As a graduate of the Military Academy, I don’t recall much emphasis placed upon the fact that Thomas Jefferson was the President who founded it. In fact, the focus was always on George Washington. After all, his statue is right there centered on the Plain, the mess hall is named Washington Hall, and when I was there, nothing was named after Jefferson. The Academy recently opened a new library, and it is named appropriately after Jefferson.
Here is an excerpt from Duty, Honor, Country about this:
Fifty miles up the Hudson River from New York City, the river narrows and makes a sharp bend to the west. The craggy highland on the left bank is called West Point and was first fortified to keep the American colonies united during the Revolutionary War. The placement of a military outpost at West Point was dictated by both strategy and terrain. The strategy insisted that the fledgling colonies stay connected and the British had seen the obvious: control the Hudson River and they could sever the particularly troublesome New England colonies from the Confederation of rebelling states to the west and south.
The terrain was the dictate of geography on military tactics. At West Point, the narrow twist in the Hudson causes any sailing vessel to tack and slow to a crawl. Add a massive chain floated across the river on rafts, covered by heavy artillery lining the bluffs above, and the small American garrison at West Point kept the colonies united throughout the Revolution.
After the Revolutionary War, the founding of the Military Academy at West Point had been dictated by necessity. The country’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, detested the idea of a standing army, but accepted the reality that the country had to have such a beast. So Jefferson determined to place a leash on the animal. To keep the officer corps from becoming filled with sycophants who would support a particular party or person over the country, in 1802 he ordered the establishment of an Academy to train a professional cadre of officers that would draw its cadets from across the country and across the strata of society. As West Point was a chokepoint in the geography of the new country, the Academy located there was to be a chokepoint to the power of the military that had to sustain a democracy. Cadets would swear an oath—the very first law the First Congress enacted, an indication of its importance to the young country—to defend the Constitution, not any party or individual.
Thirty-eight years after the founding, two of these cadets, one from Ohio and the other from Mississippi, were in the Academy stable, preparing horses for a ride on a rare day exempt from duties and training.
By the way, the cadet from Ohio, is named Ulysses S. Grant.
A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.
Tomorrow: Did you know Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t his real name?