Letter from Robert E. Lee to His Son

Transcribed by Mattie S. Meadows, 1937. (See controversy in notes below.)

Arlington House, April 5, 1852

My dear son:

I am just in the act of leaving for New Mexico. My fine old regiment has been ordered to that distant region, and I must hasten to see that they are properly taken care of. I have but little to add in reply to your letter of March 26. Your letters breathe a true spirit of frankness; they have given myself and your mother great pleasure. You must study to be frank with the world, frankness is the child of honest courage. Say what you mean to do on every occasion, and take it for granted you mean to do right. If a friend should ask a favor, you should grant it, if it is possible and reasonable, if not, tell him plainly why you cannot. You will wrong him and yourself by equivocation of any kind. Never do a wrong thing to make a friend or keep one. The man who requires you to do so is dearly purchased at a sacrifice. Deal kindly but firmly with all your classmates. You will find it the policy which wears best. Above all do not appear to others what you are not. If you have any fault to find with anyone, tell him, not others, of what you complain. There is no more dangerous experiment than that of undertaking to be one thing before a man's face and another behind his back. We should live and act and say nothing to injure of any one. It is not only best as a matter of principle but it is the path to peace and honor. In regard to duty, let me in conclusion of this hasty letter, inform you that nearly a hundred years ago there was a day of remarkable gloom and darkness, still known as the dark day, a day when the light of the sun was slowly extinguished as if by an eclipse. The legislature of Connecticut was in session and as its members saw the unexpected and unaccountable darkness coming on, they shared in the general awe and terror. It was supposed by many that the day of judgment had come. Some one in the consternation of the hour moved for an adjournment. Then there arose an old patriotic legislator, Davenport of Stamford, who said that if the last day had come, he desired to be found in his place of duty, and therefore moved that candles be brought in so that the house could proceed with its duty. There was quietness in that man's mind, the quietness of heavenly wisdom, an inflexible willingness to obey his duty. Duty, then is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things, like the old puritan. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less. Let not me or your mother wear one gray hair for any lack of duty on your part.

Your affectionate father,

R. E. LEE.

to G.W.Custis Lee.


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