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Lot #168
Jefferson Davis

“He would be as much startled as the Czar Alexander would if a Yankee were to propose to him to order an election to see whether or not he was the choice of the people as their supreme ruler”

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“He would be as much startled as the Czar Alexander would if a Yankee were to propose to him to order an election to see whether or not he was the choice of the people as their supreme ruler”

Exceptional ALS signed “Jeffer. Davis,” eight pages on two sets of adjoining sheets, 7 x 8.75, December 20, 1856. Letter to John W. French, a chaplain and professor of geography, history, and ethics at West Point. In part: “The mode devised by you of teaching the English language to those who have not acquired the tongues from which it is derived is alike new and striking…I had never before conceived the idea of teaching the philosophy of language by referring back to the natural sounds of the human voice…The dictionaries described by you impress me as of such universal application that I readily concur in the proposition that they should be prepared and furnished to each cadet as a part of the equipment required for his instruction. The whole scheme is grand and beautiful. I trust you will be able to carry it out and in that event I am sure you will bring to the country a richer treasure than the Argonauts dreamed of…The Smithsonian Institution you are no doubt aware has undertaken something like the work you suggest…

A printing and binding establishment however convenient and useful we could hardly expect to obtain for you…In all things but in printing particularly Congress manifests a morbid jealousy of any other system than that of contract. To be compensated for your past and current labor in making text books they must of course be printed on your own account and I have calculated that as a source of so little emolument to you…

We have in our army no schools of practice and the military academy furnishes the only opportunity which Officers of the Army have to refresh themselves in the elements of their profession…At the military academy it is proper and needful that a high military spirit should be maintained, but if officers become fixtures there they lose the habits, and sympathies of soldiers for which I should not think the military service fully compensated by any increased ability they might acquire for instruction in a particular branch. Instead of making the assistant Professors permanent attachés of the Institution I think it would be much better if Officers of the Army were eligible to Professorships so that when jaded by the annual recurrence of the same course they might before the elasticity of the mind was lost be returned to their corps rather than be left in a chair after they had become unfit for its duties, or be turned out without any provision for themselves, and families…

On this side of the Atlantic at least there is nothing so opposed to intrusion in their preserves as the Corps of Engineers. If, for instance, I were to send for Gen. Foster [Capt. John G. Foster, Assistant to the Professor of Engineering at West Point], and open with him a conference in relation to your suggestions [developing his own department] I think he would be as much startled as the Czar Alexander would if a Yankee were to propose to him to order an election to see whether or not he was the choice of the people as their supreme ruler, he is a grave man, he is not apt to laugh unless he has law, and reason on his side, and therefore probably would not cry out if even if he should think ‘how did this bull get in my China shop.’ To effect anything you must have the concurrence of the Superintendent, and Inspector of the Academy, without this a Secretary of War can only commence a structure with the anticipation that at the close of his brief term it will be demolished. I have but little over two months longer to serve [on March 4, 1857, Buchanan was inaugurated President and Davis was sworn in as Mississippi’s new US Senator], for myself I wish the time was less, and having no money with which to begin, cannot even hope to inaugurate the great work to which you so industriously, and ably have devoted yourself. In another position it may be in my power to render you some support for the accomplishment of your designs." In very fine condition.

At the time of writing, Davis was about to leave his post as Franklin Pierce's secretary of war to enter the Senate for the second time. He became chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, where he headed a commission in 1860 to examine the organization, system of discipline, and course of instruction of the United States Military Academy. French spoke before the commission, making recommendations quite similar to those Davis touches upon in this letter of four years earlier, including new textbooks and an elementary knowledge of grammar for incoming students. An extraordinary letter in length, content, and condition. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Rare Manuscript, Document & Autograph
  • Dates: #424 - Ended March 12, 2014

This item is Pre-Certified by PSA/DNA
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