reply
  4. Steve

    History does not trouble me, and your remark is not appreciated. I asked a simple question. Please answer. I was hoping for a site where good discussion could held but this “ain’t it”.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Of course it does. You are the one who has trouble acknowledging a well documented statement by Robert E. Lee. You are the one avoiding the tough questions, but pointing the finger at me. If you don’t like what I post than find another site to spend your time. Yes, I compared statements by Lee and Bundy. Deal with it.

      Reply
  5. Michael

    Back in Lee’s time,his statement was considered normal,he didn’t say it to inflame the masses. Bundy DOES know better and his comments were intended to demean blacks as a whole. Big,big difference.
    Still an interesting post.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Certainly, the vast majority of Americans in the 1860s held views that we condemn as racist, but plenty of people were still able to differentiate between their belief in the inequality of the races and whether slavery was justified.

      Apparently, Bundy DOES NOT know better since he is on record as making certain claims about African Americans.

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  6. Courtney

    It is even worse than that. Bundy has tried to explain himself at least twice and each time he manages to dig himself a deeper hole. He said something like “Negroes” should not be sensitive to the term “black boys” and that if they are, then “Martin Luther King has not completed his work” with them. He is clearly stumbling into each of these self laid traps, but at some point, he must stop trying to explain himself, that is, shut up for his own good. And all of this is on video tape, so when he denies saying something, people play the tape.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I actually find his views of the federal government to be much more extreme and even bizarre compared with his offensive comments about race. Why anyone would rally around Bundy is beyond me.

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      1. Jimmy Dick

        That would be due to a perceived notion among idiots that the government is bad. They’ve been told that all their lives. They only listen to what they want to hear and they disregard anything that proves them wrong. They are the same type of people as those we deal with so often who refuse to use facts when referring to the Civil War.

        These morons live in an echo chamber and lap up the swill by Bundy and other right wing extremists. They don’t look at why these dingbat prophets tell them this trash though. The right wing news groups do it to make money pure and simple. Bundy is like a lot of other rich people who use the fools in order to gain support for their own interests, not the interests of the actual people they lie to. The right wing peons are just massively ignorant and the people like Bundy take advantage of that ignorance. It is literally the Know Nothing party all over again.

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        1. Andy Hall

          “Bundy is like a lot of other rich people who use the fools in order to gain support for their own interests, not the interests of the actual people they lie to. ”

          You give Cliven Bundy too much credit. I think he believes his own shtick. There are savvy folks who cynically fire up the militia/sovereign citizen/oathkeeper crowd for their own Machiavellian schemes, but I don’t think Bundy’s one of them. Notice how many mainstream pols and pundits were tripping over each other to praise Bundy in his brave, noble stand against big gubmint tyranny just a few days ago, only to vehemently denounce him when he started spouting off what he “knows about the Negro”? They’re the ones who are cynically manipulating the crowd, not Bundy.

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          1. Brendan Bossard

            Andy, I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that the “mainstream pols and pundits” are manipulating the crowd. What happened was that they supported him without doing their due diligence. Their support was a reaction. How many times have we seen public figures embarrass themselves this way? I think that we should give them credit for disowning him once they learned the truth. I would be much more worried about the state of things if none felt embarrassed about their error.

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            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              I think that we should give them credit for disowning him once they learned the truth.

              Are you suggesting that without his comments on race there was a reason to embrace this kook? The “truth” is that this individual’s views of government are completely off the deep end. Bundy doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the United States government and yet he rides around with a flag.

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              1. Brendan Bossard

                Kevin, as to Mr. Bundy’s views on government, my answer to you is the same as it was when a friend asked me what I thought last Tuesday: “I don’t know enough about them to have an opinion.”

                As I wrote before, the pols’ and pundits’ support of Mr. Bundy was an ill-considered reaction. Although in theory public figures earn their pay by wisely sifting through the facts, in practice most of them don’t. Here, they sure didn’t, and they are feeling the embarrassment, and they are withdrawing their support because of that.

                In short, they are feeling the sting of public opinion, which does not sound very Machiavellian to me.

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        2. Andy Hall

          Should’ve added:

          Cliven Bundy is not a smart man. I believe he’s sincere in what he says he believes — which, needs saying, is not the same thing as being right, or moral.

          Whatever he believes in his heart, a man with a lick of common sense wouldn’t (1) volunteer “what I know about the Negro” as part of his explanation of why he’s defying the BLM, and (2) once his initial remarks created a shitstorm of negative publicity, go on to re-state them in still more detail.

          Bundy has the right, like all Americans, to challenge the BLM in curt over those grazing fees. My understanding is that he’s done that, dragged it through the courts for years, and exhausted his legal options. Fair enough, he’s done. Game over. At this point, the feds simply ought to seek a court order to freeze his assets until he makes good on the $1M-plus he owes the gov. . . er, the rest of us as taxpayers. Cliven Bundy may not recognize the authority of the federal courts, but I promise you that his bank does.

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          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            I believe he’s sincere in what he says he believes — which, needs saying, is not the same thing as being right, or moral.

            I completely agree.

            Bundy is nothing less than a nutjob. I find his understanding of federalism to be even more troubling/bizarre than his racial outlook. He doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the federal government. It’s difficult to sympathize in any way when this is your starting point.

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  7. Michael Williams

    “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

    Source:

    Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Again, Lincoln’s evolving views on race between 1858 and 1865 are well known. What you are missing is that Lincoln never said that blacks were better off as slaves. In fact, the actions he took during the war speak for themselves. Nice try, but you missed the mark.

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  8. Connie Chastain

    Just curious why you didn’t link to the actual video that you partially quote, because Mr. Bundy said more that the two paragraphs you cherry-picked. Remember, it’s all about CONTEXT. Well, sometimes it’s about context, and sometimes it isn’t, looks like…. Wonder who gets to decide this.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you won’t post this. I’m submitting it anyway, just to remind you, again, that I’ve got your number and there are lots of us out here that you do not fool at all.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Why do I need to post a video? Bundy’s statements have been well documented over the past week. Your concern for Mr. Bundy is admirable. Here is a statement from your most recent blog post:

      He starts with the current lyin’ media’s frenzied claim that Clive[n] Bundy is a racist for his remarks about minorities.

      Well, we certainly know where you stand. Can’t say that I am surprised. Good day.

      Reply
  9. London John

    Lee was never a politician and Bundy isn’t one. Both are giving the world the benefit of their actual thoughts on the subject. Lincoln was a pol – IMO the greatest-ever genius of democratic politics – and every speech he made had a purpose in accomplishing his political tasks. Question: did Lincoln really believe at the time what he said in the quoted speeches, or was he saying what he thought he had to say to advance his project of abolishing slavery? Obviously this cannot be “proved”, but I imagine Kevin and some of the expert commenters could offer the best informed opinion.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      While I do think that Lincoln’s views on race are consistent throughout much of his early public career, it is important to acknowledge the extent to which they evolved by the end of his life. In fact, as historian Michael Burlingame has argued, it may have been his thoughts about black suffrage that led directly to his assassination. At the same time Lincoln’s views on the immorality of slavery are consistent throughout his public life. He deplored it.

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      1. adam Badeau

        Any *objective* commentator admitting that Lincoln’s views evolved over time must also admit to the possibility that the viewpoints of Davis, Lee, and other Confederate leaders could also evolve.

        For example, Davis commented to peace emissaries sanctioned by Lincoln in July 1864 that “we are fighting for independence, not slavery.” Additionally, Lee and Benjamin both urged that African-American’s admitted into the Confederate armies as combatants be granted freedom. Davis went even further. By executive order he *required* that such blacks *must* be (1) accompanied by manumission papers form their masters and (2) be volunteers.

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        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I certainly admit to the possibility, but I don’t see that you have made a compelling case.

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    2. Jerry McKenzie

      I would agree with London John that it is very hard to determine what a politician believes. Much of their speechifying and writing has to do with getting elected and appealing to the greater number of voters. Lincoln was a politician before he was the emancipator so he said many things to get elected so that he would have the power to make the changes he believed in. It is rare that the desired result is reached during the hurly burly of democratic politics and even autocratic power.

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  10. Marian Latimer

    It would appear to me that Bundy is going to continue to ramp up his “recruitment” for support (for lack of a better word) by invoking what a certain segment of haters want to hear. It seems to me that this “government is all bad,” is a theme that arises every decade or so, with ugly and tragic results. He’s waving around his Constitution, while denouncing the government behind it and ultimately desiring to deprive large chunks of the population of their rights under it and he clearly holds his rights above the rest of us. Reprehensible doesn’t begin to cover it when describing this moron.

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  11. adam Badeau

    On the matter of admitting African-Americans as combatants into the Confederate army Robert E. Lee wrote to Representative Barksdale:

    “I think those who are [thus] employed should be freed. It would be neither just, nor justice, to require them to serve as slaves.”

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Lee was speaking only of those individuals that would serve as soldiers and not the slave population generally. He understood, as did others, that the only way enlistment would work is if slaves were freed first.

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      1. adam Badeau

        And in his Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln was only speaking of those slaves that were in regions beyond the control of his government. Those remaining in the states controlled by the Yankee government remained slaves.

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          1. adam Badeau

            You condemn Lee for putting limits on the freedom to blacks that he endorses, but you fail to condemn Lincoln for also putting limits on his version of freedom for slaves.

            It is obvious that should the Confederacy win independence through an army substantially reinforced by emancipated slaves, then general emancipation could not fail to be close behind.

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            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              First, I didn’t condemn Lee for anything. I simply highlighted a well-known passage that reflects his views on slavery. You can’t seem to deal with that except by drawing in others. Lincoln’s EP is a useless comparison because it doesn’t express a moral view of slavery. The policy was designed to help win the war and preserve the Union. In the process it brought the nation one step closer to emancipation.

              It is obvious that should the Confederacy win independence through an army substantially reinforced by emancipated slaves, then general emancipation could not fail to be close behind.

              You might, in fact, be right about that, but if you go into the historical record what you will find is a conviction that freedom was only to be granted to those who fought in Confederate ranks. Bruce Levine makes this point perfectly clear in his book, Confederate Emancipation. The policy was meant to benefit the nation militarily and was believed to be the only way to ultimately preserve slavery. That’s what the architects of the plan hoped would be the case.

              You are free to believe whatever you want.

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  12. adam Badeau

    “First, I didn’t condemn Lee for anything.”

    That is simply untrue. It is obvious you condemned by (1) implication and (2) association. Any attempt to deny that is so laughable it reminds me of a story Lincoln once shared.

    There was a farmer out west whose property was overrun with skunks. He became so annoyed that he set up a dozen traps and caught nine skunks. After killing the first one he let the others go. When asked for an explanation he answered, “Killing that first skunk raised such a godawful stink I just didn’t have the constitution or patience to kill any more.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      You are free to interpret my posts as you see fit. I don’t really care one way or the other.

      Reply

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