Lee and Jackson vs. the United States

Indulge me for a moment as I think out loud. I don’t have an answer to the question I’m about to pose, so I don’t have a position to state. I’m more interested in the conversation than the conclusion.

A few weeks ago, I offered my reaction to Ty Seidule’s provocative book Robert E. Lee and Me, which traced the author’s journey as a Southerner reckoning with the myth of the Lost Cause. Then, earlier this week, I mentioned the Virginia Military Institute’s ongoing efforts to reckon with its own Confederate history, including its relationship with Stonewall Jackson.

Because I’m a Stonewall Jackson fanboy, I expressed disappointment that VMI was undoing many of its Jackson associations. I seemed less concerned, in my post about Seidule’s book, about Lee’s undoing. Indeed, I tend to be harder on Lee for his decision to fight for the Confederacy than I am on Jackson. This, as we’ll see, sits at the heart of my ponderings today.

Jackson’s no one I would have wanted to hang out with by any means, but his complexity—based, ironically, on his black-and-white worldview—fascinates me, and he makes a great case study for how complex the study of the Civil War is. One could make the same argument about Lee. There’s a lot we can learn from both men.

Unfortunately, the Lost Cause has mythologized Lee and Jackson to the disservice of both men, and because people don’t like to have their heroes poked or their mythologies questioned, critical examination of either man inevitably raises the hackles of their partisans. (Of course, critical examination is exactly what we need if we want to actually learn from history. If anything “erases history,” it’s the blind embrasure of the Lost Cause, which replaces fact-based history with wishful mythology.)

Anyway, as I continue to consider both Lee and Jackson, here’s my question:

Lee quit the U.S. army to cast his lot with Virginia. I have always recognized that as a difficult personal choice on Lee’s part. In making his decision, though, Lee basically reneged on his oath as a soldier to defend the country and Constitution.

Jackson, too, had once been a solider in the U.S. Army, but he’d resigned ten years earlier to take a faculty position at VMI, the military academy for Virginia. The student body is the official militia of the commonwealth. When Virginia seceded and called on VMI for cadets and officers, Jackson was professionally obliged by his position to answer the call. It was literally his job to go to war on behalf of Virginia, and he seemed to show no angst over it.

Is there any substantive difference—moral, practical, or otherwise—between the routes they each took to Confederate service?

134 Responses to Lee and Jackson vs. the United States

    1. In the 1860s, many Americans thought of the United States of America as a union of states, not one monolithic nation. Even Lincoln, in a letter he wrote just before he took office as president, referred to the United States as a “confederacy.”

      1. By that same token, Lee talked about a sense of nationalism in some of his writings in the late 1850s–a nation- rather than state-centered view.

      2. Perhaps. But, in 1861, when he had to choose between nation and state, he chose his state.

  1. I was unaware of the details attending Jackson’s position at VMI, and IMO that does make a (slight) difference. Fundamentally, though, I agree with Mr. Suderow. I’ve read Seidule’s book, and endorse its point of view, and will shortly post a review (elsewhere).

  2. This strikes me as a distinction without a difference. The commodity production model of slave holding in Virginia had stopped being economically viable. The cash crop that kept them solvent was selling “extras” southward. Regular shipments of extras filled the slave jails of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis. It was raising human beings for sale that funded the lifestyle that Lee & Jackson swore allegiance to. As Lee discovered very quickly, about half of Virginia wanted nothing to do with his loyalty.

    1. Rhea Cole I’m sure you know that the expression “selling them down South” or “down the River” originally came from Northern states doing exactly that when slavery was, for economic reasons, abolished in their states, but you just don’t want to mention it. Be pious and divisive if you like, but you can’t exclude previous completely comparable actions by Northern states as well without being a hypocrite. Labor follows business growth; the very high growth rate of cotton production from 1820 – 1860 was the root cause of the reallocation of labor in the South. African Americans were the primary labor force behind cotton, which was the single most important driver of the US and British/French economies; selling that labor was, at that time, sometimes necessary and/or rational but it was never their primary purpose. And, you may be unaware that by 1860, there were 58,042 free blacks and 550,000 slaves in the state of Virginia, so not everybody was being sold as “extras”. And, you seem to be unaware that the Abolitionists’ idea of sending African Americans south was ‘out of the country’, freed but to lives as field hands in Honduras, thereby ridding the country of the “taint of the African race” (actual quote of various Northerners) and also handily reducing the voting power of the South at no expense to the US. As for half of Virginia wanting “nothing to do with Lee’s loyalty”, you literally made that up. Virginia did vote repeatedly against secession, but then voted instantly and overwhelmingly for it when Lincoln called for troops to invade the South. Of course, at that time, West Virginia was part of Virginia, but even so, the vote was resoundingly in favor of secession in April,1861. And at no point during the War did the majority of Virginians dismiss the Confederacy or Lee; they fought to the end, despite the presence of Unionists and a shadow state government loyal to the Union. Forrest’s “slave jails” included his efforts to reallocate African Americans out of Tennesee’s more rigid system and into the more diverse situation in Louisiana, with its huge port operations. He was operating in the system he was born into, just as you would have had you existed then. Your comment is full of presentism and virtue, with not a lot of familiarity with life on the ground in the first half of the 19th century, and even less about Virginia’s attitude toward Lee.

      1. Keep trying to defend the indefensible. It was the south that fought as war to defend slavery.

  3. I’d caution against judging Robert E. Lee by today’s standards. It is grossly unfair to judge people who lived in the past by attitudes and beliefs that are commonplace today.

    In 1861, as Shelby Foote said in “The Civil War,” many Americans, when talking about their country, said “The United States ARE” instead of “The United States IS.” Even Lincoln, in at least one letter he wrote before he became president, referred to the United States as a “confederacy.” In 1861, many people felt a primary allegiance to their states. They thought of the United States as a union of states, not a monolithic nation. The Civil War ended that debate. It transformed us into one nation. But, in 1861, the question wasn’t settled yet.

    As for Lee “reneging on his oath to defend the country”—I disagree. Lee didn’t try to destroy the United States. He chose to leave it. If, by leaving it, the Confederate states can be accused of threatening the United States of America…well, then doesn’t it follow that the United States of America was a pretty weak entity in the first place?

    Balderdash. The USA was strong, not weak. Look at the map of Western lands yet to be settled, or organized into states in 1861. Do you see much cotton-growing land out there? Were the Confederates going to grow cotton in Montana?

    The United States, with its larger population and industrial prowess, was going to dominate the North American continent. Why couldn’t Lee go off and try to create his own country?

    As the great-grandson of a Confederate cavalryman, I seem to have more faith in the strength and the staying power of the 19th century United States of America than many Lost Cause critics do!

    1. I agree, Don, that presentism is a bad and dangerous thing. It has played a huge role in much of the controversies we’ve seen over history in the past few years.

      But isn’t hero worship of Lee essentially another form of presentism because it passes judgement? That, too, has contributed to the controversies.

      That all said, we all have generals we like and don’t like, and most of us can rattle off a list of reasons why we like and don’t like those generals. At least part of any such perspective is colored by the benefit of hindsight we all possess from today looking back. And even if we take the good and the bad with our heroes, rather than just outright worship of them, we’re still making value judgements.

      I’m still just thinking out loud here!

      1. Chris, you made me look up “presentism.” I’d never heard that word before. I’ve learned something new tonight!

        I’ll stipulate that hero worship of Lee is not a good thing. Lee was not a god. He shouldn’t be worshipped. I’m not sure about it being “presentism”…because, to be honest, I’m still not really sure what “presentism” is.

        But I still question the fairness of judging someone who lived 150 years ago based on today’s standards. I’ve seen people on this discussion board (not you) call Confederates traitors and compare them to Nazis. That’s not fair.

      2. Why do you characterize an honest assessment of Lee’s outstanding military performance and his generally fine character as “hero worship”? Others go one step further and call it “idol worship” which is utterly ridiculous and puts those people in the same camp as Isis. Back to Lee, he has always been admired by military historians as a great general, for relevant reasons they have described in detail, and it is only in the past several decades that a vitriolic war has been waged on both his military role and on him personally, so it seems very odd that no one really cared what was said about Lee, or how the South felt, and in fact generally agreed, up until c. 1970, one hundred years after his death. It isn’t “hero worship” to erect memorials to and to hold in high esteem anyone who had remarkable success in defending the South’s desire for separation, despite his ultimate defeat. It’s “memorializing an exceptional person”. We do that frequently in this country; e.g., there are statues everywhere, sometimes not even of particularly remarkable or memorable people, so it’s odd that those to someone who really was admirable and was key to our history are suddenly so divisive. There must be something afoot. Aha! Politics. When you start seeing articles titled “Lincoln Reexamined” and “Grant Reconsidered”…..not even the North thought very highly of either of them; Grant’s Tomb in New York was a shambles for decades. Back to Lee, with a tie-in to current politics, the exaggerations and outright lies about his stance on and participation in slavery are based on completely unresearched and inadequate representations of the truth, and are beyond “presentism” – they are just old fashioned prevarication. So, no, admiring Lee as a remarkable leader isn’t ‘hero worship’ or ‘presentism’; it’s a reasonable estimation of the facts. Viewing life in the 19th century as something that should have been lived as we do today, with completely unfounded, hypocritical virtue-signaling as an accompaniment, is real ‘presentism’, completely intentional on the part of those using it for political gain.

    2. Donald Smith All good points. Being a traitor would have meant hostile actions aimed at destroying the US government, which was never in any sense the goal of the Confederacy. There is lots of discussion about the Union and its manifest destiny, etc., but by 1850, California was already a State, so the rest was rather a natural fill-in, without any immediately evident threats from anybody else. The issue was over the balance of power in the House, which was reduced from c. 47% for the South in 1790 to c. 36% by 1860. The South feared having no power over key issues such as tariffs and had been bombarded for thirty years with Abolitionist attacks on the 3/5 rule, the only reason they had any power at all. Direct trade with Europe and eliminating protective tariffs was their primary goal. That information is directed to those above characterizing the Civil War as the South defending their “slave nation”….which avoids the fact that the South was negotiating with Europe for virtually the entire War on the basis of emancipation. I’m the greatgranddaughter of a Confederate calvaryman, with another greatgrand in infantry, and numerous collateral relatives who fought, at least three of whom died in the effort.

      1. Carson…that’s not how the US Constitution defines treason! Here is what the Constitution says….Article III, Section 3, Clause 1:

        Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

        There is nothing that says anything about destroying the US Government.

        Let’s not change what the Constitution says, OK?

  4. Chris, I appreciate your posing this question for us to ponder. In the same vein, I’m pondering the following related question: If Lee took, as you say, “his oath as a soldier,” then is he really “reneging” on that oath after resigning his position as a soldier? Both Lee and Jackson acted, it would appear to me, responsibly and with accountability, in resigning from the army rather than just walking away from it. Just walking away from one’s position and the oath which accompanies that position – this would seem to constitute reneging on one’s oath.

  5. I continue to hold the belief that looking and deciding some version of “Guilt” looking in the mirror of history is far different from looking at it through the eyes of those who lived it at the time. I admit to having a “minor” insight into at least one of those lives through my family and the information they either willingly or unwittingly shared and having a family steeped in the tradition of generations upon generations of relatives living together in much isolation in the mountains of Virginia and the Shenandoah. My father related conversations on the front porch of his fathers home near Upperville, Va with Col John Mosby in the early 1900’s and how Col. Mosby made it clear he did not wish to be part of any follow on celebrations or recognitions after the War and he never did. He went out of his way to reconnect with his Country and served it well in far different ways. Same with Robert E. Lee as I see it. I know he lamented his decisions but also worked fervently to continue life in an honorable manner with a very strong Christian Faith. I think that conclusion was fulfilled in 1976 when President Ford signed a full Pardon for Robert E. Lee on the front Porch of the Custis Mansion, a picture of which I have in a family album.

    1. You’re making a good point here. It’s important- as we think seriously and critically about historical figures – that we consider the whole of one’s life, not just one slice of it. Both Lee and Mosby made one decision in one set of circumstances and another decision in another set of circumstances. Isn’t that the best any of us can do in life?

      1. Agreed. Confederates had to decide, in a VERY short period of time, which path to follow. In the 1860s, many Southerners had much stronger ties to their state then to the nation. Nowadays, 150+ years later, that seems like an odd way to think. But it wasn’t odd back then.

        A British author said “The past is like a foreign country. They do things differently there.”

      2. As I see it, yes it is. Ah, but to be able to go back to certain events in ones’ life and making changes to decisions made at the time.

  6. For anyone who’s despairing at the sandblasting of Jackson’s legacy at VMI, don’t.

    Whatever they sandblast, we can rebuild. We are Americans. We build things.

    Wherever they move Jackson’s statue to, we can move it back. We are Americans. We do things.

    Now, does that allow us to venerate Lee and Jackson as saints? To make them into some sort of idol? To dismiss the shame of slavery? No. We must acknowledge their flaws, and those of the Confederacy. We can’t ignore them.

    Any rational American is glad that Jackson, Lee and the Confederacy lost. (Imagine if America was divided, or weak, in 1941. Who would have saved the world from Hitler and Imperial Japan?) Any rational person would be glad that the Civil War rid us of the stain of slavery—and admit that, perhaps, the huge price we paid in deaths and devastation was worth it, to rid us of that stain.

    I would also hope that African-Americans could acknowledge that Lee’s devotion to his home, and his willingness to call on all defeated Confederates to become good U.S. citizens again, are worthy of respect. And, that Stonewall Jackson’s willingness to risk the disapproval of his community by funding and running a Sunday School for slaves—something that appears to have been ILLEGAL in Virginia in the mid-1800s—is worthy of respect, even honor. Let’s be honest—who would willingly break the law nowadays, in these days of cancel culture, to defend a principle? But Stonewall Jackson did that.

    Now is the time for common sense, not hypersensitivities.

    Chris Makowski, Sarah Kay Bierle, and the rest of the smart folks who created Emerging Civil War—thank you. This is a useful outlet for discussion. We are all better off by having this place, where we can come, talk, vent, and respectfully disagree.

  7. The answer for both men is whether the CSA legitimately had the right to secede and form a independent nation, which at the time was hardly a settled question given the US Constitution’s silence on the issue. If so, Jackson certainly had the right to heed the new nation’s call. Lee’s case may be slightly more problematic because he was an officer in the US Army at the time of secession, but, arguably, as a resident and native son of Virginia, one can hardly blame Lee for resigning his commission and throwing his hat in with the CSA if he believed the CSA to be legitimately formed from the seceding states. The problem, of course, is that since the Constitution did not address secession directly, the states’ ability to secede devolved into competing legal arguments as to which there could be no definitive legal answer–at least in 1860-61. I’m not aware of either Jackson or Lee explicitly analyzing the multitude of competing arguments on secession in any detail at the time, but without a definitive legal answer to the question of secession in 1860-61, it is difficult today to judge Lee and Jackson for considering the CSA duly formed and legitimate . Neither were attorneys or politicians. It appears that they deferred to and accepted the judgment of their state’s secession committee, like most others in the south. It’s easy to say now that perhaps they should have been wiser than than the rest and viewed secession as illegal and the formation of the CSA as illegitimate, but that would require imputing an infallibility of judgement to both men on complex legal question that had no empirical solution. Personally, I think one of the best contemporaneous arguments against secession is found in James Buchanan’s last speech as president, wherein he states, (among other compelling points) that constitutional government is nothing more than a “rope of sand” if states had sanction to leave the Union because they didn’t like the results of constitutionally performed election. Unfortunately, Buchanan concluded the neither he (or Congress) had the power to do anything about it. The incoming, constitutionally elected President inaugurated just over two months later obviously disagreed with this conclusion and, as they say, the rest is history.

    1. I agree with Nick’s point about the hotly debated con law question re whether states retained that right upon ratifying the Constitution. Even during the War of 1812 there were threats by NE states to secede over Madison invading Canada. The SCOTUS didn’t answer it until addressing a standing in issue in Texas v White four years after the war ended and eight years after these men had to make a monumental decision. Many “conditional Unionists” in states like VA only joined the secession delegates after Sumpter and the ( perfectly understandable to me ) reaction of the Lincoln administration to use force to deny that perceived right. Lee thought he WAS defending the Constitution at that time with that decision. I think he was wrong but it was very much an open question.

      1. The FF were explicit on the admission of sates to the Union. The admission of new states is governed by Article IV, section 3 of the Constitution, which reads: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

        The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

        The FF did not give us any information regarding one state leaving the Union. That’s because they made the Union perpetual.

        Plus the way I interpret the 10th Amendment, The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. The FF did not give the Government the power to kick a state out of the Union. Nor did they give us a method to kick a state out.

    2. Where is that right to secede mentioned din the US Constitution? There was no right!

      Being an officer in the US Army , or being a citizen of the United States…makes no difference. Fighting against the US Government is treason, and those participating are traitors.

      1. As usual you missed the point. And, since you brought up the Union being perpetual please note that word ( which is in the title of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union as well as expressly provided in the provisions of it) appears nowhere in the Constitution that replaced it. And thank you for YOUR understanding of the 10th Amendment but the men we are discussing had a different understanding pre-Texas v White. So apparently did those in New England who threatened to secede over Madison’s decision to invade Canada during the War of 1812. A mere 25 years after the Constitutional Convention. Also your discussion of admitting new states is wholly irrelevant to the question of whether secession was a right reserved to the states or the people under the 10th Amendment. Instead it points to the illegality of the federal government adding that portion of Virginia as a separate state of the US. Since you seem to have missed the point, I agree with Texas v White although the SCOTUS ( in an opinion by Chief Justice Salmon P Chase who had been Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln) would have done better to more thoroughly explain its basis for that ruling than it did. My point is that the people of 1860 who believed THEY were the ones defending the Constitution ( what Chris mentioned) had a very legitimate reason for believing that. It was very much an unsettled legal issue.

      2. As usual, you have missed the point!

        1.The Articles of Confederation, as written by the FF, is a document of the United States, and was the foundation for our country from the Revolution to 1787. Recall in the Preamble of the US Constitution…”We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,.. The US Constitution builds upon the Articles of Confederation.

        Plus, the FF intended the United States to be perpetual.

        2.The power to remove a state from the Union is a power NOT granted to the US Government, and the power to leave the Union was not reserved in the Constitution.

        3. Show me where the New England states left the Union.

        4. If the FF gave us the rules for admitting states, they would have also given us the rules by which a state could’ve left theUnion. They didn’t because it was their intention that the Union be perpetual..

        5. As far as West Virginia is concerned, recall that Virginia left the Union, and that the re-organized Virginia legislature voted for the formation of a new state. Lincoln issued his Opinion on the Admission of West Virginia finding that “the body which consents to the admission of West Virginia is the Legislature of Virginia”, and that its admission was therefore both constitutional and expedient. And this was found to be Constitutional.

        Refer to the Northwest ordinance. It was passed by the Congress under the Articles of Confederation and remained the law of the land under the new US Constitution. So, indeed, the US Constitution was built upon the prior Articles of Confederation.

      3. If secession were expressly prohibited or permitted in the Constitution we wouldn’t be having this debate. But it’s not. Your argument discussing other provisions in the Constitution were among those made at the time, however, they don’t definitely resolve the issue and, frankly, there were more persuasive arguments made against secession which you don’t mention. Nevertheless, they were just legal arguments. It’s pretty clear that In 1860-61, where one stood on the secession argument (and perhaps more significantly, the reasons supposedly supporting it) was largely, but not exclusively, based on sectional lines (much like viewpoints on a much more recent insurrection are influenced by partisan affiliation –but let’s not get into that).

        The open question, is whether Lee and Jackson believed that Virginia’s secession and the formation of the CSA was legal and legitimate, in which case their decision to fight for their native state seems more acceptable–if not rational–than if they believed that they were supporting a rebellion. I simply do not have the breadth of knowledge to say one way or another with a great degree of certitude. Clearly, both men’s viewpoints were colored by their allegiance to their home state.

        Jackson wrote that he hoped for peace but would fight in Virginia’s defense if war came and, indeed, he marched his VMI cadets to Richmond within days of Virginia’s secession. Moreover, by 1860 his outlook on life was so thoroughly intertwined with his faith that it bordered on predestination. He likely viewed secession, the coming conflict and his role in it as “God’s will.”

        Lee, on the other hand, is an enigma. Although he made no public statements on secession–he was far too professional a soldier to meddle in politics–in private, he expressed reservations, once stating that secession was akin to rebellion. He also stated, that although he opposed secession, he would under no circumstances not raise arms against Virginia if it decided to secede. In the end, however, he accepted the decision of his home state’s secession convention and resigned two days later. His actions thereafter all suggest that he accepted Virginia’s secession and the new Confederacy as legitimate, responding first to the governor’s call to take charge of the state’s militia, then becoming military advisor to Jefferson Davis and then as Commander of the ANV.

        Both men were faced with monumental decisions regarding their allegiance. The political issues of the day–of which neither man were directly involved–were far larger than the two of them and neither could alter their home state’s decision to secede. There is no one alive in this country who has had to deal with the unique dilemma confronted by these men and the decision that they made, although I suspect there are many in Bosnia, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and even England/Scotland who have had to wrestle with that issue in the recent past. I have difficulty second-guessing either man on their choice.

      4. IIRC, Lincoln addressed the same reasons I have.

        And I don’t look at it as Jackson and Lee believing that Virginia’s secession was legal. I look at it more as they favored the establishment of a government, based on slave labor and slavery.

      5. Constitutional scholar and legal expert William Rawle wrote a book in 1825 titled “View of the Constitution.” In it (pages 295 – 299) the Pennsylvania lawyer presents secession “as a potential right of citizens of States.” And further muddying the water IRT “legality of secession,” this book and its contents became food for discussion at West Point from about 1825 through the 1840s, particularly Rawle’s views on the role of military officers in the event of their state’s secession. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hnawbr&view=1up&seq=5

      6. “It is also a historically significant work because it suggests that states have a right to secede from the Union. A popular textbook used in schools with large numbers of southern pupils, such as the U.S. Military Academy, it and is generally considered to have influenced the leaders and supporters of the Confederacy).”…from a review.

        A few points;

        1 it “suggests”….it doesn’t avow or state unequivocally.

        2. I wonder what book they used in schools with large numbers Northern students?

        3.The book you mention says this and I quote…”The constitution of the United States is to a certain extent incorporated into the constitutions of the several states by the act of the people.The state Legislatures have only to perform certain organizational operations in respect to it. To withdraw from the Union comes not within the general scope of their delegated authority”.

        I think that sums it pretty nicely!

      7. “View of the Constitution by William Rawle” was published as Second Edition in 1829 with no significant modifications. The Law Firm established by William Rawle exists today as Rawle and Henderson.

      8. An interesting passage in Rawle, likely discussed at West Point: “The secession of a State from the Union depends on the will of the people of such State. The people alone as we have already seen, hold the power to alter their constitution. The Constitution of the United States is to a certain extent, incorporated into the constitutions of the several states by the act of the people. The State legislatures have only to perform certain organical operations in respect to it. To withdraw from the Union comes not within the general scope of their delegated authority. There must be an express provision to that effect inserted in the State constitutions. This is not at present the case with any of them, and it would perhaps be impolitic to confide it to them.”
        Rawle 2nd Edition (1829) page 302 in https://archive.org/details/aviewconstituti00rawlgoog/page/n326/mode/1up

      9. ”The constitution of the United States is to a certain extent incorporated into the constitutions of the several states by the act of the people.The state Legislatures have only to perform certain organizational operations in respect to it. To withdraw from the Union comes not within the general scope of their delegated authority”.

        Yea…That rules out secession.

        And recall, that legislatures in the South were controlled by the Plantation class, so any vote has to be be looked upon as suspect, regarding the will of the people.

        If the FF had intended states to be allowed to secede, or if they intended for the Federal Government to kick states out, they would have written it. The intention of the FF was that the Union was to be perpetual.

        Lincoln thought that too!

      10. William Rawle’s book is often pointed to in modern court cases concerning militia, right to bear arms, and the President’s power to make recess appointments.
        Tom Crane

      11. Thanks for the expansion on Rawle.
        Many folks forget that U.S. Army Regulations can be traced back to at least 1779. And these “internal operating procedures” which have expanded over time into today’s UCMJ have the force of Law: confinement in the stockade, or even capital punishment could result from infractions. Which is why the LAW has always been taught at West Point. During an officer’s career he or she will be required to issue lawful orders. And breaking Army Regulations (failure to follow orders; breaches of the Articles of War) could result in “trial” by Court Martial. An officer had to be trained how to conduct courts martial; therefore the LAW, especially (but not exclusively) how it applied to military settings was introduced at West Point. [And as an added bonus, William Rawle included in his “View of the Constitution” a discussion of the Theory of Secession.”]
        Mike Maxwell

  8. Although wording of the military officer’s oath has changed several times since 1789, several concepts of the oath strike the same chords today as they did in 1861: a call to higher power to witness the sincerity of a promise, a statement to perform to the best of one’s ability, a sense of honor, and an acknowledgement of the consequences of failing to live up to one’s word. Lee and Jackson swore ” … to bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America … against all enemies …”

    In 1789, the first Congress intended the oath to be a lifetime commitment to support the Constitution. Resigning from military service does not, and has never, released a military officer from their oath. In that regard there is no difference between Jackson, resigning in 1851, and Lee resigning in 1861. Both officers violated their oath when they took up arms against the United States. For those who believe it is ahistorical to judge Lee and Jackson by today’s standards, consider those southerners — Scott, Thomas, Farragut, et al — who kept their oath.

    1. My understandings of how and why these men made the decisions they made is in an effort to conceptualize their otherwise highly virtuous decisions in the face of imminent war between their State and their United States and then throughout their involvement in the war, regardless. I am also very aware others made different decisions for their own reasons in their times. Had the War gone differently I would presume the Historical decisions they made would be seen differently today.

      1. i see your point and agree — no argument on their military skill, soldierly virtue and distinguished service to the nation … and i am certain that both men — and others — wrestled mightily with the decision to take up arms against the nation they swore to defend … military folks, then and now, take their oath seriously — much more than just words … this was especially true for Lee who served for so long … no doubt an agonizing choice for him … i am also fairly certain that each of these officers — honorable men all — would have held themselves fully accountable for the decisions they made.

    2. It would be interesting to read a history of oaths and oath-taking. I see it as similar to the issues of the religious test. From my scanty knowledge both seem to have been highly charged issues in 17-18th c. England. I don’t know that oaths were considered “conditional” rather than “perpetual”?

      I am more sympathetic to the approach taken by Maj Alfred Mordecai who resigned and sat out the war.

      1. i agree … oaths have long history that dates back to Rome when their professional military required an oath, but only for a specific campaign … the next iteration extended the term for the soldier’s 20 year service … and the story continues with oaths of allegiance to specific English kings … interesting to note that the nation’s first law in 1789 was statute 1, chapter 1: an act to regulate the time and manner of administering oaths … and there is much more really neat stuff about the U.S.military oath of office.

  9. I see the Lost Cause gloss as having no role in our analysis of the decisions taken by Lee and/or Jackson to follow Virginia. The Lost Cause label is an easy whipping boy, along with the absurdly broad stroked ” they fought to establish a slave Republic”. The slave Republic already existed in 1861. It was the United States of America, which went to war not to overturn slavery, but to respond to an assault by the Deep South Confederation on Sumter, which had followed months of expropriation of other federal property and military installations. Virginia was not part of that Confederation until Lincoln responded to the initial aggression by upping the ante. Those who today have no difficulty with accepting some 750,000 subsequent deaths ( ultimately, if not initially) in the ” cause of freedom” have no problem in justifying Lincoln’s decision, ratified months later by Congress. Some of the slaveholding border states, either voluntarily or through creative persuasion stayed loyal. They did so in many cases because they believed they had sufficient protection for slavery under the then existing Constitution. Others, by internal vote, chose to leave, along with most of their active or retired military officers. Lee and Jackson were of that latter group, and their choice in the chaos of those months is one difficult to label. If modern “scholars” of the War, or my fellow W&L alum seeking his St Augustine Confessionary moment refuse to grasp this, logical argument is meaningless. Below and around the Mason Dixon line, the choice for many was more emotional than economic. A purely economic choice would have led them to stay in the Union.

  10. When analyzing Lee you must take in account what Lincoln’s coercion call did to animate the border states. For example, as late as April 4 Virginia voted by eighty-nine to forty-five against the ordinance of Secession. On the 15th of April, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 men to coerce the seceded States back into the Union. The border States were called upon to furnish their quota of armed men to march against their Southern brethren. Thus an issue was forced upon them which we living today, however antagonistic to the South, must ponder with sympathy and emotion. The men of these border States were compelled to decide either to send soldiers to fight against their brethren, or to say, “We will throw in our lot with them and resist military coercion.” Now, whatever division of sentiment existed in regard to the policy, or even the right, of Secession, there was almost complete unanimity in these States in repudiating the right of coercion. That right had been vehemently repudiated in the discussions in the Constitutional Convention by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Edmund Randolph. General Lee’s father exclaimed in the debate on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798: “Virginia is my country, her will I obey, however lamentable the fate to which it may subject me.” To use his own words: “I had to meet the question whether I should take part against my native state. I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relations, my children, my home.”

    Once you can completely understand Virginia’s role in voting down secession and then voting for it two days after Lincoln’s coercion demand one can truly understand what motivated Va, Tenn, Ark, NC, Lee and Jackson to secede. If Lincoln’s coercion call never occurred and the truest statesmanship rested with those who, like Edward Everett, and Horace Greeley, and William H. Seward, and General Scott, believed that the Policy of coercion was a political error. Scotsman William Watson’s great book entitled Life in the Confederate Army being the observations of an Alien in the South spoke about these points in great detail, “ I may here state with some authority that the greater part of the men of the Southern army, who really fought the battles of the South, did not fight to maintain slavery, and the question of slavery was never before their eyes. So far as my observations went, slavery was only a minor point of little or no interest to a large portion of the population, and could never of itself have led to secession and war. Any interference in that or any other law of the State which did not conflict with the Federal Constitution involved a principle of much greater importance, almost unanimously cherished by the Southern people, which was, the sovereign rights of individual States to make and maintain their own laws and institutions, and it was upon this principle alone that slaveholders and politicians got the large body of the people to follow them.”

    1. I think the more cruel fact is that for most Southerners, slavery was not the over-arching issue for them. Folks think the Rebels were motivated by slavery, but in reality, and I think this is much more cruel, they did not give much thought to slavery.

      1. The states of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas,Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina all left the Union because of the election of Lincoln and the Republican party’s plan to prevent the expansion of slavery to the territories. Their plan was to expand slavery to Cuba and the Caribbean.

        The primary motivating force behind Virginia’s secession was the protection of slavery, though intimidation, resignation to the fact that the Union was already broken, and the desire to defend a perceived right of state secession also played subsidiary roles.

      2. None of the ordinances of secession refer SPECIFICALLY to slavery. However, INDIRECT references that might possibly, at best, be interpreted as referring to the institution of slavery are included in the ordinances for Alabama (domestic institutions), Texas (interests and property of Texas and slaveholding states), and Kentucky (northern prejudice and lack of protection to the slaveholding states). The institution of slavery is not referred to in the ordinances of secession for Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri.

        Only five Confederate States produced declarations of causes, which were Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Florida (draft, not published). The summation of issues includes – Unconstitutional dereliction in regards acting to protect the domestic peace (causing sectional divide and inviting servile insurrection – incendiary publications, John Brown raid etc…), oppression / coercion / military subjugation of the Confederate States, unconstitutional dereliction in regards to the enforcement of the fugitive slave law, unconstitutional inequitable restriction on slave owners taking their slave property into the territories, financial protectionism of northern industry / interests at expense of the south, anti slavery sentiment of the Republican Party, a influential portion of whom were calling for an end to the institution of slavery immediately and without compensation (interfering with institutions of other states, and seeking not to elevate or support the slaves, but to destroy slavery, without providing a better condition).

        In addition to the declarations, Alabama sent a letter to the Governor of Kentucky detailing issues around slavery including fears of servile insurrection. Interestingly, Alabama’s constitution banned protectionist tariffs, so this was clearly an important issue as well. Louisiana’s address to the Texas secession convention does detail a desire to perpetuate slavery, but also cites tyrannical despotism. South Carolina’s address to other slaveholding nations, refers very unequivocally and specifically to unfair taxation, tariffs, spending to the benefit of the north at the expense of the south, and confirming state sovereignty whilst also referring to issues in regard to slavery.

        So, yes, issues in connection with slavery we’re an important component of the first states to secede, but they were hardly the only reason. Furthermore, slavery was both lawful and protected under the constitution. It was for the individual states to decide on their institutions, without interference from a sectional party, whose rise to power and sectional agitation only served to quash southern abolition efforts. The upper southern states only seceded after Lincoln’s call to arms. The issues detailed in the secession documents can all be grouped under the heading of constitutional infidelity. A compact broken!

  11. No matter how you try and spin this, Lee and Jackson fought against the United States of America. And they did try to destroy the Union the Founding Fathers left us.

    No matter how you try and spin it, Lee sided with the Rebels who tried to form a government, based on slave labor and a slave economy.

    The US Constitution was a racist document, that protected slavery and the slave states, by giving them more Representatives in Congress, and by giving them more votes in the Electoral College. And since the President nominates the Justices to the Supreme Court, the South made sure it had all its bases covered in order to protect slavery.

    One question never raised….how do you count property as a vote?

    1. In reply to nygiant1952’s comment on May 8: In response to your compelling argument—calling the Constitution a “racist document” and powerfully stating “No matter how you try and spin it” not once, but twice!!!—well, I bow to your dizzying intellect. You have bested us, sir. You are Caesar, and we are Vercingetorix. We are grateful that you didn’t totally crush us by USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!!!!!!

      1. Veni Vidi Vici

        If you want, I can list those clauses which prove my point about the US Constitution being a racist document.

        Still awaiting a response to….How do you count property as a vote?

      2. “Still awaiting a response to….How do you count property as a vote?”

        Don’t hold your breath. I have better things to do with my time. If your primary characterization of the United States Constitution is that it’s a “racist document”….well, as we say in the South, bless your heart.

        I renew my offer to debate you, in a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate, at the ECW symposium.

      3. Hi.

        “Still awaiting a response to….How do you count property as a vote?”
        Don’t hold your breath. I have better things to do with my time.

        I’ll take that response as you don’t have an answer on how property can be considered part of a vote.

        If your primary characterization of the United States Constitution is that it’s a “racist document”….well, as we say in the South, bless your heart.

        It’s not only my characterization, but also the characterization of those who study the. US constitution. Let’s go over the points.

        1. Article 1, Section 2: The 3/5ths Clause…..Representatives ….according to their numbers to be determined by adding the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to service for. Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

        All other persons refers to slaves. This has implications on all 3 Branches of the Government. The slave states will get 14 more Representatives due to this clause., influencing the Legislative Branch. The Executive Branch is influenced because the South will get more electoral College votes. And the Judicial Branch is influences because the president nominates the Justices to the Supreme Court.
        Pro slavery Southern Presidents will hold the White House for 48 out of the 1st 60 years of our Nation.

        2.Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1…Slave trade can’t be interfered with till 1808. And even then, it can still continue.

        3.Article 5..protects the above Clause until 1808.

        4. Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2…”respecting the Territory and Property”

        5.171,000 Slaves imported into the US between 1791 and 1808….gives the South 4 Senators and 6 more House seats.

        6. Article 4, Section2, Clause 3…The Fugitive Slave clause int eh oringinal Constitution

        7. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15 Designs that slave revolts could not succeed and be suppressed.

        I renew my offer to debate you, in a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate, at the ECW symposium.

        When is it? I’ve already scheduled tours and trips for the Spring and Summer that I have a vested interest in.

      4. Ummm…you’re a regular on the ECW website, and you don’t know when the symposium is?

    2. I find it interesting the inflammatory element of your conversation you state as a FACT with no element for others thoughts begs the issue and seemingly ends your involvement in further conversation. The South was already in the turbulent throws of discarding slavery well before the Civil War ~ and may (or not) have been successful in the long run in that effort ~ had not political fervor gotten in the way ~ which offers a differing view as to the WHY the War was fought at all with so many lives expended. Not living at that time and dealing with the realities our ancestors had to confront can make those virtuous then seen as villains in the light of today. I make no attempt to judge them at all. I simply want to UNDERSTAND them in a clearer light.

      1. Harry, a few points.
        1.Since when are FACTS inflammatory? Lee and Jackson did fight against the United States, and were traitors. The South left to form a government based on slave labor and a slave economy.

        2. Please cite your evidence that the South was in the throes ( not “throws”) of abandoning slavery. If so, why did they leave the Union, after Lincoln was elected? They left because they realized that a regional Political Party now controlled the Government and was going to prevent the taking of property ( slaves) to the territories.

        As far as I am concerned, any Lie….be it the Big Lie that led to the domination of Germany by the Nazi Party, the Big Lie that the US 2020 election was stolen, or the Big Lie of the Lost Cause, all have to be confronted head on.

      2. The lie is in the eye of the beholder ~ not the purveyor. My version of reality is mine and your version of reality is yours. The ABSOLUTE comment is ALWAYS wrong no matter who expresses it, less God. And, of course, you have ABSOLUTE proof the 2020 election was 100% correct and uncorrupted? Methinks you profess blatant sophistry (Thrown) as NO ONE can prove or disprove it. To what degree is another matter isn’t it? Did cheating occur? The courts are currently processing some defendants in that matter. I might wait on that ~ AND ~ on the current recount underway in Arizona. We KNOW (not absolutely as I am not God) precincts did violate State Statute in the counting process by excluding observers. We KNOW (again, not absolutely as again, I am not God) some States violated their own election laws summarily in the methods of ballot collection and control. What impact? No idea. But YOU stipulate as ABSOLUTE that there was NO IMPACT at all on the final election results. Only by degree? How much difference between the “Final” tally presented currently and the ABSOLUTE tally you profess is 100% correct and true. What would be interesting would be to hear you say how I voted ABSOLUTELY in that election as I profess total, open, and free elections always no matter what. I am not blind nor will I BE blinded by rhetorical discourse from EITHER camp. You want “Proof” the South was already in turmoil about slavery and was actively pursuing ways and means to discontinue its’ use? Why haven’t YOU researched the topic to have at least nominal knowledge in the matter? I find “Proof” rampant. But then again, ABSOLUTE proof is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? And if, at the time that Lee and Jackson committed “Treason” as you purport ~ and your “PROOF” is written into to the Oath they took upon entering military service ~ how did those living in the time see it? Is it treason because you see it that way as you REFLECT on History and what you read today? You can say ABSOLUTELY (Again, in my eyes only God has that ability) that it was done with malice of forethought (Kind of necessary to make it Treason, you know).

      3. “Treason” as you purport ~ and your “PROOF” is written into to the Oath they took upon entering military service ~ how did those living in the time see it? Is it treason because you see it that way as you REFLECT on History and what you read today? You can say ABSOLUTELY (Again, in my eyes only God has that ability) that it was done with malice of forethought (Kind of necessary to make it Treason, you know).

        A couple of things:
        1.Until it is proven a court of Law, there was no wide-spread cheating in the 2020 election.

        2.YOU made the comment about the South in turmoil about slavery. Cite the evidence.

        3. Even though Lee may have been an excellent soldier and a fine gentleman, he also violated the U.S. Constitution in order to defend a society built upon chattel slavery. This mustn’t be forgotten.

      4. “The South was already in the turbulent throws of discarding slavery well before the Civil War”

        It would be good to see some actual evidence of these “turbulent throes of discarding slavery”. Especially given that the population of those held in slavery increased by 750,000 from 1850 to 1860. Mississippi’s cotton production nearly tripled during that decade. Some “throes” …

      5. your are correct about judging the actions of historical figures from the comfort and safety of the 21st century using present day sensibilities — that doesn’t work … on the demise of slavery, i agree there was lots of chatter about its eventual death from natural causes … however, everything i have read indicates the “peculiar institutional” was stronger then ever in the mid 19th century, especially in the Deep South.

      6. Might be an interesting homework assignment to dig further into those vague theories about the continued lifeblood of slavery in the South just prior to and during the early phases of the Civil War. I am aware of correspondence between Southern political leaders and foreign capitals such as France and England in this regard which seemed to tie any financial or material support for the South to some understanding about where it was headed in the future of the Confederacy. Back channel communications are sometimes purveyors of meaningful insight. As I am sure you are aware, Britain had been a slave state itself and was dealing internally with the results of their own cleansing.

      7. “correspondence between Southern political leaders and foreign capitals such as France and England in this regard which seemed to tie any financial or material support for the South to some understanding about where it was headed in the future of the Confederacy.”

        That’s not even close to evidence that the South was in “the turbulent throes of discarding slavery”. It’s simply evidence that France and England were questioning support so long as the South was committed to preserving slavery. It never went further, and in fact even after it became clear in late 1864-1865 that the whole venture was doomed, there was still strong opposition to simply freeing individual slaves in exchange for enlistment. I refer you to Howell Cobb on that issue.

    3. racist or arguably pro-slavery with its 3/5 clause regarding representation? i am might lean more in the pro-slavery direction … and if you read debates in Constitutional Convention and subsequent state ratification debates, several southern states — notably GA and SC — weren’t signing up for a United States of America without this clause.

      To your point on “no matter how you spin it,” i am decided pro-Union in this debate … however scholars — academic and legal — have persuasively spun the argument exactly the other direction envoking the Founders, the Declaration of Independence, et al as justification for leaving the Union … i am not persuaded, but they have a logical and solid argument … ultimately the nation settled the issue on the battlefield.

    4. It might be worth looking at the history of the “3/5ths” rule. It first was proposed during the debates on the Articles of Confederation. The question was how the states would be taxed to fund the new government. The general agreement was that taxes would be apportioned to each state based on “wealth”. The problem was defining or measuring wealth. Two approaches considered were a direct assessment (primarily, of real property which at the time was the major basis of wealth), the second using population as a proxy for wealth. The slave-holding states objected to using population arguing that slave labor was not as productive and wanted slave population excluded. 3/5ths was settled on as a compromise, but at the end of the day the population proxy method was not accepted.

      The US Const renewed the question of taxation and the 3/5ths rule was this time accepted for apportioning direct taxes. Today we don’t hear much about direct taxes as post Amdt XVI virtually any tax can be considered an income tax which the amendment exempts from apportionment. During the civil war an income tax was passed due to the perceived unfairness of the direct tax, which hit landowners with little other capital while others were able to walk around freely with their property (i.e., shares of joint-stock businesses) in their vest pockets as one pro-income tax congressman lamented.

      1. Taxation and Representation. The 3/5ths clause gave the South more influence in all 3 branches of Government

    5. The truth is exactly the opposite of your proposition that the Southern Confederates committed treason by seceding from the Union.

      You appear to be unaware of the definition of treason in the Constitution. Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution defines treason as follows: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort” (emphasis added). The all-important words here are “them” and “their,” signifying that, as in all of the founding documents, the words “United States” are always in the plural, meaning the free and independent states, not something called “the United States government in Washington, D.C.” After all, it was the citizens of the free and independent states, as they are called in the Declaration of Independence, that delegated certain powers to the federal government, as delineated in Article 1, Section 8. They defined treason in this way to attempt to assure that the powers of the federal government, which they had delegated for their mutual benefit, would not be used against them by means of a military invasion.

      Levying war upon any of the free and independent states is the “only” definition of treason in the U.S. Constitution. When Lincoln ordered the first 75,000-man invasion of the Southern states he, and all of his political associates, committed treason as defined by the Constitution. He and the Republican Party have done everything possible to cover this up and pull the wool over the public’s eyes for generations.

      Lincoln started this subterfuge by unilaterally redefining treason to mean any criticism of himself or his administration’s policies. That is how he justified his illegal suspension of habeas corpus and the arrest by military forces and imprisoning without due process of thousands of Northern political dissenters including mayors, Congressman Henry May of Maryland, the entire Maryland state assembly, and dozens of opposition newspaper editors. Of course, no president has the authority to redefine the Constitution in this way. It was exactly the kind of tyrannical act that George Washington warned against in his Farewell Address when he stated that if the Constitution is to be amended there is a process for it in the document itself, namely votes by the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states. Any other means, such as what Lincoln did, is what President Washington considered to be a deadly threat to democracy and the union itself by what he called “usurpation.”

      The Lincoln administration’s redefinition of treason, enforced not by the judicial system but by armed soldiers, was arguably the worst “usurpation” and perversion of the Constitution in American history.

      1. Pure Historical revisionism! Pure ‘Lost Cause ” revisionism!

        Let’s review what actually happened.

        Recall that Fort Sumter was a United States military installation. Recall that a foreign country attacked the United States on April 12, 1861. The United States military installation and the flag were attacked by a foreign entity.
        THAT, is the reason that Lincoln asked for 75,000 men, to put down an armed rebellion.

        Recall the same thing happened on December 7th, 1941. A foreign country, Imperial Japan, conducted a sneak attack on the US military installation at Pearl Harbor , Hawaii.

        You attack an American military installation, you are going to war.

        If Lincoln or FDR had ignored an attack on American sovereignty, they would have been impeached.

      2. I noticed when you get refuted you throw out “lost cause” like it’s a get out of jail card, it’s not. You can’t refute the truth so you move the goalposts. Cool, you can set the goalposts but it doesn’t change the inevitable. You’re wrong on all counts and it doesn’t take too much research to determine that. 1. Fort Sumter, which side sent peace commissioners and which side deceived them? The US Navy Ship Ward fired first at Pearl Harbor at a Japanese submarine. So the US started the War against Japan? In both cases it was a hostile fleet that started the War. The Causa Belli was sending 4 Gunboats and 2 troop transports with orders to take Charleston. Even Lincoln’s cabinet raked him over the coals concerning Sumter. I’ll let these quotes suffice, Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, said: “There was not a man in the Cabinet that did not know that an attempt to reinforce Sumter would be the first blow of the war.” And again he said: “Of all the Cabinet Blair only is in favor of reinforcing Sumter. ’’ William Seward, Secretary of State said, “Preparation to reinforce will precipitate war. I would instruct Anderson to return from Sumter.”

        Henry Hallam, in his masterpiece on constitutional History, stated: “The aggressor in war is not the first that uses force, but the first who renders force necessary.” Alexander H. Stephens, claimed that the war was “inaugurated by Mr. Lincoln.” Stephens readily acknowledged that General Beauregard’s troops fired the “first gun.” But, he argued, the larger truth is that “in personal or national conflicts, it is not he who strikes the first blow, or fires the first gun that inaugurates or begins the conflict.” Rather, the true aggressor is “the first who renders force necessary.”
        Stephens identified the beginning of the war as Lincoln’s order sending a “hostile fleet, styled the ‘Relief Squadron’,” to reinforce Fort Sumter. “The war was then and there inaugurated and begun by the authorities at Washington. General Beauregard did not open fire upon Fort Sumter until this fleet was, to his knowledge, very near the harbor of Charleston, and until he had inquired of Major Anderson . . . whether he would engage to take no part in the expected blow, then coming down upon him from the approaching fleet . . . When Major Anderson . . .would make no such promise, it became necessary for General Beauregard to strike the first blow, as he did; otherwise the forces under his command might have been exposed to two fires at the same time– one in front, and the other in the rear.” The use of force by the Confederacy , therefore, was in “self-defence,” rendered necessary by the actions of the other side.

        Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, were all opposed to Secession. They refused to follow the lead of South Carolina. For example, as late as April 4 Virginia voted by eighty-nine to forty-five against the ordinance of Secession. On the 15th of April, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 men to coerce the seceded States back into the Union. The border States were called upon to furnish their quota of armed men to march against their Southern brethren. Instead, two days after Lincoln’s unconstitutional coercion Virginia seceded with Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas. Hmm, cause and effect strikes again. Now, whatever division of sentiment existed in regard to the policy, or even the right, of Secession, there was almost complete unanimity in these States in repudiating the right of coercion. That right had been vehemently repudiated in the discussions in the Constitutional Convention by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Edmund Randolph. The South remained true to the doctrine of the fathers on this point. The Hard Truth, Four days after the opening of the ratification convention in Philadelphia, on May 29, 1787, Edmund Randolph presented the Virginia Plan for creating a new government. This plan proposed a strong central government composed of three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial, and use force against states that failed to fulfill their duties.

        On May 31, James Madison, made a statement condemning Randolph’s proposal of using force against the States:

        “The last clause of the sixth Resolution, authorizing an exertion of the force of the whole against a delinquent State, came next into consideration … that the more he reflected on the use of force, the more he doubted the practicability, the justice and the efficacy of it, when applied to people collectively, and not individually. An union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment; and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”

        Wow, that’s pretty deep. Where in the constitution is coercion allowed? Where is secession denied in the constitution? How many times did Northern Statesmen/States threaten secession again? True Statesmen like Edward Everett, Horace Greeley, William H. Seward, and General Scott believed that the Policy of coercion was a political error. However, Lincoln disregarded their expert council the same way he disregarded his cabinet concerning Sumter.

        In the instances where State sovereignty was “hamstringing” the government under the Articles, to correct this in the constitution they delegated specific powers to the new government. To prevent a State from seceding was not among the powers delegated under any Article of the constitution. Prohibitions against the States were likewise enumerated under Article I, Section 10. Again, secession was not mentioned and thus not prohibited to the States. Therefore, according to the constitution secession was absolutely a right “reserved to the States”. This is precisely how James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson presented their case AGAINST a Bill of Rights saying it would be redundant to tell the government that it did not have powers which were never delegated in the first place. Nonetheless, as a measure to “further restrict” the new government a Bill of Rights, and specifically the 9th and 10th Amendments, were insisted on by most of the States. The 10th Amendment is clear- where the constitution is silent, the power is “reserved to the States”.

        There’s nothing “ambiguous” about this It is precisely the manner in which the constitution was sold to the States. Thomas Jefferson called this doctrine the “bedrock of our constitutional system”.

        Secession was never questioned prior to Lincoln. Arguments against the State’s right to secede are nonsensical, have no basis in historical fact and are fueled by hogwash. Nobody who has read and comprehended the debates that formed the constitution could logically argue anything to the contrary.

        Six times beginning in 1794 northern states considered or proposed secession. Oliver Ellsworth and Rufus King proposed it to John Taylor of Caroline in the Senate Chamber in 1794 and both of these men had a hand in the framing and ratification of the constitution, and thus KNEW what the damned thing meant. Nobody who has seriously studied the issue, and has an ounce of reading comprehension, can honestly believe that there was anything “ambiguous” about the issue of secession.

        In conclusion, as my good friend Phil says, “ There would have been no war, for example, if the North had permitted the seven cotton states to depart peacefully. Everyone knew there was no danger that the South would invade the North to overthrow the Washington government. Confederate President Jefferson Davis put it succinctly: “All we ask is to be left alone.” As to coercion (which was repudiated at the constitutional convention) Could the men of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee be expected to raise their hands against their family altars and firesides, whatever view they might have taken of the constitutional questions at issue? But the men of those States believed with great unanimity that the sovereignty of a State was inviolable by the General Government. That was the faith they had received from their fathers, from a long line of illustrious statesmen and political philosophers. Of this let one decisive example suffice. Though Robert E. Lee abhorred the idea of Secession and loved the Union with a passionate devotion, yet when he was asked by a member of a committee of Congress whether he did not consider that he was guilty of treason in drawing his sword in behalf of the South, he answered: “No, I believed my allegiance was due to the State of Virginia.”

        The people of the South believed, as I have said, that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. They believed the General Government had no rightful power of coercion. Their Northern brethren had for many years confirmed them in that belief. Moreover they believed a union by force not the Union which the fathers had in view. A governmental fabric pinned together by bayonets did not seem to them a republic, but a despotism.

      3. :


        Evidently, when I refute your revisionism of history, you’re the goal post, and post more revisionism!

        1. You are WRONG on American History! Lincoln only sent provisions to Fort Sumter. And the Confederates attacked the installation. Your comments about Pearl Harbor are pure revisionism. What was a Japanese might submarine doing in the environs of Pearl Harbor? Thats aggression. Also, The US has a right to defend its territorial waters. And, what do you call the Japanese naval oak force that launched it planes in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor?

        2. The Rebels fired the 1st shot, didn’t they? Lincoln knew that if the Union undertook military action, it would be seen as the aggressor and as the initiator of a war between the states. Lincoln also worried that England or France might recognize the nascent Confederacy, especially if it was attacked by Northern forces. While Lincoln hoped to avoid war, he knew that if it came, it would be better for the Union to be seen as responding to Southern aggression. As Lincoln realized the growing need to resupply the soldiers at Fort Sumter, he faced several choices. He could abandon the fort, but that would give legitimacy to the Southern states’ claim that they were no longer part of the Union. Or he could use a naval force to resupply the fort, but this could be used to bolster the claim of “Northern aggression.” Lincoln announced that he would resupply the fort using a naval convoy. While Jefferson Davis also wanted to avoid being seen as the aggressor, orders were issued to commence a bombardment on the fort on April 12. After suffering through the artillery barrage for 34 hours, Anderson surrendered the fort on April 14..

        Pesky thing, those pesky orders!

        3.Where in the constitution is coercion allowed? Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15.

        4.Secession was never questioned prior to Lincoln. WRONG!! Please refer to the Hartford Convention and please refer to the Nullification Crisis of 1832. Historian Charles Edward Cauthen writes: Probably to a greater extent than in any other Southern state South Carolina had been prepared by her leaders over a period of thirty years for the issues of 1860.

        5.”In conclusion, as my good friend Phil says, “ There would have been no war, for example, if the North had permitted the seven cotton states to depart peacefully.” I didn’t know Phil could see into the future! You can’t say that, because it never happened.

        6.”Everyone knew there was no danger that the South would invade the North to overthrow the Washington government.” Another assumption, that never did occur.

        Basically, you can’t change the facts, or assume what would have happened. It’s better to deal with what really did occur, than to argue for m a position of make-believe.

        As far as the aggressor firing the 1st shots..I refer you to the American Revolution….Lexington and Concord. I refer youth the Spanish American War ( the sinking of the USS Maine) , World War 2,( Nazi Germany attacking Poland).

        Anything else I can straighten you out on, regarding American History? And World History too, for that matter?

  12. Excuse me, but since when is Lee’s resigning from the Army a violation of his constitutional oath? The oath is only operative when he is on active duty in the Army. With his resignation, he left the US Army and was free to choose any path. He chose to serve his state. This resignation/treason argument is complete BS.

    1. Let’s look at the facts. Lee resigned from the US Army 2 days after Virginia seceded from the Union. He concluded a private letter to General Winfield Scott….“Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.”

      Two days later, Lee was appointed commander of Virginia’s forces with the rank of major general.

      So, he did draw his sword.

      If you read the US Constitution regarding treason….Article III, Section 3, Clause 1: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

      See, there is no mention about resigning from the Army as a condition, nor is there any mention of violating his Constitutional Oath.

      Only in levying War .

      The criteria of the US Constitution was met. Lee committed treason.

      1. To put it mildly, I’m unpersuaded by your arguments. You haven’t convinced me. (And I’m sure I’m not the only one on this board who feels that way). I’m sure I haven’t convinced you. And that’s fine with me.

      2. Donald and Lyle:

        I just present the facts, thats. all.

        Just because he was never convicted, doesn’t mean he wasn’t a traitor. He met the criteria of being a traitor…he fought against the United States.

        I have to agree with you that it was a Civil War….and not a war between the states, nor a war of Northern Aggression.

        See…we can agree on something!!!

      3. Lee was also never convicted of treason in any Federal court. And it wasn’t like there weren’t a lot of witnesses.

        It was a Civil War, and in a civil war good luck figuring out who all the traitors are.

      4. Giant, in your post of May 9 at 6:01 PM, you said this: “1 it “suggests”….it doesn’t avow or state unequivocally.

        Per your quote of RE Lee that goes ““Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.””

        Seeing how the semantics appear to be important in all this, “desire” and “need” really are indeed two different things. And seeing how Lee says “…in defense.of his native state”, he stuck to his word.

        You’re welcome…

      5. Lee broke his oath to the US Government

        Lee turned his back on his country.

        He committed treason and is a traitor.

        Pesky think those pesky facts.

        You’re welcome!

    2. william, resignation is absolutely not a violation of the oath of office … resignation, however, does not relieve the officer from his oath … Lee, Jackson, et al would have taken the 1790 oath which stated in part “… i do solemnly swear to bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America … ” there is no “un-oath” so that promise to the nation endures … whether Lee of Jackson understood it that way is another matter … my sense is they did and wrestled mightily with their decision to fight for Viriginia.

      To your point, however, Congress amended the oath significantly in 1862 and included a new final sentence “So help me God” … this added another moral, even religious, dimension to oath … implies divine retribution if officers don’t keep their word … it is the same final sentence in the oath today.

  13. Sorry, Chris, but I find your question, apparently whether it was less “morally’ acceptable for Lee to have rejected his oath than for Jackson, to be silly. For some of us, military service is a calling. Its simply what we do. As a career Reserve and Guardsman and active duty, military service is simply what we do. The real question, I think, back in early 1861, was which side. Because, for some of us, there could be no question of sitting out a major war.

    As far as “idolizing” certain generals, that is a problem for the ages. There is no perfect general. One area of interest for me is Gen. Patton. Many folks in a sense, “idolize” George Patton. Not that long ago, the then president asked, more or less, where is my Gen. Patton? Yet, Patton had many imperfections, one of which was striking soldiers. I cannot over-estimate what a serious transgression that is in today’s army or in his army. Yet, he did it, twice. And, he saw no problem with it.

    I do not believe the question in 1861 was about morals. It was remain loyal to my state or to my country? Defend my neighbors and family or attack them? Who among us would reject a call from our state to defend our state?
    Tom Crane

    1. i believe the argument is all about moral leadership … so i agree with Chris’ question about morality … the oath of office — while the wording has changed over the years — is essentially the same — “… support and defend the Constitution of the United States … and bear true faith and allegiance to the same …” There is no “un-oath”, nor is there a requirement for officers to retake the oath anytime in their careers … it is a lifeftime promise in or out of uniform … so, both Lee and Jackson — and others — had a hard decision to make – break their oath and side with their state … or bear true faith and allegiance to the nation … a tough call for them i am certain.

  14. Too, I think many historians over-estimate the degree of anxiety felt by career soldiers like Lee. In today’s army, we have such a tradition that politics do not enter military considerations that many, perhaps most career officers and NCO’s have zero interest in politics. IThe Army is very busy. There is not much time for reading news sites or newspapers. I suspect the 1860 army was similar. It would not surprise me if Lee on some level simply deferred political considerations to the politicians. I suspect many officers simply avoided political questions, even ones as ever present as slavery. Perhaps more so, because slavery was such an all consuming issue in its day.

    1. At the same time, both Winfield Scott and George McClellan ran for president while on active duty. So did Grant in 1868.

  15. I believe Seidule also made a point about there being seven Colonels from Virginia actively serving in the army when the war started. And Lee was the only one to go with the Confederacy. So it’s a mistake to assume Lee’s choice was a common and expected choice for the period.

  16. Chris:

    I am, or was, a Jackson fanboy too. He’s one of the most complicated individual cases of the war for exactly the reasons you name: “his complexity—based, ironically, on his black-and-white worldview—fascinates me, and he makes a great case study for how complex the study of the Civil War is.” So, I’m right there with you, although I could never quite explain why so succinctly.

    One of the aspects of the discussion here is this notion of “state loyalty” as a reason so many people fought for one side or the other. I tended to accept that argument for a long time, but lately, I’m beginning to wonder. It’s not very satisfying and somehow suggests the Civil War generation was incapable of more sophisticated reasoning. I wouldn’t say that “state loyalty” figured prominently in most of the memoirs, diaries, or letters that I’ve read from both Confederates and Unionists. (Admittedly, an unscientific survey.) And, of course, there’s a very long list of folks who emphatically rejected such a notion when it came to their military obligations, Winfield Scott, George Thomas, and Samuel Lee being some of the most notable Virginians. The mid-century American population was incredibly mobile, particularly those serving in the Army or the Navy. So, individuals often could choose to be loyal to any number of states if when they were forced to choose. Maybe there’s an ECW book in there somewhere.

    All that brings us back to Lee and Jackson. I never quite squared in my own head Lee’s decision to join the Confederacy with the image of him as an upright, morally righteous, honorable citizen and soldier. (Admiral Lee’s reported answer to the same dilemma: “When I find the word Virginia in my commission I will join the Confederacy” should have been satisfactory for his cousin’s presumed honor as well.) But, for Jackson, it may be as simple as you suggest: it’s where his job at the time took him. As far as he was concerned, larger questions were not his to ask or answer. Funny surrender of agency for a man who so clearly embraced it on the battlefield.

    Enjoying the discussion!

    1. James McPherson *did* do a survey. He reviewed some 400 diaries and letters from Confederate soldiers and some 600 from Union soldiers. He found Confederate soldiers expressed patriotism as a motive for participating in the war 57% of the time. For Union soldiers, patriotism was mentioned some 61% of the time. Do you really think Gen. Lee was so different? See McPherson’s “For Cause and Comrade.”

      1. Samual Stouffer did a study after WW 2, Studies in Social Psychology in World War II: The American Soldier.

        The results indicated that the American soldier in WW 2 did not fight for his flag, or the National Anthem. He fought for the guy next to him in the foxhole. Similar results of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

      2. I’m one of those guys in Iraq. Have known many WW II veterans and Viet Nam vets over the years. Yes, in Iraq, we were motivated by many things – supporting the man/woman next to us was certainly one. I was foolish enough to volunteer. You think at times like that, “how can I let someone go in my place who may be selfish or incompetent?” But, I do not think you arrive at concerns about supporting the other guy without first having some notion of patriotism. How do you unify a collective body of men and women? It generally starts with some higher cause and builds from there.

      3. irishconfederate, Thank your your service.

        Stouffer’s study has stood the test of time. From what I recall, the men in the ranks were more concerned with their buddies in the unit, than they were with the flag. I would think that in WW 2, those units which trained together developed that cohesiveness.

      4. McPherson addresses the “fight for your buddy” motivation. One of the nice things about his book is McPherson reviewed studies of what motivates men in combat. As you may know, there is a large body of literature looking at what hols men and women together in combat. The problem with the “we fight for our buddy” theme is that over time, your buddies are all killed. But, says McPherson, citing Omar Bartov in his study of the German army after 1942, that some higher deal keeps the men together. They remain loyal to some *ideal* group of brothers in combat. Speaking of Confederate and Union soldiers, McPherson says, “When primary groups disintegrate from disease, casualties, transfers and promotions, these lager ideals remained as the glue that held the armies together.” For Cause, p. 89.

        John Keegan in the “Face of Battle” said much the same in regard to WW I. Discussing why some soldiers at the Somme persisted, while others preferred self-inflicted wounds to avoiding combat, he noted, “But over and above its cohesion, sense of mission, mood of self-sacrifice, local as well as national patriotism, there were other elements in play.” Face of Battle, p. 272. He was saying higher ideals such as local and national patriotism mattered, as did confidence and trust in leaders and in comrades-in-arms. You cannot remove a sense of patriotism, or some higher cause, from loyalty to one’s comrades. They are part of the mix of motivations.

        McPherson mentions that Bartov found the motivation for Nazi soldiers after 1942 was their commitment to Aryan idealogy. That would fit your picture that Southern soldiers were perhaps committed to slavery – or some dark motive – as an over-riding reason for continued service. Yet, that is specifically what McPherson said those 400 Confederates did *not* mention in those 400 diaries and letters. As Dr. McPherson says, that those 400 soldiers did not mention slavery as a motive does *not* mean they were *not* also motivated by slavery. That is, just because they did not mention slavery does not mean it was *not* a motive. It could have been a secondary motive. But, clearly, patriotism was a chief motive. You cannot change 400 diaries and letters. They say what they say.

        If you question McPherson’s selection of which 400 letters and diaries, to examine well, that is a different topic. He concedes that this study is limited by his criteria. He employed a selection process for Union and Confederate diaries and letters.
        Tom Crane

      5. Stouffer and a distinguished team of social scientists working for the War Department surveyed over a half million American soldiers during World War II using interviews, over two hundred questionnaires, and other techniques to determine their attitudes on everything from racial integration to their officers.

      6. I think one issue about McPherson is that he did not do a scientific study (to be fair, he didn’t claim that he had). Manning’s 2007 book is based on a more expansive study, including types of sources not previously used such as regimental newspaper, etc. Another issue – as Manning points out – is that it’s very hard to separate “patriotism” from Confederate soldiers’ clearly-expressed fears of the results of abolition, etc.

      7. I should add that McPherson *did* find some 27% of Southerners did mention slavery as a motivating reason for military service. His point was that that slavery was not the over-riding motive that a sense of patriotism was – unless it was an unstated motive.

      8. I think that it’s hard, if not impossible, to disentangle support of slavery, the fear of what would happen if slavery were abolished, and “patriotism”. As Glathaar pointed out in his excellent book on the ANV, a lot more troops had direct ties to slavery than the smaller percentage who actually owned slaves themselves. Also, anybody looking into this obviously can’t come up with a reliable conclusion based only on the soldier’s statement of his “motivation”. Leadership in the South was pretty clear about the need to preserve a core institution of Southern society that was threatened by Lincoln, et al., and their objective was to persuade others of that. So they made it possible, and even likely, for an enlistee to blend the two together.

      9. McPherson acknowledges that necessarily, his study omits the viewpoints of illiterate persons. It also lacks the viewpoints of foreign-born soldiers and black soldiers, simply because of the lack of such letters and diaries. He acknowledges the sample includes an over-representation of some states. He does not discuss regimental histories, as far as I can tell. But, I expect he viewed them as problematical, since they did not have the candor of a boy telling a loved one why he re-enlisted. His study has weaknesses, but in some ways it also more honest than a traditional survey would have been.
        Tom Crane

  17. I would like to read sources of Jackson’s views on slavery prior to 1860. There are many references to Jackson teaching bible school to slaves with a kind of benevolence attitude that I’m not sure is fact or exaggeration since he owned at least household slaves through his wife’s family. I do see Chris’s argument that Jackson likely simply answered the call to arms by the State without pause based on his rigid view of duty. His sister, on the other hand, deeply resented his service to the Confederacy.

    1. The Clause in the US Constitution, doesn’t put any conditions on treason. Jackson, an American citizen, fought against his native country.

      Sounds like treason.

      1. Not my primary point. I am interested if there are any writings by Jackson on his pre-war views on slavery.

      2. The right for states to legally secede was widely accepted until 1850. Massachusetts’s own George Lunt wrote in his wonderful book The origin of the late war, “Despairing of their rights within the Union, the Southern leaders advised the Southern States to throw themselves back on their reserved rights and withdraw from the Union. But it was too late. It could have been done in 1850, but not in 1861. From 1850 to 1860 the North had educated the people of the North out of the Jefferson theory of State rights.” What happened in 1850 and what would motivate the change? Also, how many times did Northern States/Statesmen threaten secession until 1850? After California was admitted as a Free State in 1850 the Slave states had only a minority of the senators and they had long previously had only a minority of congressmen. Thus, after 1850 the Free states controlled both the House and the Senate. During those ten years the Presidency was held by Yankees. No wonder they began teaching against secession and stopped threatening it, they had won the big game back then.

        Even Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker and historian, who visited America to study its system of government, said the Union “was formed by the voluntary agreement of the states; and these, in uniting together, have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the states chose to withdraw its name from the contract, it would be difficult to disprove its right to do so.”

        Again, traitors? How can Confederate soldiers be traitors when the states in which they resided had seceded from the Union, as was their Constitutional right, and formed a new country of which they were citizens?

      3. Pure revisionism! Pure “Lost Cause” revisionism!

        The Constitution makes no provision for secession. A Government is not a corporation whose existence is limited by a fixed period of time, nor does it provide a means for its own dissolution.

  18. Lee didn’t join the priesthood with a lifetime commitment. He joined the U.S. Army – his oath was at a place and time. He was free to resign his commission and did and was no longer bound by the oath. He took an oath at West Point; he took one when he was first commissioned; and he took one upon each promotion in rank, which indicates it was not a lifetime oath, but was of a time and a place, or the Army would have administered one oath and been done with it. To allege that Lee broke his oath, when he lawfully resigned his commission is sophistry at best, and a lie at worst.

    1. Oath or not, fighting against the US Government is treason, and those that participate in fighting against the duly elected Government, are traitors.

      1. Again, that is not mentioned din the US Constitution. What is mentioned is fighting against the duly elected Government.

        The Constitution specifically identifies what constitutes treason against the United States and, importantly, limits the offense of treason to only two types of conduct: (1) “levying war” against the United States; or (2) “adhering to [the] enemies [of the United States], giving them aid and comfort.”

        Sorry, but no mention at all about loyalty to an individual state.

      2. Not sure what difference that makes. If we are discussing what motivated Lee or other Confederates, it does not matter that their oath rendered their choice incorrect or unlawful. Their motive was their motive.

    2. When the blog asked for readers opinions about Lee and Jackson’s oaths, readers gave their opinions based on their understanding of what the military officers oath of office is and what it means … after 38 years of active duty service, i rendered my opinion — i therefore plead guilty to having an informed opinion and not guilty to sophistry and lying.

      The oath is a big deal and a bigger deal the longer you serve when you understand what it means – the promise an officer makes, before God, to our great nation, to his fellow citizens and his family … all service members i know believe the oath is an enduring commitment to the nation … there is no “un-oath” … resignation simply means you no longer wear a uniform, no longer work for the commander in chief, and are no longer subject to the UCMJ … your oath, however, is your ever present morale compass about the promise you made to the nation.

      R.E. Lee and his comrades chose another path based on circumstances they could not have envisioned when they took their oaths at West Point … for officers like Lee, i am sure it was a gut wrenching decision … nonetheless, they made the decision to fight against the United States … and history should hold them accountable .

      to your point about taking the oath at various times, you got it half right … when enlisted service people re-enlist, regulations require they recite the oath anew as part of their re-enlistment contract … they also take a slightly different oath than officers … officers, however, are only required to take the oath once — upon commissioning … officers may, however, reaffirm their oath as part of their promotion ceremony, as i often, but not always did, in my career … but it is not a requirement … if you’ve got a primary source that says otherwise, i would love to see it.

      So, my opinion is no more or less valid then yours … it is instead all about experience and context … and for serving and retired military officers, it is all about the promise — in or out of uniform.

      1. I don’t disagree. Heck, I took the same oath. But, the oath only gets you so far. The oath is not a contract. It does not account for all the range of human possibilities. What cadet in 1830, upon taking the oath, could have envisioned being called by his state to defend his state? Even today, the oath requires an enlisted soldier to follow the orders issued by the President and the chain of command. It does not mention that no, starting about 1980, we were not required to obey every order. We were only required to obey *lawful” orders. Prior to about 1980, a soldier had to obey *all* orders. That meant some soldiers in the 1960’s felt compelled to perform unlawful acts. Some soldiers were required to kill civilians in the Viet Nam war. Some were ordered to take up arms against fellow Americans at protests in Washington, D.C. The oath makes no reference to a LTC being pressured by the President in 2017 to lie under oath before Congress.

        In contracts as far back as the 1700’s, the contracting parties knew the concept of force majeure or force of God. Some things were simply unpredictable. If I am renting a piece of property in 1860 and raising crops, that Force of God provision meant that if my crops were destroyed by a tornado, I would be excused from paying the annual rent. Today, if an apartment building is destroyed, I am not required to continue to pay rent on a building destroyed by hurricane. The oath *is* a big deal. But, to some West Point cadet in 1830 or 1850, no one could envision that protecting the US Constitution would mean aiming a rifle at his neighbors.

      2. This is an excellent explanation of the meaning of the oath. It’s consistent with what I’ve been told by friends who served as officers – both Academy-trained and ROTC. None of them believe that resignation or retirement eliminates the obligations.

  19. A bunch of smart people using their brains to try to out smart one another. If we don’t look at History from our present perspective, where the hell are we? Maybe Lee and Jackson should have locked at their time from ours.

  20. I’m no expert on oaths, but it seems to me that oaths either expire when one’s commission is terminated or they do not. In either case, Lee and Jackson were in the same position vis-à-vis their oaths.

    1. you are asking the operative question … there is no service regulation or statute that releases you from your oath — active duty or retired … likewise, there’s no penalty for breaking it … the nation counts on integrity of its officers and enlisted personnel to keep it.

      Here’s the oath (from the first Congress in 1790) that antebellum officers would have taken … not much different in intent than the oath officers take today:

      “I (state your name) to solemnly swear or affirm (as the case my be) to bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America and to serve them honestly against all their enemies and opposers, whomsoever, and to observe and obey the president of the United States of America and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the article of war.”

      Keeping the oath is a matter of conscience — no doubt a a hard choice for pre-war southern officers … but, ultimately a deeply personal choice … and you don’t have to be an expert on oaths, we all take them at some point.

  21. As discussed earlier in this topic, William Rawle, a leading Constitutional scholar of his day, published “View of the Constitution” as a Second Edition in 1829 with no significant modifications. However, the 1829 edition DID contain eight additional pages, almost all slotted in after page 299 of the First Edition, expanding on the Theory of Secession and its mechanisms for operation “without being impolitic.” If a State abandoned the republican form of government, “it could no longer remain within the Union.” And if a State desired to leave the Union, it must first amend its State constitution to so claim; and then follow a legitimate pathway to secession. And contained within Rawle (1829) is the actual legal, legitimate pathway. [See if you can find it…]
    The point: if Students at a U.S. Government-sponsored school were exposed to the Theory of Secession, and given to believe that it was not only possible, but LEGAL… and under certain situations a moral requirement; and then at some later stage attempted to carry out that “theory” (believing it was a lawful exercise) it is difficult to fault those accomplished students for putting into practice what their own Government taught them.

    1. The military doesn’t practice democracy ; the military enforces democracy.

      That’s why the Commander-in-Chief is a civilian. And says so in the US Constitution….Article 2 Section 2.

    2. The above quote ” The military doesn’t practice democracy; the military enforces democracy” is from “Robert E. Lee and Me” by Ty Seidule, page 224.

  22. I was in the USN from 1973 until 1982. Between 1975 and 1979, I made eight strategic deterrent patrols onboard a nuclear-powered Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine capable of carrying up to 16 Poseidon missiles, armed with nuclear warheads, during the Cold War. There were 41 of these first types of submarines built, referred to as the Forty-One for Freedom. The first one was the USS George Washington (SSBN-598, commissioned in 1959). The fourth one was the USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN-601, commissioned in 1960). Another one was the USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN-634, commissioned in 1964). I find it hard to believe that the United States and the USN would allow a ship or a submarine to be named after someone who had been a traitor to the USA. Oh, I forgot to mention that the next one built right after the Robert E. Lee, was the USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602, commissioned in 1961). The USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631), like the Stonewall Jackson was commissioned in 1964.

    1. Shipmate, i had the same notion … i was in USS WILL ROGERS (SSBN 659 GOLD), USS BUFFALO (SSN-715) and COMSUBGU 7 (CTF-74) and then many aviation tours … back in the 1980s, in Holy Loch and Rota, i also wondered about the “confederate” submarines … stationed in Charleston and travelling the south, i wondered about the army bases in GA, LA, SC and TX — Forts Bragg, Benning, Hood, Polk, et al … i simply thought it was weird that we had named real estate and capitol ships after guys who fought against the nation … and specially odd because none of them had terrific military records — big losers … and there is a CVN or two named for gents who were great proponents for the Navy (google Carl Vinson), but were men of their time when it came to race relations.

    2. And who chose those names? What politicians used their influence to get those names? Just as the Army is in the process to rename bases that were named after confederates, so too is the Navy looking at eliminating names which honor confederates.

      1. i reallly don’t know who named the submarines … the entire class (41 boats) were all named for reknowned Americans and even one South American, Simon Bolivar … a few other notable Southerners, in addition to Generals Lee and Jackson, were Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun … my sense the Curator of the Navy simply compiled a list of notable 19th and 20th Americans who had not had a ship named after them recently and that was that.

        More recently we have a CVN named for Carl Vinson from GA, , a submarine (decommissioned a few years ago named for L. Mendell Rivers from and John C. Stennis from MI … all ardent supporters of modernizing the Navy … but typical Dixiecrats of their day … would be tough these days getting a vessel named for these gents … ithe Navy has less of problem than the Army … unlike Army bases, ships get decommissioned, both the vessel and it’s namesake go …

  23. Oops, my bad, sorry about the confusion! I need to clarify the statement in my previous post (I find it hard to believe that the United States and the USN would allow a ship or a submarine to be named after someone who had been a traitor to the USA). What I was trying to imply here is that I don’t believe the United States and the USN thought of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as traitors. I think these two submarines were given their names to honor both of these great Confederate generals, who were also Americans, even though they chose to remain loyal to Virginia in 1861! Also, when the names for these boats were chosen, it was not long before and right after the Centennial of the start of the War.

    1. It was also during the midst of the Civil Rights Era, when activists were being murdered and southern governors were blocking the doors of universities. I seriously doubt we’ll ever see a Navy ship named after a confederate again. It was a different era.

      1. you said it … that’s why it’s better to name submarines after fish … everybody likes fish — plus the names are much cooler — BATFISH, SHARK, SKIPJACK, SEAWOLF, WAHOO, etc.:-)

  24. This conversation has ranged awfully far afield from the original question, which always seems to happen with any question related to the war. But as to whether there was any substantive difference between Lee’s choice and Jackson’s, I think the simple answer has to be no. Jackson happened to have already resigned his commission before the situation heated up; Lee resigned his commission when forced to make a choice by Gen. Scott. Regardless of the nature of the oath, the legality or otherwise of secession, or the definition of treason, both men resigned and both chose Virginia over the United States. I think you’re cutting Jackson some slack to suggest he was more or less forced into it (“literally his job to go to war on behalf of Virginia”). But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for Lee.

  25. Those Southern posts generally started as State controlled camps during WW I and WW II. Probably as a form of marketing, they were named after local heroes – in the sense that they were heroes among the local white citizens, not so much among the black local citizens There are more camps that never evolved into federally controlled army posts. There is Camp Beauregard in Louisiana and Camp Wolters and Camp Swift, in Texas that remain state controlled camps to this day.

  26. I’ll trust the judgment of the man who actually was involved in the planning and the fighting when it comes to judging whether his opponents were traitors or not over that of anyone who is alive today spewing the political talking points of today that try to promote the political agendas of today. US Grant viewed them as fellow soldiers. Period. He personally headed off any possibility of Confederate soldiers, especially their officers, being charged as traitors. When it comes to the motivations of those who signed up for the Confederate cause, they were almost always the same as those in the Union. It s said that “blood is thicker than water”. Many an individual looked at their own state in the same way that they looked at their own blood. That appears to have been the case with Lee, and many others.

    1. Grant over-stepped his authority. Recall from Ty Seidule’s book…”Robert E. Lee and Me, page 224….”The military doesn’t practice democracy; the military enforces democracy.”

      I also refer you tot he US Constitution. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and that the President is the person, as Chief Executive, enforces the Law of the United States , is enforced.

      You’re welcome!

  27. George Washington, it hasn’t been pointed out, was a hero to the South and to the North. To the North he was the first president of the United States, the guy who pulled us all together. To the South he was the guy who separated us from Britain, setting the precedent for the South to separate from the North. George Washington was a Virginian, as was RE Lee, and Martha Washington theoretically had a family reunion, Lee and Washington would have both attended. The same decision was faced by some Yankee’s who enlisted in the South, the same decision was made by some Southerners to fight for the North. I look at Maryland who had regiments on both sides and say there must be cultural mores that influenced who to fight for. William Sherman spent many years being groomed by the Southern states in preparation for war, but he faced his decision and it was cut and dry. Look at the decision that Porter Alexander made. He could have stayed in California, become rich, and had a completely different history. That door was open to him. He made his decision to join the South in spite of his “oath” and duty to the North. Sorry for the scope creep, that’s what happens when you pose an excellent question.

  28. My final salvo:

    An old pal (Army ’78) sent me this recent article by two Army Captains teaching at West Point … an essay on how to parse R.E. Lee’s contribution as a highly distinguished Army Officer and Superintendent of the Military Academy and his Confederate Service … well written and especially thoughtful in they actually offer recommendations as opposed to simply throwing stones.


    1. Thanks for this. The article and its attached comments encapsulate today’s dilemma exquisitely…
      Mike Maxwell

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