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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


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Vol. IV
p299
Chapter XVII

Lee and the Reconstruction Acts

The session of 1866‑67 opened on September 13 with a greatly increased registration.1 Before the end of March the enrollment had risen to 345,2 and by commencement it was 399. Of these, only 139 matriculates came from Virginia. Tennessee sent 60, Kentucky 44, and Texas 33. Every Southern state was represented.3 It was a very large student body for those pinching times. In comparison, the University of Virginia had 490 that year, the University of North Carolina, 128, Yale, 709, and Harvard, 961. The students were, also, perhaps a more serious company, in the main, than had come to Lexington the previous autumn. Except for some disturbances on the nights of November 23‑24, the behavior of the boys gave General Lee little concern until early spring.4 In caring for the fuller classes, the faculty was worked hard but was recruited during the winter. Colonel William Preston Johnston, son of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Albert Sidney Johnston, was named Professor of History and Literature, to take his chair on February 1, 1867.5 Besides authorizing the appointment of an assistant professor of Latin and Mathematics,6 the trustees relieved Lee of some of his duties by the choice of a young superintendent of grounds and buildings.7 However, there was enough outdoor duty, and to spare, because the trustees, at General Lee's instance, had put first among the construction projects of the college the erection of a new chapel. It was to cost not more than $10,000 when completed. As already explained, $6000 might be spent at once if this would carry the work far enough to make the edifice serviceable.8 General p300 Lee was most anxious to have a larger, more appropriate place of worship, because of its anticipated influence on the spiritual life of the students. He devoted himself to building the structure economically and within the allowed appropriation. With Custis's assistance,9 he gave to it daily supervision and the experience gained in dealing with labor when he had been an army engineer.10 The slow progress of the construction and the strait limits of his available funds seemed only to make him more determined to complete it. He had personally selected the location for it, conspicuously opposite the line of older buildings on the hill, and he intended it to be the centre of college life.

Autumn slipped away and with the darker skies of winter came a gloomier outlook for Virginia and the rest of the South. Congress and the President had disagreed bitterly over reconstruction. The committee that had heard General Lee and a host of witnesses had reported in April. On the basis of its findings, an elaborate plan was being built up to force the Southern states to acquiesce in the enfranchisement of the Negroes as a condition of readmission to the Union. The government that had been functioning reasonably well in Virginia, its difficulties considered, was now threatened with overthrow.

General Lee of course saw the trend of all this. In May, 1866, a short time after the committee made its report, he gave an interview to the young Marquess of Lorne, later the ninth Duke of Argyll, who married Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria.11 During their conversation, which was unrestrained, Lee p301 displayed deep concern over the prospect. It would be long, he said, before there is any improvement in the condition of the people. "The Radical party are likely to do a great deal of harm, for we wish now for good feeling to grow up between North and South, and the President, Mr. Johnson, has been doing much to strengthen the feeling in favor of the Union among us. The relations between the Negroes and the whites were friendly formerly, and would remain so if legislation be not passed in favor of the blacks, in a way that will only do them harm."

Lee went on in a voice that Lorne thought very sorrowful, though there was not a touch of bitterness in it: "We [They?] do not seem to see that they are raising up feelings of race — and if a bad feeling is raised in consequence of unfair laws being passed against the weaker party it must yield. The blacks must always here be the weaker; the whites are so much stronger that there is no chance for the black, if the Radical party passes the laws it wants against us. They are working as though they wished to keep alive by their proposals in Congress the bad blood in the South against the North. If left alone the hostility which must be felt after such a war would rapidly decrease, but it may be continued by incessant provocation. The Southerners took up arms honestly: surely it is to be desired that the good-will of our people be encouraged, and that there should be no inciting them against the North. To the minds of the Southern men the idea of 'Union' was ridiculous when the states that made the Union did not desire it to continue; but the North fought for the Union, and now, if what appears to be the most powerful party among them is to have its own way, they are doing their best to destroy all real union. If they succeed, 'Union' can only be a mere name."

The young marquess, who had recently been in Washington, remarked that he had met many who approved of the President's course and would work for reconciliation.

"Yes," said Lee, "but none seem to be courageous enough to oppose the Radicals, who are therefore able to do what they like, and no one stands fairly up to them to hinder them. Surely if the Union be worth preserving, they should try to conciliate the whole nation, and not do all they can against the Southern part of it." In this there was an echo of his statement before the reconstruction p302 committee, that it was good policy, in his opinion, for the North to conciliate the South.12

Lorne replied that he thought the great majority repudiated the extreme utterance of Thaddeus Stevens. He did not believe that the proposals of the reconstruction committee for confiscating Southern property and for disfranchising the whites would be acted upon favorably.

Lee politely refrained from comment on this prophecy.13

As the debate in Congress and in the country progressed during 1866, Lee followed the newspapers with more care than usual and cut from them a number of articles that stated the Southern point of view in its historical bearings. These clippings he put away in a drawer of his table-desk for future use.14 The scope and content of Federal legislation were still undetermined in the early winter of 1866‑67, but it was manifest that the vindictive spirit of Thaddeus Stevens and his radical followers was triumphing over the wise policy of reconciliation that Lincoln had devised and Johnson sought to apply. Twenty months after Appomattox, the political prospect of the South was far gloomier than it had been at the time of the amnesty proclamation, issued before the paroled Southern soldiers had all found their way home.

These were the conditions in which General Lee received, during December, 1866, a letter from Sir John Dalberg Acton, later Lord Acton. In this letter, the British historian asked for an expression of Lee's views on the constitutional issues involved in secession and on the longer political outlook, in order that he might counsel wisely the editors of a new British review. General Lee took pains with his answer.15 Apparently, he procured from the library of one of the literary societies a volume on the American Constitution, in order that he might speak by the book,16 and he referred to several of the newspaper articles he had gathered p303 during the year. He wrote his reply to Acton on December 15, 1866, but as the communication was not published at the time, the existence of the papers was not generally known until the appearance of Lord Acton's Correspondence in 1917. Lee's letter, therefore, cannot be said to have had any appreciable influence on the South or on the determination of the questions with which it dealt, but it is very much the fullest expression of Lee's views and, when read with certain passages from some of his other correspondence, it shows clearly what he thought of the political prospect and how he viewed in retrospect the constitutional issue for which he had fought.

It will be remembered that in 1861 Lee knew little about the constitutional involvements of secession. In one of his few known references to the subject, he confused the preamble of the Articles of Confederation with that of the Constitution of 1787. He went with Virginia on her secession because his whole background, his training, and his social and family ties led him to feel instinctively that his first allegiance, at a time of tragic but inescapable choice, was to her.17 He held that in her secession Virginia carried him with her. As he fought for the Southern cause, however, he came to see its meaning. Sacrifice clarified it. One cannot say when or how — whether it was by his own reading, or through the debates in winter quarters, or from the contagion of political belief — but Lee absorbed the Southern constitutional argument and was convinced by it. "All that the South has ever desired," he wrote in January, 1866, "was that the Union, as established by our forefathers, should be preserved; and that the government, as originally organized, should be administered in purity and truth."18 Speaking of his own course, he wrote: "I had no other guide, nor had I any other object than the defense of those principles of American liberty upon which the constitutions of the several states were originally founded."19 To a friend in the West he wrote in 1869 what in 1866 undoubtedly was his opinion: "I was not in favor of secession, and was opposed to war; in fact . . . I was for the Constitution and the Union established by our forefathers. No one now is more in p304 favor of that Constitution and that Union; and, as far as I know, it is that for which the South has all along contended. . . ."20

In the fuller statement to Acton he now brought the state's rights argument to bear on the immediate question of the status of the seceded states. ". . . While I have considered the preservation of the constitutional power of the General Government to be the foundation of our peace and safety at home and abroad, I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved in the states and to the people, [is] not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our present system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it."

He cited then the various historic warnings in America against centralization of power, and argued, by reference to the Hartford convention and the constitution of Massachusetts, that secession was conceded to be a right by two of the states that subsequently most opposed it. "Judge Chase, the present chief justice of the U. S.," he went on, "as late as 1850, is reported to have stated in the Senate, of which he was a member, that he 'knew of no remedy in case of the refusal of a state to perform its stipulation,' thereby acknowledging the sovereignty and independence of state action."21

Here Lee dropped the argument from the past and turned to the outlook:

"But I will not weary you with this unprofitable discussion. Unprofitable because the judgment of reason has been displaced by the arbitrament of war, waged for the purpose as avowed of maintaining the union of the states. If, therefore, the result of the war is to be considered as having decided that the union of the states in inviolable and perpetual under the constitution, it naturally p305 follows that it is as incompetent for the general government to impair its integrity by the exclusion of a state, as for the states to do so by secession; and that the existence and rights of a state by the constitution are as indestructible as the union itself. The legitimate consequence then must be the perfect equality of rights of all the states; the exclusive right of each to regulate its internal affairs under rules established by the constitution, and the right of each state to prescribe for itself the qualification of suffrage. The South had contended only for the supremacy of the constitution, and the just administration of the laws made in pursuance of it. Virginia to the last made great efforts to save the union, and urged harmony and compromise. Senator Douglas, in his remarks upon the compromise bill recommended by the committee of thirteen in 1861, stated that every member from the South, including Messrs. Toombs and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Davis, expressed their willingness to accept the proposition of Senator Crittenden from Kentucky, as a final settlement of the controversy, if sustained by the Republican party, and that the only difficulty in the way of an amicable adjustment was with the Republican party. Who then is responsible for the war? Although the South would have preferred any honorable compromise to the fratricidal war which has taken place, she now accepts in good faith its constitutional results, and receives without reserve the amendment which has already been made to the Constitution for the extinction of slavery. That is an event that has long been sought, though in a different way, and by none has it been more earnestly desired than by citizens of Virginia. In other respects I trust that the constitution may undergo no change, but that it may be handed down to succeeding generations in the form we received it from our forefathers."22

In summary, then, General Lee believed that the rights of the states must be preserved, though the right of secession admittedly was no longer among them. He did not think the Federal Government had the authority under the Constitution to dictate suffrage requirements to the states, though he was entirely willing that the prohibition of slavery should be written into the Constitution. p306 He held that the Southern states could not be denied their civil rights and their places in Congress under the theory of an indestructible Union, a theory which the North itself supported.

Like most Southerners, Lee supported President Johnson and of course opposed the program of the Radicals. In July, 1866, he had written: "Everyone approves of the policy of President Johnson, gives him his cordial support, and would, I believe, confer on him the presidency for another term, if it was in his power."23 In October, 1867, he told Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet, who seemingly desired his endorsement of some move in support of the Republicans, "While I think we should act under the law and according to the law imposed upon us, I cannot think the course pursued by the dominant political party the one best for the interests of the country, and therefore cannot say so, or give them my approval."24 When Longstreet took a contrary course, and joined the Republicans, Lee said "General Longstreet has made a great mistake."25 Lee saw the temptation to which his old lieutenant yielded, and he frankly told General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Chilton the South could expect no part in the administration of national affairs for many years. For that reason, among others, the South should turn her energies to the development of her industries.26

Despite the gloom of the political outlook, Christmas, 1866, was a pleasant season for the Lees. Not long before it, the General had a welcome visit from the old teacher of his youth, William B. Leary, to whom he gave a warm letter of personal endorsement.27 Rooney did not come up for the holidays,28 and Mildred was with friends in Maryland, but the other girls and Custis were at home, and Robert arrived on December 20.

Young Lee brought a familiar friend with him — none other than the sorrel mare, Lucy Long, that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jeb Stuart in the fall of 1862 had given his chief. From that time until the spring of 1864 the General had used her alternately with Traveller. Broken p307 down then by hard riding and scanty feed, the mare had been sent out to Henry County, Virginia, to recuperate. Lee recalled her before the opening of the Appomattox campaign, but never received her. She got into a stable of government horses and was sent to Danville, where she either was stolen or else was carried off by some soldier when the Confederacy collapsed. In some way she reached Essex County, Virginia, where she was sold to an honest man. Her resemblance to the General's war-time mare having been noted, Lee learned of her whereabouts, proved her identity, and paid for her out of consideration for Stuart's memory.29 The horse was brought to young Robert Lee's during the autumn and was kept there until nearly Christmas. Then she was shipped by rail to Staunton, at which point Robert met her. "I found there Colonel William Allan," wrote the junior Lee, "who had a buggy and no horse, and as I had a horse and no buggy, we joined forces and I drove him over to Lexington, 'Lucy Long' carrying us with great ease to herself and comfort to us. My father was glad to get her, as he was very fond of her. When he heard how she came over, he was really shocked, as he thought she had never been broken to harness."30

Lee gave Lucy Long good care, of course, employing her chiefly as a riding horse for his daughters, but personally he almost always used Traveller. That silent veteran of his campaigns had a place in the General's heart next after his God, his country, his family, his veterans, and his boys. Much as he disliked having his own photograph taken,31 he was glad to suggest a picture of Traveller at the Rockbridge Baths,32 and when Markie Williams proposed to paint a picture of the horse, he wrote the detailed description already quoted,33 and was anxious to know how her work was progressing.34 The charger spent much of his time in the front yard of Lee's house, and he always received his p308 master with the same toss of the head that had acknowledged the soldiers' cheers during the war. Lee often had sugar for the horse and sometimes was seen gazing silently at him as though recalling the scenes they had shared.

Traveller enjoyed the easy, honored life he led at Lexington, but, like other heroes, he found that had to pay a price for fame. In his case, the souvenir hunters were his bane. They stole so much of his mane and tail that he became suspicious of all strangers, and would never let any them get behind him without exhibiting nervousness.35 However, he preserved docility with his master, and if he broke away, a whistle from Lee would halt him. Lee insisted that he could not see how any man could ride a horse for any length of time unless there developed a perfect understanding between rider and mount.

Until 1869, in the course of an afternoon, the General frequently rode Traveller to Rockbridge Baths and back, a distance of twenty miles, and on the way he would often give him a stiff run, a "breather," as he called it.36 Another favorite ride was to Colonel Ross's, where he would talk of farming.37 When he was away from Lexington, Lee sent messages to the horse just as he did to the members of his family. "How is Traveller?" he inquired. "Tell him I miss him dreadfully and have repented of our separation but once and that is the whole time since we parted." And again, "I hope Traveller is well and wants for nothing. I want him more than ever now that I shall be alone." During a season when he boarded the animal in the country outside Lexington, he visited him every week, and when he was absent and a stranger was attending the horses, he left minute instructions for their care. On days when his mount had to be shod, the General stood by him during the ordeal. "Have patience with Traveller," he urged the blacksmith as the horse danced about, "he was made nervous by the bursting of bombs around him during the war."38 Members of the family who had gone from home on visits were regaled occasionally with news about the favorite steed. To Mildred he wrote that winter, "Traveller and p309 Custis are both well, and pursue their usual dignified gait and habits, and are not led away by the frivolous entertainments of lectures and concerts."39 Such was his loyalty to Traveller that it was an ominous sign of his approaching end when Lee had to admit that the trot of his steed was getting harder. Rightly enough, on the day that Lee was buried, the horse followed directly behind the hearse.40

Other animals, too, shared the General's love during the years at Lexington, as they had during the period of the war. He kept a cow, after the manner of most village people in those days of open spaces, and he was distressed on his departure for the Hot Springs in the last summer of his life to leave the faithful milker sick. "You do not mention the cow," he wrote back, "she is of more interest to me than the cats, and is equally destructive of rats." A few days later he said: "I am glad the cow is better. She stands next in my affections to Traveller." The news of her death drew this sorrowful comment: "Our good cow will be a loss to us, but her troubles are all over now, and I am grateful to her for what she has done for us. I hope that we did our duty to her."41

Dogs he esteemed somewhat less than in the days at Fort Hamilton, but he had a frequent mention of at least one canine. That was "Duckie," a very small, helpless creature that Mr. and Mrs. Edward Childe brought with them from France when they came on a visit. "He had crossed the Atlantic in fear and trembling," Robert Lee recorded, "and did not apparently enjoy the new world. His utter helplessness and the great care taken of him by his mistress, his ill health and the unutterable woe of his countenance greatly excited my father's pity. After he went away, he often spoke of him, and referred to him, I find, in one of his letters."42

Near the end of his life, when Lee could not enjoy Traveller, because of the condition of his heart, he sought a dog. Writing to Fitz Lee, not a month before he died, the General said: "Your letter on the dog question has been unavoidably delayed. I thank you very sincerely for recollecting my wishes on the subject and p310 [for] your steps to comply with them. First I must inform you that it is not my purpose to put my dog to towing canal boats or hauling dirt carts, but want him to play the part of a friend and protector. His disposition is therefore of vital importance — he ought not to be too old to contract a friendship for me — neither is his size so important to me as a perfect form."43 Cats, of course, the women of the house had about them always, more numerously perhaps than Lee desired, but he made no protest.44 Whether Lee disliked some species of animals or not, their suffering pained him deeply. One winter, not far from Lexington, a forest fire added great beauty to the night. But when some one praised it to Lee, he could not wholly agree. "It is beautiful," he admitted, "but I have been thinking of the poor animals which must perish in the flames."45

The new year, 1867, brought a call. There still was a hope that Congress would leave President Johnson free to permit Virginia to elect a governor without military interference. Several possible conservative nominees were suggested. General Lee was the most conspicuous of them.46 It was not a new proposal. Besides the suggestion General Meade had made, John B. Baldwin the previous year had put forward Lee's name at a public meeting, when it had met with much applause. Some of the Radicals who had testified before the reconstruction committee were convinced that a plan was under way to name the General.47 By the end of January, 1867, sentiment for Lee was so strong that Judge Robert Ould wrote to know if he would accept the nomination. The General was sick when Ould's letter arrived, but he replied at once. He was appreciative, he wrote the judge, but he preferred private life, which he thought was better suited to his condition and age. He believed there were many more capable of filling the position and of promoting the interests of the people. He went on:

"I think it most important, in selecting a Chief Magistrate of p311 the Commonwealth, for the citizens to choose one capable of fulfilling its high trust, and at the same time not liable to the misconstruction which their choice of one objectionable to the General Government would be sure to create, and thereby increase the evils under with the State at present labors.

"I have no means of knowing, other than are apparent to you, whether my election as Governor of Virginia would be personally injurious to me or not, and therefore the consideration of that question in your letter has not been embraced in my reply. But I believe it would be used by the dominant party to excite hostility toward the State, and to injure the people in the eyes of the country; and I therefore cannot consent to become the instrument of bringing distress upon those whose prosperity and happiness are so dear to me. If my disfranchisement and privation of civil rights would secure to the citizens of the State the enjoyment of civil liberty and equal rights under the Constitution, I would willingly accept them in their stead.

"What I have written is intended only for your own information. . . ."48

To State Senator Cabell he said: "As regards the mention of my name for the next Governor, that has been finally settled by the late Bill of Congress. But I expressed my views on the subject some time since to Mr Ould of Richmond, who will no doubt disclose them to you if you desire. I believe my election would be injurious to Virginia, & I cannot therefore consent to become a candidate."49

Both these were serious answers, written at a serious time, and the tone is quite different from that of the polite but impersonal letters in which he so often rejected business offers. Evidently he gave thought to the proposal. Although he had told Ben. Hill during the war that his talents were military, not civil,50 he might, in other circumstances, have looked favorably on Judge Ould's suggestion. He may have been influenced unconsciously by the fact that his father had been governor of Virginia after the p312 Revolution. One of Mrs. Lee's ambitions for him was that he should end his career with the same honor.51

Very shortly after General Lee answered Judge Ould, the political outlook changed grimly for the worse. The Radicals in Congress triumphed decisively over President Johnson, and in the face of his veto, passed the First Reconstruction Act on March 2, 1867. In a supplementary law of March 23 this was elaborated.52 These two statutes subordinated to army officers the government of ten Southern states, Virginia among them. The states themselves ceased to exist for the time, in the eyes of the Federal Government, and became military districts. Before they could be relieved of this armed rule and allowed representation in Congress again, each of the ten states must elect a constitutional convention on the basis of manhood suffrage, Negroes included. Further, this convention had to draft a constitution giving the ballot to all male adults. The people were thereupon to ratify the new constitution, and Congress, if it saw fit, was to approve. Then a legislature, chosen as required by the modified organic law, was to meet and accept the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. This amendment contained a section disqualifying for office virtually all those who had held official position and had thrown in their lot with the Confederacy.

On March 13, 1867, the First Reconstruction Act was proclaimed in Virginia. On that day, the proud Old Dominion became Military District No. 1. Dictatorial power to remove functionaries, to make appointments, to hold a general registration, and to initiate all the steps required under the new Federal law was vested in the soldier who had for some time been in charge of the Union forces garrisoning Virginia, Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John M. Schofield.53

What should Virginians do about this harsh legislation? Should they passively resist? Should they refrain from participating in the elections, or should they save what they might? In a bitterness of spirit they had not felt in 1865 people asked these questions. It was one thing to be defeated in war; it was quite another p313 to see Congress enact laws avowedly designed to disfranchise white men and to subject them to the political domination of their former slaves. "It is bad enough," Mrs. Lee indignantly wrote Mrs. Chilton, "to be the victims of tyranny, but when it is wielded by such cowards and base men as Butler, Thaddeus & Turner it is indeed intolerable. The country that allows such scum to rule them must be fast going to destruction and we shall care little if we are not involved in the crash." And again, "They still desire to grind [the South] to dust & wish to effect this purpose by working on the feelings of the low & ignorant negroes many of whom do not even comprehend what a vote means[.] My indignation cannot be controlled and I wonder our people, helpless and disarmed as they are[,] can bear it. Oh God how long?"54

These were the sentiments of thousands who looked to Lee for guidance. He had followed the newspapers the previous year but as the climax approached, he avoided reading the attacks delivered in Congress on the South.55 Nor would he now permit himself to be brought into the controversy through the public prints. In three private letters, however, he set forth his opinions freely, and in at least one instance, an accurate though unauthorized statement of his views was printed in a newspaper,56 very soon after the passage of the Reconstruction Act.

It this public statement that prompted him, in answer to an inquiry from his friend Judge Robert Ould of Richmond, to express his opinion of Virginia's duty. Under date of March 29, 1867, he wrote as follows:

"My dear Sir

"I received this mong your letter of the 26th Inst: & do not know on what authority my opinions have been announced in the public papers. It was certainly not by mine, & from what I am told remarks are attributed to me of which I have no knowledge. When the Sherman bill became a law & its execution imperative, I considered right & just to the people of the State, that it should p314 be submitted as required for their action, & that the call for a convention should be legitimately & properly made. I have never read the bill passed by the Senate of Virginia for that purpose, & do not know its provisions; but if there was then a difference of opinion as to the proper mode, there can be none since the passage of the supplemental bill; & I think all persons entitled to vote should attend the polls & endeavour to elect the best available men to represent them in the convention, to whose decision every one should submit. The preservation of harmony & kind feelings is of the utmost importance, & all good citizens should exert themselves to secure it & to prevent the division of the people into parties. The interests of all are inseparably connected & can only be preserved by our united wisdom & strength. I think it useless to offer arguments to show the propriety of this course. Its advantages are too manifest.

"It is extremely unpleasant to me, for reasons which I think will occur to you, that my name should be unnecessarily brought before the public, and I do not see that any good can result from it. I hope therefore you will not publish my letter, but that you will try & allay the strife that I fear may arise in the State.

"With great regard your obt Servt

R. E. Lee."57

As the wrath of the South rose in resentment of the Federal legislation, Lee had to urge his view with tact. The South, he wrote General Dabney H. Maury, was acting under compulsion. Each state should consult its best interests as far as it could. The Reconstruction Act would be carried out: a convention would be called and a constitution drafted. As that was certain, "the question, then, is, shall the members of the convention be selected from the best available men in the State, or the worst?" The Radicals would be well pleased, he presumed, if they and the Negroes were left to make the new organic law of the commonwealth. In the circumstances, he thought it the duty of all citizens who were not disfranchised to qualify and to vote for the best men they could get to be candidates for the convention. When p315 that body met, it should determine what should be done, and in its decision the whole white population should acquiesce. He did not so state in plain words, but he left it to be inferred that if the convention decided it should enfranchise the Negroes, in order to procure the readmission of Virginia into the Union, the people should endorse this action.58 "Although [the convention's] decision may not be considered at the time the most advantageous," he said in his other letter on the Reconstruction Acts, "it should be recollected that it can be improved as opportunity offers, and in the end I trust all things will work together for our good."59

He refused to despair of the future, though "greater calamity," in his opinion, might yet result from the misunderstanding between the sections.60 "The dominant party cannot reign forever," he had written one of his sons in February, "and truth and justice will at last prevail."61 "The present condition of affairs," he told an unnamed Petersburg lady, "is, as you state, calculated to cause much anxiety, but not enough, in my opinion, to cause us to despond, or to cease in our efforts to direct events to a favorable issue."62 And in June he wrote Rooney, in language curiously rhetorical for him, "Although the future is still dark, and the prospects gloomy, I am confident that, if we all unite in doing our duty, and earnestly work to extract what good we can out of the evil that now hangs over our dear land, the time is not distant when the angry cloud will be lifted from our horizon and the sun in his pristine brightness again shine forth."63

Within the college, the session of 1866‑67 passed quickly, amid the exactions of a thousand duties. Visitors came in the usual numbers. Among them was William Swinton, author of The Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, who was then travelling through the South, collecting from Confederate leaders some of the historical material he used in his Twelve Decisive Battles of the War. "He seems to be gentlemanly," Lee confided to Rooney, p316 in manifest relief, after Swinton's departure, "but I derive no pleasure from my interviews with book-makers. I have either to appear uncivil or run the risk of being dragged before the public."64

The intermediate examinations were stiff. "The ordeal through which the higher classes passed," Lee wrote his still-absent daughter, "was as severe as any I ever witnessed."65 The general level of performance was high,66 and the students were serious. Lee himself seems to have shared in the general pursuit of knowledge, for he took from the library a volume on calculus and presumably regaled himself in the realm of his favorite mathematics.67 He found time, too, to think once again of the history of his campaigns he still hoped to write,68 though he had told Acton he was progressing slowly "in the collection of the necessary documents."69

In March occurred the session's gravest breach of discipline. Some of the students heard there was to be a speech-making to the Negroes on the evening of the 22d and, boy-like, five of them determined to attend. One of the group foolishly took a pistol with him. They went to the Freedmen's Church and, finding it dark, decided that the meeting must be at the schoolhouse, so they tramped thither. On their arrival, the student who carried the pistol approached a window to see if there was a gathering within. Immediately a Negro accosted him, cursed him, and made a motion as if to draw a weapon. The student took out his own firearm and started to beat the Negro, but presently desisted and went away with his companions. In some manner he eluded arrest, but the four others were brought before the mayor and were tried. As soon as General Lee heard of the affair, he summoned the quartet who had been in court. When they came, the student who had been engaged in the altercation also appeared. In accordance with the honor system of the college, he explained that circumstances, and assumed the entire blame. He was promptly expelled and the others were reprimanded. Three weeks later the assistant superintendent of the Freedmen's Bureau p317 wrote General Lee on the subject, apparently determined to make an issue of it, but he dropped the matter, it seems, after Lee wrote him the facts in the case.70

A month before commencement, President Davis was released on bail from his long confinement at Fort Monroe, Virginia. General Lee had felt from the first the injustice of making the Confederate President a scapegoat,71 and he had consulted with friends to see if anything could be done in Mr. Davis's behalf. He had carried his war-time chief on his heart and in his prayers, confident of his acquittal if brought to trial, yet sensitive to Mr. Davis's sufferings.72 The news that Davis was at last free from prison, General Lee received with relief and thankfulness. He wrote the former executive: "You can conceive better than I can express the misery which your friends have suffered from your long imprisonment, and the other afflictions incident thereto. To none has this been more painful than to me, and the impossibility of affording relief has added to my distress. Your release has lifted a load from my heart which I have not words to tell, and my daily prayer to the great Ruler of the world is, that He may shield you from all future harm, guard you from all evil, and give you the peace which the world cannot take away. That the rest of your days may be triumphantly happy is the sincere and earnest wish of your most obedient, faithful friend p318 and servant."73 Doubtless the feelings expressed in this letter brightened the commencement for General Lee.74

During the final exercises, when the trustees met, they had no report of large gifts to the endowment during the year, except for one donation from the Ladies Association of Louisville, Ky.75 Some of the subscriptions previously made had not been met.76 The solicitors of the college, however, had gathered many small pledges and some cash during the year. Reverend E. P. Walton returned $27,950, exclusive of gifts under $100, as compared with $45,280 in 1865‑66.77 As students had paid $22,000 for tuition, the trustees had some latitude in making appropriations at their June meeting. A "boarding house," or commons, to cost $5000 was authorized, though this action was later rescinded. Certain needed land was purchased. Laboratory apparatus costing $6700 was ordered, to be paid for over a period of three years. A thousand dollars were set aside for advertising. Commutation of $300 was allowed each of the professors to whom the college did not supply a house. Even the expense of a band to enliven the commencement exercises was approved.

Nor were these the only outlays sanctioned. It was General Lee's custom, during the meetings of the trustees, to report and then to retire in order that the board might be under no restraint in debating his recommendations.78 While he was absent from the room at the June meeting, the building committee was instructed to contract at once for the erection of a new house for the president at a cost of $12,000, later raised to $15,000. General Lee did not think this should be done, and argued that other improvements should have precedence, but there was no gainsaying the trustees.79

p319 No new professors were elected, because funds for the endowment of the additional chairs had not been raised. The only change in duties was the creation of the combined office of clerk and librarian, at a salary of $600 per annum.80 Arrangements with Judge Brockenbrough for the operation of the law school were continued another year.81 The committee on instruction expressed its gratification at the work of the session and had no reforms to suggest.82

If the second year offered no such dazzling comparisons as could have been made at the end of the session of 1865‑66, it was because the transformation had already occurred. Everything now depended on enlarged endowment. The assets of the college, as of January, 1867, were estimated by General Lee as follows: Buildings, $40,000; grounds, $10,000; apparatus, exclusive of prospective purchases, $1000; endowment, including securities not paying interest, $190,000. Salaries were $11,000 per annum, and tuition receipts, as already noted, were $22,000.83 The school, Lee had written in March, was progressing as well as could be expected.84 He believed at the time that in another year he would have done all he could at the college and that he could retire to "some quiet spot" east of the mountains where he could prepare a home for Mrs. Lee and his daughters.85 Confinement, he had told an old friend, "agrees less with me even than labour in the field."86 To Markie Williams he had written a year before: "I am easily wearied now, and look forward with joy to the time, which is fast approaching, that I can lay [sic] down and rest."87


The Author's Notes:

1 This is the date set in the 1866 Catalogue.

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2 Lexington Gazette, March 20, 1867.

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3 1866‑67 Catalogue, 18.

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4 For his appeal to the boys not to repeat the offense, see Jones, 106.

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5 This action was taken despite fear that funds might not be available for paying his salary (Trustees' Minutes, Oct. 12, Nov. 15, 1866).

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6 Trustees' Minutes, Nov. 15, 1866.

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7 Riley, 89. This position had been created the previous June. See supra, p267.

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8 Trustees' Minutes, July 18, 1866. See supra, 267, note 58.

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9 Henry Louis Smith in Washington and Lee Alumni Magazine, November, 1927, p28.

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10 Jones, 107‑8. The old chapel was to be turned over to the department of experimental philosophy and applied science, provided the cost did not exceed $900 (Trustees' Minutes, July 18, 1866).

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11 R. E. Lee, Jr., related (op. cit., 244) that the marquess and his companion called at a time when no servant was at hand. General Lee met them himself but not having on his glasses could not read their cards. He ushered them into the parlor and presented them to Mrs. Lee without calling their names. Mrs. Lee, observing that the young man was thin and mistaking him for a prospective student, began to caution him to be mindful of his health in the stern winter climate of Lexington. This led to explanations, whereupon all laughed at the mistake. Argyll did not mention this in his Passages from the Past, but stated, on the contrary, that he called at Lee's house in the evening by appointment. It is possible that the incident and the person have been confused in the account by R. E. Lee, Jr. J. W. Ewing, in Riley, 71, stated that Sir Garnett Wolseley also visited Lee at Lexington, but as there is no reference in Wolseley's letters to this, Mr. Ewing probably misunderstood the name.

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12 See supra, p252.

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13 Argyll: Passages from the Past, I, 165 ff.

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14 They are still (1934) there, in his office at Washington and Lee, which has not been disturbed since the day he left it.

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15 Original in archives of Washington and Lee University. Acton's letter is so interesting and throws so much light on his character as well as on British estimates of the Southern cause that it is printed as Appendix IV-4. To the late Dean H. D. Campbell, who discovered it in the archives of Washington and Lee, the writer's thanks are due for a copy of this document.

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16 Riley, 168.

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17 See supra, vol. I, p440.

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18 R. E. Lee to Chauncey Burr, Jan. 5, 1866; Jones, 210.

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19 R. E. Lee to Captain James May, July 9, 1866; Jones, 217‑18.

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20 R. E. Lee to Geo. W. Jones, March 22, 1869; Jones, 273‑74.

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21 This item about Chase was gleaned by Lee from one of the newspaper clippings he preserved and in itself seem to negative the suggestion of Judge Winston that the "Acton letter" was not written by Lee but may have been prepared at his request by some lawyer friend. It is possible, of course, as stated supra, p239, note 46, that Lee had some legal assistance in drawing up this paper.

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22 Lord Acton's Correspondence, I, 302‑5. Apparently, Lord Acton made no use of this letter in any of his writings.

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23 R. E. Lee to James May, July 9, 1866; Jones, 217.

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24 R. E. Lee to James Longstreet, Oct. 29, 1867; Jones, 227.

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25S. H. S. P., 176.

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26 R. E. Lee to R. H. Chilton, MS., Jan. 10, 1867; Chilton Papers.

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27 R. E. Lee, Jr., 417.

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28 R. E. Lee to R. H. Chilton, MS., Jan. 10, 1867, "Fitzhugh was detained . . . in an effort to procure the necessary labor to cultivate his farm" (Chilton Papers).

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29 R. E. Lee, Jr., 250.

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30 R. E. Lee, Jr., 251.

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31 Cf. R. E. Lee, Jr.: "My father never could bear to have his picture taken, and there are no likenesses of him that really give his sweet expression" (25 Confederate Veteran, 50).

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32 This is the familiar picture showing Lee, in half-profile, astride the quiet horse. It was taken by A. H. Plecker of Lynchburg. See his account of the incident in 30 Confederate Veteran, 117.

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33 See supra, vol. I, pp645‑46 and Markie Letters, 73‑75.

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34 Cf. Lee to Markie Williams, Jan. 1, 1868: "How are you progressing with Traveller[']s portrait[,] Markie? He is getting old like his master, and looks to your pencil to hand him down to posterity" (Markie Letters, 80).

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35 McDonald, 5. Lee wrote Mary, Oct. 29, 1865: "The boys are plucking out his tail, and he is presenting the appearance of a plucked chicken" (R. E. Lee, Jr., 193).

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36 R. E. Lee, Jr., 371.

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37 Riley, 81.

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38 Riley, 68, 68n, 74, 93, 93n, 112, 136; cf. R. E. Lee, Jr., 428.

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39 R. E. Lee to Mildred Lee, Dec. 21, 1866; R. E. Lee, Jr., 249.

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40 R. E. Lee, Jr., 374; Jones, in Riley, 218.

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41 R. E. Lee, Jr., 424, 426, 427‑28.

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42 R. E. Lee, Jr., 370‑71.

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43 New York Times, April 15, 1930, quoting the letter, then on exhibit, from the collection of Henry Woodhouse.

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44 Cf. Mrs. R. E. Lee to Mildred Lee, MS., Dec. 25, 1866, Duke Univ. MSS.

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45 Jones, 163‑64.

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46 Lexington Gazette of Jan. 9, 1867, quoting Richmond Whig.

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47 Reports of the Reconstruction Committee, 121, 151.

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48 R. E. Lee to Robert Ould, Feb. 4, 1867; Jones, 222.

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49 Lee to David S. G. Cabell, MS., Feb. 25, 1867; Library of Congress.

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50 Jones, 224.

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51 Mrs. Mary Custis Lee to R. H. Chilton, MS., Dec. 12, 1870; Chilton Papers.

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52 14 U. S. Statutes at Large, 428; 15 U. S. Statutes at Large, 2.

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53 H. J. Eckenrode: Political History of Virginia during the Reconstruction (cited hereafter as Eckenrode), 52.

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54 Mrs. R. E. Lee to Mrs. R. H. Chilton, MS., March 10 and May 6, 1867; Chilton Papers.

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55 Mrs. R. E. Lee to Mrs. R. H. Chilton, MS., March 10, 1867; loc. cit.

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56 Lexington Gazette, March 27, 1867.

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57 Ould MSS., courteously made available to the writer by Colonel and Mrs. W. Frank Powers of Richmond. The original of this letter has been given the Virginia Historical Society.

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58 R. E. Lee to D. H. Maury, May 23, 1867; Jones, 226‑27.

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59 R. E. Lee to Mrs. [image ALT: an underscored blank] of Petersburg, Va., May 21, 1867; Jones, 225.

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60 R. E. Lee to Frank Fuller, April 20, 1867; Jones, 224.

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61 R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, Feb. 26, 1867; R. E. Lee, Jr., 258.

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62 Jones, 225.

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63 R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, June 8, 1867; R. E. Lee, Jr., 260.

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64 R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, June 8, 1867; R. E. Lee, Jr., 261.

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65 R. E. Lee to Mildred Lee, Feb. 16, 1867; R. E. Lee, Jr., 254.

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66 Ibid.

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67 Riley, 169.

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68 R. E. Lee, Jr., 259.

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69 Lord Acton's Correspondence, I, 305.

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70 R. E. Lee to J. W. Sharp, MS., April 13, 1867; Lee's MS. Letter Book. It was about this time that General Lee is alleged to have set the seal of his approval on the Ku Klux Klan. According to Susan Lawrence Davis (Authentic History of the Ku Klux Klan, 81) just prior to the first convention of the K. K. K. at Nashville, in May, 1867, the Pulaski, Georgia, or Tennessee Klan sent members to General Lee to ascertain if the continuance of the order met with his approval. The tradition is that he answered: "I would like to assist you in any plan that offers relief. I cannot be with you in person but I will follow you but must be invisible; and my advice is to keep it as you have it, a protective organization." From this remark it is claimed that the Klan got its name, "the invisible empire." Miss Davis, who based her history on personal conversations with many of the early members of the Klan, thinks there can be no doubt that this story of General Lee's affiliation with the Klan was generally credited, but she has not been able to find any mention of it in any of the records of the Klan she has thus far examined. No sort of reference to the incident, or to the Klan, appears in any of General Lee's papers that have come under the eye of the author of this work. He is not disposed to accept the story, though satisfied, of course, that Miss Davis recorded it precisely as it was given to her by some of the early members of the Klan.

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71 On May 13, 1867, President Davis was admitted to bail (7 Rowland, 175‑76). Cf. R. E. Lee to Josiah Tatnall, Sept. 7, 1865: "It will, I think, be admitted that Mr. Davis has done nothing more than all the citizens of the Southern States, and should not be held accountable for acts performed by them in the exercise of what had been considered by them an unquestionable right" (Jones, 205).

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72 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Jefferson Davis, Jan. 23, 1866; Jones, 212.

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73 R. E. Lee to Jefferson Davis, June 1, 1867; Jones, 258‑59.

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74 R. E. Lee, Jr., 262‑63. The baccalaureate sermon was preached by Reverend John A. Broadus (Trustees' Minutes, June 20, 1867; Robertson's John A. Broadus, 224, 227).

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75 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Susan Preston Hepburn, MS., May 31, 1867; Lee's MS. Letter Book.

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76 Trustees' Minutes, June 20, 1867.

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77 Walton's subscription books, Treasurer's Records, Washington and Lee University.

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78 Joynes in Cent. U. S. C., 32.

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79 Trustees' Minutes, June 19, 20, 1867; for the President's house, see ibid., and Aug. 20, 1867; also Jones, 177. To meet the immediate financial drain of these expenditures, the trustees authorized the borrowing of $10,000. Tuition and other college fees were raised slightly to make the total $105, exclusive of board, or $115 with a modern language (Trustees' Minutes, June 20, 1867).

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80 Trustees' Minutes, June 19, 1867.

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81 Trustees' Minutes, June 19, 1867.

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82 Trustees' Minutes, June 20, 1867.

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83 R. E. Lee to unnamed correspondent, Jan. 26, 1867; Lee's MS. Letter Book.

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84 Lexington Gazette, March 20, 1867.

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85 R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, June 8, 1867; R. E. Lee260.

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86 R. E. Lee to R. H. Chilton, Jan. 10, 1867; Chilton MSS.

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87 April 7, 1866; Markie Letters, 70.


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