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recommendation by the executive, ef a naval policy. “To an active external commerce, (says the President) the protection of a naval force is indispensable. This is manifest of wars to which a state itself is a party.
But besides this, it is in our own experience that the most sincere neutrality, is not a sufficient guard against the depredations of nations at war.
Το secure respect to a neutral flag, requires a naval force organised and ready to vindicate it from insult or aggression. This may even prevent the necessity of going to war, by discouraging belligerents from committing such violations of the rights of the neutral party, as may first or last leave no other option. From the best information I have been able to obtain, it would seem as if our trade to the Mediterranean, without a protecting force, will always be insecure, and our citizens exposed to the calamities from which numbers of them have but just been relieved. These considerations invite the United States to look to the means, and to set about the gradual creation of a navy. Will it not then be advisable to begin without delay to provide and lay up the materials for building and equipping of ships of war, and to proceed in the work by degrees, in proportion as our resources shall render it practicable without inconvenience, so that a future war of Europe may not fiud our commerce in the same unprotected state in which it was found by the present?"
In the first message of President Adams, (16th May, 1797,) he enforces the wisdom of this policy in very emphatic language. In consequence of the message of General Washington, Congress called for a report respecting the depredations committed on the commerce of the United States. It appeared from the report made in obedience to this call, that between three and four hundred American vessels had been captured by French cruisers—the greater number of which had been condemned.
Congress at this session, among other measures, having in vie he protection of the commerce and the vindication of the honour of the country, authorized the President to fit out and employ the frigates United States, Constitution and Constellation, and made an appropriation for completing the three frigates then on the stocks. This was the second important step taken by the Government for the purpose of creating a naval force, and like the former, it was forced upon them by hard necessity. Every thing was now rapidly tending to a rupture with France. Every effort to avert that calamity seemed only to hasten its approach. At length Congress determined, in accordance with the declared wishes of the President, to take measures to redress our wrongs by force of arms.
On the 9th of April, 1798, the Secretary of War (then also charged with the duty of superintending the concerns of the navy) submitted to the House of Representatives his plans for the protection of our commerce. Among the means recommended as indispensably necessary, was “a provision for building or purchasing two vessels of 22 guns, eight of 20 guns, and ten of 16 guns; and, that the President should be vested with authority in case of open rupture, to provide, by such means as he may judge best, a number of ships of the line not exceeding six, or an equivalent force in frigates.” With these recommendations Congress so far complied, as to authorize the President
to cause to be built, purchased or hired, a number of vessels not exceeding twelve, to carry not more than 22 guns each." A few days afterwards, the office of Secretary of the Navy was created, and Benjamin Stoddert (a gentleman who proved himself, says our author, pre-eminently qualified for the station was appointed to that office.
In the course of the months of May, June and July, of the same year, acts were passed declaring the treaties with France no longer obligatory-authorizing the capture of French armed vesselsmand directing so many additional vessels of war to be built, as made the whole number at that time, (July 1798) authorized by law, amount to
12 Ships of not less than 32 guns,
12 of not less than 20, nor exceeding 24, And 6 of 18 guns, besides gallies and revenue cutters. So great was the activity displayed in providing this force, that towards the close of the year 1798, there were actually at sea, no less than four squadrons, under the separate commands of Commodores Barry, Truxton, Tingey, and Stephen Decatur, Senior, consisting in all, of four frigates, four ships of 18 guns, and eight smaller vessels. Of the operations of the navy during this brief French war, our limits will not permit us to speak. The spirit of the country blazed forth-several brilliant naval actions were fought, and splendid victories achieved, and all doubt was removed of the ability of the United States to carry on maritime warfare successfully and gloriously.
Though many other officers eminently distinguished themselves, Truxton was the hero of the French war. In the actions with the Insurgent and the Vengeance, the former of which he captured, and the latter compelled to strike her colors, (though she finally escaped) he achieved victories over a greatly superior force, and displayed so much skill and gallantry as to command universal admiration, and to receive, with a gold medal, the thanks of Congress. In looking over the list of
names which became “known to fame” in the course of this war, we find those of Rodgers, Hull, Stewart, Porter, and many others which have since become identified with the honor of the navy, and the glory of the country.
On the 3d of March, 1801, our hostilities with France were terminated by a treaty of peace, and the active services of the navy being no longer required, the President was authorized by “the act providing for a Naval Peace Establishment," "to cause to be sold all the vessels belonging to the navy, except the following, viz:- The United States, Constitution, President, Chesapeake, Philadelphia, Constellation, Congress, New York, Boston, Essex, Adams, John Adams, and General Greene." The act further directed, that six of the frigates should be kept in constant service, and the President was required to retain in service, nine captains, thirty-six lieutenants, and one hundred and fifty midshipmen.
Happily for the fortunes of the navy, the termination of hostilities with France, was immediately followed by new difficulties with the Barbary Powers—and the moment our vessels of war returned into port, it became necessary to despatch a fleet under Commodore Dale to the Mediterranean. For a period of nearly four years, (from 1801 to 1805) the operations of this squadron (successively commanded by Commodores Dale, Morris, Samuel Barron, Preble, and Rodgers) were carried on with various degrees of energy and success, but throughout the whole period, our young officers were undergoing a course of instruction, and were subjected to a system of training, the beneficial effects of which, the country has experienced from that period even to the present hour. The result of the French war, and especially the brilliant achievements of Truxton, had excited the spirit of the navy, and given an impulse to our brave and enterprising young men, which now burst forth with a splendour which adorned their names with imperishable glory...
For two years, however, after the American fleet made its appearance in the Mediterranean, no actions were performed (if we except the capture of the Tripoli, of 14 guns, by the Enterprise, of 12 guns, commanded by Lieutenant Sterrett) which at all satisfied the expectations of the country. The people of the United States had begun to look upon the navy with a partial eye--they had become proud of its high character, and were not to be satisfied with any thing short of complete and dazzling success. The boast of Commodore Morris, therefore, “that during the whole period of his command, there was not a citizen of the United States who either lost his property, or was made a captive," was not admitted as an apology for the
production of no trophies, during a cruise of two years. He was therefore superseded, and the historian in acquitting him of any deficiency in point of courage, attributes his want of success “to indolence and want of capacity." His successor, Commodore Preble, on whom the command of the fleet devolved in the latter part of the year 1803, soon acquired for himself a reputation, which is as fresh now, as when with the thanks of his country, a gold medal was presented him for “ his gallantry and good conduct." Under his command, the spirit of the navy, impatient of the restraint to which it seems to have been subjected, burst forth in a series of daring enterprises and brilliant achievements, which, though not on a large scale, were as perfect of their kind as ever graced the annals of any country.
The first, and perhaps the most splendid of these achievements, was the destruction of the Philadelphia, in the harbour of Tripoli, by the gallant, the lamented-and "all accomplished" Decatur. For boldness of design, and skill in execution, this was one of the most finished exploits that ever graced the records of naval warfare. According to the account of Commodore Preble (for the affair has, in some respects, been differently represented by others) Decatur, then a lieutenant, was dispatched in a small ketch, called the Intrepid, of 4 guns and seventy men, to destroy the Tripolitan (late the United States' frigate Philadelphia, of 44 guns) which had been unfortunately captured by the Turks, in consequence of her having grounded near the entrance of the harbour of Tripoli. The frigate was moored in the harbour of Tripoli, within pistol shot of the shore, and was surrounded with a considerable naval force and powerful land batteries, mounting upwards of one hundred pieces of heavy
Decatur (with whom the idea of this enterprise is said to have originated) proceeded in company with the Syren, Lieutenant Stewart, to the harbour of Tripoli, and having arrived there, he entered the harbour on the night of the 16th of February; running up alongside of the Philadelphia, Decatur threw himself with his handful of brave men on board, and after a short and desperate struggle, succeeded in carrying her, when, in obedience to the orders of Preble, he set fire to his prize, and brought off his crew in safety, under a tremendous fire from all the Turkish batteries and armed vessels in the harbour. In the mean time, the Syren having gained her position without the harbour, dispatched her boats to aid in the enterprise, which, however, from accidental causes, were prevented from effecting a junction with the Intrepid, until after the frigate had been carried.
The attacks on the Tripolitan gun-boats followed in quick succession, and led to a series of heroic actions, which, if they
had been the only exploits of our little navy, would have immortalized the men who performed them. In these affairs, the two Decaturs, Sommers, Chauncey, Bainbridge, Trippe, Caldwell, Spence, Dorsey, Izard, Morris, and many others, most gallantly distinguished themselves.
The closing scene, in which three of our most promising offi, cers,-Sommers, Israel, and Wadsworth, like the Decii, surrendered themselves a voluntary sacrifice for their country, realized in modern times the heroism of the proudest days of Rue. We have not room to prosecute this grateful theme. It would give us pleasure to trace succinctly the operations of the squadron under Commodore Preble, up to the moment of his being superseded by Commodore Samuel Barron,-an event which seems to have filled the bosom of Preble, if not with indignation, certainly with the deepest regret. This gallant officer, the pride of his country—the ornament of the navy,—was recalled, at the very moment that the fruits of all his labours were to be reaped. This measure, which savored so much of injustice, we are assured was forced on the administration, by necessity. The difficulties which had been encountered in bringing the Turks to reasonable terms,-the bloody battles which had been fought, and the losses which had been suffered, had induced the administration to believe, that it was necessary to send a much larger squadron to the Mediterraneanto command which, it was found necessary to employ at least two captains, senior to Preble. If higher grades had been known in our navy, the services of Preble would certainly have justified his promotion. In any navy in Europe, one hundred officers would have been at once advanced, if that measure had been necessary to secure to such an officer as Preble, a command which was assuredly his right, by the best of all titles,-hard fought battles-brilliant victories—and continued success. But Preble had the mortification of being recalled, at the very moment of his proudest triumph. Congress and the nation, however, as well as the officers of the navy, did ample justice to his exalted merits ;—and the conclusion of peace with the Barbary Powers, which very soon followed, has always been considered as the consequence of the achievements of the navy wbilst under his cornmand. Commodore Samuel Barron, his successor, was very soon compelled to relinquish his command by ill health, and the judicious and energetic conduct of Commodore Rodgers, on whom the command then devolved, terminated a glorious war by an honorable and lasting peace-a peace which forever abolished ransom and tribute; which, for upwards of twenty years, has been but once interrupted, and has given greater secu