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the richest portions of our coast afford, should be encountered with discipline as well as valor. Nothing could be hoped for from our weak and scattered army, but we should be compelled to rely upon volunteers. And volunteers, however brave, could not at first do otherwise than to permit such an army to slaughter them. In a short time we would be disciplined, and, by incredible exertions, our unwieldy masses would be formed into armies. But in that short time our rich and unprotected cities, the wealthy tract of country along our eastern seaboard, would be overrun and pillaged, and, having destroyed or stolen the fruits of our unexampled growth, the invaders could retreat to their ships, as the English did from Portugal, and return unharmed. These are no mere chimerical dangers. If it is granted that they are not probable, they are at least possible. Wars do arise, and in these days of ocean cables and steamships they can arise quickly. Our defenceless condition and the possibility of inflicting a tremendous blow upon us might tempt the cupidity or ambition of foreign nations. It is criminal for us, through our weakness and our wealth, to permit such large appeals to the piratical instincts of mankind. We may presume too far upon the enlightenment even of this age. It seems little less than treasonable negligence upon the part of our statesmen to permit such humiliating possibilities. This nation, with 'nearly fifty millions of people, and second to no nation in the world in point of wealth, cannot risk such blows to her honor, if she can to her prosperity, for the sake of a few millions of dollars. And if some of our statesmen would consume less time in magnifying the dangers of a “Solid South,” if others would consent for a little while to run the chances of liberty while there existed a few deputy marshals and some small squads of soldiers extended over a wide frontier, perhaps these high interests which involve to so great a degree the honor and safety of our country, might receive some of the attention that they deserve.
The Naval Committee, during the last session of Congress, through Mr. Harris of Massachusetts, made a careful and elaborate report upon the condition of all the vessels of our navy. From this report it appears that the entire available naval force of the United States consists of forty-three vessels, carrying a total of less than two hundred and fifty guns. More than two hundred of the guns are smooth bores, which, for a navy of these times, are nearly as antiquated as Aint-lock muskets would be for infantry. Of the rifled gụns a very few are eight inch, while the great mass of them throw shot of less than one hundred pounds weight. Only fourteen of these ships are iron-clads, and as they are the pioneer vessels of that class, subsequent improvements in armor and armaments have rendered them almost useless even for defence. This, then, is the navy of the United States—some third-rate unarmored vessels, in which it would be folly to think of making war—some obsolete iron-clads, a few, but a very few ships, that would be formidable against merchantmen, and armaments composed of smooth-bores and small rifles. The Italian iron-clad, Duillio, with her twenty-two inch armor and one hundred ton guns, which throw projectiles each weighing twenty-five hundred pounds, could alone destroy in battle this entire navy with ease, unless our vessels sought safety in flight. We could scarcely cope with Turkey or Brazil, and as to the European powers, from Spain up to France or .Great Britain, we should be absolutely at their mercy. Before the war of the rebellion, and at its close, we had a navy which for efficiency was scarcely second to that of England, and enabled us to demand and receive prompt reparation for any affront to our flag or injury to our commerce. Now we are in this respect scarcely above the Barbary states of Africa, and if we should have the impunity to resent any insult which some second rate foreign power might see fit to offer us, we should expose ourselves to the loss of hundreds of millions of property and to the utter extinction of our commerce. If the American flag is to hereafter have any place upon the seas, except at the sufferance of foreign powers, if our great commercial advantages are to be in any proper degree developed, and if we are to be in any condition to prevent war by being prepared for it, or to prosecute it with honor and the least possible loss when thrust upon us, we must remedy this intolerable condition of affairs and secure for ourselves at least a respectable navy.
During the last fiscal year the foreign commerce of New York exceeded that of Liverpool. We have, as the elements of commerce, extensive natural products, large and increasing manufacturing interests, many great and navigable rivers, a commanding position between the two large continents of Europe and Asia, and an almost unlimited coast-line upon the two great seas. We should be the first commercial nation of the World. It is scarcely to be presumed that we will always continue the folly of depriving our flag of so much commerce because we cannot compete with the English in building ships. When our registry law is altered, which, rather than permit us to give England one profit for building a ship, compels us to give her the perpetual profit of our carrying trade, a great obstacle to the development of our commerce will have been removed. But in any event, with or without our present registry law, a strong navy is indispensable to the proper encouragement of our commerce. Our merchantmen must carry a flag that is respected. Our traders must know that their government is able to protect them. They know that the sea has twice been freed from our merchant vessels through the instrumentality of England. They know that if we are to gain anything upon the ocean, as we inevitably shall, our gain will be at the expense of that nation. What would be the result, if we, without any navy, should become in commerce formidable rivals of England, if she should see our flag supplanting her flag, and our merchantmen contending for that traffic of nations which has been to her the the chief source of her wealth and her glory. She would await some favorable opportunity, she would select some pretext, of which a multitude can be conjectured, and effect the destruction of our commerce. Such a course, however infamous, would be entirely in accordance with her history. The insular situation of England, which renders her difficult of attack, and her strong marine, another desence to which her position and her valor have given birth, have been made by her the means of immunity from the obligations of the law of nations. She has emerged from this secure fastness of her privacy and has committed every manner of depredation upon more exposed or weaker nations. We need not go back of the present enlightened century to find precedents that would scarcely permit us to feel at ease in the power of such a rival. England, who, by an act of the most atrocious robbery deprived Denmark of her navy, who timed a declaration of war simply to seize the galleons of Spain loaded with corn, who has overhauled our merchant vessels, even our men of war, impressed hundreds of Amaricans from our decks, and compelled them to fight under the British flag, who by the most perfidious courses
destroyed our commerce during our late war and secured its transfer to her fag, who has conducted herself throughout as if the sea were created exclusively for her—such a nation would not fail to find a pretext, if without a navy we promised too successfully to contend with it for commercial supremacy, of sweeping our commerce from the seas. There have been many individuals, even strong political parties, in England, who have protested against her wicked methods of aggrandizement upon the ocean. Her most enlightened statesmen and her most eloquent orators have denounced the crimes against India, the destruction of Copenhagen and the robbery of Spain. And yet, attended by a fortune that has preserved her, by foul weather from the Spaniards and by fair weather from Napoleon, and apparently the especial favorite of some disreputable goddess of the sea, she has continued to regard all questions from the standpoint of her commercial interests and not from the standard of public law. In view of the fact that our chief commercial antagonist has violated all the principles of international law, it would not be wise for us to rely for our protection upon those principles alone. And until our merchants can be supported by force against her, who never respects rights unless accompanied by force, our commerce will not revive.
An effective navy is necessary not only to stimulate the growth of commerce, but as a means of defence and to place us in a proper condition for war. A strong armament would go far toward preventing war. No Spanish commander would dare lengthen the marine league into ten miles for the sake of offering such an indignity to the British flag as has recently been shown to our merchantmen, sailing almost in our own seas. Nations may presume on our naval weakness. While there is no special danger of war, there is always a liability that it may occur. The possession by foreign governments of large territories upon our continent and of islands adjacent to our coast, and the prospective Panama canal, may give rise to a possible conflict of interests. If we are in a position to maintain our rights foreign governments will be more likely to respect them and less desirous of war. A strong navy would enable us to demand a just solution of all questions affecting us as they might arise. But in the present condition of our navy we are not only not prepared to maintain our rights, but if we should assert them in any other than a modest tone, we might pay roundly for our lack of preparation. It is possible upon our coast to carve out a single piece of territory of the size of Belgium, the most densely populated country in Europe, and have as large a population as has Belgium. It is then possible to carve out an additional tract adjacent to the first, and but a little larger, and have a nearly equal population. The defenceless condition of these rich areas might tempt some strong naval power, acting under an irritation at some supposed affront, to deal us a terrible blow. We hold out these opulent territories, as it were, as hostages to foreign powers that we will treat them with all possible respect, and will not demand respect in return. Or if we do not hold them out as hostages, it is ‘most cruel for us not to provide for their defence, for we can only assert our honor at their great peril. If, for instance, in our present little difficulty with Spain, that nation should become arrogant, and should support her arrogance with arms, our seaboard, not to mention any injury to our commerce, might be daniaged to the extent of many millions of dollars. The ultimate result of such a war could scarcely be doubted, but that would not justify our lack of wisdom in being taken unprepared and in suffering such needless loss.
Our naval history, while not very extended, is certainly brilliant. The heroic conduct of our few cruisers in the war of 1812, upon a sea covered with the thousand sail of England, before that time deemed invincible, would form a fitting introduction to the most glorious naval annals. A leading British review, in noticing the recent publication of the speeches of Webster, took occasion to regard them as an illustration of the American tendency to boast of our supposed achievements (a singularly unfortunate observation with regard to Webster, who was remarkable for his simplicity and moderation, and who has pronounced upon England a eulogy not surpassed in eloquence by any of her own orators) and it then proceeded to furnish an exhibition of a very marked British traitto sneer at and belittle all victories gained over England. In the war of 1812, according to this article, British frigates contended with American vessels, frigates in name, but in reality line-of-battle ships. The allusion of the review was probably not to that feat of naval arms—the capture by two British ships, mounting in the aggregate seventy-five guns, of the American frigate Essex, carrying thirty-five guns, while that frigate was aground and in a neutral