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Lost For Over a Century

I once sent the government a check for some $35,000.00 to pay estate tax on behalf of a client.  The check was lost for several months by the Feds.  At the time I recalled this historical event:

Robert E. Lee was an advocate of reconciliation after the Civil War.  This was demonstrated by his application for a Presidential Pardon on June 13, 1865, high confederate officers having been excluded from President Johnson’s general pardon and amnesty of May 29, 1865 and being required to appeal directly to the President.  Lee wrote:

Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April ’61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Va. 9 April ’65.

Lee was not aware that an oath of loyalty was required and he took such an oath on October 2, 1865:

“I, Robert E. Lee, of Lexington, Virginia, do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

The oath went to Secretary of State Seward, and then it vanished from history for over a century until it was found by Elmer O. Parker, an archivist at the National Archives, in 1970 among State Department papers in a cardboard box  clearly indexed V for Virginia and L for Lee.  Lee had inquired frequently about his application over the five years he had to live from 1865-1870.  Whether his application was lost deliberately or lost through ineptitude is unclear.

On August 5, 1975 President Ford restored the citizenship rights of Lee, making these remarks:

Lee’s dedication to his native State of Virginia charted his course for the bitter Civil War years, causing him to reluctantly resign from a distinguished career in the United States Army and to serve as General of the Army of Northern Virginia. He, thus, forfeited his rights to U.S. citizenship.

Once the war was over, he firmly felt the wounds of the North and South must be bound up. He sought to show by example that the citizens of the South must dedicate their efforts to rebuilding that region of the country as a strong and vital part of the American Union.

In 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote to a former Confederate soldier concerning his signing the Oath of Allegiance, and I quote: “This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony….

As a soldier, General Lee left his mark on military strategy. As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty. As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who had marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox.

General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

14 Comments

  1. Interesting story about Lee’s petition, I’d not heard that.

    Lee was cut from the same cloth as Washington, and had the Confederacy prevailed, would no doubt be considered the Washington of that nation.

    Sadly, our modern day iconoclasts are diligently working to efface any memory of Lee from the many prominent public places in which he’s remembered here in Virginia.

  2. Judging by recent petitions to remove Gen Lee’s name from schools and public buildings and his statues from public property in 2015, I’d guess that it was a punitive move by some beauracrat in 1865 when though vanquished by the North feelings against the South were still raw. Very sad that a man who contributed so much to the United States of America before and after the War Between the States would be still vilified by the politically correct know nothings. (That’s know nothings with lower case.) What must the old man have thought those last years of his life when there was no answer to his request?

  3. “In 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote to a former Confederate soldier concerning his signing the Oath of Allegiance, and I quote: “This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony….”
    If only Lee had done this before the Civil War. Lee was fighting a war to establish slavery. History finds Lee wanting.

  4. Mary de Voe,
    During the war Lee’s service to the Confederacy did contribute in a way to the United States. His generalship on the field of battle was such that his tactics are still taught at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy. Lee Barracks was built in 1962 and named after him.

    Lee did not fight the war to establish slavery. It was already a fixture of Virginia plantations by 1640. (The first African-Americans, so called because they were from the Caribbean, had arrived in Jamestown as indentured servants in 1619.) In a letter to his wife Lee wrote that slavery was a moral and political evil and an evil to the white man as well.
    In 1857 the father of Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, died. She was the only child of George Washington Parke Custis, grand stepson and adopted son of George Washington. Lee was named Custis’ executor. The will stipulated that his slaves were to be freed within 5 years after all debts and expenses of his estate were settled. Because the estate was in disarray, Lee had to take a 2 year leave of absence from the army. He freed the slaves in 1862 as directed.

    Before the Civil War most U S citizens self identified according to their state. Despite being against secession, as a Virginian he reluctantly resigned his commission in the U.S. Army after a 32 year career.
    Realizing that the South needed more men under arms, General Lee urged the Confederate Congress to allow slaves to serve in the Confederate army with the proviso that they would receive the same training, pay and treatment as the white soldiers and additionally that they and their families would be manumitted. Under pressure from the agro-industrial complex Congress ultimately refused.

  5. Wikipedia shows that Virginia was a slave state. It would not be incorrect for me then, to believe that Gen. Lee was fighting to defend slavery.
    Gen Lee was fighting to defend the state of Virginia for what and from what?

  6. “Gen. Lee was fighting to defend the state of Virginia for what and from what?”

    The horrors of being over run & conquered in a war, my dear. Remember, both sides thought at the beginning that the war would not last very long.

    How does one not fight to defend your neighbors, family, extended kin, property, and friends from being over run, killed, and lost? I would fight to defend my friends, family, community, & property.

    There are plenty of first hand accounts re: what happened to private citizens and their property through the actions of the Yankee soldiers over running their communities. My widowed great grandmother’s thousand acre farm was stripped of everything of value–even the doors to her house for use to carry the wounded. The Union Army left her with 10 children to feed on a stripped farm in the middle of a civil war.

  7. Barbara Gordon, from the links you cited: Until the day after Ft Sumter was fired upon, all cadets entering USMA swore an allegiance to their home state. On the day after the entire corps of cadets were required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves in the country; the border states were exempted (for obvious reasons). President Lincoln referred to secession as the cause for the war between the states. He could not tolerate the “rebellion”.
    Not being a native Virginian I did not know that Virginia seceeded later than the lower South. Today the South still seems mindful of states’ rights as regards the continued over reach of the federal government.

  8. The article is nonsense. Edwin Stanton did not become Secretary of War until 1862. Cadets at West Point never took an oath of allegiance to their home states. Here is the 1857 oath of allegiance at West Point:

    I, ______ of the State of _______ aged _____ years, ______ months, having been selected for an appointment as Cadet in the Military Academy of the United States, do hereby engage with the consent of my (Parent or Guardian) in the event of my receiving such appointment, that I will serve in the army of the United States for eight years, unless sooner discharged by competent authority. And I ____________ DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR [emphasis original], that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them HONESTLY and FAITHFULLY [emphasis original], against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever; and that I will observe and obey the orders of the President of the United
    States, and the orders of the Officers appointed over me, according to the Rules and Articles of War.”

    In August 1861 Bowman, the Superintendent of West Point, had all the Cadets who remained at West Point sign an oath of allegiance to which these words were appended:

    ‘I will maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States, paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty I may owe to any State, county, or country whatsoever.’

    http://www.historynet.com/americas-civil-war-comes-to-west-point.htm

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