Remembering General Robert E. Lee#039;s 193rd birthday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 2, 2000

(Ed. notes: The editorial material that



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was lifted from The Washington Times on the occasion

of Gen. Robert E. Lee's 189th


Appearing previously in the Advocate

on January 21st, 1996, it is just as applicable


as it was four years ago.)

by Richard T. Hines

Vice President, Commonwealth Foundation.

Today is the 189th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Lee in Westmoreland County, Va.

Not many years ago, in Washington and throughout the country the date was observed with solemn but joyful ceremony.

Senators in morning coats

came to Statuary Hall to lay wreaths before Lee's statue.

Schoolchildren recited in unison the General's moving "Farewell Address" to his army.

Many thousands of ordinary



in the cold at one of the hundreds

of Confederate monuments throughout the South to participate in pious services of patriotic and religious


Now, the day largely

passes without



Lee was a common hero

of all Americans, along with other Virginians

like Washington and Jefferson.

A few years ago, I read that Lee still regularly


up on the list of the ten persons most admired by American high school students.

This is astounding, given the deliberate miseducation that many schools

offer teenagers.

At best, Lee has suffered from mere neglect

at the hands of those who dictate our current social and cultural standards.

Indeed as Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment of the Humanities has pointed out, the proposed standards of the high school American


curriculum do not even mention his name.

Lee is the model of strict but modest virtue that is the goal of every Christian saint, and before them, the "virtuous

pagans" like Cicero

and Cato.

Despite the efforts of the debunkers


distort the record, Lee remains

a paragon

of all the personal virtues.

I think that the General would be extremely


to know that his character

or career could ever be the subject of public


or political


He was not

driven by ambition, but impelled by a sense of duty.

Indeed, in one of his

famous sayings, he observed that "duty" was the most sublime word in the language.

After the war, when Lee was a figure of veneration, babies

were often brought

to be presented to him, as if to receive a blessing

from a saint.

After brushing the hair and touching the cheek of one such child, Lee looked at the mother and said, "Teach him he must deny






These terms, when

they are understood at all, have an almost


connotation today.

For ours is an age of many

celebrities, but few heroes; many

politicians, but few statesmen; much moralizing, but

little morality; much wealth, but little worth.

Yet, if America

is to survive as a civilization, we must recover the lost personal virtues exemplified by Robert E. Lee.

And if we are to survive as a free people, we must

recover those principles of the founding fathers for which he was foremost military champion.

Perhaps the most succinct

epitaph for Lee was offered by Senator Benjamin

J. Hill of Georgia.

"He was a

foe without

hate and a friend without treachery, a soldier without cruelty and a victim without murmuring .

He was a public officer without vices, a private

citizen without

wrong, a neighbor


reproach, a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile.

He was Caesar without

his ambition, Frederick without his tyranny, Napoleon without his selfishness, and Washington without his reward."