DUTY & ROBERT E. LEE

The 19th of January is the birthday of Robert E. Lee. The following is taken directly from Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins.

Do your duty in all things…You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less.

It is likely not true that Lee made the statement so often attributed to him, that “Duty is the sublimest word in the English language.” But there is no question that his view of duty was equal to this sentiment. Faithfulness to duty dominates his life wherever you look: at home as a child caring for his mother; at West Point, incurring not a single demerit; in the army of he United States, serving with nobility and grace; at the head of the Southern forces, leading with boldness and fortitude; as president of Washington College, quietly molding the lives of young men. “Duty” echoes throughout Lee’s life.

After the fall of Mexico City, when the army was celebrating the victory—with great joy and relief—in the emperor’s palace, someone arose to propose a toast to the captain of the Engineers, who had been the one to find a way for the army to take the city. It was only then that the men noticed that Robert E. Lee, the captain of the Engineers, was not present. Major John Magruder was immediately dispatched to find him and bring him to the hall to receive his honors.

After an extended search, Magruder finally found Captain Lee in a remote, quiet room in the palace, busily working on a map! It was his responsibility to make maps of the area and he had not yet finished this task. Magruder reproached Lee for ignoring the festivities. Lee calmly responded by pointing to his instruments. Magruder was incredulous.

But this is mere drudgery! Make somebody else do it and come with me.
No,” replied Lee, “no, I am but doing my duty.

Only his manifest sincerity saved him from being ridiculed for self-righteousness. Magruder knew Lee will enough to know that this was indeed his strict view of the matter and no amount of words would sway him.

This was a quality of Lee from his youth. It was said of him as a young student that his “specialty was finishing up.” He completed what he began and fulfilled his responsibilities to the full. It later became a maxim with him, “You cannot be a true man until you learn to obey.”

It was important faithfully to fulfill your duty without any dissimulation or justification of your failure.

"Private and public life are subject to the same rules; and truth and manliness are two qualities that will carry you through this world much better than policy, or tact, or expediency, or any other word that was ever devised to conceal or mystify a deviation from a straight line.

…when Virginia seceded on April 17, 1861, the decision for Lee was made. He knew that many men would outrank him in the Southern armies. He had an appreciation for the fearful odds the South would face and the great uncertainty of a contest with the North that few in the South had. He knew that his estate and home would likely become the property of the Northern government, given its proximity to the capitol. If he chose for the Union, he could retain all and have rank, glory, and wealth besides. But he would not have had honor. He wrote to his sister, “With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.

After the war, in speaking to his former lieutenant, General Wade Hampton, he described his decision in these terms, “I did only what my duty demanded; I could have taken no other course without dishonor. And if all were to be done over again, I should act in precisely the same manner.

Some things are more important that worldly reputation, prosperity, and personal ease. Fearing God and living faithfully, keeping a clear conscience before God and man, cannot be replaced by worldly fame or riches. It is a lesson that all men need to learn.

[It is highly recommended that every family purchase a copy of Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins, Highland Books, 1997. ISBN 0-9645396-9-1. Then read it together.]

Other wisdom from Robert E. Lee:

At present, I am not concerned with results. God’s will ought to be our aim, and I am quite contented that His designs should be accomplished and not mine.”

I can only say that I am nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation.

Conscious of my imperfections and the little claim I have to be classed among Christians, I know the temptations and trials I shall have to pass through. May God enable me to perform my duty and not suffer me to be tempted beyond my strength.