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Robert E. Lee

Joseph G. Totten

West Point

29 Jany 1853

My dear Genl.

I have just recd your letter of the 27th Inst. in relation to the practice of turning back deficient Cadets & the propriety of a regulation prohibiting it.

I think par: 59, Art VI if carried out, would cover the whole ground, for 99 out of 100 Cadets found deficient at eh Annual Examination, arises from “incapacity or want of application” Sometimes their deficiency arises from sickness or some unavoidable cause; & where they show merit & good conduct, & possess youth and soldierly qualities, & produce the belief in the minds of the Academic Board, that by giving them another trial, they will succeed & become efficient officers, they have recommended they should be turned back. I think by reference to the Army Register, you will find some very good officers who have been turned back. I believe under proper restriction the practice would not be injurious, but might afford relief in some meritorious cases.

How it originated I cannot inform you, for on consulting Prof: Mahan, the oldest graduate, as well as the oldest member of the Academic Board, he says it was practiced in his day when a Cadet, & he thinks to a greater extent than now. It might have been, to diminish as far as possible the number of dismissals, allways painful to all concerned; & to relieve the Cadets & their parents not only from mortification; but the Institution from the charge of a want of consideration of every extenuating claim in favour of the unfortunate. It might have been also with a view of relieving the Dept: at Washn. from pressure & importunity.

The deficients at the semi Annual Examn. in Jany. you are aware, that are not discharged, continue with their class till June when if proficient, they go on with their class, & as only such are recommended by the Academic Board, as they believe will succeed, it is very rarely that they fail.

The idle, incapacitated & vicious ought certainly in my opinion always to be discharged, & give place to abler & better men.

Very truly yours(Signed) R. E. Lee

Superintendent’s Daily Correspondence
United States Military Academy

Superintendent’s Letter Book No. 2, p. 320. Addressed “Genl: Jos: G. Totten.”