The Long Road to Annapolis: The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic

By William P. Leeman | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Armed Ambassadors

Modesty was not one of George Bancroft’s notable character traits. He possessed the intellectual superiority of a distinguished scholar and the self-assured swagger of an influential politician. In describing his role in creating the United States Naval Academy, Bancroft triumphantly declared: “As to the Naval School at Annapolis, I was its originator. It was my original conception, mine alone, and in every particular carried out by me.”1 Bancroft’s proud statement might lead one to assume that the idea of establishing a naval academy in the United States did not surface until 1845, the year Bancroft became President James K. Polk’s secretary of the navy. Although Bancroft’s legacy as the Naval Academy’s founder is secure (the massive midshipmen’s dormitory is named in his honor), his assertion is not exactly accurate. The idea for a naval academy was not Bancroft’s “original conception.” As early as 1777, during the Revolutionary War, Captain John Paul Jones called for the establishment of small academies at American shipyards to educate the officers of the Continental navy. Although the Continental Congress never implemented Jones’s recommendation, it began a national debate on the merits and the potential dangers of founding an academy to prepare young men for service as naval officers.

Since its formation in 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy has achieved a high level of prestige as a national military, educational, and cultural institution. Its students are among the best and the brightest the nation has to offer. The Yard, the academy’s Annapolis campus, is one of the country’s great landmarks, attracting approximately 1.5 million visitors each year. The entertainment industry has promoted an “All-American” image of the school, most recently in Hollywood’s portrayal of the struggles of a blue-collar plebe in the 2006 feature film Annapolis. The annual Army-Navy football game pitting the Naval Academy’s midshipmen against the cadets of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is one of the classic rivalries in college sports. Naval Academy graduates have served as some of the country’s most prominent leaders not only in war but also in government, diplomacy, science, engineering, and business. The academy’s alumni include one president of the United States (Jimmy Carter), cabinet secretaries, senators, congressmen,

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The Long Road to Annapolis: The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables and Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction - Armed Ambassadors 1
  • Prologue - The Maddest Idea in the World 11
  • Chapter 1 - Defending the New Republic 19
  • Chapter 2 - Learning the Ropes 49
  • Chapter 3 - A West Point for the Navy? 69
  • Chapter 4 - Academies and Aristocracy in Andrew Jackson’s America 101
  • Chapter 5 - The Sword and the Pen 127
  • Chapter 6 - Mutiny, Midshipmen, and the Middle Class 163
  • Chapter 7 - Annapolis 195
  • Epilogue - Homecoming 231
  • Appendix 239
  • Notes 243
  • Bibliography 269
  • Index 283
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