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This is referred to constantly as proof that REL was anti-slavery: Lee’s letter to his wife of December 20, 1856, where he writes: “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.” 

But look how Lee responded when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. His response was to write nine days later, on January 10, 1863, to Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon thusly:

“In view of the vast increase of the forces of the enemy, of the savage and brutal policy he has proclaimed, which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honor of our families from pollution, our social system from destruction, let every effort be made, every means be employed, to fill and maintain the ranks of our armies, until God, in his mercy, shall bless us with the establishment of our independence. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, R. E. Lee, General.”

"(Our) peculiar institution" was a euphemism for slavery and its economic ramifications in the American South. "Peculiar", in this expression, means "one's own", that is, it refers to something distinctive to or characteristic of a particular place or people. The proper use of the expression is always as a possessive, e.g., "our peculiar institution" or "the South's peculiar institution". It was in popular use during the first half of the 19th century, especially in legislative bodies, as the word slavery was deemed "improper", and was actually banned in certain areas.

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