The Long Road to Annapolis: The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic (review)
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The Long Road to Annapolis: The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic. By William P. Leeman. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. xiii, 292. $39.95 cloth)

In the Long Road to Annapolis, William P. Leeman, a professor of history at the Naval Academy's archrival on the Hudson, analyzes the historical context surrounding the founding of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1845. His monograph examines the U.S. Navy methods for training officers before the founding of the Naval Academy through a system of apprenticeship at sea inherited from Royal Navy practice, [End Page 217] calls from naval reformers in the early republic to professionalize the education of naval officers, the influence of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as a model and example for those reformers, and the Jacksonian opposition to professional military education that helped delay the founding of the Naval Academy for so long. While Leeman makes no dramatic contributions to our scholarly understanding of the founding of the Naval Academy, he deftly draws together all the historical strands that make up the historical context surrounding it. Leeman's study serves not so much as a history of the early years of the Naval Academy, which already exists in the form of Charles Todorich's The Spirited Years: A History of the Antebellum Naval Academy (1984), but as an analysis of the debates and historical setting surrounding the contentious founding of the academy. For that reason, Todorich begins his study with a quick survey of the early history of the American Navy, including its reliance on an apprenticeship model for officer preparation with adolescent boys serving as midshipmen aboard ships. During their time at sea, these midshipmen learned naval officership through practical experience. This system produced naval officers with successful combat records during the War of 1812, but from the earliest days of the republic, some Americans called for a more academic system of education and training for future naval officers.

Leeman chronicles an increasing consensus within the navy's officer corps after the War of 1812 in favor of reforming the midshipman system with a more professional system of officer education that would include academic instruction and moral development in schools onshore. The academy was founded, in short, "to provide the academic background, especially in scientific and technical subjects, needed to operate a navy that was gradually becoming more modern and, second, to develop distinguished gentlemen who possessed strong moral character" (p. 234). Leeman thus integrates the story of the founding of the academy with larger currents in middle-class American culture, which hoped to not only allow young people to acquire necessary scientific knowledge, but to cultivate important moral virtues and refined gentility among future professionals. Because [End Page 218] of the navy's role as de facto diplomats in the antebellum period, this was seen as an especially important function. Problems with the old apprenticeship model of midshipman training, highlighted most spectacularly by the controversial execution for mutiny of a midshipman, who happened to be the son of the secretary of war, and two sailors on board the Somers in 1842 also strengthened calls for reform. Leeman also does an able job of analyzing opposition to the creation of the Naval Academy on Jacksonian grounds. He thus integrates the founding of the academy with the story of both the rise to prominence of West Point during the Jacksonian period as a model of professional education and its opponents in Congress who saw the institution as dangerously aristocratic and militarily unnecessary. Secretary of Navy George Bancroft in 1845 eventually overcame such opposition through savvy bureaucratic maneuvering. In short, Leeman has made an able contribution to scholarship on the United States Navy in the context of the history of the early republic.

Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh

Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh teaches history at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is the author of West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace (2009) and is a Henry Chauncey Jr. '57 Postdoctoral Fellow in the Grand Strategy program at Yale University for the 2011 calendar...