Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lee @ 200: Fighting for slavery?

In his "Past Awareness" blog in the New Hanover Co. (NC) Press, Bernhard Thuersam of the Cape Fear Historical Institute refutes the claim that Gen. Robert E. Lee contributed to the "perpetuation of slavery." Check out the book, Black Confederates.
Following are a few excerpts.

"Lee never owned slaves himself, though as executor of his father-in-law’s estate he had to free 196 slaves within 5 years of his death. This Lee did, freeing all by 1862, and only after he was assured that they could care for themselves. In contrast, the families of Grant and Lincoln would not free their slaves until forced to do so by the 13th Amendment, after the war. Lee’s personal feelings about slavery were centered on Christianity being a moderating influence in settling this question, and that the institution, forced upon the colonies by the British, would end in due time."

"With the war fundamentally changing views toward slavery in the South by 1864, many military leaders were recommending the active recruitment of slaves to replace the South’s battle-dead, though this would disrupt the crop production of farms and plantations. By early 1865, the Confederate Congress had approved the raising of 300,000 black troops who would be emancipated by their owners first, making it difficult then to claim that Lee, or the South, were fighting to perpetuate slavery any more than the Northern States were. The South was actively freeing slaves, and we must remember, Lincoln's proclamation only claimed to "free" slaves in areas not under the control of Northern armies—all others remained slaves in the Northern mind.

"We can look to the South for the very first all-black fighting unit in the war with the Louisiana Native Guards being mustered into State service in May 1861. This was well before any US Colored Troops appeared. There were 10,000 black soldiers with Stonewall Jackson’s army in the Shenandoah Valley, and black enlisted men were among the North Carolinians who surrendered at Fort Fisher in January 1865. Were they also “fighting to perpetuate slavery?”

"It is certainly time to cease the revisionist history and nonsense about the American Confederacy’s alleged responsibility for slavery, and point the finger in the proper direction. Let’s be honest—we can look to the British and the New England States of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York as those to blame for the nefarious traffic in human flesh from Africa, and they purchased their human cargo from the African tribes themselves.

"We know too that Massachusetts was the first colony to establish slavery, Fanueil Hall and Brown University were constructed on a foundation of slave-trade profits, and as late as 1859, Captain John Newland Maffitt of Wilmington blockade running fame was capturing New England-financed and crewed slavers off the coast of Cuba.

There is your true “perpetuation of slavery,” and it becomes very easy to conclude that if anyone, or any group, or any country can be said to have perpetuated slavery in North America, it quite rightly was the African kings, England and New England—not Robert E. Lee or the American Confederacy."