Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 114 / Number 2
J. T. L. Preston and the Origins of the Virginia Military Institute, 1834–42
- Bradford Wineman, pp. 226–61
The Virginia Military Institute, along with other antebellum southern military colleges, is almost always historically viewed within the context of its contributions during the Civil War. Historians have often overlooked how VMI, and other "West Points of the Confederacy," were founded long before sectional tensions between North and South called these schools to provide officers for the Confederate armies. This paper examines the social, political, and cultural factors leading to VMI's founding, not as a professional officer's school but as a multi-faceted institution created as a solution to a collection of statewide problems.
The institute sought to develop educated and honorable men who would provide the state with a new class of productive male citizens who could use their military training to protect Virginia as officers in the militia. Those poorer youths who could not afford an education were offered a state-supported tuition at VMI in exchange for teaching at a Virginia school for two years. While attending the institute, cadets were also in charge of guarding the weapons stored in the Lexington Arsenal from which the school was converted. The vision of the institute's original founders and supporters, primarily demonstrated in Lexington lawyer J. T. L. Preston's editorials in the Lexington Gazette calling for the school's creation, would change how both the state and the nation viewed higher education until the coming of the Civil War.
• Index to Volume 114