“Did Robert E Lee Commit Treason?” by Dr. Allen Guelzo, Gettysburg College

Here’s Professor Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College, who is about to publish a biography of Robert E. Lee, speaking at Washington & Lee University on “Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?”

The video’s description reads, “Dr. Allen Guelzo, Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program, currently at work on a major new biography of Robert E. Lee, will deliver a lecture with an accompanying faculty colloquium and a followup community discussion.” It’s an excellent presentation, but I’m forced to disagree with the last sentence of his talk, in which he says no one can say Lee was a traitor without having a trial verdict. We can say all kinds of historical facts without trial verdicts, and we can say Lee’s actions met the definition of treason. Also, I don’t think he handled the question about secession very well. I think he could have used the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution to shut that question down. Otherwise, it’s an excellent video.



  1. I think he could have used Robert E. Lee’s own words to make the case for his efforts being treason: “… I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution.”

    “…The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it were intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It is intended for perpetual union, so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government (not a compact) which can only be dissolved by revolution, or by the consent of all the people in convention assembled.”

    Now, people can and have argued these issues since the days before our Civil War, but a mind that reasoned out and wrote those words could not be so decieved as to not know that by losing his “revolution” he was and would always be, a traitor.

  2. Mike Musick · · Reply

    How did Wade Hampton get on to a list of elite Virginians targeted by Underwood?

  3. Mike Musick · · Reply

    Good answer and link. Thanks, Al!

    1. My pleasure, Mike. It was a good question and getting the link was a bonus. 🙂

  4. TheGuy445 · · Reply

    Al, do you think Lee was an honorable man just caught in a dishonorable system? (like WWII German officer Erwin Rommel) Is only siding with Virginia because it’s his home state understandable?

    1. It’s a complex question. I think he held to his conception of what was honorable, but that conception could also be very self-serving and used to justify doing what he wanted to do. So I don’t see it as cut-and-dried.

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