[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

This webpage reproduces an article in
Military Affairs
Vol. 24 No. 4 (Winter, 1960), pp177‑188

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p177 The Forgotten "Founder"
of West Point


By Norman B. Wilkinson*

The United States Military Academy was born in the mind of a French professional soldier, authorized by a government that treated it like an unwanted stepchild, and saved from shameful oblivion by a New Englander recently named to the Hall of Fame.

The savior of West Point was Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sylvanus Thayer, known to generations of cadets as the "Father" of their school. On the Academy grounds he has been memorialized with a statue, a playing field, and a building named Thayer Hall. More recently two of the Academy's most illustrious graduates, President Eisenhower and General Douglas MacArthur, have urged that Thayer be given a niche among America's immortals in the Hall of Fame at New York University.

Thayer's leadership of the Academy, beginning in 1817, saved it from foundering. His reforms ended the faltering administration and creeping rot that Congressional indifference had fastened on the institution from 1802 to 1816. This page in Academy history is well known, but its historians, and writers on early American military affairs, have failed to recognize the part played by Louis de Tousard who first conceived the idea of a national military school with a comprehensive curriculum and a prescribed training program. In 1798, four years before the formal establishment of the school at West Point, Tousard presented such a proposal to Secretary of War James McHenry for the consideration of Congress. If Tousard's policies had gone into effect with the launching of the Academy, there is scant likelihood it would have become the drifting hulk that Thayer had to salvage in 1817.

Louis de Tousard was fifty years of age in 1798 when he offered his proposals to Secretary McHenry. Behind him were thirty years' experience as a professional soldier. He came from a Burgundian family with a long military tradition. His father had held high rank in the army of Louis XV, and a brother served as a colonel of engineers in Napoleon's luckless Egyptian campaign. Young Louis began his military education at the academy at Strasbourg. This was followed by more specialized training in artillery and fortifications at Bayonne, Douay, Bapaume, and Mézières.

[image ALT: A woodcut, of pretty poor quality, of a man in early middle age in an 18c military uniform (high-collared jacket with a scarf, epaulets). It is the 18c French and American army officer Louis de Tousard, the subject of this webpage.]

In 1777 he came to America and served under Lafayette as an officer of artillery. He fought in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, and was in quarters during the bleak winter of '77‑78 at Valley Forge. In an encounter near Newport, Rhode Island, in August, 1778, his right arm was shattered when he attempted to capture some British artillery. Family tradition has it that when offered indefinite leave in an effort to save the arm, or amputation with a speedy return to service, he replied, "Amputate!" His bravery earned him promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel and a Congressional pension of p178thirty dollars a month for life. Other honors followed; he was admitted into the Order of the Society of the Cincinnati, and upon his return to France, Louis XVI made him a Knight of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis.

In the service of his own country during the 1780's, he was sent to Santo Domingo to command the Régiment du Cap with instructions to quell negro unrest in that part of the island. He was accused of disloyalty by the revolutionary government of the National Convention and was compelled to return to Paris in 1792 to defend himself. He made such a vigorous and irrefutable defense that he was released early in 1793. American diplomatic intervention may have helped him gain his freedom.

Tousard returned to the United States in the summer of 1793 and bought a hundred-acre farm on the Lancaster Road a few miles north of Wilmington, Delaware. Here he lived for eighteen months as a gentleman farmer with his wife and two daughters, part of a colony of French and San Domingan refugees who had made Wilmington their new home. But Tousard was a soldier, not a farmer, and upon his application for reinstatement in the United States Army he was commissioned a major in the First Regiment, Artillery and Engineers, in 1795.1

For the next five years he had a roving assignment up and down the coast from Massachusetts to the Carolinas. His duties included the repair and expansion of coastal fortifications, the selection of sites for new defense works, the inspection of garrisons, the conducting of courts-martial, and the proving of cannon being made for the government at rural furnaces scattered between Baltimore and Boston. He directed the rebuilding of his own headquarters, Fort Mifflin on the Delaware, and he drew the plans and estimates for the "Laboratory," believed to be the precursor of the Schuylkill Arsenal. When time allowed he taught the elements of artillery and engineering to the officers of his regiment.2

It was while commanding Fort Mifflin in 1798 that Tousard wrote his memoir proposing the "Formation of a School of Artillerists and Engineers." He presented it to Secretary of War James McHenry with the request that it be transmitted to the Congressional Committee of Commerce and Defence for its consideration. The year 1798 was a year of war scares. Relations with our former ally, France, had deteriorated almost to the point of open conflict. American agreement to the Jay Treaty and the incident of diplomatic bribery known as the XYZ Affair had brought on the rupture. Undeclared naval war existed between the vessels of the two countries and seizures of each others' merchant ships were impelling the erstwhile allies to the brink of declared war.

In these days America's most aggressive sword rattler was Alexander Hamilton. He had had himself named Inspector-General of the Army, and with the Army he contemplated rapid conquest of all French possessions on this Continent. Congress responded to the popular fear of a French attack along our seacoast by authorizing President John Adams to strengthen existing fortifications and to erect whatever new ones were vital to the country's security. Tousard drew this assignment, for in McHenry's opinion he was the only officer in the United States Army capable of doing the job.

To develop an adequate fortifications system with speed and efficiency required considerable p179expansion of the corps of artillerists and engineers. In Tousard's opinion this was impossible under the existing organization of the Army. The men in the corps had had no training, and no program of instruction was being contemplated for them or for their replacements. Few, if any, wanted to make a career in the Army. If America got into war it would have to hire civilian engineers, a costly and disgraceful expedient, for army engineers could neither build forts nor mount guns. Skilled military engineers could be produced only by formal training, by study and practice. It is the blueprint of such an educational program, contained in his memoir to Secretary McHenry, that establishes Tousard as the "Father" of West Point.

Others before Tousard had realized the need of a cadre of trained army officers specializing in certain functions. In February, 1796, Secretary of War Timothy Pickering had broached the matter to Congress, and in December of that year President George Washington added his approval to Pickering's suggestion in his message to Congress.3 But neither endorsement was accompanied by any concrete plan for the creation of a military school. Neither Pickering nor Washington, though veterans of many battles, had any acquaintance with military schools, nor had either ever received any formal instruction in the military sciences. Their awareness of their incompetence to advise how a military school should be organized and what its curriculum should be possibly accounts for the absence of specific recommendations.

p180 In contrast, Tousard had been trained in several of the French military schools, then acknowledged to be the best in Europe. He had had many opportunities to apply his skills during the American Revolution and on Santo Domingo. He was au courant with the advances being made in military science, particularly in France, and he was at the very moment writing The American Artillerist's Companion, a three-volume work that was published in 1809 and adopted as a text book at West Point in 1816. With Montresor, Rochefontaine, Foncin, and L'Enfant, Tousard was one of a small group of capable French military engineers whose services were indispensable to this country during the Federalist administrations.

Tousard prefaced his memoir by insisting that the career of a professional soldier had to be made respectable. The existing pay scale, clothing allowance, and promotion system offered little inducement for a man to make the Army his life. He called attention to the roster of his own corps of artillerists and engineers which had not been filled in several years; most men awaited eagerly the day when they would be released. The patronage system of officering the Army with "gentlemen" who received their ratings through influence and prestige of family or friends, was wrong. No requirement was laid upon such appointees to acquire the skills their duties demanded; only a rare few bestirred themselves to do any studying. All should receive instruction in theory and participate in field work.

Tousard noted that Congress had twice voted funds, in 1794 and 1796, for buying books, instruments and apparatus, but, "What advantage can be derived from them without a professor capable of explaining them and of showing the use of the instruments?" The American military could take a lesson from the French. In France only illness excused a subaltern from attending classes and doing field work. Promotions depended upon application to studies; this weeded out the unfit and spurred on those of serious intent. Only "by exciting ambition, which is the life of a military corps," said Tousard, could the United States develop an efficiently ordered army.

His first suggestion was that an academy be created and located at one of the established Army bases, preferably near one of the foundries casting cannon for the government. Carlisle, Pennsylvania, or Springfield, Massachusetts, were his choices. Parenthetically, there was no foundry of consequence in the vicinity of West Point until Gouverneur and William Kemble set up the West Point Foundry across the Hudson at Cold Spring, Putnam County, in 1816.

The director of the new school should be a field officer. He should be assisted by two captains, and an adjutant chosen from the cadet corps. A professor of mathematics and a professor of drawing, each aided by assistant professors, should constitute the initial faculty. The director's and his assistants' salaries "should be proportionate to their stations," declared Tousard, and to ensure a capable teaching staff "The pay of the professors ought to be so well calculated as to fix in that place men of sufficient talents for instructing the young gentlemen and for rendering them capable of being appointed officers." Congress ignored the salary recommendation altogether when the Academy was founded. George Barron, the first teacher of mathematics and the lone faculty member in the first year of classes, had to petition that he be assigned the chores of tending fires and keeping the cadets' quarters clean in order to supplement his meager salary.

The student body should consist of two cadets selected from each company in the regular army. They would be paid fifteen to twenty dollars a month, provided appropriate p181clothing, and be fed two rations a day. In the early stages the cadet corps should not have its full complement of officers; vacancies should be left to "excite the ambitions" of the hard-working students who in time would be appointed to fill them. With good reason, Tousard suggested that if the academy should be located near a garrison the officers of that post should join the cadets in their academic studies.

Tousard's curriculum was comprehensive. Instruction in the "School for Mathematicks" would include arithmetic, geometry, algebra, mensuration, the measure of solids applied to civil and military architecture; the measuring of timber in the construction of gun carriages and engineering, and the study of the strength, resistance and quality of timber used in the wheelwright and carpenter crafts. Other subjects were trigonometry; levelling, with application to the directions of waters; digging; transportation and replacing of ground — "deblay et remblay des terres." The cadets would also learn how to use plane tables, the graphometer, the compass and other surveying instruments. They would be taught the mechanics of engines used in artillery and the drawing of guns, mortars, carriages, tools, engines, and all other implements employed in the artillery. Included would be architectural drawing, the civil and military construction of bridges, canals, and "every mode of building into the water."

Tousard scheduled classes in the above named subjects on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 9 A.M. till 12 noon. To allow the professors full time to teach, one of the assistant directors would monitor the classes to keep order, check attendance, and make special note of the "assiduity, diligence, and attention" of the cadets. Supplies, rulers, squares, papers, colors, lead and hair camel pencils and mathematical instruments would be issued by the teacher; no waste would be tolerated.

Artillery practice would be held twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from three to six. At these sessions there was to be a minimum of one mortar, one howitzer, and one or two field pieces. The cadets would be drilled in the manual exercise and march with small arms.

On Thursday, from eleven A.M. until one P.M. the director of the academy would teach fortification. All the differ systems of fortification would be studied, each illustrated on large charts mounted in the classroom. For this course Tousard set down a detailed syllabus:

1.

The construction, utility, aiming and defects of all types of artillery pieces.

2.

The use of levers, pulleys and tackle.

3.

The chemistry, composition, fabrication and storage of gunpowder.

4.

The manufacture of arms and the casting of cannon.

5.

Stores and ammunition supply and control when defending a besieged fortress.

6.

Stores and ammunition for equipping an army.

7.

The disposition of batteries at coastal fortifications.

8.

The construction of gun and mortar batteries.

From the copious notes they would make during lectures on these subjects the cadets would compile their own manuals of instruction for future use.

The professor of drawing had the cadets on Tuesday and Saturday mornings from nine until twelve, for instruction in drawing sections and profiles of fortifications and all that pertained to attack and defence, mines, sappers, etc.

Tousard knew that tight discipline was necessary for the "good order" of the school. He advised that all cadets be lodged in one building, each with his own room, unless p182two preferred to share a room. Morning roll call would be at eight A.M. in summer and at nine in winter. Roll would be taken by the adjutant in the presence of an assistant director who reported absentees to the director. At all times the conduct of the cadets would be regulated by Articles 2, 3, 4, and 5 of Section XIII of the Articles of War relative to duties in quarters, in garrison, and the like. Promptly at ten o'clock each night all doors to the building would be closed and evening bed check made.

An institution providing this program of instruction and training in an atmosphere of sound discipline would attract able and ambitious young men into the military profession. In conclusion, Tousard urged that such a government supported military school should be the only training ground for officers in the United States Army:

No officer for the future should be appointed unless he has been a cadet in the school and examined to ascertain what degree of instruction he is possessed. The vacancies should be filled up by concourse and the appointment given to the cadet whose behavior and attention to the lessons should be most conspicuous.4

The memoir bears only the date of 1798, hence we do not know just when during the year he handed his academy plan to McHenry. But if it was before April 18, it most certainly was discussed by the Secretary of War and the Committee of Commerce and Defence when they paid Tousard a visit at his Fort Mifflin quarters on the Saturday immediately after the 18th. In recess from sessions at Congress Hall at Sixth and Chestnut Streets, the congressman joined McHenry for a day‑long inspection of the fort. They stayed with Tousard for dinner in his quarters, partaking of a ham and a pair of fowl that Mrs. McHenry had thoughtfully sent along with her husband. This gesture implies that the visit was made on short notice, or more likely, that McHenry, a doctor who had fought in the Revolution, had a low opinion of standard army fare.5 Conceivably, it could have been to condition the congressmen to give willing ear to War Department requests. If given the opportunity — and he was the kind of man who would have made the opportunity — Tousard elaborated upon his views of what was wrong with the American military establishment and how his proposal for an officers' training school would strengthen the nation's military power.

Inspector-General Alexander Hamilton joined his influential voice in support of the academy. Early in June he told Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott that such a school offering both military and naval instruction should be provided without delay.6 McHenry followed later in the month with a long letter to the Committee of Defence in which he advocated the school as a "nursery" for the rearing of a body of qualified scientific engineers. His recommendations, with slight revisions, were taken almost verbatim from Tousard's memoir.7

At the end of 1798 Hamilton drafted a formal plan of his own which he asked General Pinckney and McHenry to study. After hearing from them Hamilton sent it to Tousard asking for his opinion. In his reply Tousard asked that more time be allowed for engineering drawing, and he emphasized the need for good grounding in chemistry, physics, and mineralogy, subjects taught by distinguished visiting scholars in the French military academies.8 Hamilton then sent his p183proposals to Washington at Mount Vernon. On December 12, 1799, the day before his death, the pain-ridden ex‑president dictated a reply in which he wholeheartedly supported the plan for a national military academy.9 Tousard was a pall bearer at Washington's funeral.

President John Adams, meanwhile, had taken a hand on the academy question. After conferring with McHenry, an invitation was extended through Rufus King, U. S. Minister to Great Britain, to a brilliant expatriate who had already gained fame by organizing a military school for Maximilian, Elector of Bavaria, to become head of the American academy. This was Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, a man of many achievements, not least of which were his improvements in the construction of artillery and the forging of cannon.

Previously Rumford had offered his library of military books, plans, drawings, and models of artillery pieces to this country if it should ever create a national military school. When Rufus King informed Rumford that the school was now contemplated he invited that gentleman to return to his homeland to get the academy started and to become its superintendent. Coupled with the position went the rank of inspector-general of artillery, plus other suitable emoluments.

Rumford turned down the offer. Unfulfilled obligations would keep him in Bavaria or in London where he had recently undertaken the organization of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Presumably the models, books, drawings, etc. that Rumford had offered the United States were shipped to America, but if they had ever been received it is likely they were all destroyed in the fire that gutted the office of the War Department on November 10, 1800.10

Washington's imprimatur on the academy project gave it momentum. Adams sent another revision drafted by McHenry to Congress in January, 1800. Had this plan been adopted it would have made unnecessary the current move to unify our armed forces. It called for a single academy organized into four schools offering preparation for both the Army and the Navy. First, there was a Fundamental School where all future officers for both services would study for two years. Second, a School of Artillerists and Engineers, where men specializing in these fields studied for an additional two years. Third, a School of Cavalry and Infantry, where officers for these branches prepared for one additional year; and fourth, the School of the Navy, where naval officers studied for another year. Although the organization had been modified, the fundamentals of this ambitious project were very similar to those enumerated by Tousard.

McHenry paid tribute to the French military schools which he acknowledged had influenced his thinking on military education. Obliquely he was also recognizing Tousard's role in his comment:

Will it be thought superfluous to remark, relative to the utility of this institution, that it is from the military schools of France have issued those generals and other officers, whose skill and recent achievements in war have rendered them subjects for military history, and enabled the present governors of that nation, successively, and almost instantaneously, to form immense and disciplined armies.11

President Adams did not share his Secretary of War's admiration for the military talents of the French. In peevish mood he chided McHenry for employing the Frenchman, Tousard, to inspect coastal fortifications. Why he had given Tousard this assignment p184McHenry explained to Adams, and then in a confidential note to Alexander Hamilton he unburdened:

Tousard was employed because I could find no other person qualified to send on the business. This pacified the madman, and Tousard was permitted to remain.12

Despite his recognized superior qualifications Tousard was soon to learn that a French-born officer was persona non grata as head of the nation's embryonic military academy.

In 1800 Congress was loath to endorse and finance what appeared to be the too grandiose academy scheme as last proposed by McHenry. He was called in to answer questions and provide more information. Preferring half a loaf to none, the cautious Secretary retreated by stating that the only schools deemed expedient right away were the Fundamental School and the School of Artillerists and Engineers. He believed both of these could be maintained on an annual budget of $10,489.20. Each would have a student body limited to fifty students. The costs of the school buildings would range from $39,000 to $80,000, the lower estimate being that of engineer John Foncin, the higher that of architect Benjamin Latrobe. McHenry's last official word on the academy before being dismissed by Adams concluded with, Si vis pacem para bellum — In time of peace prepare for war.13a He was succeeded by Samuel Dexter as interim Secretary of War until Henry Dearborn was named to that post by President Thomas Jefferson shortly after taking office in March, 1801.

Adams preferred a perambulating academy, possibly because it was less expensive. He informed Secretary Dexter in July, 1800, that he was ready to appoint 64 cadets, plus four teachers and two engineers to instruct them. But he believed the cadets and the faculty should follow an itinerary that would take them from one military installation to another, holding classes and training at each post for a specified number of weeks. And Adams, for all his Francophobia, was ready to name Bureaux de Pusy, a French military engineer and intimate companion of Lafayette, as one of the first teachers.14

De Pusy was a friend of Tousard. It is likely he introduced Tousard to his kinsmen, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and his two sons Victor and Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, who had arrived in America in January, 1800. Tousard is believed to have suggested the establishment of a gunpowder factory to the younger son, Eleuthère, who had been taught how to make powder at the Arsenal in Paris by Antoine Lavoisier. As the Army's purchasing agent for powder Tousard was too well aware of the poor quality stuff made in American mills and of the dangerous fallacy of depending upon better quality powder from foreign suppliers. Tousard's suggestion launched an enterprize initially capitalized at $36,000 that has grown into the billion-dollar Du Pont Company of today.

The selection of West Point as the home of the Academy, and the creation of a faculty and student body came about in slow and halting manner. On January 6, 1801, George Barron, the first faculty member, was named professor of mathematics. Barron was dismissed under a cloud within the year. On March 3, 1801, his last day in office, President Adams busied himself signing appointment papers. His appointment of the first group, nine men from the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers, was not delayed until the midnight hour as were his judicial appointments. And on April 14, the new Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn, issued orders to Lieutenant Colonel Commandant p185Louis Tousard to move from Philadelphia to West Point with all haste to take up permanent residence. Part of his orders read:

When you shall not be otherwise necessarily employed . . . you will give all the assistance in your power in the instruction of such officers and cadets as may be at West Point.15

Tousard's elation can be surmised. The national military school he had proposed in 1798 was now a fact, and he had been selected to direct its establishment. His departure from Philadelphia was delayed several weeks during which he wound up the construction work going on at the "Laboratory," but early in May he was enroute to his new assignment.

Although Dearborn had not formally named his superintendent, Tousard had reason to believe the appointment would come in due course. His was the first comprehensive plan envisaging such an institution; he had been adviser on military matters to both Hamilton and McHenry; as head of a regiment of artillerists and engineers he had filled the role of teacher many times; and in 1801 he was possibly the most experienced professional soldier in the United States Army. Now, at the age of 52, climaxing his career, he had been given the task of preparing the new national military academy to receive its first cadets. Only once in his surviving papers does Tousard overtly voice his hope for the superintendency. This was in a note to a military friend in which he casually remarked that he expected to tarry at West Point for a long time.16

But the War Department had other plans. While Tousard was getting settled at the Point Secretary Dearborn was ordering General James Wilkinson to release Major Jonathan Williams from his duties at Fort Niagara to come east "to direct the necessary arrangements for the commencement of the School" at West Point. Messages were a long time getting to the outlying posts along the Canadian frontier in 1801; hence Williams did not report to West Point until very late in the year, and then only after Dearborn had officially named him Superintendent of the Academy on December 14.17 Jefferson and Dearborn appear to have delayed many months making up their minds, debating whether the new Academy should be directed by an experienced, qualified officer — but a Frenchman — or by a native American possessing no particular military distinction.

Unaware of Dearborn's selection of Williams, Tousard began the tasks of converting a garrison into a school. He estimated the renovations needed to put the existing buildings of West Point in readiness to receive the officers, teachers and cadets who would soon be arriving. He believed the spending of $1500 would furnish a mathematics room, a drawing room, quarters for forty cadets, two mess rooms, quarters for six officers, a surgeon, and two teachers with their families. Tousard also inspected Forts Clinton and Putnam, examined their cannon, and tested gunpowder that had been stored in their magazines since the Revolution.18

June and July were taken up with trips to the several furnaces to prove cannon. He got his regimental affairs in order; put up for sale his Delaware plantation near Wilmington, and prepared to move his family to the Point. As countless other military men have had to do when being transferred, Tousard had to ask for an advance of three months pay, with forage.19 These arrangements would only have been made by a man expecting to remain a long time in his new p186assignment. Early in September he was settled at his new post acting in the dual capacity as commandant of the regular army garrison and as organizer of the Academy.

In one of his first garrison orders Tousard informed his officers that Mr. Barron had begun instructing the cadets in mathematics. He suggested that all who hoped to make a career in the Army join the class, for

Without the aid of Mathematics, an Officer of Artillery may perform Millions of Experiments without deriving from them much information to himself or assistance to others.

He made it clear that this was a suggestion, not an order, but knowing the purpose of the Academy, he believed that such invitations would soon be changed to positive orders. The first class of twelve cadets met for the first time on the morning Tousard issued this invitation, September 21, 1801. He sat in on the first session, for he noted that using Hutton's Mathematics as their textbook, the cadets had displayed assiduity and diligence in following Mr. Barron's explanations.20

By mid‑November the academic load required the cadets to give most of their time and attention to their studies. To relieve them of "domestic labours" Tousard assigned a regular soldier from the garrison to each mess of eight cadets, a move that must have endeared him to the student body. It was at this time that Professor Barron found it necessary to request that some of the housekeeping chores be his responsibility so that he might supplement his meager salary.21

Tousard was kept busy through the fall months supplying the "incessant wants of the place, which are increased by the establishment and repairs for a Military Academy." A prime necessity was a suitable boat for transporting supplies; 314 cords of wood for winter fuel had to be laid in and oxen obtained to do the hauling. Powder had to be taken from the magazines and dried in the sun while the weather remained warm; and the funeral of Captain John Lillie, who had died of an apoplectic fit after being accused by a Lieutenant Osborn of stealing supplies, had to be arranged in proper military style. The marching of the cadets in Captain Lillie's funeral procession appears to have been the first public appearance of West Point cadets as a military unit.

Tousard had not yet been relieved of his duties as Inspector of Artillery. He had to correspond with the commanders of eighteen Army posts regarding inventories and reports on the condition of all ordnance and implements in their keeping. His inspection of cannon being made at the furnaces kept him away from West Point for weeks on end, a situation that caused him to complain to Dearborn that he could not give conscientious attention to this task when he should be concerned with the instruction of the cadets at West Point.22

By the middle of December Tousard knew he was not to be Superintendent. First came an order from the War Department placing the cadets under the sole direction of the Academy head; henceforth no officers of the regular garrison would issue orders to the cadets. Separation was made sharper by an instruction that no person attached to the school would be listed on garrison returns. And on December 14 Secretary Dearborn ordered Major Jonathan Williams to report immediately to West Point as Superintendent of the Academy.23

Jonathan Williams had no particular qualifications for this assignment. His mother was a niece of Benjamin Franklin and he had been with Franklin in France p187during the Revolution. After the war he had remained in France engaged in a merchant business and had then removed to Philadelphia where he continued in business and served as an associate judge in the Courts of Common Pleas. Not long before his appointment he had written a book called Thermometrical Navigation,b and he had translated from the French a 51‑page treatise entitled The Elements of Fortification.24 Jefferson was impressed by Williams' theoretical knowledge of the subject and by the endorsement of General James Wilkinson, Williams' superior.

Politics did not influence the choice. Williams was a Federalist, as was Tousard and his former associates in the War Department. Both Williams and Tousard were young in their fifties. But similarities disappear when Williams' military experience is compared with Tousard's. He had had no professional training in the military sciences, though he certainly had read on the subject. He had never commanded men in action nor had he ever aimed a gun at an enemy. He had contributed articles to the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, of which he had been an officer, but that hardly equipped him for the Academy post.

The fact that Williams was an American and Tousard a Frenchman explains the appointment. The strong feeling against France in this country in 1801 would have made Tousard's appointment an affront to public opinion. National pride — or chauvinism — would not tolerate a Frenchman as head of the new military school. Despite his Francophilism, Jefferson made no move in favor of Tousard. He had little enthusiasm for enlarging the military establishment, hence affairs concerning the Academy received little attention from the Executive during his two terms. Such indifference, and the niggardly appropriations made by Congress caused Williams to resign the superintendency in 1803. Jefferson persuaded him to resume it again in 1805, but conditions had become so bad by 1808 that Williams made this angry complaint to Jefferson:

The military academy is like a foundling, barely existing among the mountains, and nurtured at a distance out of sight, and almost unknown to its legitimate parents.25

By 1812 he had had enough and resigned, an embittered man.

Tousard had remained at West Point a few months after Williams had assumed the superintendency. His disappointment was made the more galling by the threat of termination of the lifetime pension that Congress had awarded him in 1778. He gave vent to some of the bitterness he felt in a letter to Samuel Smith asking his help in having the pension continued. He enumerated the many ways in which he had strengthened this country's military defenses; on his own free time he had instructed his comrades; and he was leaving to his adopted country a "monument utile" — his American Artillerists Companion, published a few years later. But all these services had been forgotten in the wave of anti-French feeling then prevalent in America. This too, concluded Tousard, accounted for the "neglect" shown him by his superiors in the War Department.26

His last recorded act as commandant of the West Point garrison was a brusque suggestion to a certain Doctor Jones that he resign as assistant surgeon's mate rather than suffer dishonorable discharge.27 Tousard's own resignation from the Army followed shortly afterward.

A new field of anticipated military glory p188beckoned. By September, 1802, he had joined General LeClerc's French forces on Santo Domingo fighting against the negroes led by Toussaint L'Ouverture. His service on the island in the 1780's made him a valuable informant and LeClerc had him on his immediate staff. To his onetime friend and military superior, Alexander Hamilton, he expressed his elation at his good fortune:

My situation as to the Prospect, — pay, and Security, is far superior to that which I held under the U. S., and the confidence he [LeClerc] places in me recalls to my mind the times I served under the Washingtons, Hamiltons, Pinckneys & McHenry.28

No mention of Jefferson, Dearborn or Wilkinson.

But the bright prospects of a new career on Santo Domingo were soon extinguished by the epidemics of yellow fever and other diseases that decimated LeClerc's troops and forced evacuation. Tousard returned to France where he remained until appointed to the French consular service in 1805. He was assigned to New Orleans as Sub Commissary and Chancellor of Commercial Relations. Jefferson had not forgotten him, for he wrote him a congratulatory note averring that Tousard's long associations with the United States would serve him well and would strengthen friendly relations between the two nations.29

During his consular career Tousard was given special duties by his government. One of special interest occurred in 1809 when Napoleon charged him with supervision of the financial affairs of Mrs. Jerome Bonaparte and the oversight of the education of her young son. Mrs. Bonaparte, the former Betsy Patterson of Baltimore, and her child had been separated from Napoleon's youngest brother Jerome when he had been made king of Westphalia by the Emperor. Napoleon was paying a pension to his sister-in‑law, now resident in America, and it was the handling of these funds, along with the oversight of the young Jerome Bonaparte's education that Napoleon had entrusted to Tousard.30c With Napoleon's fall Tousard was dismissed by the Bourbon government of Louis XVIII. He returned to France to seek reappointment but died in Paris in 1817 and was buried in Père La Chaise Cemetery.

Somewhere at West Point — in an alcove, on a plaque, in the cadets' history syllabus, or on a written archive — recognition should be given this forgotten "Father" of the Academy. His effort to make the military a respected and honored profession gave impetus to the founding of the school. His was the first assignment to convert a garrison into a school, and rough soldiers into well disciplined cadets. Had his proposals for organization, discipline, and curriculum been adopted, the ignominious page of early Academy history would not have been written. And had Tousard been named Superintendent to administer his own policies, the Academy would not have fallen to the low estate it reached in 1817 that required the salutary reforms of Sylvanus Thayer to keep it from foundering.


The Editor's Note:

* Dr. Wilkinson, formerly historian with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, is presently Research Associate with the DuPont's Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation at Wilmington, Delaware. Photocopies of the Tousard Papers, on which this sketch is based, are in his custody.


The Author's Notes:

1 Tousard Papers, privately owned; Tousard-Stocker Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Dictionary of American Biography, sketch by Edward L. Tinker, v. 18, pp605‑6.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Secretary of War James McHenry to Tousard, Aug. 2, 1797, Tousard Letter Book, privately owned.

[decorative delimiter]

3 American State Papers, Military Affairs, v. 1, pp112‑113; The Centennial of the United States Military Academy at West Point, 1802‑1902, 2 volumes, v. 2, p50. Hereafter cited as Centennial History of West Point.

Thayer's Note: pp50‑53 of Vol. II, The Centennial of the United States Military Academy at West Point, 1802‑1902, repeatedly cited in the footnotes of this article, are part of a very long chronologically arranged bibliography (pp1‑164 of that volume), each entry summarizing a work, a citation, or an event. Here the reference is thus in fact to the content of three of those entries, as follows:

1796, February 3. On a school for cadets. Life of T. Pickering, vol. 3, p146 See also p256. (A)º

1796, December 7. Hamilton's first draft of President Washington's message to Congress recommends a military academy. Hamilton's Works, vol. 7, p612. (A)

1796. General Pickering's suggestion of a military school. Amer. State Papers, Military Affairs, par. 6, vol., 1, p113. (A)

This bibliography section in the Centennial volume is useful reading in the context of this article, including for the occasional unsourced statement.

[decorative delimiter]

4 "Memoir Presented to the Secretary of War in 1798 to be Submitted to the Committee of Commerce and Defense Relative to the 'Formation of a School of Artillerists and Engineers.' " Tousard Papers.

[decorative delimiter]

5 McHenry to Tousard, April 18, 1798, Tousard Letter Book.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Centennial History of West Point, v. 2, p50.

Thayer's Note: the reference is to the following entry in that bibliography:

1798, June 5. Alexander Hamilton to the Secretary of the Treasury (Wolcott): "Further measures advisable to be taken without delay . . . to establish an academy for military and naval instruction. This is a very important measure and ought to be permanent." Hamilton's Works, vol. 6, p295. (A)º

[decorative delimiter]

7 American State Papers, Military Affairs, v. 1, pp128‑9.

[decorative delimiter]

8 The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry, by B. C. Steiner, p363; Tousard to Alexander Hamilton, November 22, 1799, Tousard-Stocker Papers, v. 2, pp65‑68.

[decorative delimiter]

9 Centennial History of West Point, v. 2, p51.

Thayer's Note: the reference is to the following entry in that bibliography:

1799, December 12. General Washington's continuous advocacy of a military academy, in a letter to Hamilton. Writings of Washington, vol. 14, p241. (A)º

Hamilton framed a bill containing his proposals, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, v. 33, 4658‑60.

[decorative delimiter]

10 Life of Count Rumford, by George Ellis, pp350‑360; Centennial History of West Point, v. 2, p51.

Thayer's Note: the reference is to the following entry in that bibliography:

1800, November 10. Fire destroyed every record but one in the War Department, Washington.

[decorative delimiter]

11 American State Papers, Military Affairs, v. 1, pp133‑135.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Life and Correspondence of James McHenry, Steiner, pp479‑480.

[decorative delimiter]

13 American State Papers, Military Affairs, v. 1, pp142‑144.

[decorative delimiter]

14 Centennial History of West Point, v. 2, p51.

Thayer's Note: the reference is to the following entry in that bibliography:

1800, July 25. John Adams to S. Dexter, Secretary of War, respecting a military academy. He is ready to appoint 64 cadets, 4 teachers, and 2 engineers; directs books, instruments, etc., to be bought; thinks the cadets should be instructed at different stations in rotation; that midshipmen should be admitted; asks if Captain Barron and Mr. B. de Pusy will do as teachers. Adams's Life and Works, vol. 9, p65. See, also, p76. (A)º

[decorative delimiter]

15 Ibid., v. 2, p52.

Thayer's Note: the reference is to the following entry in that bibliography:

1801, April 14. Instructions to Lieut. Col. Commandant L. Tousard from Secretary of War. He is inspector of artillery from May 26, 1800. West Point is to be his permanent residence. "When you shall not be otherwise necessarily employed . . . you will give all the assistance in your power in the instruction of such officers and cadets as may be at West Point." War Dept. Military Book No. 1.

[decorative delimiter]

16 Tousard to Lieutenant L. Williams, September 11, 1801, Tousard Letter Book.

[decorative delimiter]

17 Centennial History of West Point, v. 2, pp52‑53.

Thayer's Note: the reference is to the following entry in that bibliography:

1801, December 14. Letter of Secretary of War to Jonathan Williams. He is appointed inspector of fortifications and is to repair to West Point and to take the superintendence of the Military School at that post. War Dept. Military Book No. 1.

[decorative delimiter]

18 Tousard to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, May 18, June 5, 9, 1801, Tousard Letter Book.

[decorative delimiter]

19 Letters to several correspondents, June‑July, 1901, Tousard Letter Book; Mirror of the Times (Wilmington newspaper), June 24, 1801; Tousard to Dearborn, June 27, 1801, Tousard Letter Book.

[decorative delimiter]

20 Garrison Order, September 21, 1801, Tousard Letter Book.

[decorative delimiter]

21 Garrison Order, November 17, 1801; Tousard to General James Wilkinson, October 3, 1801, both in Tousard Letter Book.

[decorative delimiter]

22 Letters and memoranda, September-November, 1801, Tousard Letter Book.

[decorative delimiter]

23 Centennial History of West Point, v. 2, pp52‑53.

Thayer's Note: the reference is to the following entries in that bibliography:

1801, May 12. Secretary of War to General Wilkinson. The President has decided on the immediate establishment of a military school at West Point. Major Jonathan Williams is to be inspector of fortifications. He is to be at West Point to direct the necessary arrangements for the commencement of the school. War Dept. Military Book No. 1.

1801, June 12. Secretary of War to General Wilkinson. The necessity for Major Jonathan Williams to be at West Point earlier than Oct. 1 is not urgent. War Dept. Military Book No. 1.

1801, December 14. Letter of Secretary of War to Jonathan Williams. He is appointed inspector of fortifications and is to repair to West Point and to take the superintendence of the Military School at that post. War Dept. Military Book No. 1.

[decorative delimiter]

24 Dictionary of American Biography, sketch by Mildred E. Lombard, v. 20, pp280‑282.

[decorative delimiter]

25 American State Papers, Military Affairs, v. 1, p228.

[decorative delimiter]

26 Tousard to Samuel Smith, January 1, 1802, Soldiers of the Revolution, v. 5, Dreer Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

[decorative delimiter]

27 Tousard to Jones, March 1, 1802, Tousard Letter Book.

[decorative delimiter]

28 Tousard to Hamilton, September 6, 1802, Tousard-Stocker Papers, v. 2, p94.

[decorative delimiter]

29 Thomas Jefferson to Tousard, July 14, 1805, Tousard-Stocker Papers, v. 2, n. p.

[decorative delimiter]

30 Tousard to Jonathan Dayton, December 26, 1809, French Officers in the American Revolution, Castº 4, Box 26, Gratz Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Thayer's Notes:

a A very poor translation of the well-known Roman axiom, robbing it of its force and some of its meaning. A better (and more standard) translation is:

If you want peace, prepare for war.

[decorative delimiter]

b Ocean navigation based on temperature recordings was cutting-edge research at the time, with Benjamin Franklin as a leading exponent: for details, see Truxtun of the Constellation, p56.

[decorative delimiter]

c The saga of Betsy Patterson and her husband Jerome Bonaparte (who dumped his wife, allowing his brother Napoleon to make him a bigamist in exchange for a crown) is told in Chapters 1 and 2 of McCartney and Dorrance's The Bonapartes in America; in which Tousard is not mentioned, but his wife is, in passing, p45.

The son's American blood would finally win out as his own two sons became thoroughly American: the elder, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, would be a cadet at West Point, serve briefly in the American army, then for sixteen years in his uncle Napoleon III's French army, but finally retiring in the United States when that emperor was defeated and ousted from power; the younger, Charles Bonaparte (Chapter 6 of The Bonapartes in America), would become Secretary of the Navy, then Attorney General of the United States, under Teddy Roosevelt.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 1 Jun 14