West point and secession.
By General D. H. Maury.
I wish I could have seen Dr. Curry before he sent his letter vindicating General Lee from breach of faith in returning to his natural allegiance to Virginia when that State withdrew from the Federal Union; I would have given him some facts which were very strangely unknown to our people, and were always ignored by our enemies.
When Mr. Calhoun was Secretary of War, in 1822, I believe, he caused a text-book to be introduced into the course of studies at West Point, known as Rawle on the constitution. This Rawle was a Northern lawyer of great ability, one of the very few who seem to have understood the true nature of the terms and conditions of the compact between the States constituting the Federal Union. His work–Commentaries on the constitution of the United States–breathes the very essence of States’-rights, and the right of secession is distinctly set forth by him. When we remember that only seven years had then elapsed since New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and, perhaps, other Northern States asserted this right, and threatened to exercise it or make dishonorable terms of peace with Great Britain unless the war was stopped, we can understand that Mr. Calhoun was not violating Northern sentiment in introducing Rawle on the Constitution at West Point. It there remained as a text-book till 1861, and Mr. Davis and Sidney Johnston, and General Joe Johnston and General Lee, and all the rest of us who retired with Virginia from the Federal Union, were not only obeying the plain instincts of our nature and dictates of duty, but we were obeying the very inculcations we had received in the National School. It is not probable that any of us ever read the constitution or any exposition of it except this work of Rawle, which we studied in our graduating year at West Point. I know I did not.
I am told that in 1861 the text-book was changed and the cadets are now taught out of a treatise on the constitution which teaches that secession is a crime.
And if any one of the present generation should resign on the secession of his native State, he will be in danger of being lawfully hanged.
Dabney H. Maury.
Richmond, VA. 1878.