ROBERT E. LEE WHITE SUPREMACIST VIEWS AGAINST SUFFRAGE FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS
In the upcoming elections of 1868, Rosecrans, Civil War general and now Democratic party campaigner sought to counter the Republican party in the election by getting a statement from former Confederate leaders and prevailed upon Robert E. Lee to write a letter to do so. This letter is also known as the “White Sulphur Manifesto.” With Lee signing the letter, other ex-Confederate leaders also signed the letter, with Lee both suggesting signatures to collect and encouraging others to collect signatures for the letter.
The purpose of the letter is to undermine and oppose the civil rights policies of the Republican Party during Reconstruction. Robert E. Lee, through this letter, plays a significant role in defeating civil rights and condemning African Americans to nearly a century of discrimination, lynching, segregation, and violence. This letter is addressed to Rosecrans. This text of the letter is from “R. E. Lee: A Biography by Douglas Southall Freeman published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York and London, 1934, pages 375-377.
It also shows what a pompous self-congratulatory racist he was.
“I have the honor to receive your letter of this date, and, in accordance with your suggestion, I have conferred with a number of gentlemen from the South, in whose judgment I have confidence, and who are well acquainted with the public sentiment of their respective States.
“They have kindly consented to unite with me in replying to your communication, and their names will be found, with my own, appended to this answer.
“With this explanation, we proceed to give you a candid statement of what we believe to be the sentiment of the Southern people in regard to the subjects to which you refer.
“Whatever opinions may have prevailed in the past with regard to African slavery or the right of a State to secede from the Union, we believe we express the almost unanimous judgment of the Southern people when we declare that they consider these questions were decided by the war, and that it is their intention in good faith to abide by that decision. At the close of the war, the Southern people laid down their arms and sought to resume their former relations to the government of the United States. Through their State conventions, they abolished slavery and annulled their ordinances of secession; and they returned to their peaceful pursuits with a sincere purpose to fulfil all their duties under the Constitution of the United States which they had sworn to support. If their action in these particulars had been met in a spirit of frankness and cordiality, we believe that, ere this, old irritations would have passed away, and the wounds inflicted by the war would have been, in a large measure, healed. As far as we are advised, the people of the South entertain no unfriendly feeling towards the government of the United States, but they complain that their rights under the Constitution are withheld from them in the administration thereof. The idea that the Southern people are hostile to the negroes and would oppress them, if it were in their power to do so, is entirely unfounded. They have grown up in our midst, and we have been accustomed from childhood to look upon them with kindness. The change in the relations of the two races has brought no change in our feelings towards them. They still continue an important part of our laboring population. Without their labor, the lands of the South would be comparatively unproductive; without the employment which Southern agriculture affords, they would be destitute of the means of subsistence and become paupers, dependent upon public bounty. Self-interest, if there were no higher motive, would therefore prompt the whites of the South to extend to the negro care and protection.
“The important fact that the two races are, under existing circumstances, necessary to each other is gradually becoming apparent to both, and we believe that but for malign influences exerted to stir up the passions of the negroes, the relations of the two races would soon adjust themselves on a basis of mutual kindness and advantage.
“It is true that the people of the South, in common with a large majority of the people of the North and West, are, for obvious reasons, inflexibly opposed to any system of laws that would place the political power of the country in the hands of the negro race. But this opposition springs from no feeling of enmity, but from a deep-seated conviction that, at present, the negroes have neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power. They would inevitably become the victims of demagogues, who, for selfish purposes, would mislead them to the serious injury of the public.
“The great want of the South is peace. The people earnestly desire tranquillity and restoration of the Union. They deplore disorder and excitement as the most serious obstacle to their prosperity. They ask a restoration of their rights under the Constitution. They desire relief from oppressive misrule. Above all, they would appeal to their countrymen for the re-establishment, in the Southern States, of that which has been justly regarded as the birth-right of every American, the right of self-government. Establish these on a firm basis, and we can safely promise, on behalf of the Southern people, that they will faithfully obey the Constitution and laws of the United States, treat the negro populations with kindness and humanity and fulfil every duty incumbent and peaceful citizens, loyal to the Constitution of their country.”