Perhaps the most controversial
element of Chamberlain's Presidency dealt with the institution of military
drill at Bowdoin. Chamberlain considered the value of such an institution during
his tenure as Governor and had created a ROTC program at the University of
Maine at Orono. He believed that the North had been grossly unprepared for the
Civil War, especially in regard to a lack of good officers and saw military
drill as a way to prepare Bowdoin students for military service were the United
States ever to enter into another armed conflict. Problems arose from the
beginning. Students objected to having to pay for the uniforms, and tired of
the discipline of drill. The students finally submitted a petition in the fall
of 1873 to end the drill. In the following letter the Board of Trustees warned Chamberlain
about the impending action.
Bowdoin College Nov. 12, 1873
At the approaching meeting of the Boards of Trustees and Overseers, the Students of Bowdoin will ask leave to present the following petition:
"We, the undersigned, Students of Bowdoin College, would respectfully petition that the Military Department in this institution be abolished, for the following reasons:
First. Injury to the institution from loss of students.
Second. Abundant facilities for more popular and profitable exercise.
Third. Expense incurred in purchasing otherwise useless equipments.
Fourth. Loss of a large proportion of time devoted to study.
Fifth. Its intense and growing unpopularity, and other subordinate reasons."
This is signed by 126 out of the 133 persons to whom it was submitted – that is, by the three upper classes, with the exception of one senior, five juniors, and one sophomore.
They will also ask leave to send a committee to the meeting with this petition, for the purpose of more fully explaining just what is meant by its several propositions, and to give the reasons which have led to this extraordinary step.
Our high respect for our military instructor, our belief that the Faculty, Trustees and Overseers have the best interests of Bowdoin at heart, in this as in all matters, and the supposition that previous knowledge of the petition will render them better prepared to discuss its subject, and to consider the earnest wishes of the petitioners, if so they shall choose to do, form our sole excuse for troubling you with this communication.
M.W. Davis Com.
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Citation: George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College, Joshua L. Chamberlain Collection, M27.
Index Terms: Drill Rebellion; Military Drill; Presidency; Military Department; Board of Trustees; Overseers; Bowdoin College; Bradstreet, A.G.; Davis, M.W.; Wheeler, G.B.