I was recently in a hotel owned by the U.S. Federal Government that had this picture on the wall in my room:
Isn’t it a bit strange to see the military leader of a rebellion being honored by the government he rebelled against? I know this isn’t exactly strange in the sense of being unfamiliar given that the US and the states have often chosen to deal with the history of the Confederacy and its leaders rather gingerly (to say the least). But it is a bit jarring to see Lee here in my government room. And imagine how one would feel as an African-American government employee assigned to this room knowing that the Confederacy for which Lee fought was at root all about preserving the institution of slavery.
As a Yankee and advocate for the individual rights of all men and women, I don’t particularly care for the Confederacy or its leaders. Fortunately, libertarians like David Beito and Ron Bailey have provided a lot of good arguments for why all libertarians should share my antipathy to the C.S.A. Here is a nice quotation from a piece by David Beito and Charles Nuckolls:
The primary documents of the period make crystal clear that the Confederacy and slavery went together like hand and glove. The declarations of “immediate causes” of secession of South Carolina and Mississippi say nary a word about the tariff or, for that matter, states rights; but they say quite a bit about the urgent need to protect slavery. Of course, any stress on states rights would have been out of character. During the 1850s, many of the authors of these documents had defended federal supremacy against Northern states that had enacted liberal laws to protect runaways.
Instead, these declarations for secession stress a compact theory that indicted the federal government for failing to live up to its end of the Constitutional bargain by not enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act and by blocking the expansion of slavery into the territories. During the war itself, the Confederacy often trampled on both state and individual rights through the nationalization of industry, inflation, and conscription.
One other thing about Lee. Even aside from the terrible cause for which he was fighting, it is arguable that the US military shouldn’t even celebrate Lee as a great American general. Fortunately for the North, Lee didn’t remember George Washington’s more judicious generalship against a superior force or realize the simple lessons of insurgency later popularized by people like Lawrence of Arabia and Mao.