Washington and Lee University

Review of Woodrow Wilson's Robert E. Lee. An Interpretation
D. L. McMurray

Note: The following is taken from the December 1924 issue of The Mississippi Valley Historical Review (volume 11), p. 419.

Robert E. Lee. An Interpretation. By Woodrow Wilson. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1924. 42 p.)

In 1909, President Wilson of Princeton delivered an address on Robert E. Lee, at the University of North Carolina, which is now reprinted in a neat little volume of pamphlet size. It is in part an appreciation of the character of General Lee by one who described himself to a southern audience as a Southerner who felt more at home in the South than anywhere else (pages v, vi). He pays eloquent tribute to the gentleness, the fire, the devotion to ideals, and the true nobility which have made General Lee not only a distinguished southern general and gentleman, but a national hero as well, “who was not rendered the less great because he bent his energies towards a purpose which many men considered not to be national in its end” (p. 2).

Many parts of the discourse, however, partake of the nature of a sermon on American government and citizenship, with General Lee as the text, of interest not only as the reflections of a ripe scholar, but also because this scholar was soon to be the President of the United States. He reflects upon the necessity of studying the past to discover proper principles for action in the present, and upon the need to devotion to ideals in the conduct of public affairs. At times he sermonizes more than is customary among the present generation of historians, going so far as to say: “A poor natioin, such as the United States in 1812, for example, if it is in the right, is more formidable than the richest nation in the wrong” (p. 39). This is hardly one of Woodrow Wilson's great addresses, but it was well worth reprinting.