James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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several vessels in a hurry, and that a little other timber was
admitted, rather than not get the ships in time, and that such
timber has been found decayed. I write with a detailed re-
port of the Commissioners of the Navy for the year 1827, be-
fore me. It mentions the particular condition of every vessel in
the service. I extract the following : ' Ohio, seventy-four : out-
side plank much decayed, from the rail to the ways, and some
spots of decay inside, in the plank across the stern, in the
ceihng, and gun-deck clamps.' ' Washington, seventy-four:
will require considerable repairs in her planking, top-timbers,
beams and floor-timbers: the copper should be examined
before she goes to sea.' ' Frankhn, seventy-four: will require
planking from near water's edge to the rail, and an examina-
tion of her copper.' As these three ships are in much the
worst condition of any of the twelve, I presume they are the
vessels alluded to. The foregoing is the official statement of
those who are best informed in the matter. The Washing-
ton has been built fourteen years, the Independence thirteen,
and the Ohio ten. If the reviewer thinks that British ships
do not often want planking above water, I presume he is mis-
taken. But the Washington is, confessedly, defective in
many of her timbers. The Washington was built in the war,
and, I believe, of mixed timber. I have also heard, though I
will not vouch for its truth, that she was, in part, built of
captured timber, which had been intended for the British
navy. A sufficient evidence of the quality of our timber is,
however, contained in the fact, that we have never been
obliged to break up a ship that was built expressly for a
cruizer, larger than a sloop of war, since the regular estab-
lishment of our navy in 1797. The Java was thought to be
the worst sliip, of her size, we ever had; but, on examination,
it was found that she would very well bear repairs. But
what interest has the reviewer in provmg we have rotten
ships ? did he ever know an American officer apologize for a
defeat on account of a rotten ship ?

" The next topic worthy of notice, is the dry docks. The
reviewer proves, to his own satisfaction, that a dry dock in
England costs 15.000/. less than one m America. In other
words, ten of these dry docks, which would be sufficient for
the largest navy in the world, would cost, in America, an ex-
cess of 150,000/. I do not see that the point is worthy of a
discussion, since they are not perishable things.

354 NOTES.

" I had forgotten to comment on the opinion of the re-
viewer, that England possesses ' coal and iron in greater
quantities than any other country of the world/ The assump-
tion is a little gratuitous, and I think an intelligent examina-
tion of the facts would convince him of his error.

" There is a strange perversion of the frank and manly ex-
position of certain acknowledged defects in our dock-yards
and naval system, which it is the duty of the secretary of the
navy to make to Congress, and which, I presume, he will
continue to make annually until they are amended. One is
tempted to believe such ministerial candour is unusual, or the
reviewer could not mistake its motive. A wise man would
be induced to believe it a proof of a desire for reformation ;
but the reviewer appears to think it infers a confession of
imbecility. Perhaps, however, something should be allowed
for the course of policy pursued by the two nations in exec-
utive matters.

" In page 284, there is another gauntlet thrown (by the
reviewer) from the Barham of ffty gtins, to any American
sixty gun frigate. ' She (the Barham) being in all respects
a much finer ship.' I shall not dispute the prowess nor the
perfection of the Barham, though I must still doubt the pru-
dence of saying so,much about them. There is a renowned
dramatic hero who destroyed a whole army very much in the
same way. I cheerfully acquit every British naval officer of
the indiscretion.

" I shall venture again to step beyond my proper limits.
What does the reviewer mean by stating that ' Diplomatic
Treaties, fee. cost the United States 5,140,099 dollars?' (See
Review, page 285.) He foots up the ' civil department of the
state' at 7,155,307 dollars. This is a good deal worse than the
Barham ! The official statements of the whole expenditure
of the United States' government for the year 1826, are
now before me. The whole amount of the ' civil, miscellane-
ous, and diplomatic' expenses for that year, are 2,000,177
dollars 79 cents. (See Document, page 35, [4] Treasurer's
Report, 1826.) I follow your example, and extract items.
'Light-house establishment, 188,849;' ' Marine-hospital es-
tablishment, 54,336;' 'Public buildings in Washington,
91,271 ;' ' Stock in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Com-
pany, 107,500;' '^ Stock in the Dismal Swamp Company ^
150,000;' ' Stock in the Louisville and Portland Canal Com-
pany, 30,000;' 'Payment of claims for buildings destroyed,
per act of March, 1825, 208,311 ;' ' Diplomatic department,
152,476 40 cents;' ^Mission to the Congress of Panama,
9000;' ^Contingent expenses of foreign intercourse, 18,627

NOTES. 355

&c. &-C. All the expenses that can hy possibility be con-
strued to belong to ' Diplomatic Treaties,' &c. are footed
, up separately, and, together, they make the sum of 232,719
8 cents ! ! The miscellaneous charges are also footed sepa-
rately, and make 1,110,713 23 cents; and the civil make
1,256,745 48 cents. I do not wonder that a writer who sees
figures through such a medium should say immediately after-
wards, ' it is the obvious policy of the governing powers of a
country like that we have been describing to cultivate peace
and amity with all the world.' I am quite of his mind, though
seemingly for very different reasons. It is lucky for this
writer that he has not fallen into the hands of one of our reg-
ular quill-drivers, or he would be beaten out and out, not-
withstanding his singular felicity in deciding combats on

" Let us look at one more of his weak points. In page 279
he says we expended (he refers to the year 182G) 4,222,952
dollars to support our navy. He is silent as to the expense
of buildinif ships, though we had several frigates and ships
of the line on the stocks that year, and had just commenced
building ten sloops of war, three of which were actually
launched before the month of June. Of the army he says
nothing for that year, though he tells us, that in 1824 it cost
5,270,254 dollars. Why he selected the year 1824, it is im-
possible for me to say, when the reports of 1826 were just as
clear, and probably they were before him. But we will take
his own premises. His American ' civil department of state'
cost 7,155,307 dollars ; his support of the American navy cost
4,222,952 dollars; and his army for the year 1824 cost
5,270,254 dollars. (It actually happened, including fortifica-
tions, Indian department, road surveys, &c. &c. that the ex-
penditure belonging to the war department, for 1826, was
upwards of 6,000,000.) Now all these sums make 16,648,513
dollars, to say nothmg of the expenses of building ships and
forts. On the same page the reviewer puts the net revenue
of the country at 20,385,430 dollars, which leaves an excess
qf 3,636,817 dollars for the other expenses of the govern-
ment. Immediately after, he says, ' the public debt on the
1st of October, 1825, was 80,985,537.' This, at five per cent,
about a fair average, would require 4,049,276 dollars to pay
the interest. But he admits that the debt had been diminished
nearly 10,000,000 of dollars in the years 1824 and '25. The
Secretary of the Treasury says, page 6 of his last report, that
in the years 1825 and 1826, 21,297,210 dollars were paid on
the principal of the pubhc debt. I should like to know
where the money came from, since, by the reviewer's show-

356 - NOTES*

ing, the whole expense of the government exceeded the whok
receipt 1,412,359 dollars. If he believes his ov;n premises, he
w^ill at least allow us the credit of having a very clever
financier somewhere about the Treasury. But I must stop,
or he will be apt to think that I belong to that class of Amer-
icans whom he accuses of indulging in a ' cold, calculating
tone of argumentation.'

" If, as he says, the government of the United States is
' ostentatious,' it must be the ostentation of this cold tone of
argumentation, for every body knows they get very little
money to figure with. I shall not animadvert on the close of
his sentence. If any American minister at the English court
has failed in ' courtesy and civility,' let it be proclaimed in a
manly manner to the world, or spajre us inuendos. You can
not expect that I should go any further with this writer. I
know nothing of boundary lines : all I hope is, that they may
be peEiceabiy settled.

" As to the German, or pretended German author, review-
ed, 1 have nothing to say to him. He either knows a vast
deal more of my country than I know myself, or he knows
nothing at all about it. Mr. de Roos being a professional
man, and coming out under his own name, is entitled to more

" I think it unfortunate that this gentleman did not give
himself sufficient time to make his observations.

" Mr. de Roos is hasty in his inferences. He thinks a
dock-yard was placed at Philadelphia because the people
were ' unwilling to be behind-hand with her neighbours in
the possession of such an advantage.' It appears to me a suf-
ficient reason, that Philadelphia was one of the largest, and,
what has hitherto been an object with us, one of the safest
sea-ports in the country. Baltimore is as large a town now
as Philadelphia was when the yard was estabhshed, and yet
Baltimore has no dock-yard, while Portsmouth, Gosport, and
Mobile (all three quite small places) have dock-yards.

"At Washington, Mr. de Roos entered the navy-yard.
He saw the house of the commissioner, (captain of the yard;)
but ' could observe no other residence belong^g to officers.'
I take this acknowledgment to be another proof of his haste,
as the master-commandant has a very neat and commodious
dwelling within a few rods of the other house, and nearly in
its front. I think, too, he must have passed the extensive
quarters of the officers of the marine corps, which are very
near the gate, and before which there are always sentinels.
Mr. de Roos is mistaken in calling the inclined plane Com-
modore Porter's : it was built under the inspection of Com-

NOTES. ^ 357

modore Rodgers. He is also unfortunate in his opinion of
the fate of the Potomac (on that plane,) for she was launched
without difficulty, shortly after he saw her. (See page 17.)
' The shed, or rather houses, under which they build their
ships, are not of an approved construction.' By whom? вАФ by
Mr. de Roos ? Mr. de Roos says, ' It has been the fasliion
of travellers to accuse the Americans of a habitual violation
of veracity in conversation;' but then he thinks this accusa-
tion is without foundation. I am happy that he found reason
to think so.

" In New York, Mr. de Roos describes a peculiarity in the
construction of the Boston sloop of war, on board of which
vessel he unquestionably beheved he had paid a visit. I can
assure him that the Boston sailed for the coast of Brazil some
months before he visited New- York, and she had not returned
as late as March, 1828. Mr. de Roos says that ' only one
vessel (a sixty gun frigate) was building' at New- York. He
is again mistaken : there were two frigates (the Sabine and
the Savannah) on the stocks there the whole of the year
1826. The Lexington and Vincennes sloops were launched
in March and May of the same year.

" Mr. de Roos next describes the Ohio, 74, which he terms
a splendid ship. I am glad to hear that a professional gen-
tleman has reason to be pleased with any of our vessels ; but
I think he labours under some error when he adds, ' I after-
wards learned that this vessel (the Ohio) was an instance of
the cunning, I will not call it wisdom, which frequently ac-
tuates the policy of the Americans.' The substance of his
charge is, that we fit out fine ships, and send them abroad to
create a false idea of our power. Not being in the secret of
the commissioners of the navy, who select all the vessels
used, I shall not venture an opinion on the matter ; but it is '
clear the Ohio has never been used in this manner, since, so
far from ever having been at sea at all, she has never even
been entirely finished. It is also some presumption that he
has been led into an error, that the Franklin and Washing-
ton, the former of which looked ' quite small, after seeing the
Ohio,' have both been much in actual service.

" Mr. de Roos is wrong when he says we pay bounties foi
seamen. I presume his error arises from the advance which
is always paid to a sailor in America, whether it be for a
vessel of war, or for a merchant-ship. I do not well see
how he can be right in supposing that the recruiting officer
made his report while he (Mr. de Roos) was in the yard,
since that officer makes his report only to the department at
Washinjrton. How does Mr. de Roos reconcile ' the raw

358 NOTES.

recruits from the inland States,' page 66, with ' the war com-
plement of their choicest seamen,' page 63 ?

" If Mr. de Roos is of the same mind as Mr. Halliburton,
(whom he quotes,) in believing that all circumstances go to
show the ditRculties of our having a navy, I hope he will be
disposed to give us the more credit, should the result differ
from his expectations.

" Mr. de Roos is entirely mistaken in what he says about
Boston. Nearly, if not quite half of the whole naval force
that has sailed from the United States since 1812, has sailed
from that port. He is also wrong in calling the Natchez a
74, when she is a sloop of war. As these are most of the
naval facts toucbed upon by Mr. de Roos in his brief account,
I shall now turn my attention to your own statement.

" I have already noted the error in the detailed account of
our force, and which you state to be an omission of the press.
Your estimate of the number of men necessary to man our
present ships is sufficiently correct, though you have not cer-
tainly allowed officers enough. The ships of the hne alone
would require near 800 officers, including all those who are
commissioned, or have warrants. The frigates would need
as many more, and the sloops and smaller vessels quite half
as many more. Two thousand officers would be employed,
at least, if all our ships were manned. This is a little more
than twice our present number ; but it is intended to increase
the lists, I believe; At all events, we could at any moment
create the necessary number by promoting qualified mid-

" I presume, when you say that the United States must
be admitted to possess 30,000 seamen, you mean what are
technically called able seamen. The estimate is, I think,
sufficiently low.

" I shall close this note by adverting to a part of the re-
view tliat had escaped me in running my eye rapidly over its
contents. I am sorry to see the reviewer treating the sub-
ject of impressment in so cavalier a manner. Of course, I
allude to the impressment of American seamen into the
British service. This is a grave question, and plain dealing
in time of peace will be very likely to prevent trouble here
after. Though the reviewer takes it as part of his premises,
there is no more unsafe calculation than to believe ' the past
will speak for the future' in relation to America. We do not
dispute the right of England to make her own municipal
laws ; but we do dispute her right to exercise them in any
way that shall make it unsafe for an American to navigate
the ocean. I admire the coolness with which the reviewer

NOTES. 359

says, ' If they (the Americans) have any plan to offer, by
which American seamen may be -protected against serving in
ourjleets, and British seamen from entering theirs, Great
Britain will undoubtedly be ready to discuss it.' We have a
plan for the protection of our seamen. The Pennsylvania, and
her five noble sisters, whose frames are now providing, the
Alabama, the Delaware, the Ohio, the New-York, the Ver-
mont, the North Carolina, &c. &c. &c., furnish a hint of its

" I intend to part in good humour with my unknown friend,
the reviewer; and, in order to let him see it, I shall give him
a piece of perfectly disinterested advice. If England wishes
to discuss any question connected with a right to impress men
out of American ships, the sooner she does it the better ; for,
in a very few more years, it wiU not do even to talk about."


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