Did Lee violate his oath?

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
I was just reading an article on the renaming of US Army bases and saw a quote from General Miley, in which he stated that these CSA officers who had bses named after them had "violated their oaths" by taking up arms against the US. I've always argued otherwise, based on the fact that the oath military officers took before the Civil War stated "I do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiant to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies and oppressors...." (emphasis added).

Based on the use of "them" to describe the US, it seems obvious to me that Lee, and other officers, took an oath to defend all of the States comprising the US, and when some off those States made war against some other States, that the oath became non-operable. Clearly the oath viewed the US as a collection of States, each of which has a claim of protection under the oath. But when those States warred on each other, then the oath became non-applicable.

This does not address whether secession was legal under the Constitution nor about the whole argument of treason vs. expatriation, but is solely limited to the oft stated argument that Lee and others broke their military oaths.

I think a more compelling argument for re-naming the bases is based on so many of the honored officers were incompetent. Fort Bragg? Really??? What message does that send to our young warriors?
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Hmmm. I hardly think that the oath was written with the idea that it would become inoperable in cases of domestic insurrection. It takes legalistic quibbling to a ridiculous new degree.

A far better argument for the ex-US (now Confederate) officers would be that their home states had legitimately separated themselves from the US, so the oaths were moot once the officers had officially resigned from the US Army. Of course few people will agree with this argument today, but it was sufficent back in the day.
 

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Hmmm. I hardly think that the oath was written with the idea that it would become inoperable in cases of domestic insurrection. It takes legalistic quibbling to a ridiculous new degree.

A far better argument for the ex-US (now Confederate) officers would be that their home states had legitimately separated themselves from the US, so the oaths were moot once the officers had officially resigned from the US Army. Of course few people will agree with this argument today, but it was sufficent back in the day.
Domestic insurrection is a far cry from the act of State legislatures following its procedures to enact legally permissible acts (since secession was an unsettled question in 1861 it was legally permissible and did not violate any legal precedents). This was not a whiskey rebellion situation. I think you are thinking like a 21st Century person, and not like how the US was viewed back in the 19th Century. There was clearly a reason they used the plural to describe the US.

And while you may view it as legalistic quibbling, its that kind of quibbling that wins court cases.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Hmmm. I hardly think that the oath was written with the idea that it would become inoperable in cases of domestic insurrection. It takes legalistic quibbling to a ridiculous new degree.

A far better argument for the ex-US (now Confederate) officers would be that their home states had legitimately separated themselves from the US, so the oaths were moot once the officers had officially resigned from the US Army. Of course few people will agree with this argument today, but it was sufficent back in the day.

Seems to me Miley's premise is that the oath is for life. I would think it would be a contract so to speak for as long as applicable, meaning once military service was over by my resignation, I'm no longer subject to the oath. Under this view, I'd agree and say say no breaking of oath so long as proper and accepted resignation.

When you take the oath for citizenship of the US, I can't imagine you'd still have to support the constitution of the USA if you renounced your citizenship and moved to Canada. Why would you have to abide by your oath AFTER you resigned from the US Army in good faith?
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Domestic insurrection is a far cry from the act of State legislatures following its procedures to enact legally permissible acts (since secession was an unsettled question in 1861 it was legally permissible and did not violate any legal precedents). This was not a whiskey rebellion situation. I think you are thinking like a 21st Century person, and not like how the US was viewed back in the 19th Century. There was clearly a reason they used the plural to describe the US.

And while you may view it as legalistic quibbling, its that kind of quibbling that wins court cases.

Granted, legalisms can win court cases. For example, an ex-Confederate who accepted a pardon can be said to have admitted he had been guilty of treason. Are you going to buy that?
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
General Lee violated his oath, an oath he took several times. On the other hand, he resigned his US commission. So he wasn't serving as a US officer while secretly aiding the Confederate cause. There were people in the Buchanan administration that compiled a notable record of duplicity. There were weighty reasons why Grant, Sherman, Canby and others threw a cloak of immunity over the officers and soldiers who had fought openly in uniform for what they believed in, and truly surrendered.
 
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wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I was just reading an article on the renaming of US Army bases and saw a quote from General Miley, in which he stated that these CSA officers who had bses named after them had "violated their oaths" by taking up arms against the US. I've always argued otherwise, based on the fact that the oath military officers took before the Civil War stated "I do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiant to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies and oppressors...." (emphasis added).

Based on the use of "them" to describe the US, it seems obvious to me that Lee, and other officers, took an oath to defend all of the States comprising the US, and when some off those States made war against some other States, that the oath became non-operable. Clearly the oath viewed the US as a collection of States, each of which has a claim of protection under the oath. But when those States warred on each other, then the oath became non-applicable.

This does not address whether secession was legal under the Constitution nor about the whole argument of treason vs. expatriation, but is solely limited to the oft stated argument that Lee and others broke their military oaths.

I think a more compelling argument for re-naming the bases is based on so many of the honored officers were incompetent. Fort Bragg? Really??? What message does that send to our young warriors?
Why not Fort Alvin York, or Fort Audie Murphy? Fort George Thomas seems possible. Patton was bit controversial, but Fort Bradley or Fort Pershing, why not?
 

NedBaldwin

Major
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
California
... when some off those States made war against some other States...
Rebels calling themselves the Confederate States made war against the United States. Lee's Oath was to the United States, not the Confederate States.

This does not address whether secession was legal under the Constitution nor about the whole argument of treason vs. expatriation, but is solely limited to the oft stated argument that Lee and others broke their military oaths.
Yet it does -- your argument is based entirely on a believe that secession was legal. Your followup response confirms this.

Secession was not a legally permissible act and did violate legal precedents.
You are thinking like a 21st Century person who has been indoctrinated to accept confederate traitors as heroes.

Lee violated his oath. He went to Richmond to accept command of forces opposing the US before his resignation from the US army had been accepted.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
It was certainly apparent that Lee and other southern officers who were graduates of the USMA were guilty of something, given that the cadet oath was revised to include the following affirmative statement:

"I . . . do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and bear true allegiance to the National Government; that I will maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States, paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty I may owe to any State, or country whatsoever."
 

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Granted, legalisms can win court cases. For example, an ex-Confederate who accepted a pardon can be said to have admitted he had been guilty of treason. Are you going to buy that?
Depends on what the pardon said. If it was a blanket pardon for any crimes during the war, then its no necessarily accurate. If the pardon was specifically for treason, then yes, you are right.
 

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Rebels calling themselves the Confederate States made war against the United States. Lee's Oath was to the United States, not the Confederate States.


Yet it does -- your argument is based entirely on a believe that secession was legal. Your followup response confirms this.

Secession was not a legally permissible act and did violate legal precedents.
You are thinking like a 21st Century person who has been indoctrinated to accept confederate traitors as heroes.

Lee violated his oath. He went to Richmond to accept command of forces opposing the US before his resignation from the US army had been accepted.
I dont think you get the point I am making. I admit its a bit legalistic, but then I am a lawyer. Since the oath used the plural to refer to the US, its as if Lee made an oath to each and every state. So how could he comply with his oath if he defended some states, and fought against others? So in a sense, Grant violated his oath when he fought against Virginia, since he swore to defend Virginia against all of its oppressors.

And I did not say secession was legal. I said the legislature voting to secede was a legally permissible act. There was no precedent at that time that said secession was illegal. If you know of any cases on that I would be interested in reading them. It was not until the Supreme Court determined in Texas v. White in 1868 determined that secession was legal. So until the Constitutional question was finally determined one way or another, State legislatures are free to legislate. But after their is a definitive ruling, then sates no longer can legally legislate in areas of settled law. Secession was simply an unsettled question in 1860.

Whether he resigned or not is irrelevant to my legal reasoning.

And I do not think Confederate traitors are heroes. I am no lost causer by any means.
 

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
It was certainly apparent that Lee and other southern officers who were graduates of the USMA were guilty of something, given that the cadet oath was revised to include the following affirmative statement:

"I . . . do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and bear true allegiance to the National Government; that I will maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States, paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty I may owe to any State, or country whatsoever."
I would argue the change was made for exactly the reason I am pointing out. They realized they had a problem with the oath and it had to be fixed. Why change it if it was crystal clear? The fact they changed it supports my position.
 

NedBaldwin

Major
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
California
Grant never fought against Virginia
He fought against rebels who were opposing the US

I dont think you get the point I am making. I admit its a bit legalistic, but then I am a lawyer. Since the oath used the plural to refer to the US, its as if Lee made an oath to each and every state. So how could he comply with his oath if he defended some states, and fought against others? So in a sense, Grant violated his oath when he fought against Virginia, since he swore to defend Virginia against all of its oppressors.

And I did not say secession was legal. I said the legislature voting to secede was a legally permissible act. There was no precedent at that time that said secession was illegal. If you know of any cases on that I would be interested in reading them. It was not until the Supreme Court determined in Texas v. White in 1868 determined that secession was legal. So until the Constitutional question was finally determined one way or another, State legislatures are free to legislate. But after their is a definitive ruling, then sates no longer can legally legislate in areas of settled law. Secession was simply an unsettled question in 1860.

Whether he resigned or not is irrelevant to my legal reasoning.

And I do not think Confederate traitors are heroes. I am no lost causer by any means.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I disagree. The Commonwealth of Virginia, through its elected representatives, fully supported the troops defending the State and it was the policy of the Commonwealth to oppose the Union armies violated its territorial integrity.
And at the base of that contention is the idea that democracy is not a legitimate form of government and that subjective disagreement about an election justifies new special elections and conventions to invalidate the result. The 19th century people concluded that road led to anarchy. What men did in Virginia to enact secession was criminal. And many Virginians in that era knew it.
 

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
And at the base of that contention is the idea that democracy is not a legitimate form of government and that subjective disagreement about an election justifies new special elections and conventions to invalidate the result. The 19th century people concluded that road led to anarchy. What men did in Virginia to enact secession was criminal. And many Virginians in that era knew it.
I certainly agree what the did was beyond stupid. Secession was basically a suicide note and reflected at a minimum very poor judgment. If they really wanted to protect slavery, then secession was about the worst decision they could make. As for criminality, I just dont have that much certainty as you apparently do. There are way too many legal defenses and interpretations that prevent me from making such a definitive statement. And the fact no one was ever prosecuted for it certainly supports my conclusion that its, at a minimum, a thorny issue subject to many different interpretations.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
President Lincoln was the rightful President of the US, as Winfield Scott acknowledged. Colonel Lee took an opposite position compared to his cousin, Captain Samuel P. Lee. That was dishonorable act by Robert E. Lee. In contrast to that, Lee out on the uniform of the army of the aspiring nation, took his chances professionally and personally in open combat. The gods of war had stacked the odds heavily in favor of the US, and Confederate General Lee lost. But the issue of legality and loyalty are divisive and would lead to continuing warfare of a insurgency. The US generals had seen enough and did want to go down that path.
 

Don Dixon

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
I was just reading an article on the renaming of US Army bases and saw a quote from General Miley, in which he stated that these CSA officers who had bses named after them had "violated their oaths" by taking up arms against the US. I've always argued otherwise, based on the fact that the oath military officers took before the Civil War stated "I do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiant to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies and oppressors...." (emphasis added).

Based on the use of "them" to describe the US, it seems obvious to me that Lee, and other officers, took an oath to defend all of the States comprising the US, and when some off those States made war against some other States, that the oath became non-operable. Clearly the oath viewed the US as a collection of States, each of which has a claim of protection under the oath. But when those States warred on each other, then the oath became non-applicable.

This does not address whether secession was legal under the Constitution nor about the whole argument of treason vs. expatriation, but is solely limited to the oft stated argument that Lee and others broke their military oaths.

Acting Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee was born at Sully plantation in Fairfax, Virginia, in 1812, and was a third cousin of Robert E. Lee. He remained loyal to the Union, famously observing when his loyalty to Virginia was questioned "When I find the word Virginia in my commission, I will join the Confederacy." I think that says it all.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 
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