Skip to main content

Captain Alfred T. Mahan to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

Navy Department

Office of Naval War Board

Washington, D. C.

May 10th 1898.1


     I respectfully recommend that the “Board of War” be abolished, and that in place of it, to perform the functions with which it is now entrusted, there be appointed a single officer, to be known by such title as may seem convenient to designate his duties.

     2.   To this officer there would be appointed such assistants as shall be expedient, with whom he can consult at his pleasure, individually or collectively, directing their special study of the general situation, or of particular features, and inviting suggestions; but, in the end, the opinions officially submitted will be his own, for which he alone will be responsible, and for whose success he alone would receive credit.

     3.   The change suggested is from a Council of War, which the Board virtually is, with corporate responsibility and without individual responsibility, to the single, individual responsibility, which alone achieves results in war.

     4.   I do not forget that the Secretary himself exercises such single responsibility[.] But, with the varied and onerous duties resting upon him, it is inevitable that, in such highly technical matters as the conduct of war, he must depend largely upon the technical familiarity with the subject that only seamen, and military seamen, can possess. Professional opinion should come to him, not as the result of a majority vote, but with the far weightier sanction of a single competent man, acting under the high sense of high personal responsibility.

     5.   I offer the suggestion at once, before any difference with my colleagues has arisen, or could arise.2 Resting, as my opinion does, upon a wide study of military history, it is not liable to change, and at present it has the advantage of absolute impersonality.3

I have the honor to be,

Your obedient servant,

A. T. Mahan       

Captain, U. S.N.

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Alfred T. Mahan Papers, roll 3. Addressed below close: “To the Honorable,/The Secretary of the Navy.” The second page bears the same stationery heading and typed date as the first page. In the left-hand corner: “Sec. Navy. 2.” Spacing between words has been silently corrected.

Footnote 1: Mahan assumed his duties on the Naval War Board on 9 May, a day before this letter.

Footnote 2: Besides Capt. Mahan, the other members of the Naval War Board were RAdm. Montgomery Sicard (president) and Commo. Arent S. Crowninshield.

Footnote 3: Although there are no official records of the Naval War Board’s meetings, apparently there were some differences in opinion. For instance, see: Sicard to Long, 18 July 1898.

Related Content