Asked in 1960 how he could keep a portrait of a man who tried to “destroy our government” in his Oval Office, President Eisenhower wrote his critic back:
“General Robert E. Lee was one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history…
“To the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.
“Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.”
Have some terrible new truths been unearthed about Lee we did not know in 1960?
No. The change has taken place in the poisoned minds of modernity.
Some will never concede there was principle or honor in the cause of a South that declared independence in 1860-61, emulating the 13 colonies that declared their independence in 1776.
In his tribute to Lee in 1960, Ike addressed what was at issue in 1860 that brought on the war.
“We need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.”
Ike refers not to a “Civil War,” but to the “War Between the States.” And correctly so. For the South did not seek to bring down the U.S. government, or overturn Lincoln’s election, or seize power in the capital — but to leave the Union, to secede, as Jefferson and John Adams voted to secede from Britain in 1776.