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House Approval of Legislation to Establish the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York

January 21, 1802
House Approval of Legislation to Establish the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
After serving nine terms in the House, two of them as Speaker, Joseph Varnum of Massachusetts resigned his House seat to serve as a Senator.
On this date, the House passed H.R. 7, “An Act fixing the Military peace establishment of the United States,” creating a military academy for U.S. soldiers in West Point, New York. In the 5th Congress (1797–1799), Robert Harper of South Carolina proposed “a military school, and a corps constantly existing, in which officers may always be found fit to command troops.” Harper reasoned that "if an army or revenue were wanted, they could at any time be raised; but good officers and military science could not be created without much previous application, by practice, and a course of study.” Ultimately, the South Carolinian believed that such a school would help to ensure “the safety of [the] country when it is known that such a class of men exists to any considerable degree.” President Thomas Jefferson, who had long promoted the idea of creating a national university to benefit society as a whole, found the military academy proposal appealing. Jefferson encouraged his Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn, to form such a school in 1801. Introduced by Joseph Varnum of Massachusetts, a veteran of the American Revolution who assisted in suppressing Shays’ Rebellion in 1786, the West Point bill passed on a 77 to 12 vote. The Senate added amendments to the bill and passed it on March 5, 1802. The House concurred with the amendments 10 days later, and sent it to President Jefferson, who signed the bill into law on March 16, 1802.

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