• The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia

The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.




All expounders of the law of nations are agreed in holding war to be an exceptional case situation, and only profitable so far as it aims at the foundation of a new peace. “Peace on earth” is first commandment of the christian law of nations. Every war breaks up an old peace in order to establish a new one; & the question is whether the new peace is better than the old one: whether by means of the war, difficulties which menaced the future have been removed, & fresh guarantees given for the development of peace. Looking at the late war from this point of view, it is difficult to find results which justify the conflict. Political quarrels were the motive of the war, but what difficulties in the way of the development of the country have been removed by it? The war has destroyed the bond of unity which existed in the old Confederation & the acts of congress have shaken faith in the sanctity of the constitution & weakened the respect paid to law. The feeling of insecurity is universal. The political party which rules the country is indulging in the wildest projects. “Might before right[”] is the practical axiom of the day. History proves that smaller states have been precisely the ground where intellectual & social freedom has sprung up & where art & science have flourished most successfully. Why is the political worth of a country to be judged by nothing else than the magnitude of its territory & the numbers of its population. Great military nations it is notorious, have almost always suppressed the liberty of a people & nipped the fairest buds of intellect, promoting only a material civilization which rots the life of the people to the core, like that of the Roman Empire in its decline. Is this the gaol [sic] to which our progress in civilization is guiding us? The constitution of the country has been overthrown; the rights of millions of people invaded & the prosperity of whole states retarded for years by unprincipled men who look for nothing but the retention of place & power in their hands. There is a true & manly way of dealing with the subject. No one should be governed in his actions by the wrongs & resentments of the past. No animosity should be felt against any Section or honest man. No vain lamentations should be indulged in over the result of the war. No antipathies cherished against those who fairly & bravely fought and triumphed in the cause, in which their convictions & consciences were enlisted. But this is not incompatible with the feeling of detestation & abhorrence by the American people against the rulers of the Radical party who have brought these evils to pass, who for their own individual & party purposes have violated every principle of right & justice & have trampled under foot everything that we have been taught to hold dear & sacred. 




Source: Checked against original document, Mary Custis Lee Papers, Mss1 L5144 a, Section 20, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2019 May 13          

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