The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

A Letter of Introduction

Posted on | October 16, 2021 | Comments Off on A Letter of Introduction

Nearly 200 years ago, a resident of Fairfax County, Virginia, wrote a letter to introduce a teenage boy — his niece’s grandson, who wanted to attend West Point — to the Secretary of War: 

Ravensworth Feb 7th 1824.

My dear Sir,
I cannot permit the young gentleman, who will hand you this letter, to make his intended application, without carrying with him, such testimony in his behalf, as a long & an intimate acquaintance both with himself and his family, justify me in giving. He is the son of Gen. Henry Lee, with whose history, you are, of course, acquainted; and who (whatever may have been the misfortune of his latter years) had certainly established, by his revolutionary services, a strong claim to the gratitude of his country. He is the son also of one of the finest women, the State of Virginia has ever produced. Possessed, in a very eminent degree, of all those qualities, which peculiarly belong to the female character of the South, she is rendered doubly interesting by her meritorious & successful exertions to support, in comfort, a large family, and to give to all her children excellent educations.
The young gentleman, who I have now the pleasure of introducing to you, as a candidate for West-point, is her youngest son. An intimate acquaintance, & a constant intercourse with him, almost from his infancy, authorize me to speak in the most unqualified terms of his amiable disposition, & his correct and gentlemanly habits. He is disposed to devote himself to the profession of arms. But his final determination on this subject, must, of course, depend on the result of his present application, and you will find him prepared to acquiesce in whatever decision, circumstances may require you to make in his case. Next, however, to promising him the commission, which he asks, the greatest favor you can do him will be to tell him promptly if you think the obstacles to his success are insurmountable. His own age (eighteen I believe) and the situation of his mother require that he should lose no time in selecting the employment to which his future life is to be devoted.
Accept my dear Sir the assurance of the very great respect with which
I am
Yo’ &c
W.H. Fitzhugh

Readers will excuse the excess commas typical of formal writing in that era, and note the address — Ravensworth, near Braddock Road in Springfield, Virginia, was the Fitzhugh family plantation. The estate was later inherited by the son of the boy for whom Fitzhugh wrote that letter of introduction — of course, it was Robert E. Lee.

Living as we do in an age of disrespect and ingratitude, when Americans permit the memory of our ancestors to be defamed and erased, I wonder how long it will be before the name “Ravensworth” will be obliterated, denounced as a painful reminder of slavery, etc.?

Thanks to @AngloSouthern and @ReformedTrain on Twitter for providing me with the text of that letter, which is from Page 39 of Vol. I of Douglas Southall Freeman’s monumental R.E. Lee, A Biography. When I first saw it, I did a quick Google search and was surprised that an online transcription was nowhere to be found, so I promised to post this.

These little detours in history always fascinate me. The Secretary of War to whom Fitzhugh’s letter was directed was young John C. Calhoun, who in the administration of President James Monroe “proposed an elaborate program of national reforms to the infrastructure that he believed would speed economic modernization. His priority was an effective navy, including steam frigates.” We are not today disposed to think of Calhoun as a proponent of “modernization,” nor are Americans taught to respect Calhoun for his services to the nation as Secretary of War.

John C. Calhoun as Secretary of War, 1822

Our nation’s history has been obscured and distorted by academics whose purpose is not to educate young people, but rather to indoctrinate them with a radical ideology that serves narrow partisan interests. Under the influence of this ideology, Americans are taught to remember their past only to despise it, to look upon our ancestors with hateful contempt, so that practically every American of the 19th century is a villain.

There is today little appreciation of the tremendous challenges that faced the United States in its infancy, at a time when Britain, Spain and France still possessed extensive colonies in the Americas. The capacity to build the strength of the nation, so that it might maintain its independence in a dangerous world, was by no means certain. “Manifest Destiny” may appear, in retrospect, to have been inevitable, but the great westward expansion of the United States across the continent required extraordinary efforts by extraordinary men. Indeed, the addition of the Southwest — including California — to the United States was work in which young Robert E. Lee was destined to play a notable part, as an officer on the staff of Gen. Winfield Scott during the Mexican War.

We live, as I say, in an age of disrespect and ingratitude, where Americans disregard the obligations we owe to our forebears. Anyone who carefully reads that letter that Fitzhugh wrote will note how, in introducing young Robert E. Lee to the Secretary of War, he made mention of how Lee’s father (Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee) “had certainly established, by his revolutionary services, a strong claim to the gratitude of his country.” If the United States owed anyone a military education, Fitzhugh was saying, young Lee was at the head of the line.

Our history is now viewed as a source of grievance — e.g., an excuse for accusing Walmart workers of “white supremacy” — rather than as a s0urce of gratitude and national pride. The main cause of this is, of course, that academia is now controlled by partisan Democrats, who believe that teaching young people to hate their ancestors will help elect more Democrats. But there is no reason why intelligent Americans should let ourselves be bullied into cooperating with the academic elite’s pet political project. I’m long past the age where I have to worry that I might be expelled from school for talking back to teachers, and I don’t think such a consideration would have restrained me from speaking my mind even when I was a schoolboy. One of the benefits of a true knowledge of history is that we may be inspired by the example of our courageous ancestors. Stand tall and speak the truth. Deo Vindice.



Comments are closed.