Was Robert E. Lee a traitor? - Retry?

I asked this question already, but I didn't put together well. So, I thought I try it again.

Was Robert E. Lee a traitor? No one gave me strait yes or no on the traitor question. I like all the explanations of why he did what he did. But, did he commit treason? Plenty of people steal to feed their families, but they are still convicted of crimes and go to prison because they are guilty of stealing. A good reason is not justification.

As I said before, Lee put a lot of stock by his word and his honor. When someone becomes a cadet at West Point, they swear the officer’s oath of loyalty which has two important sections; “…preserve, protect, and defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic…” and “…obey the lawful orders of those appointed above me…”

This oath is also taken at every promotion in rank. Since Lee was a full colonel at the start of the Civil War, he took this oath 7 times at least. To the best of my knowledge, he never took any such oath to the state of Virginia. By his own standards, is he not a dishonorable man and a traitor?

Ok, I know he resigned his commission first. But what would we have done to an army officer of German descent who resigned his commission and went to fight for Germany during World War II because he had family in Germany he couldn't raise his hand against. We might of understood, but would we have punished him.

Now, substitute German for Arab American army officer of Muslim descent who served in the Army, resigned his commission, and went to fight for AL Queda, Hamas, Syria, or whatever.

He could argue many of his fellow Southerners were doing it as well.

I think the argument that "all my friends are doing it" is not valid defense. Just because others did it, doesn't mean he had to. Many Southern officers stayed loyal to their oath. Union General George Thomas from Virgina, for instance. We don't honor him as much as we honor Lee.

He could say he couldn't fight against his own family and neighbors, but do we excuse police officers who do not arrest friends and family members who are committing crimes. Oh, and he did not believe session was legal.

Was he traitor? Should we put up statues to a man who betrayed the country while forgetting those who put aside easy road of sticking with their friends and family so they could honor their duty to constitution and country.


For somgu21. Lee was an officer of the REGULAR ARMY. That is Federal, not state. The oath has varied, but it has remained essentially the same.

Update 2:

For Johnny B Good. To the British, the founding fathers were traitors to King and Country. And there is no statue of them anywhere in Britain or her other colonies.

If Britain had won the revolution, there would be no Washington Memorial or Jefferson Memorial.

There are statues of Lee all over the South.

Update 3:

For Koshu, there are statues of Lee and places named after him all over the South. He is spoken of as hero.

Update 4:

Also, Lincoln did order that no Southern military leaders be charged. Not because they weren't guilty, but to keep violence down. It was a political move of expediency and mercy. Maybe more than they deserved.

Update 5:

Yes, there is a statue of George Washington in London. It was placed there in 1921. This is after we saved their rears in World War I. The gratitude they felt added a different dimension to things.

Also, the statue was a give from Virginia. It was not the British idea to put it up. They could hardly turn it down after we had just been allies in desperate war.

14 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    At the time the idea of trying Lee and Jefferson was talked about.However, it was thought at the time that the country needed healing.I do believe legally yes he could have been tried for treason.

  • 7 years ago

    Well through the Dred Scott court case, the Constitution defended slavery. So its more that Lincoln was the traitor then Lee. Lee technically "defended" the Constitution by going over to the South, free will or not. So no, he was not a traitor to the old Constitution at least.

  • 7 years ago

    The answer is yes and no. Every solider that was part of the United States military before the war swore an oath to protect the constitution and the United States. By fighting for the Confederacy they broke that oath, making them traitors.

    Even before the war was over, Congress passed amnesty acts to any solder for the confederacy that would stop fighting and go home. After the war President Johnson offered an almost blanket amnesty to all confederates in May 1965. This excluded fourteen people, Lee included, that had to apply for the amnesty. Not many did, but Lee did apply. He swore his amnesty oath on June 13th 1865.

    This though was forgotten and lost in time until 1975 when it was rediscovered and his amnesty not given, and Congress Posthumously granted it and back dated it to June 13th 1865.

    So what does that mean? From the date of hostilities until June 13th 1865 he was a traitor to the United States, however those charges were pardoned and he was granted amnesty, no longer making him a traitor.

  • James
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    No, because he resigned his position as an officer of the Union. He did not betray his oath, he did not act against the union until he became an officer of the confederacy. He went back to Virginia, which had seceded from the Union, and became a General for the confederacy, by taking their oath of loyalty. When the war was over he retook the union oath of loyalty.

    He was punished in that he never recovered his plantation and home which is now Arlington National cemetary,

    The only honors given to him after the war was the state of Virginia, and they still as a state had that right. Example, some southern states still fly the confederate flag.

    The examples you give are good however, Lincoln called for forgiveness, and that all soldiers be return to the south as freemen.

  • How do you think about the answers? You can sign in to vote the answer.
  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Johnny B Good has a point, John Tyler was elected to the Confederate Congress but nobody questions why his painting is hanging up in the White House and there is a statue of George Washington in London. Why shouldn't people in the south have statues of Lee? Don't forget that his men would have kept fighting to the last one if he hadn't done the honorable thing and told them to surrender.

    Revised: You're missing the point, if Britain sees Washington in a different light than they did when the Revolution occurred and puts up a statue of him then why is it so horrible for people in the south to have statues of Lee? No offense but I'm not sure you've thought this through, you have a problem with R. E. Lee and you think everyone should see him the same way.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I think you're kind of arguing semantics here when you call Lee a traitor when technically speaking the Founding Fathers were all traitors as they were subjects of Britain. They saw their primary loyalty to the colonies and not the crown yet we call them heroes. As for whether secession was legal it's a question you'll never be able to answer because the truth is that the Constitution did not specifically address that issue.

    Edit: You're wrong, there are statues to Washington in England, there are actually statues of several U.S. Presidents there and many people there feel that King George was wrong.

    It definitely is not accurate to compare Lee to Al-Qaeda members or Nazis, it's historically inaccurate to say the least to pretend the Confederacy was some evil institution. I understand the correlation you're trying to make but it's hardly the same thing.

    It's very easy for us to judge him almost 150 years later but the attitude of the country is far different than it was then, at that time this really wasn't a nation it was still a fairly loose confederation of states much as it was when it was founded. We can't understand what it's like to consider your state to be your country but that's how it was back then, the war changed all that but it's easy yet unfair to sit behind a computer and cast judgments without having any real understanding of the times.

    It seems that by your definition anyone who takes an oath to defend the Constitution and then goes against it is a traitor, if that's the case then you could argue that Lincoln himself was a traitor. He too swore to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies" yet his suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus was a direct violation of the very Constitution he vowed to defend. I don't agree with the southern states decision to secede but questioning if there should be statues to Lee when John Tyler and Franklin Pierce have their portraits hanging in the White House seems like quite a double standard. Those two were former presidents who were supporters of the Confederacy yet it always seems as if Lee is the one who gets vilified.

    EDIT: You're wrong, there are statues of some of the founding fathers in England. When were you there last? I saw them when I was there, I also saw a statue of FDR there. You didn't address what I said about Tyler and Pierce or even Lincoln. Stop worrying about statues

    EDIT2: "For Johnny B Good. To the British, the founding fathers were traitors to King and Country. And there is no statue of them anywhere in Britain or her other colonies.


    You should just let this go and not worry about statues of Lee. If you live in the south and don't like the statues then move, if you live in the north then just don't go there. I for one enjoy going down south, I've even been to Atlanta and never experienced the ill will toward northerners that supposedly exists. Like most people in history, Lee was complex and is a hero to some and a villain to others. Lincoln is seen that way too but nobody is foolish enough to think we should get rid of his statues.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Well, I know the oath is a common tradition for modern officers, but the first research you should do is whether or not the oath or something similar existed during Lee's time. There may have been different attitudes. Most military units were organized by state, made up of troopss all from the same state.

    Also, consider the fact that Lee maybe thought he WAS defending the constitution and American traditions by his actions.

    Not really an answer, but recommendations for your research.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I do not think that Lee was a traitor whatsoever. He was actually contemplating on taking Lincoln's offer to him to be the commanding General of the Union, until Virginia succeeded. He wouldn't fight against his own family and friends, and I find that honorable. The man committed treason to the U.S., but made the right decision morally in my opinion.

  • 4 years ago

    i think of which you have requested a query with no probability answer. Hero to who or a traitor to whom? The southern states curiously thought they had the main appropriate to depart the Union or a minimum of thought they had a genuine looking possibility to flee with it. It did no longer prove properly. once you hint the basis clarification for the Civil warfare or besides the fact which you % to call it, the song continues to be a similar and the song is money. So in that context the factor is moot. The South had an agricultural economic device and the North a producing base and conflicts over cost lists and money introduced approximately the bloodshed. So if Lee grow to be a traitor, he grow to be a traitor to the two Northern production or Southern Agriculture so i assume he grow to be a traitor to somebody if one needs to call that being a traitor interior the 1st place. we'd desire to attempt and remember that this grow to be a protracted time in the past and attitudes have replaced. curiously, Lee truly believed that his first loyalty, politically and culturally conversing grow to be to the State of Virginia and to no longer the Union. in my opinion, i do no longer think of we owe any genuine allegiance to any usa or area yet basically to our sense of appropriate and incorrect.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Was Lee a traitor? You tell me. If the federal authorities had been able to build a treason case against him, he would've gone on trial. The truth of the matter is that NOT ONE SINGLE CONFEDERATE LEADER WAS TRIED FOR TREASON! The federal authorities realized that in trying to build a case against Jefferson Davis, the Constitution actually backed the South, and the actions of northern leaders were treasonous.


    As to your remark about him believing 'session' (sic) was illegal, he did no such thing. The book that was used as a text book at West Point before the Civil War (a misnomer in its self as it was, by strict definition, not a civil war) actually taught that the right of secession was not only constitutionally justified, but part of the installed checks on the power of the federal government. but don't take my word for it. How 'bout old 'honest Abe' himself who stood on the floor of Congress when a senator from Illinois and made the following remark:

    "Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable and most sacred right - a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so many of the territory as they inhabit."

    Abraham Lincoln

    January 12, 1848.

    That is part of the Congressional record! Does that make Lincoln a traitor for uttering such a remark? Or does it make him a traitor for later ignoring the Constitution and denying the right he had previously supported to the South and invading it with a 2 million man army and raping, pillaging and robbing them for four years?

    How about this remark from a former Confederate officer:

    "As a Confederate soldier and as a Virginian, I deny the charge [that the Confederates were rebels] and denounce it as a calumny. We were not rebels, we did not fight to perpetuate human slavery, but for our rights and privileges under a government established over us by our fathers and in defense of our homes."

    - Richard Henry Lee, in an 1893 speech

    And finally, from the man in question, himself:

    "If the Constitution and the Union established by our forefathers" were "restored" then there will be no truer supporters of that union and that Constitution than the Southern people. Every brave people who considered their rights attacked and their Constitutional liberties invaded, would have done as we did. Our conduct was not caused by any insurrectionary spirit nor can it be termed rebellion, for our construction of the Constitution under which we lived and acted was the same from its adoption and for eighty years we have been taught and educated by the founders of the Republic and their written declaration which controlled our consciences and actions."

    Robert E. Lee

    Doesn't sound treasonous to me. Remember this is the same General Lee who said:

    “Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”

    At the time the notion of country was your respective state.Not the national behemoth we have today. The federal government had very specific and limited powers. When you look at the civil war as a power grab by the federal government and the northern states backed by industrial interests, then you begin to see it as the Southerners saw it.

  • 1 decade ago

    By definition, yes he was. But you must also remember that by definition George Washington and Lighthorse Harry Lee (Robert's father) were also traitors to Britain. Yet huge American heroes of the Revolutionary War. It all depends upon perspective. One man's traitor is another man's founding father, and one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

    It all depends on which side wins and is able to write the history too.

    Source(s): The History Teacher I see in the mirror every day.
Still have questions? Get your answers by asking now.