“Lee, indeed, saw an analogy between the Revolution of 1776 and the Revolution of 1861. In ’76 the Colonists threw off the yoke of Great Britain, in ’61 eleven Southern States threw off the yoke of the North. In each instance the act was one on revolution. Lee maintained that a government held together by coercion – such as Lincoln’s call for troops would create – was but a semblance of a government. He remembered that Washington himself had declared, “There is nothing which binds one country or one state to another but interest.”
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made an impression upon Robert E. Lee. He understood the significance. Lincoln intended to win the war and to preserve the Union regardless of consequences. When he was inaugurated he had affirmed that he had neither the power nor the disposition to interfere with slavery. He had now reversed himself. But thereby his military government was made perfect.
This view Lee expressed to [President Jefferson] Davis. “The military government of the United States has been so perfected by the recent proclamation of President Lincoln, which you have no doubt seen, and civil liberty so completely trodden under foot, that I have strong hopes that the conservative portion of [the Northern] people, unless dead to the feelings of liberty, will rise and depose the party now in power.”
Yet while Lee was penning this letter to Davis he was signing and delivering a deed of manumission to the three hundred Custis slaves [he had inherited through marriage]. This act antedated Lincoln’s proclamation by three days; Lincoln’s proclamation became operative January 1, 1863, Lee’s manumission papers had been in effect since December 29 previous.”
(Robert E. Lee: A Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Company, 1934, excerpts pp. 96; 208-209)