The Best Quote Jones Never Wrote

By Lori Lyn Bogle and Ensign Joel I. Holwitt, U.S. Navy

Whether this will end the controversy is debatable. Corporate memory is notoriously short, and heritage (or "collective memory" as the shared memories of a group or institution are known to scholars), once incorporated, is very difficult if not impossible to alter. Unless serious discussion accompanies the recent changes in Reef Points , Buell's fabrication likely will be reinstated at some later date. Past attempts by Academy officials to remove "Qualifications" from the curriculum failed when subsequent administrations, enamored by its effectiveness in building group cohesion, re-instituted the much beloved prose.

Except for the original fabricator, Augustus C. Buell, this story has no villains. Naval Academy officials who maintained the fabrication over the years as well as critics who periodically called attention to its fictitious nature all did so in the best interest of the Navy and its midshipmen.

Despite the fact that journalists and academics immediately embraced De Koven's charges, the John Paul Jones title as Father of the Navy persisted in the popular imagination. The New York Times had congratulated De Koven for her dispassionate research, which had "completely disposed of the pretensions of the late Augustus C. Buell as a serious historian." 15 Albert Bushnell Hart, president of the American Historical Association, declared in 1909 that no other "bold and creative act of imagination . . . in American history surpasses Buell's recent John Paul Jones." 16

In the following years, respected scholars such as Lincoln Lorenz and Samuel Eliot Morison also warned readers of Buell's unreliability. 17 Less careful biographers, however, such as Mary Mac Dermot Crawford, Valentine Thomson, and Phillips Russell, promulgated the myth by citing the fraudulent historian in support of their own glorifications of the nation's naval past. 18

In 1956, hoping to bury Buell forever, Milton W. Hamilton, a member of the Division of Archives and History in Albany, New York, systematically reviewed all of Buell's scholarship—biographies of Andrew Jackson, Sir William Johnson, William Penn, and even his much-cited Civil War memoirs—and concluded that the bulk of the materials were "'pure Buell'—legendary, garbled, or fiction." According to Hamilton, the books' "outline[s were] factually correct, but the detail was fabricated to meet the romantic ideas and heroic concepts of the author." Unfortunately, noted Hamilton, Buell had "perpetuated myths and inventions to the point where it often require[d] considerable research to disprove oft-cited episodes." 19

The Navy became aware of the problems with Buell's scholarship at about the same time as the Jones commemoration ceremony and De Koven's subsequent exposé. But the service, despite efforts of a number of individuals to correct the historical record, had difficulty distancing itself from the mythmaker's well-crafted prose. Both former Secretary of the Navy John D. Long and Admiral George Dewey applauded Buell's new romantic interpretation of John Paul Jones.

In 1901, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Frank Warren Hackett praised Buell in a speech delivered at the Naval War College for bringing to light "the grand proportions" of the naval hero. "Hitherto the world has only known Paul Jones simply and exclusively as a sea fighter, the foremost of any age," Hackett charged. And he went on:

We now, and most of us for the first time, see in him a statesman, a diplomat of rare ability, and an accomplished man of the world. At last an adequate conception of our hero being thus presented to his countrymen, it would be an act of tardy justice to set up at Washington a memorial to John Paul Jones, where as yet none exists. 20

But by 1909, Hackett responded to the De Koven exposé by amending his published speeches with an appendix that included a letter from the Librarian of the Navy Department completely discrediting "Qualifications of a Naval Officer." 21 The following year in the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings , naval historian Charles Oscar Paullin dismantled Buell's argument that Jones had founded the Navy. "No one man founded our navy," Paullin wrote in the March issue. "Its establishment was a composite work in which John Adams, Stephen Hopkins, Robert Morris, Joseph Hewes, John Hancock, John Paul Jones, Esek Hopkins and many others participated." 22

On 2 July 1920 Rear Admiral William S. Sims wrote a memo to the Bureau of Navigation, informing the agency of the true source of the bogus quotation. 23 The next year the Department of State also alerted the Secretary of the Navy of its spurious origins. 24 But as Sims reported in an article for World's Work six years later, the Navy was still using "Qualifications" on fitness reports. 25

Secretary of Navy Curtis D. Wilbur responded to Sims's highly critical article by requesting that Assistant Librarian Louis H. Bolander investigate the various Jones quotes then in use by the Navy. 26 Bolander's somewhat defensive report in the July 1928 issue of Proceedings explained that the Naval Academy English department had used an authentic Jones letter containing similar phrases as a midshipman motto perhaps as early as 1876. The librarian shrewdly sidestepped the question of whether or not the Buell fabrication was also in use in the school at that time. But he did agree with De Koven's earlier finding that it came from an invented source. 27

A further modification occurred in 1987, undoubtedly in response to Bradford's excellent study a year earlier, enlarging the attribution to read "from a composite letter of John Paul Jones' phrases and clauses as compiled by Augustus C. Buell." 38 Although less objectionable, it should be noted that while Jones did write things at various times similar to portions of "Qualifications," not everything in the forged texts can be found in his authentic letters and journals. In addition, Buell clearly had modernized the naval hero's views to suit his own Progressive-era conception of a professional naval officer. The Academy made no further revisions to the attribution until 2003, when Colonel Allen made the modification that credited the quote directly to Buell.

Naval Academy midshipmen reactions to a suggestion that the Buell quote be replaced in <em>Reef Points</em> with excerpts from authentic letters from John Paul Jones has met with mixed reactions and, at times, heated exchanges. Student comments in discussions held by one Naval Academy professor suggest that over time "Qualifications" does play a positive role in building group cohesion. Prospective students attending a summer seminar session titled "In Search of John Paul Jones" generally were unfamiliar with the quotation and were surprised, when informed of its true source, that there was even a debate over its preservation.<br /> <br /> Plebe students enrolled in American Naval History demonstrated considerably more allegiance to the words they had recently memorized during Plebe Summer. When told that the quote was fraudulent, however, a number cited the school's honor concept as justification for its elimination. In addition, few believed the quote would hold much value with midshipmen if not attributed directly to Jones.

"Qualifications of a Naval Officer," once called "the moral and intellectual charter of Annapolis, and the sure and everlasting warrant of Jones's title to be called the Father of the Navy," has become one of the sacred canons of naval heritage. 42 The question remains, however, whether or not Naval Academy midshipmen, taught to be critical thinkers as well as dutiful officers, are up to the challenge of separating fact from fiction in the historical record without sacrificing the inspiration traditionally found in collective memory.

Associate Professor Bogle teaches social and cultural military history at the U.S. Naval Academy. Her book, Strategy for Survival: American Civil Religion, the National Will and the Military in the Early Cold War , is being published in 2004 by Texas A&M Press.

Ensign Holwitt graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in May 2003 with honors and distinction. He is currently attending the Ohio State University, where he is studying military history before entering the nuclear-powered submarine officer pipeline.

   1. Augustus C. Buell, Paul Jones: Founder of the American Navy (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1900). back to article
   2. James C. Bradford, The Reincarnation of John Paul Jones: The Navy Discovers its Professional Roots (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Foundation, 1986); John Henry Sherburne, Life and Character of the Chevalier John Paul Jones: A Captain in the Navy of the United States during Their Revolutionary War (New York: Wilder & Campbell, 1825); Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, The Life of Paul Jones (New York: Harper, 1841). back to article
   3. Midshipman Second Class J. I. Holwitt, USN, "Revising 'Qualifications of a Naval Officer' in Reef Points," memorandum to Commandant of Midshipmen, 22 February 2002, copy in author's possession. back to article
   4. Reef Points , 98th edition (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Academy, 2003/2004). back to article
   5. Bradford, Reincarnation , p. 2. back to article
   6. Bradford, Reincarnation , p. 3; K. Jack Bauer, "Forgotten Commodores: Hero-Making in the Antebellum Navy," MC 23, K. Jack Bauer Papers, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. back to article
   7. Edward Field, "Paul Jones, Founder of the American Navy, a History," The American Historical Review , April 1901, pp. 589-90. back to article
   8. Augustus C. Buell to George Canby, 4 October 1901, as reproduced in facsimile in Anna De Koven's 1928 pamphlet "A Fictitious Paul Jones Masquerading as the Real," 29, RG 405, Records of the Superintendent, General Correspondence, "Museum/Memorials and Exhibits, Series Exhibits," box 10, folder 3, "Individual exhibits, John Paul Jones-Buell Controversy" Special Collections, Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD (hereafter cited as "Buell Controversy Papers"). back to article
   9. Bruce Miroff, Icons of Democracy: American Leaders as Heroes, Aristocrats, Dissenters, and Democrats (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000), p. 158. back to article
  10. "General Porter's Triumph," The New York Times , 16 April 1905, p. 4; Theodore Roosevelt to Charles J. Bonaparte, 1 August 1905, reel 338, series 2, Theodore Roosevelt Papers, Library of Congress. back to article
  11. Charles W. Stewart, comp., John Paul Jones Commemoration at Annapolis, April 24, 1906 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1907), p. 16. back to article
  12. Buell, Paul Jones . back to article
  13. Anna Farwell De Koven, "A Fictitious Paul Jones Masquerading as the Real: The Accepted Life of the Naval Hero by A. C. Buell Pronounced to be an Audacious Forgery," The New York Times , 10 June 1906, Magazine Section, pp. 1-3. back to article
  14. Anna Farwell De Koven, The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913). back to article
  15. "The True Paul Jones," The New York Times , 11 June 1906, p. 6. back to article
  16. Hart had mistitled the book. Albert Bushnell Hart, "Imagination in History," American Historical Review , 15 (January 1910), p. 231. back to article
  17. Lincoln Lorenz, John Paul Jones: Fighter for Freedom and Glory (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1943); Samuel Eliot Morison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography (Boston: Little, Brown, 1959). back to article
  18. Mary Mac Dermot Crawford, The Sailor whom England Feared; Being the Story of Paul Jones, Scotch Naval Adventurer and Admiral in the American and Russian Fleets (New York: Duffield & Company, 1913); Valentine Thomson, Knights of the Seas: The Adventurous Life of John Paul Jones (New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 1939); Phillips Russell, John Paul Jones: Man of Action (New York: Brentano's, 1927). back to article
  19. Milton W. Hamilton, "Augustus C. Buell: Fraudulent Historian," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography , 80 (October 1956), p. 483-84. Hamilton lists Buell's incredible invented ancestry on page 479. In his Civil War memoirs, the bogus historian described battles he never participated in. Among other oft-cited lies in his other biographies, Buell made up the dying words of William Johnson (pp. 486-88) and penned eloquent letters supposedly written by Rachel Jackson that Irving Stone, apparently unaware of the fabrication, later used in one of his novels. back to article
  20. Frank Warren Hackett, Deck and Field: Address before the United States Naval War College and on Commemorative Occasions (Washington: W. H. Lowdermilk & Co., 1909), pp. 25-26. back to article    
  21. Hackett, Deck and Field , p. 191. back to article
  22. Charles Oscar Paullin, "When was our Navy Founded?: Criticism of Augustus C. Buell's 'Paul Jones, Founder of the American Navy,'" U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings , March 1910, p. 261. back to article
  23. Rear Admiral William Sowden Sims to Bureau of Navigation, 2 July 1920, as reproduced in facsimile in Bradford, Reincarnation, p. 12. back to article
  24. Gaillard Hunt to Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby, 18 April 1921, box 10, folder 9, Buell Controversy Papers. back to article
  25. William Sowden Sims, "Annapolis-Our Amateur Naval College and Some Suggestions for Its Improvement," World's Work , 53 (April 1927), pp. 668-69. back to article
  26. RAdm. L. M. Nulton to Secretary of the Navy, memorandum, 24 September 1927, box 10, folder 3, Buell Controversy Papers. back to article
  27. Louis H. Bolander, "Two Notes on John Paul Jones: 1. His Qualifications of a Naval Officer," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings , July 1928, p. 548. back to article
  28. Bolander, "Two Notes," Proceedings , p. 546. back to article
  29. RAdm. L. M. Nulton to Capt. E. T. Constien, 6 February 1928, box 10, folder 3, Buell Controversy Papers. back to article
  30. RAdm. L. M. Nulton to Capt. E. T. Constien, 15 February 1928, box 10, folder 3, Buell Controversy Papers. back to article
  31. LCdr. H. G. Patrick to Charles R. Green, 3 May 1928, box 10, folder 3, Buell Controversy Papers. back to article
  32. Reef Points , 25th edition (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Academy, 1929/1930), pp. 10-11. back to article
  33. Reef Points , 28th edition (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Academy, 1932/1933), pp. 6-7. back to article
  34. LCdr. A. H. Rooks to S. Flaum, 23 November 1934, box 10, folder 3, Buell Controversy Papers. Flaum worked in New York for Radio Guide, the National Weekly of Programs and Personalities. back to article
  35. Aide to the Superintendent, C. R. Burke to Robert E. Schies, 4 March 1946, box 10, folder 9, Buell Controversy Papers. back to article
  36. Reef Points , 52nd edition (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Academy, 1957/1958), pp. 9-10. back to article
  37. Reef Points , 55th edition (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Academy, 1960/1961), p. 29. back to article
  38. Reef Points , 82nd edition (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Academy, 1987/1988), p. 28. back to article
  39. These observations are author Bogle's own subjective impressions of student responses and based on a small sample. Many students made no comments. back to article
  40. Glenn Anthony May, Inventing a Hero: The Posthumous Re-Creation of Andres Bonifacio (Madison, WI: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1996), p. 166. back to article
  41. Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (New York: Vintage Books, 1957), p. 10. back to article
  42. Edward Thurstein as quoted in "Paul Jones: Errors of Buell's Life Handed on by Recent English Writer," The New York Times , 29 August 1909. back to article



Dr. Bogle is an associate professor of history at the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of The Pentagon's Battle for the American Mind: The Early Cold War (2004). Her monograph concerning Theodore Roosevelt's use of publicity and modern sociological principles to convince the American public of the need to acquire an offensive fleet is under contract with Texas A&M Press.

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