‘Why do we judge Confederates on the morality of slavery but not figures of the classical era?’

Just wondering why Robert E Lee can’t be an American hero for owning slaves despite literally everyone owning slaves at the time

While we all can safely circle jerk around Alexander the Great and Plato and Julius Caesar who all owned the fuck out of shit tons of slaves.

Better take down every statue of Augustus Caesar in Italy because he owned slaves.

The Confederates sought to found a nation whose explicit cornerstone was the moral equivalent of institutional prepubescent rape.

That includes both literal sexual assaults, where slavers enriched themselves by coercing or forcing themselves on enslaved women to produce offspring the slavers also would own, as well as more figurative forms: agricultural slave labor camps; torture with screws & amputation & dogs; and irreparably separating families—parents from children, husband from wife—to destroy all sense of self or continuity.

Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis, president of Confederate States of America, speech before the Mississippi Legislature, Nov. 16, 1858

Like child rape to us now, it was universally recognized as evil at the time, there was strong and persistent opposition both in the North and internationally, and chattel slavery lay outside of historical norms & precedent. Just as the age of consent varies by time & place, it only goes so far.

Likewise, this wasn’t a society with enslaved people in it: it was a slave society with people held in bondage in perpetuity, and all of their descendants, with no autonomy or hope of freedom. Even helots weren’t beaten by Spartans if they failed to meet a daily quota; even Slavs could advance their social position and purchase freedom in the Ottoman Empire. And with the international textile industry, King Cotton was creating ever darker & more perverse forms of slavery in the Deep South at the time the slaver states rebelled.

The personal courage or relative compassion of people as individuals is not relevant to what they chose to fight for. As a slaver, (at best) Robert E. Lee—or Stonewall Jackson, or some other ‘moral’ slaver—may personally have been the equivalent of someone merely sexually assaulting a handful of 13-year-olds, but he led an army to defend the right to rape toddlers.

Unlike Roman emperors or Macedonian conquerors, people in modern society continue to justify and make excuses based on a dehumanizing racist system.

Robert E. Lee, Confederate General, in letter to wife Mary Lee, Dec. 27, 1856

If you heard someone say, ‘Child rape is bad, but our history should still have monuments to remember these people fighting for what they believed in,’ you might wonder how sincere the first four words are or whether they’re just there as grease for what follows the conjunction.

If someone says, ‘Slavery is bad, but’, we are right to assume everything that comes next is the person’s truer heart, and to this day, the literal and spiritual descendants of slavers have not stopped justifying them or praising the cause of a failed attempt to explicitly found a society on white supremacy.

Howell Cobb
Thomas Howell Cobb, President of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, letter to James A. Seddon, Confederate States Secretary of War, Jan. 8, 1865

Lee didn’t own slaves. It’s just a leftist conspiracy to villainize him.

In fact, it’s clear the opposite is true: Lee’s history as a slaver has largely been intentionally excised from his historiography.

Testimony of Wesley Norris (1866)
I remained with Gen. Lee about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to “lay it on well,” an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.

New York Daily Tribune, June 24, 1859 (bottom half of second column)

  • Letter 1: The officer whipped the two men, and said he would not whip the woman, and Col. Lee stripped her and whipped him herself. These are the facts as I learn from near relatives of the men whipped. After being whipped, he sent them to Richmond and hired them out as farm hands.
  • Letter 2: the men received thirty and nine lashes each, from the hands of the slave-whipper, when he refused to whip the girl, and Mr. Lee himself administered the thirty and nine lashes to her.

Therefore, judging Lee and other Confederates by contemporary sensibilities doesn’t make them come out any better.

Outside of the South, chattel slavery was universally regarded as an evil, shameful practice and the whites who supported it were thought of as backward and barbaric. But Americans in the North and Western Europeans who were invested in cheap cotton for textiles looked the other way or didn’t bother to think too much about it because they cared more about making money than the abstract suffering of people far away.

Southerners in 1860 knew what the rest of the world thought of them. The fact that the North disrespected their honor by refusing to help kidnap and re-enslave people in their own territories, and didn’t condemn insurrections by enslaved people, pissed off slavers to no end.

South Carolina Secession Flag
‘Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union’, December 24, 1860

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