The Paradox of Robert Edward Lee

Time Period
1861 to 1876
Media Type
Civil War
David Cox

On June 1, 2017, at noon, David Cox delivered a Banner Lecture entitled "The Paradox of Robert Edward Lee."

Robert E. Lee remains as controversial today as he was in his own era, in part because of the contradictions he embodied. A critic of slavery and secession, he fought for the cause that embodied each. He was the only man ever offered the command of armies that opposed each other. Deemed one of the greatest of military minds, his side still lost. Then, he became one of the chief proponents of reconciliation, yet he held serious reservations pertaining to race and reconstruction. In his book, The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee, David Cox explores how Lee’s faith influenced his views and his actions. In this lecture, he will examine how Lee’s religious convictions guided two of his most important, if paradoxical, decisions: to resign his commission and side with Virginia in 1861, then to accept the presidency of Washington College in Lexington as a means of promoting the reconciliation he hoped to foster after the war. This latter decision in particular seemed to frame his sometimes paradoxical approach to controversies that arose in his later years.

David Cox, a visiting professor of history at Southern Virginia University, teaches American and religious history. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Lexington, where, from 1987 to 2000, he was rector of R. E. Lee Memorial Church.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

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