January 17, 2022

Frederick Douglass on Robert E. Lee’s Death

Having spent a large portion of my life in Richmond, Virginia—where some still refer to the American Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”—I’ve witnessed mind-boggling mental gymnastics regarding the “great” Robert E. Lee. I’ll spare you details.

However, in “celebration” of Lee’s birthday (Jan. 19), I’d like to share a few words from a truly great American, Frederick Douglass, in response to such drivel.

A few weeks after Lee died, Douglass wrote an editorial for his newspaper, The National Era, about the cause of Lee’s death. After citing several obituaries from sources sympathetic to Lee—such as Jefferson Davis, who said Lee “died of a broken heart,” and a journal that said “he died being sadly depressed at the condition of the country, that he could stand it no longer”—Douglass concluded: “From which we are to infer, that the liberation of four millions of slaves and their elevation to manhood, and to the enjoyment of their civil and political rights, was more than he could stand, and so he died!”

I love Frederick Douglass.

(Read his full editorial at The Reconstruction Era blog or the Library of Congress.)


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