(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
In late 1895 Churchill, about to turn 21, visited America for the first time.
He'd just graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst where the course of study lasted only 18 months and the rules permitted cadets to go up to London for balls, threatre and other social events.
Here’s the beginning of a letter Churchill wrote his brother John (Jack), then 15, just days after he arrived in the country he came to call The Great Republic :
I daresay Mamma showed you my letter of the 10th, which gave an account of the voyage and such news as was to hand at that time.The rest of Churchill’s letter is here.
I am still staying with Mr. Bourke Cockran, whom you met in Paris, in his very comfortable and convenient flat in 5th avenue. We have postponed our departure from New York for three days - as there was lots to see and do. On Sunday we start for Havana by the route of Philadelphia - Washington - Savannah - Tampa Bay & Key West - arriving there on Wednesday morning, all being well.
Mr. Cockran, who has great influence over here, procured us orders to visit the Forts of the Harbour and West Point - which is the American Sandhurst.
I am sure you will be horrified by some of the Regulations of the Military Academy. The cadets enter from 19-22 & stay 4 years. This means that they are most of them 24 years of age. They are not allowed to smoke - or have any money in their possession nor are they given any leave except 2 months the 1st two years. In fact they have far less liberty than any private school boys in our country.
I think such a state of things is positively disgraceful and young men of 24 or 25 who would resign their personal liberty to such an extent can never make good citizens or fine soldiers. A child who rebels against that sort of control should be whipped--so should a man who does not rebel.
The other night Mr. Cockran got the Fire Commissioners to come with us and we alarmed four or five fire stations. This would have interested you very much.
On the alarm bell sounding the horses at once rushed into the shafts - the harness fell on to them - the men slid half dressed down a pole from their sleeping room and in 5 ½ seconds the engine was galloping down the street to the scene of the fire. An extraordinary feat which seems incredible - unless you have seen it. …
I hope you give it a read. It’s extremely interesting and one of my favorite Churchill letters.