TwHP Lessons

Fort Hancock: A Bastion of America's Eastern Seaboard

[Cover photo] Battery Granger.
(National Park Service)


hen Samuel J. Tilden surveyed America's most important harbor, he saw danger. "A million of soldiers," wrote New York's senior senator in 1885, "with the best equipments on the heights surrounding the harbor of New York in our present state of preparation, or rather in our total want of preparation, would be powerless to resist a small squadron of [foreign] war steamers." Nor was the threat confined to America's commercial capital: harbors from Portland, Maine, to San Francisco stood defenseless against any navy that chose to attack. Such an attack, Tilden argued, "...would inflict upon the property and business of the country an injury which can neither be foreseen nor measured."1

Many late 19th-century Americans, however, believed such dangers were remote. Europeans would never attack the U.S., they argued, and therefore money spent on stronger forts and new high-powered guns would be wasted. Existing defenses and the Atlantic Ocean provided more than adequate protection, and keeping expenditures low would both limit taxes and prevent the creation of the type of standing army Americans had traditionally feared.

This lesson uses Fort Hancock in New Jersey—one of the sites Senator Tilden hoped would defend New York—as a base for examining a debate that has run throughout American history. Today Fort Hancock stands silent, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park System. Although the fort is no longer part of the nation's military, its history illustrates many important issues involving American defense policy.

1Quoted in the Congressional Record, volume 17, part 7, 49th Congress, 1st session (July 1886), 7101.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Lower New York Harbor

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Defending America's Coastline
 2. Reaction to the Endicott Board  Recommendations
 3. Sandy Hook after the Endicott Report

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Battery Potter
 2. Gun at Battery Potter
 3. Gun at Battery Potter
 4. Gun at Battery Granger
 5. Gun at Battery Granger

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Continued Evolution of Defenses
 2. Protecting Coastal America
 3. Your Community—Defense and the Economy

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Gateway National Recreation Area

This lesson is based on the Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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