Book Review: Thomas ap Catesby Jones: Commodore of Manifest Destiny (by Gene A. Smith) : MH

8/12/2001 • Manifest Destiny, Military History Book Reviews

Thomas ap Catesby Jones: Commodore of Manifest Destiny, by Gene A. Smith, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 2000, $34.95.

Author Gene A. Smith describes the life he chronicles in Thomas ap Catesby Jones: Commodore of Manifest Destiny as providing “a window through which to view the development of the United States Navy as it was transformed from a small, coastal, defense-oriented gunboat force in 1805 into a sail-and-steam service capable of projecting American power around the world only fifty years later.”

Starting his career as a midshipman at the age of 15, Jones was among a small group of officers who contributed to both the advancement of the Navy and the expansion of the United States itself. That expansion, which was justified at the time by the notion that it represented America’s “manifest destiny,” has often been depicted in territorial terms as a steady land-based progression from sea to sea. But it was, in fact, neither steady nor dictated exclusively by events occurring on land.

Jones is best known for his seizure of Monterey, Calif., from the Mexicans in 1842. The commodore thought the United States and Mexico were at war, but much to his dismay, that proved not to be the case. In an 1855 letter describing his subsequent court-martial, Jones wrote bitterly that he “had been deprived of the high and honorable position…won by years of faithful service.”

Gene A. Smith’s biography of Jones not only chronicles the Monterey episode, which at the time blossomed into a national crisis, but also explores how other events in the commodore’s life helped shape the character and backbone of the U.S. Navy during its formative years.

Dominic J. Caraccilo