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Robert E. Lee lost a war in 1865. He's winning a battle in 2024.

Efforts in Congress to remove his name from Arlington House remain stalled
Not that long ago, Robert E. Lee was honored on postage stamps. Today, he has become a more polarizing figure.

It’s coming up on the first anniversary of congressional legislation to remove the name of Robert E. Lee from the National Park Service’s Arlington House Memorial.

And it looks like Lee is going to win this round, just as he did two years ago.

Measures by U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) were introduced for the 2023-24 session on June 6, 2023, but continue to languish in committee.

Beyer’s measure has 120 co-sponsors – all Democrats – and over the past month has picked up about a dozen. It sits in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and House Committee on Armed Services.

Kaine’s measure is lodged in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, whose domain includes national parks.

The bills seek to remove “Robert E. Lee” from “Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.” It has been known that way since 1972, and since 1955 has been designated the nation’s official memorial to Lee.

Similar efforts by Beyer and Kaine to remove Lee’s name from the memorial occurred in the 2021-22 session of Congress, when Democrats held control of both houses, but gained no traction. A last-ditch effort by supporters to slip the measure in an omnibus spending bill at the end of 2022 was rebuffed, so the process had to begin all over again in 2023.

Congress in 1955 marked the 90th anniversary of the end of the Civil War by designating what was then known as the Lee Mansion in Arlington as a permanent memorial to Lee. In the measure – still the law of the land – Lee was honored as someone “whose name will ever be bright in our history as a great military leader, a great educator, a great American and a truly great man through the simple heritage of his personal traits of high honor, his grandeur of soul [and] his unfailing strength of heart.”

In 1972, the Democratic-controlled Congress amended the legislation to formally add Lee’s name to the site. As such, it would take an act of Congress to remove it.

It was at Arlington House in 1861 that Lee made the fateful decision to decline President Lincoln’s offer to command U.S. troops and instead side with his home state of Virginia. At the outbreak of hostilities, federal troops marched from the District of Columbia to seize the property after the Lees had departed.

During the war, the first burials took place in what would become Arlington National Cemetery, effectively precluding the family’s eventual return. (Lee’s heirs in the late 1800s received the then-astounding sum of $175,000 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the property had been illegally seized by the government.)

For most of the 150 years following the end of the Civil War, Lee (who died in 1870) was seen as a symbol of post-war reconciliation. While most Americans probably still hold that view, others believe he should not be honored, owing to his role in the war and as a slave owner.