The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Document associated with: Davis, Jefferson
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System Number: 00806
Date: 1 July 1854
Author: JW
Place: Washington
Recipient: Jefferson Davis[1]
Place: [Washington]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler D12
Document Type: ALS


July 1 1854

Hon. Jefferson Davis
Sec. of War.


The returns made to your Department recently from the Military Academy[2], place me as you know on the list of those recommended deficient in Chemistry[3] at the late June examination. I think Sir, that on looking into my case, which I will now try to lay before you, you will acknowledge that it is a peculiar one, and totally different from any of the others upon [p. 2] which you have decided, and that therefore it is not necessary that that you should be deterred from reconsidering it, because of your being obliged, should you do so in my case, to change your determination with regard to all the others also. What I come to request Sir, is not the favor of being "turned back" one year, in order that I may yet have a chance of succeeding at West Point and graduating with the next class, but I wish to point out to you that I have been found deficient without sufficient cause, while I ought to have passed,- and consequently beg you to allow me to be re- examined by the Academic Board, when I will prove what I have already stated.

In the first place Sir, you will see, should you notice my marks in this subject, received in the section room during the six months [p. 3] from the January to the June examination, that they certainly point to no such result, but on the contrary indicate a good knowledge of the course; and indeed on some portions you will see a series of perfect recitations, where I have received for two or three weeks running the maximum standard. Then the sum total of all the marks for the year show still more clearly that I deserved a different recommendation from the one awarded me by the instructor,- for not only is the number in my case far superior, to that of any of the others found deficient, but also better than several who passed. The marks of the former being respectively: 118.8. 120. 117 116.6 111.6. while mine is 130.6 better as you will see than that of [p. 4] Pease[4], viz. 125.4 and than that of Hill[5] viz. 128 and one or two more that I do not now remember, who passed while I was sent off.- Moreover Sir, as you know, while the number three denotes a faultless recitation, the Academic reports call 2 quite a good mark, now Sir, my mark for the year being 130.6. my average mark for each day is 2.2, which undoubtedly shows any thing but deficiency, and as an officer on the Point[6] acknowledged, is above the general average required to prove proficiency, and pass a man at the examination. Now more that all this, is the great fact of my having been transferred up during the year. In January I was a member of the fourth section, and after that examination, I studied hard, but did not succeed in altering my position for some [p. 5] time; at length however I rose, though not until we had been over the whole June course and commenced reviewing it, showing that I was not transferred up on one or two lessons, when perhaps it might have been said that I only know those alone. - but that I was transferred to the 3rd section, on the knowledge of any course that I had displayed in my recitations, thereby proving a proficiency in it that ought to have prevented my being recommended deficient by the instructor in June. At the examination I certainly did not do well, but that ought not to be sufficient to show a deficiency, for after all, that is only one recitation, and any man is liable to fail upon it, and at the same time know infinitely more about the subject than one who happens to do splendidly before the Board.- Indeed [P. 6] this is well shown by the simple fact, that the man who stands head in our class was not able to do any thing on his demonstration in Philosophy at the last January examination, though all the professors look upon him as the cleverest man and most learned one in the Corps. If I had done badly all the year and then failed at the examination it would be a different thing, but as I have already said, my average mark is 2.2!- You must see Col. Davis that my case is a fearfully hard one- after remaining at West Point for three long years to be so suddenly discharged, and that too on a secondary study, which I had done well in and stood well in, and in which I had not the most remote idea of the possibility of my being [found?].

Indeed from what a Professor said to me the very morning before the examination this must have [p. 7] been the general opinion, for he told me that he had just written to my brother[7] telling him "that I had passed in Philosophy and in Chemistry" or rather said he correcting himself, "that of course you will pass in Chemistry, for I suppose there is no doubt about that" - and that my only difficulty would be with my demerit.- Now I know Sir, that you say that I have been found deficient in conduct also, but if you would examine the list of my demerit, you would see, none of them are for grave offences, but for things that were in themselves, but for things that in themselves were neither vicious or immoral, and indeed I feel convinced that had I passed in Chemistry, any demerit would have been all removed, as was done in the case of a great many others. At any rate Sir, let me beg you to grant me this re-examination, without reference to my [p. 8] demerit, so that even if eventually I am to leave West Point, let it not be because I was found defcient in what I feel myself proficient, and only ask to be examined upon, to prove that I ought not to have suffered this horrible disgace.

Besides I know that afterwards I can certainly have my demerit removed and then I am sure of graduating in one year more!- If you would only refer my case to the Prof. of Chemistry at West Point, I feel certain that Prof. Baily would agree willingly to my having a re-examination; I know that he has spoken well of my recitations in the section room, and was well pleased with my improvement in his department.- As to my other studies, you know Sir, that I have passed in Philsophy and in Drawing, I stand if possible way above head [p. 9] of the class Let me beg you again Sir, to remember of what vital importance this matter is to me, and that after three years spent at the Military Academy, all my hopes and aspirations are connected with that Institution and the Army, and that by not passing, all my future prospects are ruined for life.- Besides Sir you see I ask only for a re-examination which is merely like one who feeling he is guilty of the crime imputed to him, requests a trial that he may prove his innocence. Hoping that you will attentively consider my request, I have the honour to remain

your obt. servant

James A. Whistler

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1.  Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis (1808-1889), President of the Confederate States of America [more].

2.  West Point Millitary Academy
United States Military Academy, West Point.

3.  Deficiency in Chemistry
In his third year at West point JW was found deficient in chemistry, it is told that when asked to give a discription of Silicon he stated that; Silicon is a gas. Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908.

4.  Pease
William Russell Pease.

5.  Hill
Robert Clinton Hill.

6.  on the Point
This probably refers to West Point rather than the topic of discusion.

7.  my brother
George William Whistler (1822-1869), engineer, JW's half-brother [more].