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Pride in America: Robert E. Lee

Pride in America: Robert E. Lee

Brian Almon
June 21, 2023

Welcome to Pride in America Month. Every day in the month of June and through Independence Day, we will highlight a figure who has demonstrated and defended American values. Consider it a healthy alternative to the Left's June celebration that has taken over the media and corporate America.

In 1799, Revolutionary War veteran “Light Horse Harry” Lee gave the famous eulogy for George Washington. Eight years later, he welcomed a son named Robert into the world of Virginia aristocracy. Robert Lee would grow up to marry Mary Anna Custis, granddaughter of George Washington’s stepson.

Most Americans know the story of Robert E. Lee, whose brilliant leadership during the Civil War gave the outnumbered and outgunned Confederacy many more victories than they might otherwise have won. But his story is one of contradictions. Lee opposed slavery from a moral perspective, yet he owned hundreds of slaves. He opposed secession, yet he felt honor-bound to fight for Virginia. When offered a military command for the Union after the Battle of Fort Sumter, Lee replied, “How can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?”

The scene of Robert E. Lee surrendering the Confederate Army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse is iconic. The much-needed reconciliation between North and South began in that very room, as Grant sent Lee and his troops home with their swords, their horses, and their honor.

Most nations probably would not have survived a conflict so deep and bloody as the American Civil War, but the United States unified and went on to become the greatest economic, military, and cultural power in the history of the world. Veterans on both sides forgave each other and came together as Americans in ceremonies that lasted into the 1930s. Robert E. Lee was honored as a great man by both sides.

At a ceremony dedicating a memorial statue in 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt called Lee “one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.” In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower said that Lee was “one of the supremely gifted men produced by our nation” and lauded him as one of the four greatest Americans in history.

Reverence for Lee remained uncontroversial until just a few years ago, when leftist activists began systematically erasing American heritage. Men like Lee who owned slaves made for low-hanging fruit, but we have seen how George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and even Abraham Lincoln eventually became targets for such iconoclasm. 

The supreme irony of this controversy is that for more than 100 years, Robert E. Lee represented unity. Both North and South came together to honor a man who, despite taking up arms against his country, did it in the same spirit as George Washington in the prior century. The memory of Lee gave both sides common ground on which the wounds of the nation could be healed. It is a shame to see those wounds reopened by activists who seek to destroy this country.

Nevertheless, Robert E. Lee embodied timeless virtues such as honor, courage, and aptitude — virtues that are sorely lacking today.

Do you have a great American who deserves to be celebrated this month? Let us know!

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