Lord Acton (John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1834-1902), British historian and philosopher of liberty, is best remembered for his epigram, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What is perhaps less well known, though it should not be surprising, was his sympathy for the Confederate cause. After the war, in November 1866, Lord Acton expressed his views in a letter to Robert E. Lee.
“Without presuming to decide the purely legal question, on which it seems evident to me from Madison’s and Hamilton’s papers that the Fathers of the Constitution were not agreed, I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. 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 believed 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.”
South Carolina League of the South