• The Lees of Virginia
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The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.


 

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The conference of Gen. Rosecrans with Gen. R. E. Lee and other distinguished Southern men at the White Sulphur Springs has excited interest in all parts of the country, and the public have manifested a feverish anxiety to learn the character of the correspondence which took place between the parties. The letter of Gen. Rosecrans is long, and we have not the space to publish it in this issue, but we give below the reply of Gen. Lee and others which will enable the reader to learn the substance of it. The whole people of the South, with possibly the exception of many scallawags diseased with the leprosy of Radicalism, will heartily endorse the able and patriotic letter of Gen. Lee and the other distinguished men whose signatures are attached thereto. The National Intelligencer denominates it a “masterly letter,” and says “it is a calm, judicious, pacific, earnest and eminently paper.” Here it is:

 

White Sulphur Springs

West, Va., August 26, 1868

 

General: I have had the honor to receive your letter of this date, and in accordance with your suggestions I have conferred with a number of gentlemen from the South in whose judgment I have confided, 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 proceeded to give you a candid statement of what we believe to be the sentiment of the Southern people in regard to the subject to which you refer.

Whatever opinions may have prevailed in the past in 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 that those 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 with the United States Government. 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 fulfill all their duties under the Constitution of the United States, which they had sworn to protect. 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 great 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 negroes, and would oppress them if it were 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 feeling towards them. They still constitute the important part of our laboring population. Without their labor, the lands of the South would be comparatively unproductive. Without the employment which Southern agriculture provides they would be destitute of the means of subsistence, and become paupers, dependent on public bounty. Self-interest, even if there were no higher motive, would therefore prompt the whites of the South to extend to the negroes 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 the influences exerted to stir up the passions of the negroes that the two races would soon adjust themselves on a basis of mutual kindness and advantage.

It is true that the people of the South, together with the people of the North and West, are, for obvious reasons, opposed to any system of laws which will place the political power of the country in the hands of the negro race. But this opposition springs from no feelings of enmity, but from a deep seated conviction that at present the negroes have neither the intelligence nor 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 tranquility and the restoration of the Union. They deprecate 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 justly been the 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 with kindness and humanity, and fulfill every duty incumbent on peaceful citizens loyal to the Constitution of the country.

We believe the above contains a succinct reply to the general topics embraced in your letter, and we venture to say on behalf of the Southern people and of the officers and soldiers of the late Confederate army, that they will concur in all the sentiments which we have expressed.

Appreciating the patriotic motives which have prompted your letter, and reciprocating your expressions of kind regard, we have the honor to be,

 

Very respectfully and truly,

 

R. E. Lee, of Va.,

W. J. Green, N.C.,

G. T. Beauregard, La.,

Lewis E. Harvie, Va.,

Alex. H. Stephens, Ga.,

P. V. Daniel Jr., Va.,

C. M. Conrad, La.,

W. T. Sutherlin, Va.,

Linton Stephens, Ga.,

A. B. James, La.,

A. T. Caperton, W. Va.,

T. Beauregard, Texas

John Echols, Va.,

M. O. H. Norton, La.,

F. S. Stockdale, Texas

T. P. Branch, Ga.,

Jos. R. Anderson, Va.,

Jeremiah Morton, Va.,

W. T. Turner, W. Va.,

John B. Baldwin, Va.,

C. H. Suber, S.C.

George Bolling, Va.

E. Fontaine, Va.,

Theo. Flourney, Va.

John Letcher, Va.,

James Lyons, Va.,

B. C. Adams, Miss.,

    

 

 

Source: Staunton Spectator, 1868 September 8, Valley of the Shadow database, http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/news/ss1868/va.au.ss.1868.09.08.xml#02

 

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 September 7

 

 

1. Appears to be an error in the transcription, but the LFDA has not consulted the original issue of the Intelligencer for verification.

2. Transcribed as it appears in various sources.

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