The United States government purchased 1,770
acres of West Point land from private citizen Stephen Moore in 1790,
for the purpose of maintaining a permanent military presence there. The
government paid $11,085 for the property.
|An 1831 view of West Point
looking northwest across the Hudson from Phillipstown. Two goats in the
foreground are enjoying the day, as are many sail boaters on the river.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress.
As early as 1783, George Washington had proposed
the concept of a
special federal school at West Point to train army officers, but
critics viewed it as too European, replete with the danger of creating
an elite military aristocracy.
Eventually, more people accepted the wisdom of Washington. After
receiving assurances that the academy would be representative of a
democratic society and not a haughty institution for the privileged
few, President Thomas Jefferson signed into law an act of Congress on
March 16, 1802, creating the United States Military Academy at West
Point. The school's first buildings were built on an imposing bluff
overlooking the Hudson River.
|Sylvanus Thayer, the West
Point superintendent from 1817-1833, is today remembered as the father
of the Military Academy. Image courtesy of Library
The first West Point class numbered only 10
cadets. In its earliest
years, the academy struggled because of a poorly defined mission,
internal dissention, and insufficient staff. It wasn't until Sylvanus
Thayer (Class of 1808) was appointed superintendent in 1817 that West
Point began to grow and establish rich traditions. Thayer combined
officer trainer with higher academic standards, complemented by a
strict code of conduct.
Under Thayer's tutelage, West Point emerged as the nation's preeminent
civil engineering school. Graduates of the USMA were largely
responsible for many of early America's engineering marvels; dams,
harbors, bridges, charting unexplored lands and rivers, forging an
infrastructure of pioneer roads and railway lines, and constructing the
dome on the U.S. Capitol. Near the start of 20th century, the ingenuity
of the Army Corps of Engineers led to the construction of one the most
magnificent human achievements of all time, the Panama Canal.
|The Plain at West Point,
1828, by George Catlin. The North Barracks are on the left, The
South Barracks, Academy, the Mess Hall, and the Wood Monument on the
right. Public domain image.
Ringing true to its creed of nationwide
inclusion, an 1843 law mandated
that all congressional districts in the United States be represented by
at least one cadet at West Point, guaranteeing the academy remain an
institution for all of America.
When West Pointers were not busy extending the nation's frontiers, they
were forming the core of the Army's finest officers. Throughout
America's wars, graduates of the USMA proudly fulfilled the academy's
motto of "Duty, Honor, Country", and in the process, helped preserve
freedom for the people in America and around the world, and boost the
United States to its current status of superpower.
Some of the most famous military minds to pass through the halls of
West Point include Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing,
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, and Norman Schwarzkopf.