U.S. Military Academy

City: West Point

County: Orange

State: New York

President Thomas Jefferson advocated for the establishment of the United States Military Academy in 1801, and the following year Congress established the academy at West Point, New York. In the fall of 1802, the first class of cadets arrived. From the beginning, appointment to the academy was politically charged; and in the early years, the secretary of war had a hand in most appointments. In the 1830s, however, as part of an effort to democratize the admission process, members of Congress gained control of the selection of cadets for appointment. This new appointment system helped educate and train a cadre of military personnel that better reflected the geographic diversity of the expanding American population, but it did little to take temper the role of politics in academy appointments. West Point struggled at first to gain its academic and military footing, but under the superintendency of Sylvanus Thayer from 1817-1833, West Point developed into a respectable academic as well as a military training school. West Point offered courses in civil and military engineering, chemistry and geology, geography and history, and philosophy. From 1826-1833, there was great national debate about the moral condition of the student body, the elitism of student appointments, and the general role of the institution. However, under Thayer's guidance, the academy weathered all of the political controversies. In the 1840s, the academy reached maturity in regards to its campus, reputation, and the distinguished military service of its graduates in the Mexican War and American Civil War.

"An Act Fixing the Military Peace Establishment of the United States," 16 March 1802, Statutes at Large of the United States 2 (1845):132-37; Theodore J. Crackel, West Point: A Bicentennial History (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2002), 1, 51, 53, 81, 101-02, 107, 355-56; William B. Skelton, "The Founding of West Point and the Creation of a Professional Standing Army," Antonio S. Thompson and Christos G. Frentzos, eds., The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History, the Colonial Period to 1877 (New York: Routledge, 2015), 147-152; Alden Partridge, The Military, at West Point: Unmasked, or Corruption and Military Despotism Exposed (Washington: n.p., 1830).