James Fenimore Cooper.

Notions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) online

. (page 36 of 58)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 36 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

be admitted, the question is reduced to the inquiry,
of whether she can induce one-third of her seamen
to serve in her navy.

The plenty or scarcity of mariners in the United
States, is altogether a matter of demand and supply.
There is clearly no surplus population to beg em-
ployment ; and there is also a general aptitude among
the natives, that enables them to gain their living
in more ways than one. A seaman is a sort of arti-
san ; and he requires rather higher wages than the
labourer on shore, as a reward for his peculiar skill,
and a compensation for his greater privation. It is a
peculiarity of this country, that sailors, especially in
New-York, and in all the Eastern States, are often
found on land ; not begging their bread, or sweeping
the streets, but engaged in some creditable employ-
ment that gives them support. To meet any extra-
ordinary demand, these men commonly return to the
sea. Such of them as are impatient of a monotonous
life, and who are unwilling to serve for reduced
wages, as is at present the case, seek employment
elsewhere. The public and private cruizers of the
South American States, abound with such adven-

Now, it is rather a striking feature in the charactei


of the lower orders of the Americans, that they
rarely lose their native attachments. They have a
great and fixed contempt for all monarchies. It is
necessary to overcome a principle that has settled
into a prejudice, in order to make them respect any
sort of government but a republic. Money will buy
them, no doubt, but they require to be bought. They
are not accidents on the surface of society that are
willing to float, like most other mariners, whither the
current shall carry them, but they are men who can
only find the opinions which lie at the root of all
their habits, in their native land. Unlike the subject
of any other system on earth, the American, who is
unfortunate, can lay no part of his calamity to his
country. He was not born in a region where climate,
or monopoly, or excessive population, or any other
adverse cause, presses him of necessity to the earth.
He retains in all situations a respect, a love, and fre-
quently a longing, for the place of his birth. With
money and opportunity, America might procure thou-
sands of every nation in Europe to serve in any
cause ; but it may be questioned if this whole coun-
try furnishes one hundred men base enough to enlist
in positive warfare against its institutions or rights.
It is a consequence of this feeling, that the United
States are more sure than other powers of retaining
to themselves that portion of their population, which
has taken to the sea for a livelihood.

These feelings would recall, and have recalled, the
American sailor home, in the moment of hostilities;
a time when the mariners of other nations seek
opportunities of going abroad. He is not afraid to
stand, at any time, on his native soil, for he knows
that there is a law for him as well as for other men.
Though he may be the perfect master of his own
movements, a sailor is eminently a social creature.
He is ever inclined, as you know by experience, to fol-
low a general impulse. I am of opinion that in a popu-

80 THE WAR OF 1798.

]ar war, the naval rendezvous of this country would
be thronged ; though it is certainly easy to conceive
circumstances in which it would be difficult to pro-
cure men.

In the war of 1738-9, crews were often got for
frigates in a single day. There were two reasons for
this abundance of men. Privateers were not profit-
able against the trade of France, and the conflict
was particularly in unison with the feelings of all
nautical men. In the war with England, there was
sometimes a momentary difficulty in filling a crew ;
but then privateers abounded. There was also an-
other reason why seamen were reluctant to enter
the national cruizers, during the war with England :
crews were often transferred, in gross, from the sea-
board to the lakes. The latter was a service in bad
odour. There was no prize-money, nor did it at
all accord with the prejudices of a tar, to be running
in and out of a port on a great fresh-water pond.
Still, near the close of that war, though the services
of a great number of men were lost to the country,
by being captured in privateers, I am told, that such
crews were rarely known in the marine of any nation,
as then began freely to offer themselves.

These are famihar reasons that must have a greater
or less bearing on the facility of procuring seamen
for the public service in the United States. The in-
fluence of a popular impulse can scarcely be esti-
mated ; though it is quite within the reach of prob-
ability that it should be exceedingly great. There are
also other influences, which might be very powerful
in producing a ready supply of men. A war would
be declared, either when many merchant-ships were
at sea, or when they were not. In the former case
the whole mercantile community would feel a direct
and powerful interest in manning their fleets ; and in
the latter, seamen would be out of employ. Then,
the government could at all times create a monopolj'


m its own favour, bj refusing to grant private com-
missions, or even bj imposing an embargo. The
former has never yet been done, because it was the
pohcy of the country to encourage privateers, since,
heretofore, they have had no other very efficient
means of annoying their enemy.

On the whole, I incHne to the opinion, that the
fifty sail, which this country now possesses, could be
manned, in a reasonable time, without resorting to
any extraordinary means of inducing the men to enter.
Still, in a country like this, so much depends on the
particular impulses of the day, that it is a question
which will admit of dispute. A situation of things
might be imagined in which a ship of the line would
readily get a crew in a day, and then, again, circum-
stances might easily occur that would render enlist-
ments tardy and reluctant. This is always supposing
the supply to be left to the ordinary operations of trade,
or to the influences of popular excitement. For the
purpose of any long-continued and serious naval ser-
vice, the government has in reserve most of the ordi-
nary resources of other nations.

Although impressment is not, ought not to be, nor
probably ever will be tolerated in the United States,
a naval draft would be perfectly just ; and if it be not
now, it might easily be made constitutional. As the
law stands, a seaman is exempted from all mili-
tary duty, because it is the policy of the country to
encourage its commerce. But there is clearly no
reason in natural justice why a sailor should not risk
his life in defence of the rights of his fellow-citizens
as well as a landsman. This point being admitted, it
is both more politic and more humane that he should
perform the duty on an element to which he is ac-
customed, and in a service that he understands, than
by doing violence to his habits by becoming a soldier.
There are a variety of ways in which the govern-
ment of the United States might even now, with per-


feet legality, place most of the seamen, which actually
exist in the country, more or less at its own disposal.
I have already mentioned an embargo as one power-
ful means of manning a fleet.

It is not an exaggerated estimate to suppose that,
shortly after the commencement of the war with
England, 10,000 men were serving in the American
privateers. This number alone, added to the crews
in the regular service at the same period, would more
than man the whole of the present force of the coun-
try. There can be no doubt that what the nation
did with a population of 8,000,000, and a tonnage of
1,200,000, it could now do, with far greater facihty,
with a population of 12,000,000, and a tonnage of
near 1,600,000.

In ahuost every war into which the United States
can enter, their operations must, of necessity, be con-
ducted on the water. Canada and Mexico excepted,
they have no immediate neighbours on the land. But a
v,'ir with Canada would be a war with England, and
the experience of the contest of 1 812, has taught the
Americans, that neither their commerce nor their
shores are safe in such a war without a marine. Their
growing fleet owes its existence solely to this convic-
tion. The present naval force of the country, com-
pared to that which it possessed in 1812, is already
as twenty to one : not in the actual number of the
vessels, certainly, but in their size, and in their con-
sequent ability to resist, or to attack. In 1812, the
Americans could show but seven frigates, only three
of which were of any magnitude, while now they
might show a line of tv/enty-seven sail, the smallest
vessel in which should be the largest vessel they
possessed in 1812, and the largest a ship of six times
the force of the latter. This change denotes, to say
the least, a serious intention to protect themselves.

The situation of the United States calls for no
very hasty, or over-jealous vigour, in military prepa-


ration. The people of the country know their unrival-
led advantages. A war like that which England lately
waged with France, a war of twenty years, would, if
America were a party, be commenced with a nation
of 12,000,000, and be ended with one of 20,000,000
of souls! In the security of their remote position,
and of their rapidly increasing strength, the people
of this country are in no hurry to spend their money
Their actual fleet, instead of being a forced and pre-
mature establishment, is rather the result of inevitable
circumstances. What nation before this was ever
known to have 1 ,200,000 tons of shipping, with seven
frigates and eight or ten small cruizers for its protec-
tion ? It appears to me, that so far from considering
the present maritime force of the United States as
the utmost they can do, it ought to be considered
rather as the result of what they cannot help doing.
Money, skill, materials, pride, interest, and even ne-
cessity, unite to give birth to their fleets. The sur-
prise should not be, that they are now creating a
marine, but that they have so long neglected the
duty. I am of opinion, that the past will be a guide
for the future, in this respect. The United States
may be driven to an exercise of their energies ; but,
if left to themselves, it will be found that all their
military establishments will rather follow than lead
the country. The natural order of things will accu-
mulate the power of the repubhc quite fast enough
for its own happiness, or for the peace of the w^orld.

Until now the Americans have been tracing the
outline of their great national picture. The work
of tilling up has just seriously commenced. The Gulf
of Mexico, the Lakes of Canada, the Prairies, and the
Atlantic, form the setting. They are now, in sub-
stance, a vast island, and the tide of emigration, which
has so long been flowing westward, must have its re-
flux. Adventurers in the arts, in manufactures, in
commerce, and in short, in every thing else, are al-


ready beginning to return from the western to the
eastern borders. It is true that the force of the cur-
rent is still toward the newer countries, but the time
is near for those regions to give back some of their
increase. Thousands of single men already find their
way from Vermont, from the western counties of
New- York and Pennsylvania, and from even Ohio,
to the sea-shores, as labourers and traders. Popula-
tion is becoming dense, and as it accumulates it will
acquire the energy of a concentrated force.

Although ages must elapse before necessity shall
drive man to beggary, or to abject dependence, in the
United States, the time for a more regular increase
of the people over the whole surface has commenced.
It is true, that large districts still remain empty ; but
a variety of causes has, in the first place, a tendency
to retard their settlement, and, in the second place, it
must be remembered how much sooner 12,000,000
can fill a vacuum than 4,000,000.

The people of the older States are getting a taste
for the arts and comforts of life, that disinclines vast
numbers to encounter the privations of the forest.
New-England, the great hive of emigrants, was a
comparatively sterile and unfavoured region ; and,
twenty years ago, it possessed few other employments
than those of husbandry. But climate, richness of
soil, and moral considerations included, the more
eligible parts of the country are now occupied. The
emigrant (of 1790, and of 1800) to New-York or to
Ohio, returned with accounts of advantages to which
the inhabitant of Massachusetts or Connecticut was a
stranger ; but the emigrant to Illinois, to Indiana, to
Kentucky, or to Missouri, is apt to pine for things
that he has left behind him. Manufactures, and the
thousand additional pursuits of a growing wealth, are
beginning to chain men to their birth-places. The
effects are already to be traced in the returns of the


New- York has been what is termed an emigrating
State, these twenty years, and yet her population has
increased near 13 per cent, within the last five.*

Although the supply of seamen must, for many
years, be limited to the demand, since men can find
support in other employments, the government can
at any time create a demand of its own, in order to
keep up the number necessary for the two services —
viz. the navy and that of commerce. Hitherto no
artificial means of creating seamen have been adopted.
The government has as yet had no motive for such
extraordinary care. They employ, in point of fact,
only about twenty sail.t These vessels are manned
by a very simple system, and with little or no diffi-
culty. Rendezvous are opened in the different ports
when men are needed ; and, as they enter, they are
placed on board of receiving vessels, where they con-
tinue until a draft is made for a crew. They pay no
bounty, nor do the wages ever vary to meet the fluc-
tuations in the price of seamen's wages in the mer-
chantmen. The wages of a seaman are, however,
something higher than those paid by any other nation
to men in the public service.j When the ships are

* The births exceeded the deaths, in New- York, (1825) 38,840
souls ; or at a rate that, notwithstanding emigration, would
double its population once in forty years.

t The actual force of cruizers in commission (1828) is one ship
of the line, six frigates, two corvettes, ten sloops, and four
scliooners. These vessels, including the ordinary, are manned
by five thousand three hundred and eighteen men.

:}: A captain, commanding a ship of any force, receives 100
dollars a month, and eight rations a day; if he command a small
ship, his pay is 75 dollars, and six rations. The pay of the other
classes is as follows: — master commandant, 60 dollars, five ra-
tions; lieutenant commandant, 50 dollars and four rations;
lieutenant, 40 dollars and three rations; master, 40 dollars and
two rations; past-midshipman, 25 dollars and two rations; mid-
shipman, 19 dollars and one ration; boatswain, gunner, sail-
maker, and carpenter, 20 dollars and two rations ; petty officers,
19 dollars and one ration; seaman, 12 dollars and one ration;

Vol. II. H


manned, orders are given to stop the enlistments.
The supply varies, of course, a crew being sometimes
obtained in a few days, and sometimes not in many

As the Americans add to the number of vessels em-
ployed in their service, they will, certainly, facilitate
the means of a supply by increasing the demand. The
great outlet to the rest of the world, the path of ad-
venture, and the only, at least the principal, theatre
for military achievements open to the people of this
country, is on the ocean. It is only necessary to in-
vite adventurers, to attract to their flag all, whom
restlessness, ambition, misfortune, enterprise, or ne-
cessity, shall induce to wander.

The progress of the physical force of this country
is not to be calculated by that of other nations. Inde-
pendently of the gross amount of numbers, and the
rate at which the population increases, there is an-
other important fact to be considered in making all
X)ur estimates of the future power of this nation.
When we say that America, with so many millions
of people, has done this or that much, has furnished so
many soldiers, or so niany seamen, it is necessary to
remark how very large a proportion of the population
are of an age to be dependants, instead of actors. In
1320, 17.1 1 of the whole population were boys under
ten years of age. Including girls, rather more than one-
third of the population had not yet reached that tender

ordinary ditto, 10 dollars and one ration; boys, 6 dollars and
one ration ; chaplain and purser, 40 dollars and two rations ;
surgeon, 50 dollars and two rations ; surgeon's mate, 30 dollars
and two rations; captain of marines, 40 dollars and two rations;
first lieutenant ditto, 30 dollars and two rations ; second ditto,
25 dollars and three rations, &c. &c. The rations of all the
officers are paid in money, if required, at the rate of 25 cents a
day for ea'ch, except the marines, who receive army pay and
allowances. An army ration is worth 20 cents a day. It is,
however, intended to increase the pay of most of the officers
gee note B. at the end of the volume.


period of life. So far, therefore, from being assistants,
they had been clogs to the exertions of their parents.
Of 7,856,269 whites in the country at the census of
1820, 3,o40,o99 were under sixteen years of age. It
is a natural fact that the commerce of the country
should grow with its population; but it is evident that
the ability to furnish a supply of men, for all purposes,
must increase in an augmenting ratio. The propor-
tion between whole numbers and active agents has
not yet reached the level of Europe, and the Ameri-
can is, therefore, entitled to so much greater credit
for what his country has done, since, even supposing
other things equal, it has certainly been done, in con-
sequence of this peculiarity, with a comparatively
diminished force.

The United States would certainly take a new
position in the event of another general war. So far
from being again the prey of the belligerents, she
would (unless an actor) be a neutral, whose weight,
thrown into either scale, might make her a power to
be dreaded on the ocean. England herself would
find the hfty, or a hundred sail, which these people
could, and, no doubt, would employ, highly embar-
rassing. The country, without precocious, or un-
natural efforts, has reached the point when it has
become an important ally. The West India seas
would even now lie greatly at her mercy, especially
if England, or France, had enemies nearer home. In
a very few years this republic will not be very wary
as to its choice of a foe, and in yet a few more, it will
be able to meet fearlessly the greatest power of the
earth in any way that man can elect for the gratifica-
tion of his lawless propensities.

Still I think that the government of the United
States will not be very dangerous by its ambition.
That it wiW sweep its coasts of every hostile hold ;
that Bermuda, and all such places, will come into
the possession of the Americans in the course of tlie


next half century, no man can doubt, who has seen
how sagaciously they have already arranged their
frontiers, and who knows how to estimate their grow-
ing strength, hi fifty years it is physically certain
that these States will contain fifty millions of souls.
This number, supposing that the present m.arine
should increase only in a numerical proportion, would
give them a navy of rather more than two hundred
sail, of which one hundred and twenty would carry
more than fifty-four guns. With an empire, compact,
natural, and so constituted as to require no artificial
defence, this alone would be a more available force
than three times the number employed in protecting
distant colonies and divided interests. The game
which England has played with America, in their
two wars, by striking at the weak and most exposed
points, America will be able to play with England,
in the course of the next twenty years. It would be
too dangerous an experiment to lie in her rivers and
bays, even now, with the advanced improvements in
steam ; and as to their ports, they will, shortly, be
beyond aggression. The American citizen, a little
drilled, is as good a soldier, in a fort, as any man in
the world. The last war abundantly proved that no
numbers can expel active and skilful seamen from
the ocean ; and any one can calculate what an efii-
cient fleet of twenty sail might do against a divided
empire. I know no more unsafe calculation than to
rely on the inactivity of an American sailor.

But it is a well-known fact, that the force and
wealth of nations are not so much in proportion to
their numbers as to their advancement in the arts of
life, and to their moral superiority. In every thing
that constitutes general moral superiority, these peo-
ple are already in the foremost rank. Their popu-
lation is getting compact; and as manufactures in-
crease, and the usual divisions of employments follow,
they will become rich in a geometrical progression.


Should there be a necessity for such a force, there is
far more probabihty that their marine will contain
one thousand than two hundred sail in the year 1875.

Nor do I find a single plausible reason for disbe-
heving this result. Should a separation of the States
occur, an event quite as improbable as any other act
of suicide, and just as possible as all suicides, the
commercial and manufacturing States would still
keep together. I think, if any thing, their marine
would be larger than if the confederation should
exist as it now stands, since there would be but one
opinion on its policy, and its size would clearly be a
matter of greater necessity.

1 know but one other material point to be con-
sidered in examining the American marine. With
reference to its immediate growth, the finances of the
country and the cost of ships are important. The
debt of the United States is about 60,000,000 of dol-
lars,* the revenue rather more than 21,000,000,
without taxes. Including comparatively heavy sum.s
paid to build fortifications, and a half million, each
year, to the increase (not to the repairs) of the ma-
rine,! the whole expenditure is about 13,000,000 of
dollars. This leaves an excess by which the debt
will be entirely extinguished in a few more years of
peace. A fair proportion of the moneys that shall
then remain will, beyond a doubt, be used in foster-
ing so interesting an arm of the pubhc defence as the

The American ships, considering their quality, are
about as cheap as those of England. Some articles
are less costly, others more expensive. I find that
the Columbus, a ship on two decks, pierced for one

* It is actually 66,000,000, but the balance was created for
the purchase of bank-stock, which pays an interest, and which
can be sold without difficulty.

t This appropriation has been lately extended to six more
years. — See note A. at the end of the volume.



hundred, and mounting about ninety-two or ninety-
four guns, stands charged, nearly ready for sea, at
426,931 dollars; the North Carolina, launched, but
not finished, at 343,251 ; Delaware ditto, at 375,735;
and the Ohio* 303,000. The Potomac frigate was
launched for 157,320 dollars, and the Brandywine,
nearly completed for sea, for 261,876. The two
latter are pierced for sixty guns, and actually mount

Before closing this long, but I trust, to you, not
tiresome, letter, I will allude to another topic. The
Americans have been ignorantly and coarsely charged
with deception on the subject of their navy. It has
been said that they constructed vessels of extraordi-
nary magnitude, and gave to them the appellations
and rates of frigates. What is the fact ? Frigates, as
you very well know, were originally ships of one gun-
deck, with a regular quarter-deck and forecastle, on
both of which guns can be mounted. At first, the two
latter decks were smaller than was necessary, and
tlie frigates were rated at the precise number of guns
that they carried. Thus a ship that formerly carried

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 36 of 58)