"The Foremost Apostle of Slavery"

J.A. Rogers on the 1937 Lee Stamps

In 1937, the Pittsburgh Courier published an editorial written by staff correspondent J.A. Rogers concerning stamps honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee.[1] Although the article refers to April 15, 1937, as the day the “postage stamp [was] struck in honor” of Lee, it seems more likely that it referred to a stamp printed several weeks prior on March 23, 1937 depicting both Lee and Stonewall Jackson.[2] Rogers offered an extensive argument criticizing the choice to honor Lee on the stamp.

Rogers believed that Lee was the “greatest of all the champions of slavery,” and that white Southerners had thus imagined him as a far more majestic figure than he actually was. He was also a traitor. “Had Lee succeeded,” wrote Rogers, “the United States would now be two separate nations.”[3] Striking a patriotic note, Rogers favorably compared the “great, rich peaceful nation” of the United States to the situation of a number of conflict-riven states in South and Latin America, contending that this would have been the US’s fate if Lee had triumphed.

Rogers also dispatched the claim that Lee was worthy of reverence on account of his skill as a military commander, noting that skill placed in service of an evil act does not merit commemoration:

But if we are to admire mere skill then we must also laud the skilled counterfeiter, liar, thief, and all other ingenious outlaws. Lee used his ability, not to help humanity and his country, but to destroy them. The foremost apostle of slavery was a kindly, pious, god-fearing gentleman, we are told. But was not precisely the same thing said of Al Capone, who tried to restore the empire of Booze, after it had been declared illegal by the United States?[4]

Extending the gangster analogy, the article noted that “by all accounts, Capone was one of the kindliest, tenderest, and most generous of mortals” and therefore was himself a “sort of Robert E. Lee by the liquor rebels of Chicago and the nation.”[5] Rogers claimed that if Capone had been able to “fight to restore King Alcohol” as Lee fought to retain the institution of slavery, he might have found recognition in congress instead of Alcatraz. Going even further, Rogers mused that “there would be far greater justice honoring Al Capone than in honoring Lee because the government itself routed the foes of Al Capone, namely, the prohibition agents” whereas “What Lee stood for is still outlawed.”[6] Capone’s cause—the liquor trade—was eventually vindicated. Lee’s never was.

Rogers’ final claim was that Lee’s veneration arose primarily from the refusal—on the part of his white Southern partisans—to accept their own error:

No matter what [the] personal qualities of Lee [were], he was responsible for an immense amount of bloodshed, suffering, misery, and loss of property. Most of the admiration for him today springs from sheer obstinacy. Even Southerners, who realize that it was for the best that the South lost, still regret [the] defeat of the Confederates.[7]

Rogers offered, as an alternative, a stamp commemorating Black soldiers, whom he held up as the deciding force that helped the Union win. “Abraham Lincoln,” he observed, “declared at least three times in his writings that it was the Negro who saved the Union.”[8] The article noted precedent for such an action: in France, a stamp had already been printed honoring a Black woman.[9] With this thought, Rogers reflected: “Why then a stamp for those who would have destroyed the Union, and none for those who saved it?”[10]

Justin Seward


Mystic Stamp Company. “1937 4c Army and Navy: Lee and Jackson, Stratford Hall.” https://www.mysticstamp.com/Products/United-States/788/USA/.

Rogers, J.A. “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” Pittsburgh Courier, April 17, 1937, 14.

  1. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎

  2. There is no record of a stamp printed on April 15^th^ of Lee alone. Mystic Stamp Company, “1937 4c Army and Navy.” ↩︎

  3. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎

  4. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎

  5. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎

  6. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎

  7. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎

  8. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎

  9. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎

  10. Rogers, J.A., “Rogers Denounces ‘The Robert E. Lee’ Postage Stamp.” ↩︎