Commanding Petty Despots: The American Navy in the New Republic
Publisher : Naval Institute Press (March 15, 2022)
Hardcover : 205 pages
ISBN-13 : 9781682477557
Commanding Petty Despots: The American Navy in the New Republic tells the story of the creation of the American Navy. Rather than focus on the well-known frigate duels and fleet engagements, Thomas Sheppard emphasizes the overlooked story of the institutional formation of the Navy. Sheppard looks at civilian control of the military, and how this concept evolved in the early American republic. For naval officers obsessed with honor and reputation, being willing to put themselves in harm's way was never a problem, but they were far less enthusiastic about taking orders from a civilian Secretary of the Navy. Accustomed to giving orders and receiving absolute obedience at sea, captains were quick to engage in blatantly insubordinate behavior towards their superiors in Washington. The civilian government did not always discourage such thinking. The new American nation needed leaders who were zealous for their honor and quick to engage in heroic acts on behalf of their nation. The most troublesome officers could also be the most effective during the Revolution and the Quasi and Barbary Wars. First Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert tolerated insubordination from "spirited" officers who secured respect for the American republic from European powers. However, by the end of the War of 1812, the culture of the Navy's officer corps had grown considerably when it came to civil-military strains. A new generation of naval officers, far more attuned to duty and subordination, had risen to prominence, and Stoddert's successors increasingly demanded recognition of civilian supremacy from the officer corps. Although the creation of the Board of Navy Commissioners in 1815 gave the officer corps a greater role in managing the Navy, by that time the authority of the Secretary of the Navy--as an extension of the president--was firmly entrenched.
Thomas Sheppard earned his doctorate in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work has appeared in the Journal of Military History and Strategic Studies Quarterly. He is currently a historian at Naval History and Heritage Command and lives in northern Virginia.