1. Welcome to the CivilWarTalk, a forum for questions and discussions about the American Civil War! Become a member today for full access to all of our resources, it's fast, simple, and absolutely free!
Dismiss Notice
Join and Become a Patron at CivilWarTalk!
Support this site with a monthly or yearly subscription! Active Patrons get to browse the site Ad free!
START BY JOINING NOW!

Robert E. Lee Quote: Is there a source? Is it real?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by peteanddelmar, Aug 30, 2015.

  1. peteanddelmar

    peteanddelmar 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2014
    Messages:
    2,716
    Location:
    Missouri
    R. E. Lee The consolidation of the States into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.

    -- General Robert E. Lee
     

  2. (Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
  3. PatW

    PatW Private

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2015
    Messages:
    102
    It has the hallmarks of a spurious quote. The language is overly florid. The statement is oracular by that I mean it is vague and ominous. Finally, it does not sound like Lee who was very careful and temperate about what he said.
     
    Malingerer, M E Wolf, Jamieva and 3 others like this.
  4. PeterT

    PeterT 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2015
    Messages:
    3,375
    Location:
    Melbourne Australia
    Agree. It doesn't seem like Lee. A politician perhaps?
     
    John Hartwell likes this.
  5. PeterT

    PeterT 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2015
    Messages:
    3,375
    Location:
    Melbourne Australia
    Well Dr Google tells me the following

    An excerpt from Robert E. Lee's reply letter to Lord Acton, Dec. 15, 1866

    I can only say that while I have considered the preservation of the constitutional power of the General Government to be the foundation of our peace and safety at home and abroad, I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it. I need not refer one so well acquainted as you are with American history, to the State papers of Washington and Jefferson, the representatives of the federal and democratic parties, denouncing consolidation and centralization of power, as tending to the subversion of State Governments, and to despotism.

    So it was indeed Lee. Lord Acton (British politician) made famous the quote .... "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
     
    damYankee, Sbc, alexjack and 5 others like this.
  6. brass napoleon

    brass napoleon Colonel Retired Moderator Member of the Year Honored Fallen Comrade

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2010
    Messages:
    14,989
    Location:
    Ohio
    Yes, he said it, although it's hard to find a reliable source among all the neo-Confederate web sites that have appropriated it. But here's one:

    http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2247#lf1480_head_058
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2015
  7. Eagle eye

    Eagle eye First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2011
    Messages:
    1,680
    Location:
    Michigan City,In
    --------/------------------/-
    Well PatW if it's true that Lee really said that McClellen was the best Union General ("by far") he ever fought, as believed by many people nowadays, then I suppose he could have said the statement in the OP. :smile:
    On a more serious note, I enjoy & admire your observation & explanation of the above quote. You dissected &
    explained it in a wonderful manner. Thank you for your post.
     
    PeterT and rhettbutler1865 like this.
  8. MajGenl.Meade

    MajGenl.Meade Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2015
    Messages:
    2,059
    Location:
    Bloemfontein, Vrystaat, Republiek van Suid-Afrika
    ... and your link tells me the following: :rofl: :smile:

    Our apologies...
    The page you requested does not exist or has moved.
    We suggest you:
    Check for typos in the URL
    Search the site using the search box in the top right
    Contact us about a broken link
    Return to the LewRockwell.com homepage
     
    PeterT likes this.
  9. MajGenl.Meade

    MajGenl.Meade Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2015
    Messages:
    2,059
    Location:
    Bloemfontein, Vrystaat, Republiek van Suid-Afrika
    This website reproduces Lee's letter and footnotes it as being from Freeman's biography of Lee, Vol. IV. It also show the letter from Lord Acton to which Lee was responding:

    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/08/acton-lee-conversation-liberty.html
    Acton and Lee: A Conversation on Liberty
    by
    Stephen Klugewicz and Veronica Mueller

    Notes:
    1 John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, ed. John Neville Figgis and Renald Vere Laurence. (London: Longmans, Gree and Co., 1917). <http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2247>

    2 Freeman, Douglas Southall, R. E. Lee: A Biography: Vol. IV. Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York and London: 1934. Pp. 515-517
     
    M E Wolf and PeterT like this.
  10. Poor Sharecropper's Son

    Poor Sharecropper's Son Corporal

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2015
    Messages:
    316
    Location:
    Caldwell, NJ
    As I've posted before

    [​IMG]
     
    damYankee, Sbc, M E Wolf and 6 others like this.
  11. MajGenl.Meade

    MajGenl.Meade Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2015
    Messages:
    2,059
    Location:
    Bloemfontein, Vrystaat, Republiek van Suid-Afrika
    Let's dispose of this fruitless speculation (and error)

    Lee's letter is quoted and fully discussed in Douglas Southall Freeman's R E LEE Vol IV, pages 302-306 (of the version available at us.archive.org). The letter does state what is included in the OP. The full text is given in the link that I provided.

    Anyone who wants to read what Freeman wrote can do so here:

    https://ia802607.us.archive.org/22/items/releeabiographyv012631mbp/releeabiographyv012631mbp.pdf

    Here is an interesting footnote of Freeman's (21 below):

    upload_2015-8-30_9-0-55.png

    EDITED TO ADD: Except I did NOT notice my own error! The OP says "empire" and as Andy Hall points out later in this thread, Lee said "republic".
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2015
  12. brass napoleon

    brass napoleon Colonel Retired Moderator Member of the Year Honored Fallen Comrade

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2010
    Messages:
    14,989
    Location:
    Ohio
    I'm not sure if I'm understanding you correctly, and you might want to pause before you use dismissive terms like "fruitless speculation (and error)". You link to the same source I provided, which clearly does show that the statement mentioned in the OP is included in the letter:

    I can only say that while I have considered the preservation of the constitutional power of the General Government to be the foundation of our peace and safety at home and abroad, I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it. I need not refer one so well acquainted as you are with American history, to the State papers of Washington and Jefferson, the representatives of the federal and democratic parties, denouncing consolidation and centralisation of power, as tending to the subversion of State Governments, and to despotism.
     
    M E Wolf, PeterT and rhettbutler1865 like this.
  13. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2010
    Messages:
    20,453
    Location:
    State of Jefferson
    Great work, folks! It's cleared up nicely. :smile:

    I've always thought I'd like to write a book titled "Quotes from Lee He Knew Nothing About", and its sequel "Quotes from Lee In Context". :tongue:
     
    M E Wolf, hanna260, Nathanb1 and 7 others like this.
  14. peteanddelmar

    peteanddelmar 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2014
    Messages:
    2,716
    Location:
    Missouri
    So it does seem that Lee thought "the United States ARE" more than he thought of them as one republic. He still thought of them as a more loosely tied alliance (or whatever) of semi-sovereign states than we do today? And that Lee may have indeed thought in a "my home state" way? That he really might have wanted to defend Virginia to some degree and not just slavery?
    Because, if true, it might shed a little light on why so many people for so long tried to hold him up as a Confederate Example.
    I have heard that most Americans back then thought more of their state than they did the country. But saw the wisdom in having a Federal government for certain purposes. But much different than we do now.

    This about Lee is very new to me.
    So did the Confederates really think their states had the right to decide about large matters and therefore about slavery?
    Or were they just in favor (State Rights) because they lost control of the Federal government? Or a mix?
     
    PeterT likes this.
  15. CMWinkler

    CMWinkler Colonel Forum Host Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2012
    Messages:
    13,683
    Location:
    Middle Tennessee
    I don't recall seeing that quotation before. Interesting.
     
    PeterT likes this.
  16. brass napoleon

    brass napoleon Colonel Retired Moderator Member of the Year Honored Fallen Comrade

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2010
    Messages:
    14,989
    Location:
    Ohio
    Absolutely.

    I think we need to make a distinction between Lee and the political leaders of the Southern states. The political leaders were all about protecting slavery, and for the most part they saw states' rights only as a means to achieve their end. They were altogether willing to trample states' rights in order to achieve that end, if necessary.

    Many Southerners (and Northerners too, for that matter), believed firmly in states' rights as something worth protecting in its own right, however. The political leaders of the South deliberately created a situation that put the federal government in opposition to a supposed state right to secede unilaterally. This put Southerners, like Lee, who was opposed to unilateral secession, in a position where they had to join the secessionists if they wanted to protect states' rights.
     
  17. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2010
    Messages:
    20,453
    Location:
    State of Jefferson
    That's the best I've seen it put! Forrest and Jackson were also in that camp - Forrest definitely wanted to protect slavery and Jackson didn't care much, but both were in Lee's camp on states' rights. IIRC, Lee was gravely concerned about the strength the federal government could now exert at the expense of the states after the war ended. (Lincoln was concerned about that, too, but didn't live through his second term so we'll never know what he might have done or not done about it.)
     
    alexjack, M E Wolf, PeterT and 4 others like this.
  18. rhettbutler1865

    rhettbutler1865 Colonel, CSA Cavalry Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2015
    Messages:
    2,769
    Now THIS is an interesting thread! I learned something new and surprising today. Thank you!:thumbsup::smoke:
     
    M E Wolf, PeterT and unionblue like this.
  19. Northern Light

    Northern Light Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2014
    Messages:
    7,318
    Hah! This reminds me of a series of signs seen recently at a local church, advertizing a sermon series, "Things Jesus Never Said", followed by "Things You Wish Jesus Had Said". We could substitute Lee's name and start a new thread.:cautious:
     
    M E Wolf, diane and John Hartwell like this.
  20. John Hartwell

    John Hartwell Captain Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2011
    Messages:
    6,439
    Location:
    Central Massachusetts
    Or Church! ... no, wait! ... Lee's already been an object of Adoration for 150 years!
     
    Northern Light likes this.
  21. MajGenl.Meade

    MajGenl.Meade Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2015
    Messages:
    2,059
    Location:
    Bloemfontein, Vrystaat, Republiek van Suid-Afrika
    I think you misconstrue - fruitless speculation and error did not refer to your post at all.

    Aha! I didn't intend to link to the same source as you - that was a coincidence. I quoted the footnotes to my link and as it happens, their first footnote DOES link to the same site. I never even noticed that! Thanks.


    EDITED TO ADD: Except I did NOT notice my own error! The OP says "empire" and as Andy Hall points out later in this thread, Lee said "republic".
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2015

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

Share This Page


(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)