General Lee's Testimony- The True Policy to Be Pursued Toward the South.

May 4, 1866


Lee describes the feeling of acceptance of defeat in the South, brought by the President's moderate policy opposed by Radicals. The President is not asking for a swarm of black voters, but simply political honesty and abandonment of former views by the South; this will open the doors of Congress for them.


General Lee's Testimony- The True Policy to be Pursued Toward the South. From the London Times, April 19. The utmost that can reasonably be expected from a people situated like the Virginians is such a political conformity as General Lee declared to exist. It is barely twelve months since these men were engaged in one of the most desperate wars of modern times- a war fought out to "the bitter end " with every circumstance of passion and fury. To expect that they should now look with positive affection on their conquerors, condemn their most eminent countrymen as traitors, and repudiate as abominable the principles for which they sacrificed their fortunes and staked their lives, is beyond all reason. It is enough if they know themselves beaten, if they accept the results without reserve, if they cherish no idea of deferred rebellion, and if they are prepared to return to their former position with a resolution to perform all their duties as citizens, and with a readiness to receive the warmer impressions which time and intercourse may bring. These are actually the feelings with which General Lee describes them as now animated. More, it must be evident, could not be expected; but if more is desired, it is manifest that the result can only be secured by that very policy -which the President has avowed, and which the Radicals are so fanatically opposing. If something is still to be done- as nobody need deny- before a Virginian can look upon the Union as he looked ten years ago, it can only be accomplished, as General Lee affirmed, by liberal and conciliatory conduct on the part of the Government. If passive acquiescence is to be converted into cordial sympathy, it must be by kind and generous treatment. The policy of the Radicals is stultified by their own professions. They pretend to desire a more sympathizing South than they have already got, and then, to improve the Southern feeling, they propose to inflict political disgrace on the Southern people. They pronounce them to be still disaffected, or not sufficiently well affected, and by way of conciliating them would condemn them to alienation and outlawry. Such a policy stands self-convicted, for its only result must be to make bad worse. It is not probable that a Virginian looks upon the Government of the Union exactly like a New Englander: no reasonable person would expect that lie should do so. It is enough for the purposes of prudent reconstruction if the States lately in secession have abandoned all ideas of independence, and are prepared to make the best of their position as members of the Union once more. The rest must necessarily be a work of time; but it will be accomplished most speedily, as well as most surely, through such a policy as the President now advocates. He does not desire to swamp the South with a swarm of black voters, nor to place the negro in a position of invidious and perilous antagonism toward the white man. He asks only for simple professions of political honesty. He stipulates that the Southern States shall forego their views of secession, acknowledge and confirm the abolition of slavery now and forever, deal fairly with the enfranchised slaves, and repudiate the debt contracted for the purpose of the rebellion. To these conditions they are willing to assent, and the President would open the doors of Congress to them, and so restore the Union. hut his opponents desire, or profess to desire, we may collect from the examination to which General Lee was subjected. They demand impossibilities; for it is simply absurd to require that the South should humbly and thankfully kiss the rod after the fashion they prescribe. The policy of the President, on the other hand, is a policy not only of moderation, but of promise. It bids fair to bring back the South to those sentiments of perfect concord which the Radicals pretend to demand. It is General Lee's opinion that such a policy, aided by the indispensable co-operation of time, will really produce this effect; but it needs no argument to show that a policy of provocation and oppression, continued after victory, must intensify and perpetuate that very hostility which it is intended to extinguish.
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Brooke Beam


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“General Lee's Testimony- The True Policy to Be Pursued Toward the South.,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed March 30, 2023,