The Year Of Lee

Most of you are no doubt aware that 2007 is the 200th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth.  There will be a great deal of celebration and perhaps even a little history to go along with it.  A reader was kind enough to draw my attention to the Virginia Senate Joint Resolution No. 382 which among other things established a "joint subcommittee to plan and coordinate the 200th anniversary celebration of the birth of Robert E. Lee. Report."  The following section lays out who will serve on the committee:

RESOLVED by the Senate, the House of Delegates concurring, That a joint subcommittee be established to plan and coordinate the 200th anniversary celebration of the birth of Robert E. Lee. For this occasion, the joint subcommittee is hereby designated the official Robert E. Lee Memorial Commission of the Commonwealth. The joint subcommittee shall have a total membership of 14 members that shall consist of six legislative members, five nonlegislative citizen members, and three ex officio members. Members shall be appointed as follows: two members of the Senate to be appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules; four members of the House of Delegates to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates in accordance with the principles of proportional representation contained in the Rules of the House of Delegates; two nonlegislative citizen members, one of whom shall represent the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and one of whom shall represent the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to be appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules; and three nonlegislative citizen members, one of whom shall represent the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, one of whom shall represent the Confederate Memorial Literacy Society, and one of whom shall represent Washington and Lee University to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates. The Director of the Department of Historic Resources, the Executive Director of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall serve as ex officio members without voting privileges. Nonlegislative citizen members of the joint subcommittee shall be citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Unless otherwise approved in writing by the chairman of the joint subcommittee and the respective Clerk, nonlegislative citizen members shall only be reimbursed for travel originating and ending within the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purpose of attending meetings. If a companion joint resolution of the other chamber is agreed to, written authorization of both Clerks shall be required. The joint subcommittee shall elect a chairman and vice chairman from among its membership, who shall be members of the General Assembly.

Additional "technical support" will be provided by the Department of Historical Resources, Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Department of Education.  Someone please point out to me where the hell are the historians.  Notice there is no one from the Museum of the Confederacy, Library of Virginia, National Park Service or the Virginia Historical Society. 

With this make-up we can anticipate numerous lecture series like the one set for April which is being sponsored by the Stephen D. Lee Institute.  The title of the event is "Robert E. Lee: Hero or Traitor?"  With a title like that you can expect some heavy-duty historical thinking. Here is a description provided on their website:

2007 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Lee, one of America’s most revered individuals. But opinions are changing in this era of Political Correctness. Was Lee a hero whose valor and leadership were surpassed only by his honor and humanity? Or was he a traitor whose military skill served a bad cause and prolonged an immoral rebellion against his rightful government?

To many, Robert E. Lee is a remote figure, a marble icon. To others he was simply a great battlefield commander. But Lee was much more; his character shines brightly from the past, illuminating the present. The Symposium will cover Lee’s views on government and liberty, his humane attitudes toward race and slavery, Lee and the American Union, Lee as inspired commander and his relationship with the Army, Lee as a Christian gentleman, and the meaning of Lee for today.

I love the attention to character evaluation in the form of mutually exclusive choices: Was he this or that?  I have to hand it to them, the conference organizers apparently chose just the right people to discuss this topic.  They include among other Ron Maxwell and Thomas DiLorenzo.  If anyone actually attends this event please let me know if they ever get around to talking about history.

7 comments… add one
  • John Smith Jan 12, 2007 @ 10:25

    Mr. Levin:

    Thank you. We will have to agree to disagree. Defending Southern culture means responding to those in academia and the media who are determined to arrogantly (and ignorantly) perpetuate the stereotypes of those “ignorant, racist, backward Southerners.”

    I find those stereotypes very bigoted and offensive – not to mention stupid.


  • Kevin Levin Jan 12, 2007 @ 8:07

    First, I agree that there is a tendency to use labels in a way that avoids serious discussion. I’ve tried to use the neo-confederate label in a way that is constructive on this blog. My readers will have to decide whether I’ve been successful – regardless of whether they agree with the views expressed.

    Let’s forget about the neo-confederate/conservative label for a moment. Wilson and Brown are the only two panelists who have any claim to being labeled historians. I could care less about the politics of any historian; all that matters is whether their interpretations can be defended. As I stated in my last comment I’ve read Wilson’s writings and I find them to be seriously lacking as historical scholarship. Most of his work fails to engage the scholarship of the last few decades and I suspect that it has little to do with any justified belief in the historical value of those interpretations.

    What does it mean in the end to defend Southern culture? As far as I can tell from reading the work of people associated with the League of the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans it involves an adherence to a mythical white Southern past with the Confederacy at is center. It involves defending a set of beliefs rather than exploring the complexity of American history. I could go on, but I will leave it to you to peruse this blogsite if interested.

    If not I assume we will have to agree to disagree and I thank you again for your comments. I will give you the opportunity to have the last word on this one as I think this has been played out.

  • John Smith Jan 12, 2007 @ 7:18

    Mr. Levin:

    I do disagree, particularly with the “neo-confederate” (nc) label. That seems to be a way of dismissing conservative historians without debate or discussion. Its similar to those who bandy about the PC label to more liberal historians. I think the nc label is stuck on anyone who defends Southern culture. Frankly, its rather tired, worn, meaningless, and shallow.

    Best Regards.

  • Kevin Levin Jan 12, 2007 @ 5:58

    Mr. Smith, — Wilson spent most of his time editing the Calhoun papers which is a respectable endeavor as well as a biography. Actually, if you read his columns in LewRockwell there is a disturbing mixture of history and politics. Sorry, I guess the warning light went off when I learned that he is associated with the League of the South. As for Livinston I am not going to hold my breadth on a study of the philosophical meaning of secession. If he wants to place it within a broader intellectual context that is fine with me. However, why do I have the suspicion that the real goal is to somehow justify it?

    All of the participants – apart from Brown – seeme to have their “neo-Confederate” credentials as both the necessary and sufficient conditions of their participation in this program. I can think of at least 10 Lee scholars in Virginia. On the face of it this is not really a conference on the historical Lee as much as it is a panel of Lee apologists.

    My guess is that we will disagree here. Still, I appreciate you writing in and challenging the original post.

  • John Smith Jan 11, 2007 @ 22:45

    Mr. Levin:

    Thank you. Actually, its Livingston, without the “e.” Sorry, my mistake. Here’s a little about his qualifications: Ph.D., Washington University, 1965

    Research: History of modern philosophy (especially Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment), philosophy of history, political philosophy.

    Selected Publications: Author of Hume’s Philosophy of Common Life (Chicago 1984) and Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium (Chicago 1998); co-editor of Hume, A Re-evaluation; Liberty in Hume’s “History of England”; and Hume as Philosopher of Society, Politics, and History.

    Currently engaged in a book-length study on the moral, legal, and philosophical meaning of secession.

    Fellowships and Honors: Member of editorial board of Hume Studies; National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, 1978-79.

    Whether or not you care for Wilson’s “rants” is not relevant to my point that Wilson’s credentials, as a historian, are impeccable. He is certainly qualified to speak at this event. Though Livingston’s studies are more in political theory, he, too, has a respectable list of accomplishments and one could certainly see how he could bring something to the table when discussing the South’s (Lee’s) philosophical reasoning for leaving the Union (and the subject matter of the event). I gather from your comments that your negativity comes more from your disagreement over their politics and perspective than their credentials or scholarship.

  • Kevin Levin Jan 11, 2007 @ 16:57

    Mr. Smith, — Thank you very much for pointing out the connection between the R.E. Lee Memorial Association and Stratford Hall. In fact it looks like they’ve invited some very talented historians for the upcoming year, including Peter Carmichael and Richard McClaslin. Here is the URL for their lecture series: Here is a link to The Confederate Memorial Literary Society:

    I am not going to comment on the scholarship of Clyde Wilson. I’ve browsed his articles at Lew Rockwell: and am not impressed with his “yankee” rants. As for Prof. Livingstone I will leave it to you to explain his qualifications for discussing R.E. Lee and the South. Kent Brown is a first-rate historian and his most recent book on Gettysburg is a welcome contribution. I recently had a chance to hear Brown talk about _Retreat From Gettysburg_. I highly recommend it.

    Thanks again for taking the time to point out my mistakes.

  • John Smith Jan 11, 2007 @ 16:19

    Mr. Levin – I assume you were unaware, but the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, Inc. is, essentially, Stratford Hall – Lee’s boyhood home. The Confederate Memorial “Literacy” (Actually, its “Literary”) Society is the non-profit corporate body of the Museum of the Confederacy. I’m sure there will be a competent historians representing these organizations. THERE the hell are your historians.

    Also regarding the event, “Robert E. Lee: Hero or Traitor?” you failed to mention these nationally recognized CW authorities who will also be participants: CLYDE WILSON – Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University of South Carolina and Dean of the SD Lee Institute, DONALD LIVINGSTONE – Professor of Philosophy at Emory University and Royal Institute Fellow of the University of Edinburgh and KENT MASTERSON BROWN – author of RETREAT FROM GETTYSBURG and THE CIVIL WAR IN KENTUCKY.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *