The Founding of West Point And The Creation of a Professional Standing Army

Authored by: William B. Skelton

The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533805
eBook ISBN: 9781315817347
Adobe ISBN: 9781317813354


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The official founding of the U.S. Military Academy occurred on March 16, 1802, when Congress passed a bill “fixing the military peace establishment of the United States”—actually reducing and reorganizing the regular army, which had existed since 1784, to conform to the views of the Thomas Jefferson administration. The act cut the authorized strength of the army from 4,436 officers and enlisted men to 3,287, organized into two regiments of infantry, one regiment of artillerists, and a small corps of engineers. According to the act, the Corps of Engineers “shall be stationed at West Point, in the state of New York, and shall constitute a military academy,” presumably for the instruction of the 40 artillery cadets and 10 engineering cadets provided in the legislation. 1 The establishment of a national military academy as part of the most important piece of military legislation of Jefferson’s first term seems to contradict his proverbial suspicion of standing armies and concentrated federal power, and it has led to considerable debate over his involvement and intentions. Most notably, Theodore J. Crackel has argued that the academy was part of a plan by Jefferson to institute a “chaste reformation” of the army, stripping it of its Federalist ties and aristocratic associations and opening the officer corps to young men of modest means and Democratic-Republican loyalties, thereby forming the foundation of a politically safe and reliable profession of arms. 2

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