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Lost Causes

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

image: Confederate soldiers in front of the second flag of the Confederacy

DiLorenzo and the LewRockwell.com Fact-Checking Team unwind after a hard day of defending free markets and individual rights against the warfare State.

Tom DiLorenzo has made a pretty steady gig for himself in lodging criticisms — mostly just ones — against the federal government’s conduct in the Civil War and against Abraham Lincoln in particular. But the tenor of his comments and his comments about similar crimes by leading lights of the Confederacy has led to some accusations that he seems to be motivated by a dishonestly-supported fetish for Dixie at least as much by concerns about the historical Lincoln. Lately he decided to prove these charges wrong, once and for all, with the following modest proposal:

re: Greatest Americans

Perhaps we should start a list of politically incorrect greatest Americans. I’ll begin by nominating Robert E. Lee, who brilliantly led the Army of Northern Virginia in its war of secession against the empire.

Virginia originally voted to stay in the union, after the lower south seceded, and re-voted (by popular vote as well as by its legislature) only after Lincoln began his invasion of the southern states. Lee turned down command of the Union Army, which was offered to him, to defend his home country against foreign invaders. He also personally liberated the slaves his wife had inherited, something Ulysses S. Grant did not get around to until he was forced to do so by the 13th Amendment in 1866.

(This should cause the politically-correct liberventinists to start cackling like a flock of hens).

Now, my opinions about Robert E. Lee may be different from Tom DiLorenzo’s. (If I were going to make a list of politically incorrect greatest Virginians, I would suggest Gabriel Prosser or Nat Turner long before the pro-slavery, anti-secession, statist warrior Lee.) But whatever our differences may be, what I want to remark on here is that DiLorenzo’s description of Lee contains a documented factual error. I know about it, and he knows about it; I know that he knows about it because I wrote him about it a week ago:

To: Thomas DiLorenzo
Subject: Like a flock of hens, indeed.
Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005

In “re: Greatest Americans”, you recently claimed:

Perhaps we should start a list of politically incorrect greatest Americans. I’ll begin by nominating Robert E. Lee, who brilliantly led the Army of Northern Virginia in its war of secession against the empire. … He also personally liberated the slaves his wife had inherited, …

But this is not true. Lee’s wife did not inherit any slaves and Lee did not “liberate” them. Lee did gain temporary control over 63 slaves after the death of his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, but Custis freed the slaves in his will and Lee was legally obligated to process the manumission papers within five years of his death. (You can find a copy of the will at [1].) In fact, after hiring the slaves out to other plantations for the five years he finally released the slaves in the winter of 1862 and formally filed the manumission papers on December 29, 1862 [2], five years, two months, and nineteen days after his father-in-law’s death.

To suggest that Lee deserves any credit for the emancipation when the terms of the will legally mandated it, and when he held the slaves in bondage for his own profit as long as he was legally able to do so, is either misinformation or disinformation; in either case it should not have been printed and ought to be publicly corrected.

Charles Johnson

DiLorenzo didn’t mention this point in his later posts to the LRC Blog, exactly, but he did go on to prove his objectivity by explaining that Lee could not be blamed by anti-state, anti-war, pro-market libertarians for his role in the imperial war against Mexico because doing the right thing would have been personally costly and possibly dangerous, and to suggest Jefferson Davis as the candidate for the state of Mississippi.

Still, it is important that these facts see the light of day. I wrote yesterday in praise of direct action over lobbying, and since DiLorenzo’s public correction doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, I suppose that I will have to take matters into my own hands.

Lee did not free a single one of the slaves that he gained control of after his father-in-law’s death. Custis emancipated them in his will; Lee just enacted the terms of Custis’s will, as he was legally obligated to do as its sole executor. Lee also happened to keep control over those 63 slaves for as long as he could legally get away with it and sent them, for his own profit, to be forced to work on neighboring plantations and in eastern Virginia. To credit Lee with liberating enslaved people, when it was his father-in-law who freed them, and Lee who kept them in bondage as long as he felt that he could, is disingenuous, and the statement ought to be retracted.

Further reading:

5 replies to Lost Causes Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. John T. Kennedy

    Does DiLorenzo take points off for that Lee commanded a lot of conscripts?

· September 2005 ·

  1. Rad Geek

    I don’t know — is he even aware that the Confederacy conscripted its soldiers at all? (I mean, aware of it in any way that affects what he says or thinks.) In any case, if he’s so deep into Lost Cause mythistory that he would happily make excuses for Lee’s slaveholding and his participation in a naked act of imperialist aggression like the Mexican War, I’m sure that he’d also gladly make excuses for Lee’s role in proposing, building, and commanding a slave army for the slavocratic empire.

· November 2005 ·

  1. tony

    let me guess youre a liberal cry baby or just some insecure person who likes to talk junk about southern heritage.

  2. Rad Geek


    I am no liberal, which you would know if you had read much of anything else I’ve posted, but neither am I the type to be scared by incantations of partisan labels — if I were a liberal (classical or modern) that would do nothing to undermine (or to support) the historical points that I make above. Those can stand on their own quite apart from my own sympathies, and my own wisdom or folly in politics.

    Whether I am a cry baby or not is something that people who know me are better qualified to judge than either you or I. As for Southern heritage,, I’ve already remarked elsewhere that that’s my heritage you’re talking about, and that I am proud enough and knowledgeable enough about where I come from not to be bullied by two-bit Dixie revivalists who want to annex the term to their counter-historical Lost Cause mythology. Which was, you may notice, part of the point of this post.

    Hope this helps.

— 2006 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Over My Shoulder #12: Michael Fellman (2002), The Making of Robert E. Lee

    You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is from Chapter 4 (Race and Slavery of Michael Fellman’s The Making of Robert E. Lee (2000)….

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