General Lee's Opinions on Reconstruction
April 8, 1867
General Lee speaks out about his position on Reconstruction of the South. Lee does not want his opinion published as he knows he is a paroled prisoner and has no place in politics.
We agree with the Enquirer that General Lee's desire not to be brought before the public should be respected. We were not the first to publish his opinions upon the Sherman bill, nor to raise a question as to his position. The Valley Virginian is entitled to the credit of informing the public upon the subject. But when the question had once been mooted, and certain journals attempted to throw doubt upon it, We thought it not improper to state upon "unquestionable authority" what General Lee's declarations had been. The Enquirer of Saturday intimates that we spoke "unknowingly." We invite the editor, if he feels any interest in learning, to call at our counting room and ascertain upon whose authority the statement was made. It so happens that we have at hand, in the New York Herald, proof that General Lee's position has not been misstated. The Richmond correspondent of that journal went to Lexington for the purpose of learning General Lee's views. Having a letter of introduction, he presented himself at the General's residence, and was kindly received. Of course General Lee declined to define his position to a correspondent of Bennett's Herald; but he clearly admitted that he had made the declarations attributed to him. "We quote from the Herald's letter: "Knowing his reticence with regard to matters political, I alluded as delicately as possible to the reports that have recently been promulgated in the newspapers purporting to give his views as to the course the southern people should pursue under the present circumstances, when he said, 'You must excuse me, sir. from expressing myself upon that subject. My position is a very peculiar one. I am a paroled prisoner, and have no right to speak upon political matters, and anything I may have said has only been among my immediate circle of friends, from whom it doubtless escaped unintentionally, and reached the newspapers.' I then remarked: 'The reports alluded to have been published in the entire press of the country, and in this way will have a decided effect with the southern people'; which elicited the following: 'I wish the southern people to take such measures as will most speedily restore them to their prosperity. With that view, I was in favor of a convention to accept the terms of the military bill, but now I learn that the supplementary bill places that power in the hands of the military commander.' I remarked such was the case, when be said, 'I hope that every citizen who can vote will vote; so as to secure the speedy restoration and welfare of the country.' "During our conversation the General said he disliked being paraded before the public in newspapers ; but of such importance and general interest to the public are his opinions at the present time. I feel it a duty to give them so far as I succeeded in obtaining them in a fair and legitimate manner." The Enquirer will see that General Lee's course has been identical with ours. "I was," said he, " in favor of a convention to accept the terms of the military bill; " thus expressing his approval of the action of the Virginia Senate. "But now," he added, "I learn that the supplementary bill places that power in the hands of the military commander." Further, he said: "I hope that every citizen who can vote will vote; so as to secure the speedy restoration and welfare of the country." These are exactly the utterances that we ascribed to him. How did they get to the public? General Lee answers this question also: "Anything I may have said has only been among my immediate circle of friends, from whom it doubtless escaped unintentionally, and reached the newspapers." The statements, then, were vouched for by his intimate friends, to whom he made them. He clearly understands that it was his "friends" who unintentionally gave his opinions to the world.
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“General Lee's Opinions on Reconstruction,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 20, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/568.