United States Military Academy at West Point

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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-The '''United States Military Academy''', also known as '''West Point''', was formed by Thomas Jefferson in 1802. +The '''United States Military Academy'''<ref>This article is based on Christine Coalwell, [http://www.monticello.org/press/newsletter/2001/jwstpnt.pdf "West Point: Jefferson's Military Academy."] ''Monticello Newsletter,'' 12 (Winter 2001).</ref>, also known as '''West Point''', was established by President [[Thomas Jefferson]] in 1802.
-On January 1821, Professor Jared Mansfield wrote to Thomas Jefferson from West Point:+In January 1821, Professor Jared Mansfield wrote to Thomas Jefferson from West Point:
<blockquote>“The Superintendent, Officers, Professors, Instructors, & Cadets of the United States Military Academy, impressed, with a high sense of the great services, you have rendered the Nation, & that this Institution, with which they are connected, originated under your patronage, & presidency, are anxious for some special, & appropriate memorial of your person, which may descend to posterity.”<ref> Jared Mansfield to Thomas Jefferson, January 26, 1821, [http://www.library.usma.edu/archives/default.asp ''NWM'']</ref></blockquote> <blockquote>“The Superintendent, Officers, Professors, Instructors, & Cadets of the United States Military Academy, impressed, with a high sense of the great services, you have rendered the Nation, & that this Institution, with which they are connected, originated under your patronage, & presidency, are anxious for some special, & appropriate memorial of your person, which may descend to posterity.”<ref> Jared Mansfield to Thomas Jefferson, January 26, 1821, [http://www.library.usma.edu/archives/default.asp ''NWM'']</ref></blockquote>
-[[Image:Westpoint_sully.jpg|right|frame|Sully portrait. United States Military Academy]]+The library at the U.S. Military Academy, Mansfield informed Jefferson, had portraits of [[George Washington]] and of Jonathan Williams, the academy’s first superintendent. Would Jefferson, Mansfield asked, “gratify them” by sitting for Thomas Sully, one of the “best Portrait Painters of our Country,” at Monticello?
-The library at the U.S. Military Academy, Mansfield informed Jefferson, had portraits of George Washington and of Jonathan Williams, the academy’s first superintendent. Would Jefferson, Mansfield asked, “gratify them” by sitting for Thomas Sully, one of the “best Portrait Painters of our Country,” at Monticello?+By 1802, when President Jefferson established the United States Military Academy, he had fully embraced the importance of “useful sciences” in education and in the protection of the young nation. Two years earlier, Jefferson had written to Pierre S. du Pont de Nemours, asking: “What are the branches of science which in the present state of man, and particularly with us, should be introduced into an academy?” Du Pont proposed an all inclusive plan of national education with primary schools, colleges, and four specialty schools – medicine, mines, social science and legislation, and “higher geometry and the sciences that it explains.” With engineering “urging forward the other sciences,” this school would be of the greatest benefit to the nation, du Pont explained. As he told Jefferson: “No nation is in such need of canals as the United States, and most of their ports have no means of exterior defense.”
- +
-By 1802, when President Jefferson established the United States Military Academy, he had fully embraced the importance of “useful sciences” in education and in the protection of the young nation. Two years earlier, Jefferson had written to Pierre S. du Pont de Nemours, asking: “What are the branches of science which in the present state of man, and particularly with us, should be introduced into an academy?” DuPont proposed an all inclusive plan of national education with primary schools, colleges, and four specialty schools – medicine, mines, social science and legislation, and “higher geometry and the sciences that it explains.” With engineering “urging forward the other sciences,” this school would be of the greatest benefit to the nation, du Pont explained. As he told Jefferson: “No nation is in such need of canals as the United States, and most of their ports have no means of exterior defense.” +
Just two months after Jefferson’s inauguration, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn announced that the president had “decided in favor of the immediate establishment of a military school at West Point and also on the appointment of Major Jonathan Williams” to direct “the necessary arrangements, at that place for the commencement of the school.” Just two months after Jefferson’s inauguration, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn announced that the president had “decided in favor of the immediate establishment of a military school at West Point and also on the appointment of Major Jonathan Williams” to direct “the necessary arrangements, at that place for the commencement of the school.”
-On March 16, 1802, Jefferson affixed his name to the Military Peace Establishment Act, directing that a corps of engineers be established and “stationed at West Point in the state of New York, and shall constitute a Military Academy.” The academy’s sole function would be to train engineers, and Williams, grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin, was named superintendent. On July 4, 1802, the U.S. Military Academy formally opened for instruction. “Our guiding star,” Superintendent Williams said, “is not a little mathematical School, but a great national establishment. … We must always have it in view that our Officers are to be men of Science, and as such will by their acquirements be entitled to the notice of learned societies.”+On March 16, 1802, Jefferson affixed his name to the Military Peace Establishment Act, directing that a corps of engineers be established and “stationed at West Point in the state of New York, and shall constitute a Military Academy.” The academy’s sole function would be to train engineers, and Williams, grandnephew of [[Benjamin Franklin]], was named superintendent. On July 4, 1802, the U.S. Military Academy formally opened for instruction. “Our guiding star,” Superintendent Williams said, “is not a little mathematical School, but a great national establishment. … We must always have it in view that our Officers are to be men of Science, and as such will by their acquirements be entitled to the notice of learned societies.”
In the War of 1812, the enemy British did not capture any works constructed by a graduate of West Point, and perhaps, as historian Henry Adams suggested, “had an engineer been employed at Washington … the city would have been easily saved.” In the War of 1812, the enemy British did not capture any works constructed by a graduate of West Point, and perhaps, as historian Henry Adams suggested, “had an engineer been employed at Washington … the city would have been easily saved.”
-Jefferson’s military academy, Adams wrote, had “doubled the capacity of the new little American army for resistance, and introduced and scientific character into American life.” Jefferson himself said that he “ever considered that establishment as of major importance to our country, and in whatever I could do for it, I viewed myself as performing a duty.” Today, the Thomas Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson commissioned by the “Superintendent, Officers, Professors, Instructors, & Cadets of 
-the United States Military Academy” hangs at West Point. 
---Christine Coalwell, 2001; Revised by Bryan Craig, March, 2007.+Jefferson’s military academy, Adams wrote, had “doubled the capacity of the new little American army for resistance, and introduced and scientific character into American life.” Jefferson himself said that he “ever considered that establishment as of major importance to our country, and in whatever I could do for it, I viewed myself as performing a duty.” Today, the Thomas Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson commissioned by the “Superintendent, Officers, Professors, Instructors, & Cadets of the United States Military Academy” hangs at West Point.
-== Footnotes ==+==Footnotes==
<references/> <references/>
- 
- 
-== West Point's Lost Founder: Thomas Jefferson Remembered, Forgotten & Reconsidered == 
- 
-Before the commandant stood a worried cadet, 
-unjustly accused of disregarding orders 
-and disparaging the memories of Thomas Jefferson 
-and John Adams. Both men had died 
-on July 4, 1826-exactly fifty years after the 
-ratification of the Declaration of Independence, 
-which Jefferson drafted and Adams championed, 
-and exactly twenty-four years after the 
-official commencement of operations at the 
-United States Military Academy, which Jefferson 
-established and Adams supported. When 
-officers at West Point heard the startling 
-news-a coincidence that young mathematicians 
-at Jefferson's other school, the University 
-of Virginia, would calculate the odds against 
-to be more than 1.7 billion to one-they decided 
-that the academy should pay its respects. The 
-cadet, as sergeant of the guard, had been directed 
-to see to it that his peers fire two guns, 
-from reveille to retreat, in quick succession 
-every fifteen minutes. Instead of the regular 
-issue of two clear shots, however, Major William 
-J. Worth, the commandant, had heard 
-haphazard gunfire. "Shortly after morning parade 
-I was sent for in great haste by the Commandant," the cadet later remembered. ''I denied 
-disobeying the order, and insisted that the 
-guns were discharged at proper intervals." 
-Worth dismissed the cadet who, "to avoid any 
-further trouble . . . loaded and touched them 
-off myself, watch in hand." Yet "again I was 
-sent for, and rated soundly for failure. What 
-it all meant I could not understaud, but the 
-Major went with me to the guard-tent, and 
-just as I touched off the gun, before its echoes 
-died away," another shot thundered in the distance. 
-"The cause," he then realized, "was the 
-blasting of rocks" around nearby Fort Putnam, 
-which Worth "had heard, but which I had not." 
-Worth "apologized before the whole guard for 
-his unjust censure," ordered an end to the blasting, 
-and the tribute to Jefferson and Adams 
-continued. Such a demonstration of solicitude 
-for Jefferson's memory would not again occur 
-at West Point for nearly a century. 
- 
-Jefferson wrote not only the Declaration of 
-Independence but also the Virginia Statute for 
-Religious Freedom and his 1787 ''Notes on the 
-State of Virginia''. He served in colonial Virginia's 
-House of Burgesses, the Continental 
-Congress, and the Virginia House of Delegates; 
-he was his state's governor and his nation's 
-minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice 
-President, and President. He was a noted architect, 
-spirited violinist, ardent farmer, and a 
-leading scientist. He knew seven languages, 
-doubled the nation's territory through the Louisiana Purchase, dispatched Lewis and 
-Clark on their voyage of discovery, introduced 
-pasta and ice cream to the American palate, 
-and fathered the University of Virginia. He 
-was, in short, a true polymath, a Renaissance 
-man whose interests spanned wide and probed 
-deep. 
- 
-Among his many accomplishments, however, 
-Jefferson's 1802 founding of the United States 
-Military Academy is, and has been, often overlooked. 
-Such was not the case in the early years 
-of West Point - as the incident between Worth 
-and the cadet makes clear. Jefferson was held 
-up as the academy's founder, patron, and creator. His name was recognized aud his memory was perpetuated. Beginning in the 1830s, 
-however, new considerations made a connection 
-with Jefferson seem less attractive to the Army 
-officers at West Point. At the centennial celebrations of the academy's birth, it was not 
-Jefferson but George Washington who was 
-described as founder. Only in the past half century, 
-in fact, did Jefferson re-emerge. The new 
-question was not whether Jefferson had a role 
-in the creation of West Point-for certainly, he 
-did-but what he did to foster the academy and 
-why, as he wrote in 1821, he considered it "of 
-major importance to our country." 
- 
-Even so, the die had been cast. Jefferson had been divorced from West Point in the 
-minds of many of its graduates and the public. 
-Buildings had been named, statues erected, and a myth created that characterized as wasted 
-time the years prior to the installation of Sylvanus 
-Thayer as superintendent. The result 
-was neglect, on the part of some, and ignorance, 
-on the part of others, of Jefferson's contributions. 
- 
-Despite lapses in historical memory, the fact 
-that the United States Military Academy owes 
-its existence to Jefferson is beyond refutation. 
-Plans for a national institution charged with 
-military education had been advanced since 
-the time of the American Revolution. Colonel 
-Henry Knox suggested it, treasury secretary 
-Alexander Hamilton supported it, French- 
-American Lieutenant Colonel Ann Louise de 
-Toussard drew up ambitious plans for it, and 
-Presidents George Washington and John 
-Adams asked Congress to establish it. But 
-their various proposals either languished or 
-amounted to little until 1802, when President 
-Jefferson convinced Congress to authorize the 
-establishment of the military academy. It commenced 
-operations officially on July 4 of that 
-year, the twenty-sixth anniversary of American 
-independence. 
- 
-The early academy was a small institution 
-with only a handful of faculty and cadets. Even 
-so, it received a good deal of attention from the 
-busy president, who corresponded with West 
-Point professors and Jonathan Williams, its first superintendent, served as honorary leader 
-of the United States Military Philosophical Society, 
-a West Point scientific organization and 
-booster group, and, in 1808, called for the 
-Academy's dramatic enlargement. On April 12 
-of that vear. Conmess heeded Jefferson's call and increased the authorized enrollment to 256 cadets. Although years elapsed before the Academy succeeded in its efforts to attract this number 
-of qualified students, the fact that Jefferson 
-supported an Academy of this size suggests 
-much about his commitment to the institution. 
-In the census of 1810, the federal government 
-counted 7.2 million Americans. As a percentage 
-of the population, the academy envisioned by 
-Jefferson was more than twice as large as today's 
-West Point, when each year about 4,000 
-cadets prepare for the defeuse of a nation of 
-about 281 million people. 
- 
-His support did not go unnoticed. In 1821, 
-more than a decade after his retirement as commander-in-chief, mathematics professor Jared Mansfield wrote to Jefferson in behalf of Superintendent 
-Sylvanus Thayer, the faculty, and the 
-cadets. "Impressed with a high sense of the 
-great services you have rendered the nation, 
-and this institution, with which they are connected, 
-originated under your patronage, and 
-presidency," Mansfield informed Jefferson, they 
-were "anxious for some special, and appropriate 
-memorial of your person which may descend 
-to posterity. They have already in the Academy Library the portraits of the great Washington, 
-the Founder of Our Republic, and Col. (Jonathan) 
-Williams, the first chief of the Mil(itary) 
-Academy, and they wish to add yours to the 
-number, as being alike the Founders, and Patrons 
-of both." Jefferson agreed to stand for the 
-poitrait, which noted Philadelphia artist Thomas 
-Sully traveled to Monticello to sketch and 
-then paint in the spring of the following year. 
-Sully's 8 1/2' x 5 1/2 "Thomas Jefferson" depicts 
-the academy's founder on the verge of his 
-seventy-ninth birthday. Still vigorous in mind 
-and body, at 6'3" he towers over many of his 
-contemporaries and stands, like the column beside 
-him, as an enduring pillar of strength. He 
-wears a black coat, knee breaches, and the furlined 
-bear skin topcoat given to him in 1798 by 
-Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Polish officer whose 
-Continental Army service during the War for 
-Independence included a tour of duty constructing 
-fortifications at West Point. In his left hand 
-Jefferson holds a parchment scroll-perhaps 
-his I802 law establishing the United States 
-Military Academy. Sully's portrait, the prize 
-of a collection that has hung for nearly two 
-centuries in buildings that have housed the 
-Cadet Library, would be the first and last major monument at West Point to the man to whom the military academy owes its existence.  
- 
-What explains ignorance of Jefferson's role 
-in the years leading up to the Civil War? The 
-reasons are both political and personal. What 
-first must be understood is the devotion of West Point officers to Superintendent Thayer-to 
-him, to his superintendency, and to its significance. 
-Thayer's reign as West Point's chief was 
-successful and long, but both his arrival and 
-departure were clouded in controversy. The 
-turbulent 1817 transfer of power from Alden 
-Partridge to Thayer-so turbulent, in fact, that 
-for a while Partridge refused to step aside perhaps 
-has led chroniclers of West Point's past 
-to depreciate the contributions of Partridge and 
-his predecessors in order to underscore the legitimacy 
-of Thayer's appointment and the contributions 
-of his tenure. Thayer's 1833 resignation, 
-after a conflict with President Andrew 
-Jackson, also may have had a negative impact 
-as Jefferson's fame as founder. Like Thayer, 
-many antebellum West Pointers, including the 
-ones who wrote the academy's history, found 
-themselves at odds with Jackson's party and 
-allied themselves with its Whig opponents. 
-They had little reason to exalt the political 
-symbols of Jacksonian Democrats, the most 
-prominent of which was Thomas Jefferson. 
- 
-Democrats appropriated Jefferson despite 
-the fact that the party of Jackson was hardly 
-the party of Jefferson. Jefferson-and James 
-Madison also-disliked the hero of the Battle 
-of New Orleans. After an 1824 visit to Monticello, Daniel Webster reported that Jefferson 
-said that he felt "much alarmed at the prospect 
-of seeing General Jackson, president." Jackson 
-had "very little respect for laws or constitutions," 
-Jefferson told Webster, and he impulsively 
-sacrificed means to ends. All things 
-considered, Jackson was "a ''dangerous man''." 
-Nonetheless, in the minds of Jacksonian Democrats 
-and their Whig opponents, Jefferson and 
-Jackson were linked. According to historian 
-Merrill Peterson, "so tight was the association 
-of these three elements-the Jefferson symbol, 
-democracy, and the Democratic Party-that 
-one scarcely existed in the public mind apart 
-from tlie others and attempts to disengage them 
-met with fleeting success." 
- 
-Thayer's dispute with Jackson must be understood 
-in this context. When, in 1833, New 
-York Cadet H. Ariel Norris planted in the middle 
-of the parade ground a "hickory pole," he 
-took a stand not only for Jackson-widely 
-known as "Old Hickory" - but also for Jefferson 
-and the American revolutionary tradition, 
-which had used liberty poles to protest the 
-British imperial regime. He also had taken a 
-stand against Thayer, whose disciplinary system 
-had been described as oppressive by Cadets 
-Nicholas P. Trist, Jefferson's future grandson-in- 
-law, and Andrew Jackson Donelson, Jackson's 
-nephew, both of whom entered West 
-Point in 1818, shortly after Thayer's installation 
-as superintendent. Thayer understood the impropriety of the existence of this symbol of 
-partisanship and insubordination on the parade 
-ground. He ordered the removal of the hickory 
-pole as well as the removal of Norris. Norris 
-appealed the decision, so Thayer sent a faculty 
-member to Washington to explain the situation. 
-The professor met with Jackson to state his 
-case, but almost immediately Jackson "became 
-excited, and spoke of the 'tyranny' of Colonel 
-Thayer and, rising from his chair, he stalked 
-before me, swinging his arms as if in a rage 
-and speaking of the case of Norris. . . . Why. 
-said he, the autocrat of the Russias couldn't 
-exercise more power!'" The professor stood his 
-ground. Jackson dismissed him and ordered an 
-investigation of the system of discipline at 
-West Point. The resulting report recommended 
-no changes and, for three or four months, all 
-was quiet. But then another instance arose 
-where Jackson interfered with Thayer-Norris's 
-case had not been the first. Thayer, indignant, 
-resigned in 1833. 
- 
-The principled departure of Thayer helped 
-to solidify his reputation as a hero of the academy. 
-It also helped to galvanize Army officers 
-in their opposition to Jacksonian Democrats. A 
-case in point is Dennis Hart Mahan, an 1824. 
-graduate of the academy who in 1830 returned 
-as engineering professor, a position he retained 
-for forty years. Mahan exhibited deep admiration 
-for Thayer and deep mistrust of Jacksonian 
-democracy, in part because of Thayer's battle with Jackson and subsequent resignation. 
-The episode so much distressed Mahan 
-that as soon as Jackson left office he hatched a 
-plan to restore Thayer as superintendent. The 
-scheme failed and Thayer never returned, but 
-Mahan remained. He became one of the most 
-influential faculty members in the history of 
-the academy. 
- 
-Like Mahan, Winfield Scott became involved 
-in Thayer's superintendency. As a major 
-general he presided over the 1817 court 
-martial that found Partridge guilty of disobedience 
-and mutiny for refusing to vacate his West 
-Point post; he also presided over the academy's 
-1831 Board of Visitors, which, among other 
-measures, called on the government to give 
-Thayer a raise. Although not an academy 
-graduate, he became a consummate academy 
-insider; he spent summers at West Point and, 
-when he finally died in 1866, was buried there. 
-His political leanings mirrored those of Mahan 
-and many others connected with the Army. He 
-grew to despise Jackson, with whom he had a 
-series of disputes, and by 1852, after triumphant 
-leadership in the Mexican War, became 
-so advanced in his partisanship that he stood 
-as the Whig presidential candidate. Early in 
-life, Scott considered himself an ardent Republican; 
-Jefferson, in fact, interviewed him and 
-awarded his Army commission. But then he 
-developed a friendship with Federalist writer 
-Washington Irving, an admiration for Hamilton, and a highly critical understanding of 
-Jefferson. The third president was not only 
-"highly ambitious," Scott later wrote, but also 
-highly resentful, for "in the presence of Washington" 
-he recoiled from a "painful sense of 
-inferiority." While Washington had donned a 
-uniform in the fight for independence, Jefferson 
-had not, a fact that Scott believed led him 
-to oppose Revolutionary War veteran Hamilton's 
-plans for national finance, resign his cabinet 
-post, and embrace states' rights principles 
-that yielded the "first fruits" of the secessionist, 
-rebellious impulses that led to the Civil War. 
- 
-Robert E. Lee, the academy's eighth superintendent, 
-did not share Scott's nationalism. 
-But Lee, who was born a Federalist and matured 
-as a Whig, did share Scott's hatred for 
-Jefferson. The feud between Jefferson and the 
-Lees dated all the way back to 1809, when 
-General Henry ("Light-Horse Harry") Lee 
-landed in debtor's prison as a result of business 
-dealings gone bad. Lee, who blamed his financial 
-condition on Jefferson's embargo of foreign 
-trade, spent much of his prison term putting 
-together his ''Memoirs of the War in the Southern 
-Department of the United States'', which he 
-published in 1812. The ''Memoirs'' made Jefferson's 
-supposed "timidity and impotence" as 
-Revolutionary War governor of Virginia a case 
-study in the supposed need for energetic government 
-by officials with coercive authority. 
-Jefferson did not respond publicly to Henry Lee's assertions, but in private he derided the 
-tract as "a tissue of errors from beginning to 
-end," a "parody" based on "rumors," and a book 
-so "ridiculous that it is almost ridiculous seriously 
-to notice it." 
- 
-There the matter rested-and the feud persisted- 
-until 1826, when a younger Henry Lee, 
-who had inherited not only his father's name 
-but also the rights to his book, prepared a revision 
-of the ''Memoirs''. He recelved an invitation 
-by Jefferson to visit him at Monticello and 
-examine documents relating to his performance 
-as governor. Robert Lee's brother accepted the 
-offer, but when he arrived at Monticello in June 
-he found Jefferson on his deathbed. "There he 
-was extended," he remembered, "feeble, prostrate; 
-but the fine and clear expression of his 
-countenance not at all obscured. At the first 
-glance he recognized me, and his hand and 
-voice at once saluted me. The energy of his 
-grasp, and the spirit of his conversation, were 
-such as to make me hope he would yet rally and 
-that the superiority of mind over matter. . . 
-would preserve him yet longer." Jefferson never 
-recovered, however, and Lee never did see his 
-papers. But he departed with a changed heart. 
-When he revised his father's ''Memoirs'' he not 
-only softened the most damning passages but 
-also reprinted a letter that Jefferson had written 
-to him. After British troops captured Richmond 
-in 1781, Jefferson recounted, he rode his horse through the countryside in pursuit of 
-recruits for the militia. The animal collapsed 
-beneath him, he said, so he walked with the 
-saddle on his shoulders to a nearby farm, where 
-he borrowed an unbroken colt and continued 
-the journey. 
- 
-The detente between Jefferson and the Lees 
-did not last for long. Three years after Jefferson's 
-death, his grandson published a collection 
-of his correspondence that reopened old 
-wounds, for it included an 1815 letter to James 
-Monroe that disparaged Light-Horse Harry 
-Lee's ''Memoirs'' as "a historical novel for the 
-amusement of credulous and uninquisitive 
-readers." It also contained a 1796 note to 
-Washington in which Jefferson described Lee 
-as "an intriguer" and a "miserable tergiversator, 
-who ought indeed to have been of more 
-truth, or less trusted by his countrymen." For 
-Light-Horse Harry Lee's sons, including Robert, 
-the recent West Point graduate, these were 
-fighting words. The brothers, according to 
-Robert E. Lee biographer Douglas Southall 
-Freeman, "Became more confnmed in their opposition 
-to the party of Jefferson," which by 
-then meant the party of Jackson. Henry Lee 
-published in 1832 another printed attack on 
-Jefferson, and seven years later brother Charles 
-Carter Lee enlarged the work, heaping on to 
-Jefferson even more opprobrium. Not to be left 
-out, in 1869 Robert E. Lee, who had otherwise renounced all things bellicose, reissued the 
-''Memoirs''-a final shot in a family feud that had 
-lasted for more than half a century. 
- 
-The Civil War gripped America not long 
-after the conclusion of Lee's superintendency, 
-and Lee was not the only officer to trade his 
-Army blues for the gray uniform of the Confederacy. 
-West Point graduate and Confederate 
-General P. G. T. Beauregard, who on April 
-12, 1861 ordered the shelling of Fort Sumter, 
-had been relieved as the academy's superintendent 
-only two and one-half months earlier. 
-Cadets from southern states that had already 
-seceded had been trickling out of West Point 
-for several months; now, however, the number 
-of resignations appeared more like a flood. By 
-May, only 21 of the 86 southern cadets remained. 
-The rest would join a Confederate officer 
-corps that eventually included 296 academy 
-graduates, 151 of whom, like Thomas J. 
-"Stonewall" Jackson, became the generals of 
-Confederate President Jefferson Davis, yet another 
-West Point alumnus. 
- 
-Meanwhile, for most of the Civil War Alexander 
-Hamilton Bowman served as superintendent, 
-an unenviable position in no small part 
-because of the heavy criticism directed at West 
-Point. Secretary of War Simon Cameron submitted 
-to Congress a report that dwelled on the 
-"extraordinary treachery" of academy graduates, a symptom, he suggested, of "a radical 
-defect in the system of education itself." Other 
-northern critics, including many of Congress's 
-radical Republicans, also depicted West Point 
-as a nursery of secessionism. In addition, they 
-characterized the graduates who remained in 
-the Union army as too southern in their views 
-on slavery and emancipation, too theoretical in 
-their tactics, and too timid in their efforts to 
-engage the enemy. When, in December 1861, 
-Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler called 
-for the closing of the academy, several of his 
-colleagues concurred. 
- 
-Superintendent Bowman faced a crisis. 
-West Point's enemies aimed at its destruction, 
-many of his faculty (most in Union blue) had 
-marched south and the Corps of Cadets stood 
-depleted. Given this context, it is not surprising 
-that Jefferson's reputation as founder of the 
-military academy continued to slip from public 
-memory as Alexander Hamilton Bowman made 
-no effort to promote his institution through a 
-closer association with his namesake's nemesis. 
-Like the academy, Jefferson had also been described 
-as too southern, too theoretical, and 
-too timid. These criticisms, which originated 
-during his own lifetime (and Henry Lee was 
-not the first to levy them), still reverberated 
-during the Civil War years, when Jefferson's 
-reputation plummeted.  
- 
-Although the embattled reputations of both 
-West Point and Jefferson during the Civil War 
-combined to discourage the resurrection of Jefferson's 
-image as its founder, the 1902 centennial 
-celebration of its founding provided a clear 
-opportunity to recognize the third president. 
-Yet the academy snubbed Jefferson on its birthday. 
-The massive two-volume ''Centennial of 
-the United States Militaiy Academy at West 
-Point'', a collection of speeches, banquet toasts, 
-and histories marking the occasion, mentions 
-his name only twice. In an essay on the academy's 
-origins, Edward S. Holden, the West 
-Point librarian, called attention to Secretary of 
-State Jefferson's doubts, in 1793, about the 
-constitutionality of a national military school. 
-He did not, however, point toward Jefferson's 
-supprt for the Academy in 1802; instead, he 
-wrote that "by the act of Congress . . . the 
-Military Academy was instituted." He gave 
-Jefferson only a single positive nod, and that 
-came in the middle of a long list of benefactors. 
-Among them, he wrote, "two names stand preeminent- 
-Knox and Hamilton." During the 
-Revolution, Holden pointed out, Knox "was 
-the first proposer and the steady advocate of a 
-military school of the very type of our own. 
-To Hamilton the Academy and the Army owe 
-a well-considered plan for military education 
-that, in its main features, has sufficed for the 
-needs of the century just passed." Holden's 
-tepid recognition excepted, all celebrants of the centennial seem to have ignored Jefferson's support 
-for the early military academy. Many coutinued 
-to fix their attention on later years, 
-heralding Thayer as the academy's father, and 
-some, such as the author of the brief history 
-of the academy that soon began to appear in 
-''Bugle Notes'', the cadet handbook, concurred 
-with Holden's assertion that "its founder is 
-Washington." No one thought to mention that 
-Washington, in 1802, was dead. 
- 
-Jefferson's banishment from the West Point 
-pantheon cannot be written off solely as confoimity 
-to what, by that time, was fairly well established 
-tradition. The centennial fixed the 
-date of the founding with precision. Jefferson 
-was president in 1802, and the bill supporting 
-the establishment of the academy came not 
-from Congress but from him. In all likelihood, 
-historians of the academy ignored Jefferson in 
-1902 for two other reasons. The first was a 
-body of scholarship on diplomacy that attached 
-Jefferson's defense policies; the second was the 
-fact that the chief proponents of this neo-Hamiltonian 
-assessment were influential men with 
-powerful West Point connections. 
- 
-As in the Civil War, nearly all of Jefferson's 
-detractors considered themselves members of 
-the Republican Party; unlike the Civil War, 
-when a good number of West Pointers allied 
-themselves with Democrats, in 1902 the "big 
-stick" policy of President Theodore Roosevelt 
-won admiration, if not active political participation, from the majority of Army officers. Perhaps 
-the most prominent neo-Hamiltonian was 
-Roosevelt himself, a former Army officer, veteran 
-of the Spanish-American War, and prolific 
-author. Others included his secretary of war, 
-Elihu Root, and Alfred Thayer Mahan, son of 
-popular West Point Professor Dennis Hart 
-Mahan. Each, echoing the contentions of previous 
-generations, directed sharp criticisms toward Jefferson. 
- 
-While Roosevelt praised "Hamilton's wonderful 
-genius." he portrayed Jefferson as a conniving, impractical, and self-deluding ideologue. 
-The third president was "unscrupulous," 
-a "pacifist" who established a "tradition 
-of timid avoidance of all physical danger." "I 
-have always regarded Jefferson," Roosevelt affirmed 
-in 1915, as "one of the most mischievous 
-enemies of democracy, one of the very weakest 
-we have ever had in public life." The twenty sixth 
-president blamed Jefferson for the War 
-of 1812. Jefferson, he wrote, "was perhaps the 
-most incapable Executive that ever filled the 
-presidential chair." 
- 
-The worst of Jefferson's defense measures, 
-Roosevelt thought, was his plan for "an enormous 
-force of very worthless gun-boats-a 
-scheme," he wrote, "whose wisdom was about 
-on a par with some of that statesman's political 
-and military theories." Roosevelt's blast at Jefferson's 
-proudest naval project-based on the 
-assumption that an American ocean-going navy, which could never match the strength 
-of Britain's, would draw the nation into an unwinnable 
-naval war and should he replaced by 
-small, agile, and economical defensive craft 
-piloted by citizen-sailors-was echoed by 
-that other prominent neo-Hamiltonian, Alfred 
-Thayer Mahan. Mahan's important book on 
-''The Influence of Sea Power in History'' argued 
-for a large, formidable navy of large, formidable 
-ships. To correspondents, Mahan expressed 
-his disdain for Jefferson and his "seductive 
-cheap gunboat policy, in which ensured 
-"a minimum of military usefulness at a maximum 
-of pecuniaty outlay." 
- 
-Despite the efforts of neo-Hamiltonian detractors, 
-Jefferson's reputation among West 
-Pointers and citizens in general improved during 
-the next fifty years, thanks in no small part 
-to the efforts of Franklin Roosevelt. Unlike his 
-cousin, the younger Roosevelt cast himself as 
-a neo-Jeffersonian, sculpted Jefferson's image 
-as a political experimenter and advocate of liberty,.. 
-and in 1943 dedicated the Jefferson Memorial. 
-Even before Roosevelt's campaign to renovate 
-Jefferson's image, however, West Point 
-fashioned a humble monument to his memory. 
-His name joined those of a handful of notables 
-inscribed onto the stone walls of the 1910 administration 
-and headquarters building. According to a pamphlet published shortly after 
-the building's completion, Jefferson deserved 
-recognition as the president "during whose administration 
-. . . the Military Academy was 
-founded." Thayer, described as "Father of the 
-Military Academy, and James Monroe, "under 
-whose administration the Military Academy 
-developed and was encouraged," were 
-similarly honored. (Washington received special 
-treatment, for his personal coat of arms 
-appeared high on the courtyard's east wall directly 
-across from the seal of the United 
-States.) Jefferson's inclusion within the headquarters 
-honor roll demonstrated that the willful 
-disregard for his contributions seen at the 
-centennial did not endure. 
- 
-So did the naming in Jefferson's honor of 
-the avenue that linked the library with the 
-superintendent's quarters, noted on maps of the 
-academy beginning in the early 1930s, as well 
-as the East Academic Building's 1937 rededication 
-as Jefferson Hall. The honor was shortlived, 
-for a year later academy officials voted 
-to revert to the building's former name 
-because, they claimed, the new designation 
-"proved very confusing," could "lead to controversy 
-and dissention," and seemed out of 
-step with the generally established practice of 
-naming edifices not for men but for their functions. 
-(Later the academy again renamed the 
-structure, this time in memory of William 
-Bartlett, a long-serving science professor.) During this decade streets were named also 
-after Washington and Thayer, and a few years 
-earlier workmen completed Washington Hall, 
-the building containing the cadet mess, and the 
-Hotel Thayer. Both men retained their more 
-exalted status (and their eponymous buildings), 
-but Jefferson-especially during the 
-Franklin Roosevelt era-at least made inroads. 
- 
-Thus by the time of the academy's 150th 
-birthday Jefferson had regained some of his 
-stature, not only among Americans generally 
-but also within the Army. The 1950 annonncement 
-of upcoming sesquicentennial exercises 
-by the superintendent, Major General Bryant 
-E. Moore, noted that "Thomas Jefferson, following 
-the advice of George Washington, John 
-Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and others, established 
-a national military academy on the Hudson 
-River at West Point." Two years later, 
-Superintendent Frederick A. Irving remarked 
-at the sesquicentennial invocation that "Jefferson 
-signed the act of Congress which established 
-this institution" because he joined with 
-Hamilton, Knox, and Adams in "realizing the 
-need for a trained source of officers, a corps 
-which would form the nucleus about which a 
-civilian army could be built." As part of its 
-birthday celebration, the academy published an 
-official account marking the occasion. The first 
-chapter, a brief synopsis of West Point's history, 
-began by quoting Jefferson's Military 
-Peace Establishment Act and mentioning that he "signed this legislation on March 16, 1802." 
- 
-Although the recognition accorded to Jefferson 
-marked a departure from centennial 
-speakers' willful ignorance of his role, its tepid 
-nature still left plenty of room for qualification. 
-The official sesquicentennial history, for example, 
-took care to mention that "the Military 
-Academy did not spring into existence with a 
-stroke of the pen. The Act of 1802 simply 
-granted formal recognition to an institution 
-that had been slowly evolving since the first 
-American garrison occupied West Point during 
-the Revolutionary War." Jefferson's advocacy 
-constituted only "the final step" before Thayer's 
-"first step," which was "to reorganize the Corps 
-of Cadets." Once again, West Pointers pressed 
-Jefferson into the humble and virtually thankless 
-role of successor. Contrary to chronology, 
-they lavished the role of the academy's origlnator 
-and progenitor on Thayer. 
- 
-The relatively newfound ability of West 
-Point officials to enunciate Jefferson's name 
-failed not only to alter the basic tenor of public 
-commemorations of the academy's birth but 
-also the substance. The major events of the sesquicentennial 
-included the installation in the 
-Cadet Library of a portrait of Confederate General 
-Robert E. Lee-Jefferson's old adversary and 
-on March 16 the laying of wreaths by delegations 
-of cadets at the graves of Thayer and 
-Washington. The cadet contingent at Mount 
-Vernon had no corollary at Monticello.  
- 
-Jefferson received less recognition from actual 
-cadets than he did from actors who played 
-ones in Warner Brothers' ''The West Point 
-Story'', a 1950 film starring James Cagney, Virginia 
-Mayo, Doris Day, and Gordon MacRea, 
-who appeared as Cadet Tom Fletcher, a talented 
-singer starring in the academy's annual 
-"100th Night" variety show. Although not an 
-official component of the sesquicentennial celebration, 
-the film focused on the school's origins 
-when, in the opening number of the fictionalized 
-cadet production, Fletcher took the stage 
-and stood before a chorus of classmates. "In 
-the beginning as in all things it was only a 
-dream" and he said, "but the dreamers had names: 
-like Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson. They 
-stood on a point of land on the west bank of the 
-Hudson and planned that this fortress that 
-guarded our newborn nation, should become 
-our military academy." In Hollywood's version 
-of history, however, Washington also trumped 
-Jefferson. "The Corps was founded," Fletcher 
-continued, "and the father of our country hecame 
-the father of a legend." 
- 
-Despite these snubs, the highlight of the sesquicentennial- 
-the May 20 address by President 
-Harry S. Truman-gave to Jefferson more 
-attention than he had received at West Point 
-since the 1820s. Truman's speech recognized 
-Jefferson as founder of the academy; it also 
-praised his pragmatism and practicality. Yet so 
-did nearly concurrent statements by Dwight Eisenhower, Truman's triumphant European theater 
-World War II commander and Republican 
-successor, who said that he admired Jefferson 
-because "he understood and feared the 
-implications of the shift we have seen in recent 
-years from local government to Federal government, 
-from freedom to regimentation, from decentralization 
-to centralization." 
- 
-Civilian leaders continued to praise Jefferson 
-in the decades after the Second World War. 
-President John F. Kennedy, for example, described 
-his predecessor as his "hero," one of the 
-"most exceptional men of the 18th century," 
-and one of "our nation's . . . first great scholars." 
-He said at a banquet honoring Nobel 
-Prize winners from North and South America 
-that "this is the most extraordinary collection 
-of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever 
-been gathered together at the White House, 
-with the possible exception of when Thomas 
-Jefferson dined alone." Robert F. Kennedy 
-spotlighted the third president as a man who 
-welcomed the free "exchange of views" between 
-individuals, nations, and cultures. 
- 
-While Democrats extolled Jefferson as an 
-intellectual, Republicans embraced his ideology. 
-Like Eisenhower and MacArthur before 
-him, Barry Goldwater, the 1964. Republican 
-presidential candidate, claimed Jefferson's 
-mantle. He charged that the Democratic Party 
-was "no longer the party of Jefferson" for it no 
-longer subscribed to "principle and principled liberalism." That the Arizona senator described 
-Jefferson as his favorite president is not surprising. 
-Under his leadership the Cold War 
-Republican Party renewed its commitment, 
-through both foreign and domestic policy, to 
-oppose big government and defend individual 
-freedom. Jefferson, who Franklin Roosevelt 
-had enlisted as a symbol of democracy and 
-egalitarianism to combat Nazis and Republicans, 
-now helped Republicans battle Communists 
-and Democrats. Even Democrat Jimmy 
-Carter admitted that Jeffersonian principles, 
-which included the insistence that people "stop 
-looking to the federal government as a bottomless 
-cornucopia," no longer remained "popular 
-. . . with some members of my party." 
-Ronald Reagan, who said in his famous campaign 
-speech for Goldwater that Democratic 
-leaders were "taking the party of Jefferson . . . 
-down the road under the banners of Marx, 
-Lenin, and Stalin," in 1987 proclaimed from 
-the steps of the Jefferson Memorial the Republican 
-faith that "economic freedoms" and the 
-political freedoms advocated by Jefferson were 
-"inextricably linked." 
- 
-The Republicanization of Jefferson's image- 
-the emphasis on his support for limited 
-government at home and the expansion of liberty 
-abroad-resonated well within a Cold War 
-context. It also fit perfectly the central themes 
-of the Reagan administration, during which 
-the bulk of the current officer corps came of age and began to undermine the old ideal of an 
-a political military. Although during the 1970s 
-more than half of up-and-coming officers described 
-their politics as independent of any 
-specific party, today (2002) only 28 percent make such 
-a claim. Even more striking, those who identify 
-themselves as Republicans constitute 64 percent, 
-a figure eight times larger than the number 
-who call themselves Democrats. While this 
-phenomenon bodes ill for an all-volunteer military 
-struggling to avoid estrangement from the 
-public it defends, it probably constitutes good 
-news for Jefferson's reputation within the 
-Army, which for much of its existence was led 
-by men who identified the third president with 
-a party that many of them opposed. It also supgests 
-that occasions such as the 2001 Senate 
-confirmation hearing of retired General Colin 
-Powell, Republican President George W. 
-Bush's nominee for secretary of state, may well 
-become more common. Powell, who during the 
-Persian Gulf War commanded all of America's 
-armed forces, described Jefferson as "ahead of 
-the time in which he lived" and himself "as Jefferson's 
-admiring successor." 
- 
-These political changes bode well for Jefferson's 
-image as the founder of the military academy. 
-Both parties find reasons to embrace Jefferson's 
-ideals. The military can now focus 
-attention on Jefferson without offending most 
-members of the public it serves. Witness the recent 
-announcement that West Point's new library 
-building, to be built in 2006, will be 
-named Thomas Jefferson Hall. The scholarly 
-environment has also changed. A year ago 
-West Point convened a bicentennial conference 
-on Jefferson's establishment of the academy; it 
-featured presentations by nearly a dozen scholars, 
-all of whom shed new light on his contributions 
-to the military school. 
- 
-How will Jefferson's reputation as the academy's 
-founder fare in the future? What can 
-be predicted with certainty is that West Point's 
-view of its past will reflect its changing present. 
-The question will continue to be what really 
-it always has been: not whether Jefferson made 
-West Point, but what West Point makes of 
-Jefferson. 
- 
-This article is based on: Robert M. S. McDonald, "West Point's Lost Founder: Thomas Jefferson Remembered, Forgotten & Reconsidered", November 1, 2002. 
==Further Sources== ==Further Sources==
-*McDonald, Robert, M.S., ed. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=14515 ''Thomas Jefferson's Military Academy: Founding West Point.''] Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004. Available for purchase at [http://monticellostore.stores.yahoo.net/200355.html Monticello Gift Shop]+*McDonald, Robert M. S. ''West Point's Lost Founder: Thomas Jefferson Remembered, Forgotten & Reconsidered'', [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=7143 Monticello Keepsake], November 1, 2002
-*United States Military Academy: http://www.usma.edu/ +*McDonald, Robert, M.S., ed. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=14515 ''Thomas Jefferson's Military Academy: Founding West Point.''] Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004. Available for purchase at [http://monticellostore.stores.yahoo.net/200355.html Monticello Museum Shop]
-*Von Hassell, Agostino. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=6367 ''West Point: The Bicentennial Book.''] Charlottesville: Howell Press, 2002.+*[http://www.usma.edu/ United States Military Academy]
 +*Von Hassell, Agostino. [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=6367 ''West Point: The Bicentennial Book.''] Charlottesville: Howell Press, 2002
[[Category:Places]] [[Category:Places]]
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Current revision

The United States Military Academy[1], also known as West Point, was established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

In January 1821, Professor Jared Mansfield wrote to Thomas Jefferson from West Point:

“The Superintendent, Officers, Professors, Instructors, & Cadets of the United States Military Academy, impressed, with a high sense of the great services, you have rendered the Nation, & that this Institution, with which they are connected, originated under your patronage, & presidency, are anxious for some special, & appropriate memorial of your person, which may descend to posterity.”[2]

The library at the U.S. Military Academy, Mansfield informed Jefferson, had portraits of George Washington and of Jonathan Williams, the academy’s first superintendent. Would Jefferson, Mansfield asked, “gratify them” by sitting for Thomas Sully, one of the “best Portrait Painters of our Country,” at Monticello?

By 1802, when President Jefferson established the United States Military Academy, he had fully embraced the importance of “useful sciences” in education and in the protection of the young nation. Two years earlier, Jefferson had written to Pierre S. du Pont de Nemours, asking: “What are the branches of science which in the present state of man, and particularly with us, should be introduced into an academy?” Du Pont proposed an all inclusive plan of national education with primary schools, colleges, and four specialty schools – medicine, mines, social science and legislation, and “higher geometry and the sciences that it explains.” With engineering “urging forward the other sciences,” this school would be of the greatest benefit to the nation, du Pont explained. As he told Jefferson: “No nation is in such need of canals as the United States, and most of their ports have no means of exterior defense.”

Just two months after Jefferson’s inauguration, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn announced that the president had “decided in favor of the immediate establishment of a military school at West Point and also on the appointment of Major Jonathan Williams” to direct “the necessary arrangements, at that place for the commencement of the school.”

On March 16, 1802, Jefferson affixed his name to the Military Peace Establishment Act, directing that a corps of engineers be established and “stationed at West Point in the state of New York, and shall constitute a Military Academy.” The academy’s sole function would be to train engineers, and Williams, grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin, was named superintendent. On July 4, 1802, the U.S. Military Academy formally opened for instruction. “Our guiding star,” Superintendent Williams said, “is not a little mathematical School, but a great national establishment. … We must always have it in view that our Officers are to be men of Science, and as such will by their acquirements be entitled to the notice of learned societies.”

In the War of 1812, the enemy British did not capture any works constructed by a graduate of West Point, and perhaps, as historian Henry Adams suggested, “had an engineer been employed at Washington … the city would have been easily saved.”

Jefferson’s military academy, Adams wrote, had “doubled the capacity of the new little American army for resistance, and introduced and scientific character into American life.” Jefferson himself said that he “ever considered that establishment as of major importance to our country, and in whatever I could do for it, I viewed myself as performing a duty.” Today, the Thomas Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson commissioned by the “Superintendent, Officers, Professors, Instructors, & Cadets of the United States Military Academy” hangs at West Point.

Footnotes

  1. This article is based on Christine Coalwell, "West Point: Jefferson's Military Academy." Monticello Newsletter, 12 (Winter 2001).
  2. Jared Mansfield to Thomas Jefferson, January 26, 1821, NWM

Further Sources