BLTC Press Titles

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The Characters of Theophrastus


The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

Life at the U.S. Naval Academy

by Ralph Earle


"Ex Scientia Tridens."

The Military Academy at West Point has had a smoother sea for its cruise than has the academy of the sister service. No less a man than President Washington advised Congress in 1793 that it should provide a military school. In 1794 Congress created the corps of engineers and artillerists, giving to its members the grade "cadet," which grade has been perpetuated to the present day. Congress in effect founded the military academy in that year, although this identical academy lasted but two years, being compelled to close when fire destroyed the cadet school buildings at West Point. The school was then discontinued. The United States Military Academy, as it exists today, commenced its first academic year July 4, 1802, and, in spite of some severe setbacks, it has since continued to grow in influence and value to the country.

: The Naval Academy was less fortunate and many obstacles both from within and without the service had to be encountered and overcome before its founding became a fact. It was not established until events slowly, as must be the case, forced such an institution to take a place in our national life. The sea officers of our Navy in the twenties were men that believed little in, and often actively opposed, education, being of the firm conviction that the ship at sea provided sufficient training for all future officers.

It is remembered that our Navy came officially into being by the Act of Congress in 1794 after a close struggle, the act winning only by the small margin of two votes. By this act the President was authorized to appoint forty-eight midshipmen and to fix thenpay. Such appointments were often the result of political favour, no requirements as to education being exacted, and naturally many thoroughly worthless youngsters were sent to sea where, under the hard conditions of living, they led their messmates into wild habits. However, all of the famous naval officers until the close of the Civil War came into the service in this way, unguided by schoolmasters and subject to no discipline save that hard and unjust type then belonging to the sea. The greater part of these midshipmen, despite such conditions, educated themselves and became most worthy of the nation and of perpetuating the traditions of the service and thus deserve the sincere admiration and respect of the officers of the present day.

The need for better facilities for education so forcibly impressed itself upon many of the abler officers that two makeshift naval schools came into being, the first on board the Guerrikre in 1821 at New York and the second on board the Java at Norfolk. By 1833 there was a third school located at the Boston NavyYard. Secretary Branch, in 1829, speaks of these schools as being "tolerated" because he could obtain no legal authorization and no funds for the purpose of educating young officers. Midshipmen not on cruising vessels were not on duty, and had not sufficient funds to proceed to their homes. As a result they waited in idleness at yards, where they yielded to many temptations, and only the best of them sought instruction. Such officers studied at colleges and at West Point to which it was once proposed to send one hundred midshipmen.

One of the most successful, consistent, and far-sighted advocates of a real naval academy was Lieutenant M. F. Maury, who, while only a passed midshipman, published a Navigation that was successful in England and America, and was used as a text-book when the present Naval Academy was founded. In 1841 and 1842 Maury wrote strong articles, that appeared as Scraps from a Lucky Bag, which he caused to be widely distributed, exposing the inadequacy of the Navy, both in material and personnel, together with the paralysing effect of political corruption. He is sometimes called the Father of the Naval Academy because of his untiring energy and devotion to the work of getting it started.

Chaplains, and later professors of mathematics, were detailed by the Department as schoolmasters, and in 1835 the corps of instructors was placed on a firm footing. However, as most of the instruction took place at sea, it was thoroughly unsatisfactory and inefficient. During recitations as well as during study periods a class was liable to be called away to reef topsails or to perform some of the other multitudinous duties of a man-of-war. This condition will always be unavoidable on shipboard; as the safety, efficiency, and preservation of the ship and her personnel and material permit no other interests to conflict with their instant attention.

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