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in attacking and destroying, in the harbor of Tripoli, a Tripolitan frigate of forty-four guns. This was the former “Philadelphia,” lying filled with men under the guns of that city, and almost surrounded by other armed Moorish vessels. Her destruction (February 14th, 1804), by the crew of a vessel of three or four hundred tons, the manner in which it was accomplished, and the escape of Decatur and his men from the conflagration and the tempest of shot which that conflagration directed upon the assailants, reads more like a narrative of romance than a sober incident of reality. The President's recommendation of the extension of the gunboat system for the defence of our harbors and seaport towns,
1 His scheme was more fully developed and his general reasons for it given in answer to inquiries from Nicholson, chairman of the committee to whom the subject was referred in the House of Representatives. This letter demands the perusal of those who would fairly understand the celebrated gunboat project which has drawn so many sneers on the head of its proposer:
“WAshingtoN, Dec. 14, 1805. “DEAR SIR: “Mr. Eppes has this moment put into my hands §.". letter of yesterday, asking information on the subject of the o proposed to be built. I lose no time in communicating to you fully my whole views respecting them, premising a few words on the system of fortifications. Considering the harbors which, from their situation and importance. are entitled to defence, and the estimates we have seen of the fortifications planned for some of them, this system cannot be completed on a moderate scale for less than fifty millions of dollars, nor manned, in time of war, with less than fifty thousand men, and in peace, two thousand. And when done they avail little; because all military Inen ee, that wherever a vessel may pass a fort without tacking under her guns, which is the case in all our seaport towns, she may be annoyed more or less, according to the advantages of the position, but can never be prevented. Our own experience during the war proved this on different occasions. Our predecessors have, nevertheless, proposed to go into this system, and had commenced it. But no law requiring us to proceed, we have suspended it. “If we cannot hinder vessels from entering our harbors, we should turn our attention to putting it out of their power to lie, or come to, before a town, to injure it. Two means of doing this may be adopted in aid of each other, i. Heavy cannon on travelling carriages, which may be moved to any point on the bank or beach most convenient for dislodging the vessel. A sufficient number of these should be lent to each seaport town, and their militia trained to them. The Executive is authorized to do this; it has been done in a smaller degree, and will now be done more competently. “2. Having cannon on floating batteries or boats, which may be so stationed as to prevent a vessel entering the harbor, or force her after entering to depart. There are about fifteen harbors in the United States which ought to be in a state of substantial defence. The whole of these would require, according to the best opinions, two hundred and forty gunboats. Their cost was estimated by Captain Rogers at two thousand dollars each; but we had better say four thousand dollars. The whole would cost one million of dollars. But we should allow ourselves ten years to complete it, unless circumstances should force it sooner. There are three situations in which the gunboat may be. 1. Hauled up under a shed, in readiness to be launched and manned by the seamen and militia of the town on short notice. In this situation she costs nothing but an inclosure, or a sentinel to see that no mischief is done to her. 2. Afloat, and with men enough to navigate her in harbor, and take care of her, but depending on receiving her crew from the town on short warning. . In this situation, her annual expense is about two thousand dollars, as by an official estimate at the end of this letter. 3. Fully manned for action. Her annual expense in this situation is about eight thousand dollars, as per estimate subjoined. When there is general peace, we should probably keep about six or seven afloat in the second situation; their annual expense twelve to fourteen thousand dollars; the led up. When France and England are at war, we should keep, at the utmost,
encountered a great annount of invective and ridicule; and many of the officers of the navy joined heartily in this feeling. An English view of navy life then prevailed extensively in our country. Our eye rests on a published letter of Colonel Burr to Charles Biddle (July 20th, 1803), wherein, speaking of the two young Biddles' going the day before on board the frigate President, he said: “The more I reflect on the destination of these young men, the more I am pleased with it; and if I had but one son, I think I should place him in the navy. If the object be ambition, our navy presents the best prospect of honor and advancement. A young man of merit may be sure of rapid promotion and opportunities of distinction. If the pursuit be wealth, still the navy offers the fairest and most honorable means of acquiring it.” This reflects the public sentiment of the day. The President's plan, so far as it extended, would overturn this whole system at once—shut up these convenient avenues to fame and wealth for the sons of influential families—and for the quarterdeck, the high command, the fierce conflict of great squadrons, the prize-money where whole convoys of merchantmen were swooped up by the victor, the pomp of armadas sweeping over the ocean to wage and provoke wars, substitute a mere defensive system, carried on in boats of one or two guns, temporarily manned in part by a sort of marine militia, and when out of service, hauled up high and dry, like a farmer's cart “under a shed.” A change like this would not be expected to be relished by the officers, or by persons anxious to obtain commissions. Mr. Cooper, indeed, we believe, says that the gunboats were popular, at least for a time, among the younger officers. But it is probable this was rather among the class of young men, who expected nothing but as the reward of hard work and
twenty-five in the second situation, their annual expense fifty thousand dollars, . When we should be at war ourselves, some of them would probably be kept in the third situation, at an annual expense of eight thousand dollars; but how many, must depend on the circumstances of the war. We now possess ten, built and building. It is the opinion of those consulted, that fifteen more would enable us to put every harbor under our view into a respectable condition; and that this should limit the views of the present year. This would require that an appropriation of sixty thousand dollars, and I suppose that the best way of limiting it, without declaring the number, as perhaps that sum would build more. I should think it best not to give a detailed report, which exposes our #. too much. A bill, with verbal explanations, will suffice for the information of the
ouse. I do not know whether General Wilkinson would approve the printing his paper. If he would, it would be useful.
“Accept affectionate and respectful salutations.
distinguished gallantry. The gunboats would give them separate commands and a chance to exhibit individual merit. But the influential class, who looked upon the navy as an institution designed to afford aristocratic and profitable employment to the younger sons of prominent Government supporters, were of a different opinion. For the genuine admirers of England it was sufficient, because an insular and manufacturing nation, with great colonial establishments, placed her principal dependence for offensive and defensive war on a navy, that we, a continental and agricultural power, with vast territory and without any colonial establishments, should do precisely the same. And next, we had a section of country specially commercial and maritime in its pursuits. Its navigators were anxious to penetrate every ocean in the eager pursuit of wealth. To protect them efficiently and securely in every sea would require a great navy. Consequently the interests of twelve or thirteen of the partners of a national and industrial brotherhood should be made to give way to those of four or five partners. England rendered all other interests subservient to commerce; why should not we? Why should not ninety-five husbandmen, in addition to paying to five merchants a higher scale of profits than they ever received on their own industry, also agree to pay taxes or duties forever, to insure the ventures of the latter against all losses from enemies? Could any English theory of political economy be wrong in itself, or not applicable to all countries and under all circumstances? We are met on every page of a class of histories with the declaration that, if instead of arresting the growth of the navy and recommending gunboats and other defensive preparations, President Jefferson had carried out the building of the vessels authorized during Mr. Adams's Administration, and made a proportional increase, we should not, when the war with England in 1812 finally came, have been subject to invasion wherever a British army chose to disembark; in a word, that we should have been able to confine the contest principally to the ocean, and wage it there successfully. Even Mr. Cooper talks a little in this vein in his Naval History. England had in 1803, says a very accurate British writer, “no less than five hundred ships of war.” She was steadily
* Lockhart, in Life of Napoleon.
and even rapidly increasing this force. In 1805 she annihilated all European naval opposition at Trafalgar. The combined fleets of Christendom thenceforth were not a match for hers. When President Adams's “quasi-war” with France closed, we had, including all descriptions and grades, thirty-four public vessels. On Jefferson's accession, some of the lighter and less valuable ones were sold, but Mr. Cooper concedes that “perhaps four-fifths” of the real strength of the navy “was preserved.” The ships retained were fourteen in number, consisting of three of forty-four guns, four of thirty-eight, one of thirty-six, one of thirty-two, four of twenty-eight, and one of twelve. Mr. Jefferson found materials partly collected for half a dozen first-class vessels, authorized to be constructed during our maritime war with France. To subserve a special purpose, he recommended four small vessels in 1803, and they were completed, carrying in all thirty-five guns. Let us suppose that the materials left by Mr. Adams had been promptly used, and that the Government had gone on devoting every farthing which was paid on the national debt, and which could have been safely raised by internal taxes, to building, fitting out, supporting and disciplining a navy, down to the year 1812—and all this in the bare anticipation of a war which might never take place. What then would have been our naval force compared with that of England? Our increase would not in the meantime have actually kept pace with her increase ! Mr. Cooper states that in 1812 England had a thousand and sixty ships of war, and that between seven and eight hundred of them (probably as large a proportion of the whole number as in 1801) were efficient cruising vessels. The increase of the British navy, then, during nine years, had been upwards of five hundred vessels of war. We have been threatened with maritime wars—wars with the same power—since that of 1812. We never, it will probably be conceded, have shown any cowardly reluctance for the contest. Yet with a population more than five times doubled—with available wealth ten times doubled—we have not at this day (1857) an approach to the number of public ships which England added to her navy
1 Notwithstanding the outcry raised about reducing the navy, but one frigate was sold —the Washington; a ship, Mr. Cooper says, not built for or fit to be retained in the public service.
within those nine years! And be it remembered, we have not at this day a stronger navy, in proportion to our national population and wealth, than we had at the close of Jefferson's Administration. If his non-preparation was a curse, the curse follows and rests on us still. Our population during that Administration did not exceed about one-fifth that of Great Britain. She was by far the richest nation, in money, on the globe. We had, probably, as little of the pecuniary “sinew of war” as any other nation of equal numbers. How utterly absurd, then, is it to say that it was the duty of our Government, instead of going on paying our debts and leaving our people to grow in numbers and wealth, to suffer our debt to increase beyond the power of subsequent extinction, and additionally cripple the nation with taxes, in the attempt to build up a maritime strength capable of coping with that of Great Britain Our little navy, it is true, accomplished all but miracles in the second war with England. It covered itself and our national name with glory. But its weakness was one of its principal protections. England could not afford to send her vast armadas to chase our single frigates, darting like osprays over the ocean. Could we have sent out such fleets as France and Spain sent to Aboukir and Trafalgar, battles like those of Aboukir and Trafalgar would again have been fought; and whatever we may claim for ourselves on equal terms, we should not have had one against ten, not one against twenty ships, guns or men, to oppose hers. And in what condition would we have been, yet a comparatively moneyless and agricultural people, strained up to the last effort—with compound interest accumulating on former national debts, and not enough current revenue to support our navy, to say nothing of other expenses—in what condition would we have been to lose a naval action or two like that of Trafalgar? Yet if we had won a Trafalgar one day, the next we should have had to fight it over again, and against overwhelming odds, with the mistress of the seas. - * It was to be expected that a political opposition would prate, and it afforded excellent occasion for “Buncombe” speakers in Congress to talk of what we should have accomplished had we devoted ourselves thus “energetically ” to the erection of a navy during Mr. Jefferson’s Administration; and we see not why, by