Why did it take the United States, a maritime nation, so long to establish a naval academy? William Leeman investigates this question by linking the early national debate over the best way to educate naval officers to broader debates about the character of the American republic including its social structure at home, its attitude toward education, its ideals of manhood and masculinity, and its appropriate role in world affairs. Through such activities as national defense, diplomacy, scientific exploration, and commercial expansion, Leeman argues that American naval officers protected, represented, and in many ways personified the early American republic in representing its interests around the world. The debate over the education of American naval officers became a forum through which American political leaders, the press, and the public examined and debated the national character of the country. Finally, in 1845 a naval academy was established because, in the minds of many Americans at the time, it was the best educational environment for producing officers and gentlemen who could defend the U.S. at sea, serve as effective representatives of American interests abroad, and contribute to America’s mission of economic, scientific, and moral progress.