Lee, Acton, and the Dangers of Centralized Government
December 1, 2020 | View PDF
Having studied Southern History for the last thirty plus years, I understand why certain types of people dislike Robert Edward Lee. Lee represented the best of American society. He was a devout Christian (Episcopalian) American patriot with an incredible family history; he loved his kinsmen and friends and constantly referenced duty as the most sublime word in the English language.
One of Lee’s contemporaries was John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, aka Lord Acton, of English and German lineage. Acton was also a devout Christian (Catholic) with a similarly proud lineage. He was a classical liberal and devotee of individual liberty and philosophical truth. Acton is perhaps best known for saying: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lee and Acton were exceptional individuals¬–most of their critics are quite the antithesis.
Lee and Acton understood the danger of consolidated, centralized power. Acton extolled the federal character of the Original American Republic and the emphasis on moral communities and “he admired the Confederacy as the most advanced expression of such a polity.” A devotee of the John Locke/Thomas Jefferson classical liberal philosophy of government, Acton saw the Union’s military victory as a dangerous trend toward consolidation, with inherent threats to individual rights. He saw States’ Rights/Sovereignty as the bulwark against the federal government determining the limits of its own power. Lee’s opinion echoed that of Acton.
In 1866, after the South failed to gain its independence, Lee and Acton exchanged prophetic correspondence. Their writing reveals wisdom, knowledge of history, and a clear understanding of consensual government. They understood federalism, the sovereignty of the States, and the federal government’s role as their agent. The only powers delegated to the federal government by the States are enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The following is a brief overview of their correspondence.
In his November 4, 1866, letter to Lee, Acton wrote: “I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy…I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization, and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.” It is astounding that Acton lamented the near-death blow to State sovereignty more than he rejoiced over one of the greatest military victories (defeating Napoleon Bonaparte) in British History. He realized the precedent-setting potential of having a viable means of keeping government under control.
On December 15, 1866, Lee responded: “I yet believe the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and the people, not only are essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source 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 to ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.” Lee identifies the slippery slope that typically leads to runaway government and empire.
Although history shows empires can do some positive things, it also shows they become morally corrupt, domestically tyrannical, aggressively interventionist, and financially insolvent.
The predictions of Lee and Acton can be observed today. Central banking planners (The Federal Reserve) control money, interest rates, etc. Failed companies with the “right” connections are bailed out when they would collapse under true laissez-faire capitalism. Power-hungry entities, e.g., tech companies, banks, and corporations partner with government operatives and seek to monitor our every move. They advocate the elimination of cash to outlaw private exchanges and allow the monitoring of every financial transaction. Decades of interventions into the affairs of sovereign countries and nations have created numerous enemies.
This lust for power and centralization has now reached a new level with the sinister Klaus Schwab and the Davos crowd who advocate a “Great Reset” toward world government. Perhaps this is the group referenced by the late comedian George Carlin, who said: “It’s a big club and you ain’t in it.”
Lee and Acton saw it coming to America; however, even they may not have envisioned the enormity, extent, and wickedness of the Leviathan.