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  • Writer's pictureThe Naming Commission Facts

Matthew Fontaine Maury & Distraction Tactics

Updated: Jan 7

"Maury was actuated by the same motives that swayed Lee. Loving the Union, detesting secession, and hoping to the last for compromise, he believed that his primary allegiance lay with his birth State Virginia and his home State Tennessee."

-Allan Nevins, Pulitzer Prize Winning Northern Historian at Columbia University

-War for the Union 1861-1862 pg. 111

The Naming Commission's blurb on Maury may be one of the worst in the entire report. The commission found it difficult to deal with established facts that Maury was against slavery & against secession, so they distract readers with a ridiculous blurb and a footnote to a source that does not support their position.. They even hide the year of the source that it is published in the footnotes, so you may think Maury wrote the article during the war.

On page 12 of part II the commission states: "Despite these contributions, he viewed African Americans as unworthy of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness." While this statement would probably apply to everyone in ante-bellum America, it is still hard to pin this concept on Maury, as he was against slavery and for emancipation, though did not think it was possible within the United States. The article cited by the committee is actually about a long-term emancipation strategy to South America. Maury argues that Northerners will not accept emancipated slaves, pointing to state laws that ban blacks from settling, including the Indiana State Constitution of 1851.

Would it be possible for The Naming Commission to say the entire state of Indiana did not care about the "life, liberty or pursuit of happiness" of Black people? It is important to note that Maury makes direct reference to this provision in the article the committee cites! They either did not read the article (which seems logical) or hoped that you would never find the details.

Maury's private letters are readily available but it appears these key sources were never consulted. In an 1851 letter to his cousin, he calls slavery "a curse," but points out that emancipation in VA will simply make slave-owners sell slaves South, so there needs to be a long-term solution. He goes on to say:

"I have urged that we should say to Brazil in that treaty, Stop the African slave- trade, or we will put a duty on that coffee, and thus lessen the demand for the fruits of slave labour, and so take away from you the interest in the Tariff Act."

Maury was practical about dealing with the world as it was: whether you disagree or agree with him does not change the fact that his ideas were mischaracterized by The Naming Commission. Moreover, Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, attempted multiple colonization plans to South America, which all ended in failure and tragedy for the colonized Blacks. This is why a complete understanding of the historical record is required to understand the context of the times and prevalent ideas in the America of 1861.. Keep in mind that all of these character attacks are designed to distract you from the primary question: did Maury voluntarily serve in the Confederacy?

We have private letters that clearly demonstrate Maury's position. On March 4th, 1861 Maury wrote:

"All who are foes of his flag, and whom his country considers enemies of hers, are enemies of his ; therefore, if we have war between the sections, every man who continues in "Uncle Sam's" service, is, in good faith, bound to fight his own, if his own be on the other side. The line of duty, therefore, is to me clear — each one to follow his own State, if his own State goes to war ; if not, he may remain to help on the work of reunion.
If there be no war between the sections, we must hoist the flag of re-annexation, to carry the elections of '64 upon that issue, bring back the seceding States, and be happier and greater, and more glorious than ever. As soon as the smoke clears away, you will see that all the old party lines have been rubbed out. . . .
Virginia is not at all ready to go out of this Union ; and she is not going out for anything that is likely to occur short of coercion — such is my opinion."

Before Virginia seceded, Maury declared his that loyalty to one's state was paramount. When he resigned from the US Navy on April 20th, 1861 (the same day Lee resigned), he made his way to Richmond where he joined the Governor's council to advise on the defense of the state and received a commission in the Navy of Virginia on January 23rd, 1861. The VA Navy was incorporated into the Confederate Navy on June 10th, 1861; is that when Maury "volunteered" for the Confederate Navy? By Maury's own words, he is only following the wishes of his state. On October 21st, 1861 in a private letter declining a job offer from Russia, he said:

"I recognized this call, considered it mandatory, and, formally renouncing all allegiance to the broken Union, hastened over to the South side of the Potomac, there to renew to Father-land those vows of fealty, service, and devotion, which the State of Virginia had permitted me to pledge to the Federal Union so long only as, by serving it, I might serve her"

In the eyes of Matthew Fontaine Maury, right or wrong, his service on behalf of his state is mandatory and therefore he was never a volunteer for the Confederacy. This is why The Naming Commission must establish its view on voluntary service, which must be a standard that can be consistently applied across the service records of all of these men.

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