So thought and spoke and wrote and acted Robert E. Lee
, in April, 1861.
He has, for the decision thus reached, been termed by some a traitor, a deserter, almost an apostate, and consigned to the ‘avenging pen of History.’
I cannot so see it; I am confident posterity will not so see it. The name and conditions being changed, those who uttered the words of censure, invoking ‘the avenging pen,’ did riot so see it—have not seen it so. Let us appeal to the record.
What otherwise did George Washington
do under circumstances not dissimilar?
What would he have done under circumstances wholly similar?
was a soldier; like Lee
, he was a Virginian before he was a soldier.
He had served under King George's flag; he had sworn allegiance to King George; his ambition had been to hold the royal commission.
seceded from the British
empire—renounced its allegiance.
What did Washington
He threw in his lot with his native province.
Do you hold him then to have been a traitor—to have been false to his colors?
Such is not your verdict; such has not been the verdict of history.
He acted conscientiously, loyally, as a son of Virginia
and according to his lights.
Will you say that Lee
But men love to differentiate; and of drawing of distinctions there is no end. The cases were dissimilar, it will be argued; at the time Virginia
renounced its allegiance Washington
did not hold the king's commission, indeed he never held it. As a soldier he was a provincial always—he bore a Virginian commission.
True! Let the distinction be conceded; then assume that the darling wish of his younger heart had been granted to him, and that he had received the king's commission, and held it in 1775—what course would he then have pursed?
What course would you wish him to have pursued?
Do you not wish—do you not know—that, circumstanced as then he would have been, he would have done exactly as Robert E. Lee
did eighty-six years later.
He would first have resigned his commission; and then arrayed himself on the side of Virginia
Would you have had him do otherwise?
And so it goes in this world.
In such cases the usual form of speech is: ‘Oh!
that is different!
Another case altogether!’
Yes, it is different; it is another case.
For it makes a world of difference with a man who argues thus, whether it is his ox that is gored or the ox of the other man!
And here, in preparing this address, I must fairly acknowledge having encountered an obstacle in my path also.