Monday, January 21, 2019

LTE - Robert E. Lee Day History

Each January we observe the anniversary of the birth of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. On March 30, 1910, the Mississippi Legislature passed legislation designating the birthday of Robert E. Lee, described as “our beloved Confederate chieftain and Southern hero,” as a legal state holiday. The holiday was observed for the first time in January 1911. This year will mark the 100th anniversary of Mississippi’s observance of Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

To avoid conflicts with weekends, The statute calls for the holiday to be observed on the third Monday of January, which this year falls on Jan. 17.

Robert E. Lee was born Jan. 19, 1807, so this year marks 204th anniversary of his birth. Mississippi has been celebrating his birthday in the form of a legal holiday for 100 years.

Prior to designating Lee’s birthday as a holiday, Mississippi had designated legal observances for George Washington’s birthday (Feb. 22), Confederate Memorial Day, (April 26), and Jefferson Davis’ birthday (June 2). A state holiday observing Thanksgiving wasn’t passed until 1916.

We here in Mississippi need to remember that January is Robert E. Lee’s month, and also that the heritage of George Washington, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee is a lot more significant than Mardi Gras and ball games.

I know many of my Northern friends probably question why we celebrate Robert E. Lee Day, you can read the biography of Robert E. Lee here. I choose to remember him for his work to heal the nation after the War Between the States (aka The Civil War) and his efforts to educate young men at Washington College after the war.

To summarize, General Lee took a college whose president and four professors, prior to his coming, had been teaching Greek, Latin, "Natural Philosophy," Mathematics, and "Moral Philosophy" to a handful of boys, and he either enlarged, or planned to enlarge this institution to this general plan:

I. A classical college, with a Christian atmosphere, elective courses, and high standards, presenting the cultural studies as the "foundation of a solid education."
II. A group of scientific schools, with special emphasis on chemistry and engineering, civil, mining, and mechanical, and with laboratory facilities for all the sciences. In these scientific schools, as in the classical courses, the elective system prevailed, but a fixed minimum of work was required.
III. In the classical college and for the schools of science, adequate training was to be provided in modern languages, including p427 Spanish, which General Lee himself insisted was of special importance because the relations of the United States with Latin America were destined to be much closer.
IV. A school of commerce, similar in many respects to those established in recent years in the United States. It did not cover economic theory, however, so fully as do modern courses in commerce, and it was intended to give students practical knowledge of subjects among which were some now relegated to business colleges, namely, office-methods, including penmanship, book-keeping, and stenography.
V. A school of agriculture, with what would now be styled a "demonstration farm."
VI. A system of press scholarships, designed primarily to acquaint young printers with editorial methods and to enlarge their education.
VII. A school of law as an integral part of the college.33
VIII. A summer school to assure the better preparation of students entering the regular courses.
IX. The encouragement of advanced study through the establishment of "resident masterships," corresponding to modern university fellowships.
X. The conduct of research, for the public welfare, by members of the faculty, or persons appointed for the purpose. In the particular circumstances of the college, the investigations undertaken were in topography.
XI. Provision, by scholarship, for bringing selected young men to the college from the high schools and private academies of the South.
XII. Frequent and rigid examination of all students in all departments.34
p428 XIII. In all the activities of the college, the honor system in its fullness to prevail.

Poverty prevented the full attainment of this ideal in General Lee's time. Work in commerce did not develop beyond the modest proportions of a "Students' Business School," which had been privately established some years before35 and subsequently was affiliated with the college.36 The department of agriculture was not opened, nor were the press scholarships used. Nevertheless, Lee's plan was definite and advanced. It attracted much attention at the time, particularly in the emphasis placed on "practical education." The New York Herald predicted that the movement was "likely to make as great an impression upon our old fogy schools and colleges as [General Lee] did in military tactics upon our old fogy commanders in the palmy days of the rebellion."37