The midshipmen of the United States Navy were caught in an uncomfortable situation in the antebellum period. The system for their training and education, modeled after Britain’s Royal Navy, had not changed from the American Navy’s reconstitution in 1794. Midshipmen went to sea to receive on-the-job training, working as junior officers integral to the running of their ships. They were supposed to receive an education as well, and many naval ships carried schoolmasters for this reason. Although this system had apparently worked for several decades, by the 1840s many officers and reformers felt that this approach to the education of future naval officers was failing the midshipmen in two respects. First, they maintained that midshipmen were morally and physically endangered by life at sea. Second, they argued that midshipmen were not receiving the education required to become effective officers in the rapidly changing nineteenth century.
"“To Read by the Light of the Binnacle”: Charles Hunter On Board USS Potomac,"
Newport History: Vol. 84
, Article 4.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.salve.edu/newporthistory/vol84/iss272/4