Alden Partridge and Sylvanus Thayer

The Aldan Partridge affair at West Point in 1817. Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) 3 Jan 1959

Alden Partridge and Sylvanus Thayer - everyone the The of time ones who and a other....
everyone the The of time ones who and a other. of who of Now. east next AMERICAN HERITAGE or T S I* ,j || it £5 NONE £:! ^ '·£ S e c i - ;:S \* "vai- #: l y not Sj c u t nn^wer. ' f o r w a r d r t a i n "/': '!;'·· to 'y l » .!;-'.: c j £J -:;n E . A K o . £. r ' to T U M - f. e l i f r e l ·".·· n am inert. -;:·:' MUM- £ L E i.i ,-: O O T I N G ;; i k e l y V _.;·: w o r d "un- : o r e , f a v o r s :''.:· c t that ;"' does v h e LOCK ; rohber m*y ^ h a v e Ihe ::* n a t i o n ! . ···: a v e !v. -v, " LUCK. '";".'· New West Point Born Out Of Mutiny In 1818 By R. ERNEST DUPUY It was June 15. 1817, and up at West Point newly elected President J a m e s Monroe, staunch friend of the Military Academy, was in a towering rage. The place was in poor shape, its curriculum had unraveled, examinations were unknown, and discipline was nonexistent. The acting superintendent. Captain Alden Partridge, Corps of Engineers, seemed to be running a "Dotheboys Hall" of sorts, where favoritism governed and cadets were being graduated without reference either to academic standing or military ability. The academic staff--Professors Mansfield. Elliott, Beard, Douglass and Crozet--had just presented the President with burning indictments of the existing, regime. In particular, Mansfield had written: ". . . Men, not principles, are intended to prevail . . . this noble institution is calculated on as an instrument to gratify the capacity of individuals, in subserving the i n t e r e s t s of friends Con- nexions, in advancing favorites sycophants, instead of rewarding merit on fair honorable principles as designed by the laws." Previous charges of nepotism had been made against Partridge: that his uncle, Isaac Partridge, had run the cadet mess: that his nephew. Lieutenant John Wright, was post adjutant; that another relative, "Major" James Barton, operated the cadet store, where uniforms were sold to cadets at prices exorbitant in comparison with those charged by New York tailors. OTHER COMPLAINTS of disciplinary laxness had b e e n made; that cadets wandered on and off the post at will; that they were selling their pay vouchers in advance to loan sharks to obtain money; and that officers who passed the barracks might be showered by missiles thrown from windows. It was these charges and complaints that had brought President Monroe to West Point. Now he had seen and heard enough. During his short tour as Secretary of War he had sent a brilliant young graduate, Brevet Major Sylvanus Thayer, abroad to study European'mili- tary pedagogy. Thayer, now just returned, would be just the man to rectify matters. Turning to General Joseph G. Swift, chief of engineers, who after all was responsible for the Military Academy, and who had 'accompanied him on this hurried tour of inspection, the President ordered a new deal. Partridge must .go; later he should be court - martialed. Thayer should immediately be appointed to the superintendence to bring order out of chaos. An austere introvert from Vermont and a mathematician of. parts, Partridge appears to have lacked any administrative or command ability. Filled with good intentions, he set forth again and again plans for revision of rules and for regularity in instruction and promotion, yet he personally violated all of them. A martinet whose excessive severity at times made life miserable for some of the cadets, he was also weak. Certain strong-willed youths who had solved his character curried his favor, and as a result this clique could do no wrong. "OLD PEWT" was Partridge's nickname. Stiff and ungainly, he strutted about clad in an ancient blue uniform coat overladen with buttons and lace, and with such unusually widespread tails that it became known as the Peacock. He could delegate no authority, tried to do everything himself, and was at continual loggerheads with the faculty. A far different man from Partridge was Sylvanus Thayer. A graduate of Dartmouth College previous to his short career at West Point -- he was graduated in 180R. a year a f t e r his admission--he was an ardent admirer of Napolpon's military virtues, and a close student of the Little Corporal's campaign?. During the War of 1812 'he had distinguished himself and had become personally k n o w n t o .Tame? Monroe. Slim, erect, a soldier every inch of his five- foot-ten f r a m e . Thayer arrived at West Point on July 28. 1817, hearing orders for the relief of Partridge. Nobody roali/ed it at the moment, hut when Sylvanus Thayer stepped across the parade ground and walked tn the superintendent's house. · the modern West Point had arrived. The old happy-po-lucky days were over; now [he "vomit; gentlemen" who rejoiced in the t i t l e of cadet? were going to he soldiers, and ii would he like t h a t forever after. THAYER REGAN by h a n d i n g the dismissal orders to Partridge, Accepting the orders in grim silence. P a r t r i d g e slipped away from thr post next day and Thayer set about c l e a n i n g house. For instance, on the departure of President Monroe. Partridge had put t h r e n t i r e family in arrest as revenge (or their com- 'PEACOCK' PARTRIDGE plaints, and that legal tangle had to be snipped. Then the corps had to be called to return, for more than half of the 213 on the rolls were on "vacation." On Aug. 29, Thayer was interrupted by a long roll of drums, followed by tumultuous cheers. Outside his office the corps of cadets was being paraded, under arms. By whose order? By none other t h a n , Aldcn Partridge! "Old Pewt" had returned. Clad in the "Peacock," he was. reading out an order he himself had written, reassuming command of West Point. Thayer quietly left the post, after writing a letter to the Secretary of War: "I have the honor to inform you that Captain A. Partridge of the Corps of Engineers has returned to this post and has, this day, forcibly assumed the command and the superintendency of the Academy. I shall therefore proceed to New York and wait your orders." Why did Thayer so meekly acquiesce? We lack certain knowledge, for Thayer never discussed the matter directly, and his evidence in the later trial of Partridge gives no inkling of his motives. One can only speculate, dismissing immediately any thought of vacillation or weakness on Thayer's part; his record both before and after belies that. In New York Thayer reported to Swift. Forty-eight hours later came the aide-de-camp of the chief of engineers, saber clanking, to place Partridge in arrest and reinstate Thayer. "Old Pewt" was to be court-mar- tialed, charged with mutiny. He was permitted to go to New York to prepare his defense, and the corps of cadets made plain their opinion when he departed. They accompanied him to the steamboat dock in riotous ovation, while the band played him off "with honors of musick." UP TO WEST POINT came an imposing array of rank for Partridge's trial, with General Winfield Scott. "Old Fuss and Feathers," presiding. "Old Pewt" was found guilty of disobedience of orders and of assuming command without authority. He was. however, cleared of the specific charge of mutiny, and the court, while sentencing him to be cashiered, accompanied it with a plea for clemency on the grouds of previous "zeal and perseverence." President Monroe permitted Partridge to resign. Thayer now went seriously about the business of bu'ild*ing an institution based upon character, its foundation the premise that "a cadet does not lie, cheat or steal" -- the substance of West Point's well-known honor code. The academy was to become a kind of secular novitiate under Spartan discipline, in which each cadet suffered, equl- ly and was rewarded equally, striving to a common goal under impartial command. The housecleaning was · a thorough one. A careful screening of the corps disposed of some hardy perennials who, through favoritism, had been permitted to stay at the place for years. Tradition has it that one 40-year-old cadet was unearthed, with a wife and family living in Orange County. Another cadet, so the story goes, had but one arm. But the majority -of the misfits, in Thayer's own language, were just "nuisances and should be removed." They were. Vacations were abolished. The academy was placed on a 12- month cycle. Incomers were screened by a thorough examination before acceptance. Pedagogical methods adapted from Ecole Polytechnique in France were instituted. To ensure democracy, individual cadets were prohibited any outside financial assistance; each had to depend upon his government pay. Actually, no cadet now touched money; all his financial transactions were upon a checking system. Were a cadet in debt, he got along as best he could with what he had, until such time as his pay re-established his credit. THE PARTRIDGE CLIQUE amongst the cadets took these changes hard, as might be expected from unruly youngsters accustomed to selling their pay vouchers for ready cash at tremendous discount. But worst of all. for their view point, was the new d i s c i p l i n a r y setup. Captain KKPORMER THAYER John Bliss. 6th Infantry, had been appointed by Thayer as commandant of cadets, to supervise his Spartan rule. Bliss, Thayer felt, was "peculiarly well qualified." Actually, as it turned out, the choice was not a good one; the new commandant had a most violent temper. The storm, clouds rose; and finally they burst on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 22, 1818, with reverberations which would not cease until they had reached the halls of Congress, and which would settle once and for all the heretofore moot status of the Corps of Cadets in the military hierarchy. That afternoon, Captain Bliss's temper cracked. Laying hands on a cadet misbehaving on parade, Bliss threw him bodily out of ranks. Two days later, five cadets presented themselves before Thayer at his quarters. The quintet announced themselves to be a committee representing the. entire cadet corps and presented a round robin signed by more than 150 men, demanding the removal Captain Bliss. The superintendent sent them back to their quarters, after informing them that, although any cadet feeling himself aggrieved would have a hearing, such collective action was unmilitary. But they returned shortly, this time bearing a set of charges of "unofficeriike conduct" against Bliss. Presenting this paper, the truculent five now announced that noncompliance with their demand mean the rebellion of the.entire corps. Thayer's reaction was prompt. The five committeemen were ordered off the post. An inspector came and supported the superintendent's action. President Monroe upheld Thayer. Captain Bliss, however, was relieved as commandant, since "he does not appear to have sufficient command of his temper THE RUMPUS WENT ON more than a year. A court- martial declared itself to be without jurisdiction, on the ground that the cadets were under military law. Here, of course, lay the crux of the situation. Thayer had pointed this out his original report of the incident, noting ( h a t " radical cause of the disturbance In which the Mil. Acad'y. is l i a b l e is the 'erroneous and m i l i t a r y impressions of cadets imbibed at an ii.auspicious period nf the institution when they were allowed to ... intrude t h e i r views and with rcspecl to the conduct of the Acad'y. So long as these impressions shall remain the Acad'y. will he liable to combinations convulsions the reputation of the institution of the officers connected with it will he put in jeopardy." The isue was settled on Aug. 21, IS IS. when ihe attorney gene r a l of the U n t i e d Stales, Will i n m Win. ruled that the at West Point form a part of land forces of the United States, and have been constitutionally subjected by Congress to the rules and articles of war, and t r i a l by court-m.irtial." Sy!vami.« Thayer had met th* second threat to his reorganization of West Point, and had won a g n i n . Th? Long Gray on its cadencpd .vay. .-·· 1!V lor i h r ' f i m f n

Clipped from
  1. Tucson Daily Citizen,
  2. 03 Jan 1959, Sat,
  3. Page 31

AndreaJewellWinstead Member Photo
  • Alden Partridge and Sylvanus Thayer — The Aldan Partridge affair at West Point in 1817. Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) 3 Jan 1959

    AndreaJewellWinstead – 01 Mar 2013

Want to comment on this Clipping? Sign up for a free account, or sign in