A Message To The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star: JUST SAY NO

I know that newspapers operating in the heart of Civil War country feature articles and letters to the editor to attract readers, but there is no reason to print the kind of drivel that has appeared in the last few weeks in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star.  Now that I think of it a series of articles on secession back in November 2005 was the subject of one of my earliest posts.  The subject of recent weeks has been Robert E. Lee.  Here is a small sample of letters to the editor for your enjoyment.

From 10/12/06: Returning home from a church meeting, Lee sat at the supper table and was about to say grace. The general could not say a word and slumped down in his chair. It is believed that he had a stroke.  It has been written that Lee’s grief for the Southern people, some of whom were made poor by the War Between the States, may have contributed to his failing health.

From 10/16/06: While Lee was an undeniably talented military leader and an honorable man by the standards of his time, no amount of mythology and hero worship can obscure the fact that Robert E. Lee led the armed struggle to keep black people in bondage.

From 10/23/06:The seceding states were not seeking to overthrow the federal government, but were reclaiming the rights they had voluntarily granted to the federal government.  Gen. Lee certainly respected that and the 10th Amendment.  Sad to say, President Lincoln sent federal troops into Maryland’s state capital in order to prevent Maryland’s right to decide for or against secession.  Lincoln also deployed "terrorism" in order to cripple the South, through William Sherman’s leadership.  Significant enough, criminals were released to join Union ranks and would have been among the "terrorists."  And yet Lincoln, unconstitutionally, established tribunals for "Northerners" who sympathized with the seceding states.  Gen. Lee surely understood the constitutionally limited powers of the federal government, whereas President Lincoln disregarded the Constitution.  The founders gave us a constitutional republic, not a constitutional monarchy.

From 10/24/06: I know of no one with the slightest knowledge of history who would agree with such nonsense. To suggest that Lee did not do his duty is beyond ridiculous.  Robert E. Lee was one of the greatest Virginians and Americans who ever lived.   As a loving father (read "Lee’s Daughters"), devoted husband and son (one need only read surviving letters), educator, nation’s healer, and one of the finest military generals of all time, Robert E. Lee stands as one of the greatest men in history. He was truly a hero.  I’ve taught my children and my students about his character and dedication. We should all strive to emulate those qualities.  Robert E. Lee essentially gave up every material possession to defend his family and native state.  He was opposed to secession and slavery, but he could not aid a foreign country that was illegally invading Virginia.

Who needs Douglas S. Freeman, Emory Thomas, Thomas Connelly, Gary Gallagher, Michael Fellman, and Richard McClaslin when you have the good readers of the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star.  Is this what Carl Becker had in mind when he used the phrase, "Everyman His Own Historian"?

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

3 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Oct 26, 2006 @ 14:50

    Hi Bill, — Nice to hear from you. I agree that it doesn’t state anywhere in the Constitution that a state doesn’t have the right to secede nor does it say anywhere that it does. You rightly point out that the question of nullification was hotly debated both in New England (Hartford Convention) and later in 1832 during the nullification crisis. I am not a constitutional scholar, but I tend to think that William Davis makes a good point when he argues that the reason few people talk about the right of secession is that the Confederate experiment failed and along with it the supposed right to secede. If the Confederacy has succeeded in its bid for independence than perhaps that would have set a precedent for secession — whether it would have been a good one could be debated.

    As for the right of secession, it is clear to most scholars that the states rights argument was instrumental to the protection of slavery in the South. That is a point that I assume we will disagree on.

  • Bill Vallante Oct 26, 2006 @ 13:44

    Regarding “…disregard the Constitution..”:

    I have yet to see anything anywhere in any law or in the Constitution itself which specifically says, or even implies, that a state, once in the Union, may never leave it. If anyone knows of such a law or a paragraph in the aforementioned document, please point it out to me. I don’t think you can. Frankly, I don’t believe that any state, in 1789, would have ratified the Constitution had such a thing been expressly understood from the very beginning.

    I also know that all of the 13 states, during the ratification process, displayed great concern, to put it mildly, about the possible erosion of their rights, as SOVEREIGN states, under this new government. In fact, 3 of them, New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia went so far as to state in their ratifications, that if at any future time they felt it was not in their best interests to remain in the Union, that they would and could withdraw.

    In the early going it was Massachusetts in 1803 and the New England states in 1814-15 who seriously contemplated secession. I don’t remember Presidents Jefferson or Madison threatening to call out the army to put down rebellion, does anyone else?

    The fact is, that at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, you could not have come up with more than a handful of Americans who would have argued that a state’s participation in this new Union was permanent and indeed, as Washington put it, that it was anything more than an “experiment”.

    Yet, it would appear, something in the thinking of the American public had changed between 1789 and 1860. What was it? I can think of a few things right off the top of my head. But I wonder why no one recently has done a “scholarly study” on just what those changes were and why they occurred? Why in 1789 would no one maintain that the Union was permanent, while in 1860, a large part of the country was so sure it was that they were ready and willing to invade a group of sovereign states because those sovereign states chose to leave that Union?

    Anyone know of any such study or book? I haven’t heard of any. Everyone today is obsessed with, and writing about – race, because, it would appear, RACE SELLS! Who cares about how this country developed and why?

  • John Maass Oct 26, 2006 @ 9:08

    I “like” the reasoning in the 10/23 letter that states “Gen. Lee surely understood the constitutionally limited powers of the federal government, whereas President Lincoln disregarded the Constitution.”

    Does that reader also disregard the Constitution when he or she finds a right to secede in it? Amazing….

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