Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site


Joshua L. Chamberlain to Mother of Horace Reed Patten,
Bowdoin College, May 28, 1874.

Conflict between the students and Chamberlain led to a boycott of the military drill on May 26, 1874. Chamberlain expelled all who refused to participate and sent the following letter home to their families. He offered students the possibility of return to the college on the condition that they would return to military drill. All but three of the students ultimately returned. The following letter is to the mother of Horace Reed Patten, class of 1875.

Bowdoin College, May 28, 1874

Dear Sir: Madam

  On the 26th inst. Your son Horace R. Patten in answer to a question put to him individually by an authorized Committee of the Faculty, positively refused to obey rules and regulations of the College, in so far as they related to the "drill." Thereupon he was directed to leave at once for home, there to await the action of the Faculty in his case.

  The following is a statement of the circumstances which made this action necessary:

  On Friday last, at the honor for drill, the greater part of the Sophomore and Freshman classes refused to report for duty. During the day it became known that a majority of the Junior, Sophomore, and Freshman classes had bound themselves by a written agreement to resist the drill at all hazards.

  In the evening the Faculty met and appointed a committee of two to inquire into the cause and aim of this insubordination. The committee called several of the most prominent and reliable of the disaffected students and conversed with them fully and frankly with regard to their objections to the drill. The Faculty then appointed one of their number to meet each of the disaffected classes the next morning and endeavor to convince them of the wrong they were guilty of in combining to resist lawful authority ; of the mistake they were making in choosing this way to abolish the drill; and of the misapprehension under which they appeared to be laboring in supposing that it was in the power of the Faculty to give up the drill,-- that being a matter in which the Governing Boards only had a right to direct. But the students resolved to adhere to their former decision, and the Faculty, wishing to give abundant opportunity for better counsels to prevail, decided to wait until their regular meeting on Monday evening before taking decisive action, thus giving the students the whole of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, in which to reconsider their action. 

  When the Faculty met on Monday evening, the students, for the express purpose as was afterward admitted of forcing an issue, sent in formal announcements of their continued determination not to drill. (These were formally retracted the next morning, but this written withdrawal was accompanied by a verbal explanation that it was not to be understood as implying any change in the attitude of the students.)

  It was clearly the duty of the Faculty to deal first of all with concerted rebellion against lawful authority, and a rebellion, too , of no ordinary magnitude, for in addition to their demand to be exempted from drill, it was well known that the disaffected students had bound themselves to leave in a body if their leaders were sent away.

  The faculty therefore decided as the first step to send home every man who persisted in his refusal to comply with all the requirements of the College, and in consequence of that decision, and your son's refusal, he has been sent home.

  The next step which the Faculty decided upon, and which it is now my duty to announce to you, is as follows. If your son will sign the enclosed blank, renewing in good faith and without reservation his matriculation pledge of obedience to the Laws and Regulations of the college, and forward it to the President within ten days from date, he will be allowed to return and resume his place in his class, and this he will be expected to do without further delay. If he does not do this, he must consider himself by the act of refusal as expelled from the College at the expiration of the ten days. If he concludes to return to his duty, and his objections to the frill are not removed, he can at the end of this term, but not before, receive an honorable dismission and go to some other College.

  It may be added that if the drill was a hardship and all other means of redress had failed (which the Faculty by no means admit), this method of obtaining relief (i.e. an honorable withdrawal from College) has always been open, and should have commended itself instead of the attempt which has been made to defy the authority which every student at his matriculation pledges his word of honor to obey.

  The Faculty consider the matriculation pledge as one which of right takes precedence of all others in whatever concerns the relations of the students to the government of the College, so that in requiring your son to recede from his subsequent conflicting agreement with his classmates, the Faculty believe that they are not only requiring nothing dishonorable, but are pointing out the only course which is consistent with true and highest sense of honor.

  The enclosed blank with your son's signature thereto must be received by the President by 7 o'clock P.M. on Monday the 8th day of June, or it cannot be accepted, reasonable allowance being made for unforeseen delay in delivery though the mails.

  No other from that the printed one enclosed can be accepted.

  By order of the Faculty.

  Joshua L. Chamberlain

  President of Bowdoin College.

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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; Drill; Military Department; Faculty; Committee; Presidency; Patten, Horace R.; Bowdoin College; Freshman; Sophomore; Junior; June

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