General Lee was a soldier and leader of men, not a politician. Although several of his decisions as soldier had an important political impact in American history, he seldom discussed such matters. An exception is his correspondence with the British historian Acton shortly after the war. Acton had spent a long career studying how constitutional liberty had gradually developed as an antidote to arbitrary central power. Writing sympathetically to Lee, Acton said that he regarded the defeat of the Confederacy as a setback in the progress of liberty. Lee replied:
“I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it. “The mission of the Abbeville Institute is to explore what is true and useful in the Southern tradition that may be of benefit to the United States today. I wish we could ask the reverse question: What can the United States do for the South? But that has never even been considered.
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