Men with the Mentality of Gangsters

The great British historian of liberty, Lord Acton, wrote to General Robert E. Lee on November 4, 1866 (read it in the LRC Archives) that “I saw in State’s 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. . . . 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 deeplhy than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.”

Lee responded that “[T]he consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.” Turned out to be absolutely true, didn’t it?

Nearly everyone has heard Lord Acton’s famous dictum about how power corrupts. But have you ever seen the full quote? It is certainly consistent with his views of secession, and opposition to consolidated political power, expressed above. Here’s the complete quote:

“And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”


11:54 am on April 27, 2007