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

By William P. Leeman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Learning the Ropes

A young man who accepted an appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy of the early republic received his professional education at sea. Captain Charles Stewart spoke for many naval officers and politicians when he declared, “The best school for the instruction of youth in the [naval] profession is the deck of a ship.” The navy’s system of education was a combination of classroom instruction, practical training, active duty service, and professional socialization that ultimately provided naval officers with what David Curtis Skaggs has described as the “corpus of knowledge necessary for the daily survival of their ship and its crew.”1 The navy’s leadership believed that service at sea during time of war was the most effective way of educating and training midshipmen. Defending U.S. commerce, and by extension America’s sovereignty and rights as a neutral power, had resulted in the Quasi-War with France, conflicts with the Barbary States of North Africa, and the War of 1812, all of which provided ample opportunities for U.S. Navy midshipmen to learn their profession under the most challenging circumstances. There were two main benefits to the navy’s “learn by doing” approach to education. First, it was cost effective, which endeared the system to a Congress that tended to place economy above all other considerations. Second, it developed officers who were capable mariners and effective combat leaders.

Despite the fact that the United States had won its political independence from Great Britain, there remained a strong British cultural inheritance within American society. This cultural heritage was especially visible

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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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