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BEFORE the last war with Great Britain, the United States may be said to have had no navy. Although from the vast extent of sea-coast belonging to this commercial Republic, a maritime force seemed necessary to protect their trade, yet was the plan of having a navy exceedingly unpopular; for the people were very unwilling to incur the necessary expense, despairing of ever being able to cope with Great Britain.
Hence, when President Jefferson advised his fellow-citizens, to content themselves with building a sufficient number of gun-boats, to defend their rivers and harbours, this advice was put into execution, and was even carried so far that a frigate was sold as useless. But after they had captured a few British men-of-war, the Americans, in allusion to the gun-boats, which were for the most part drawn up ashore, derided the advice of Presi . sident Jefferson, by calling it “ the Terrapin System.”*
When Commodore Hull brought the Guerriere into Boston, the people could hardly believe their
* The Terrapin is a small tortoise, very common throughout the United States, which climbs out of the water upon rocks or logs of wood to sun itself, but plunges hastily into the water when alarmed.
senses, having previously imagined that a British frigate could easily take a seventy-four of any
other nation. Every thing that could be thought of was done to confer honour on the first American officer who had taken a British frigate ; he was thanked by Congress, he was presented with a superb sword by the inhabitants of Boston, and he was every where overwhelmed with congratulations and praises. The charm of English invincibility was broken, and a new spirit was infused into the sailors, and indeed into every class of the citizens. Several other successes increased their hopes: and the navy, from being looked upon with dislike, has become the darling of the nation, who are willing to pay any sums of money for its support and increase.
There are several reasons to be assigned for the maritime victories of the Americans. Their seaofficers knew that their very existence as a corps, depended on their exertions, and that unless they gained some successes, the navy would become very unpopular, and would perhaps be even entirely given up. Hence it is probable, that no vessels of war ever floated on the ocean, in which greater pains were taken in instructing and exercising the men, or in which a more exact and rigid discipline was enforced. The sailors were all volunteers, a circumstance upon which too much stress cannot be laid, as they must surely have felt more zeal and ardour, than men dragged from their home by violence, and forced to fight the battles of a country which oppressed them. Moreover the American
vessels were in every case of superior force to those of the British which they captured; but the difference was not very great, certainly not more than the British had been accustomed to disregard whenever they attacked the French. Besides this, the crews of our frigates were for the most part defective.
At the conclusion of the war with England, the American navy consisted of only a few frigates. An idea of its present force may be formed from the following statement :
Extract from “ The Documents accompanying the
Message of the President of the United States to both Houses, at the Commencement of the Second Session of the Seventeenth Congress, December 3, 1822.”
No. II. “ List of Vessels of the United States' Navy, now
IN THE WEST INDIES.
guns. Corvette, John Adams ...
24 Sloop of war, Peacock
18 Brig, Spark
12 Schooner, Alligator
12 - Grampus
12 - Porpoise
12 Gun-boat, No. 158.
1 Sloop of war, Hornet, 18 guns, preparing for a cruize in the West Indies, at Norfolk, Virginia,
Brig, Enterprize, repairing at New York, for a cruize in the West Indies.
“ List of Vessels of the United States' Navy, in
Ordinary, exclusive of Ships on the List of the Navy Commissioners, exclusive of List No. IV.
“ Vessels built and building under the Law for
the gradual Increase of the Navy :Columbus 74.–Launched in ordinary at Boston,
with a roof over her to protect her from the
sun, rain, &c. Ohio 74.-Launched in ordinary at New York,
with a roof over her to protect her from the
sun, rain, &c. North Carolina 74, and Delaware 74.-Launch
ed in ordinary at Norfolk, and now covering
with roofs to protect them. A 74.--At Boston, nearly finished; house over
her and perfectly protected. A 74.--At Boston; frame raised; under a
house, perfectly protected. A 74.-At Portsmouth, N. H. nearly finished ;
under a house perfectly protected. A 74.-At Norfolk, Virginia, about half finish
ed; house over her; perfectly protected. A 74.--At Philadelphia; keel laid; frame
nearly out ; house now building over her, and
probably raised by this time. Potowmac 44.–Launched and hauled up on an
inclined plane at Washington, where she now lies under a house, perfectly protected from
sun, rain, &c. A 44.At Washington about half fiyished.