United States. Congress.

Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856 : from Gales and Seaton's Annals of Congress, from their Register of debates, and from the official reported debates by John C. Rives online

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Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856 : from Gales and Seaton's Annals of Congress, from their Register of debates, and from the official reported debates by John C. Rives → online text (page 155 of 184)
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sion of the channel and every means of attai^
which their unopposed navfld superioritj could
afford. Though they saw preparing in those
ports materials for their destruction, thongh
they saw rising up in them means of ofiTenoe so
much dreaded as to i:equire the utmost vigor of
national exertion to provide against tJbem, sdll
did they stand ak>oi. Had Copenhagen been
defended by gunboats distributed so as to act
with the batteries, she would not have faUen so
easy a prev ; in fact, the few gunboats they
had did aU tlie execution that was done to the
British shipping ; for the fleet whicli remained
in the port for its defence had no retreat from
the superior force of the enemy, but wheane the;
could be pursued by vessels of equal size, while
the gunboats ran under the forts and continued
to annoy the British ships until those forts were
taken by land. And if all the vessels whidi
were captured had been gunboats, Low nandi
better would it have been for the Danes ; how
much less heavy would the loss of a few boats
have been than that of so many large ships^ so
long building and accumulating, and at such an
immense expense I But In oi^er to show the
inutility of gunboats^ as well as fortifications*
this House was told the British could succeed
against our towns by landing a sufficient nnmr
ber of men below our forts and attacking them
by land. This is exactly, Mr. 6. said, what he
wished to hear ; for it was conceding at onoe
that our gunboat and fortification defence would
be too much for them to pass, that they would
be compelled to give up the idea of carrying the
place by water, and thus lose all the great ad-
vantages which their boasted irresistible naval
power could afford them.

Mr. Cook said he could have wished that the
different modes of defence should have been
united, and decided upon together ; but from
the disposition of gentlemen who were in favor
of the gunboat system, the House appeared to
be compelled now to dedde on this alone. It
was well known that he was not averse to the
proposition for constructing a number of gun-
boats ; that he had last session given his vote
in fiivor of them, and was now in favor of in-
creasing the number, believing that in some sit-
uations they might be eminently nsefnl ; but
when he found that so large a sum had been ap-
propriated, ahnost to the exclusion of any other
moae of defence, he deemed it his duty to ^ve
his vote in favor of a proposition tending more
equally to apportion the modes of defence.

It had been moved to strike out of the bill a

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pIEOKMBBB, 1807.]

Fortijhaiiolu and Gunboats*

[H. OF R.

certain namber of gunboats, and insert a certain
number of ships of war. That a nayy was ne-
cessary for the protection of onr commerce was
the opinion of President Washington, expressed
at a time when oar commerce was compara-
tively smalL [Mr. 0. here read an extract from
an address to Congress from I^resident Wash-
ington.] Mr. C. acknowledged that he had
not experimental knowledge on this subject ;
but he appealed to the candor of those gentle-
men who advocated this mode of defence, to
accord to him that liberality which he would
exercise towards them. He meant to impeach
the motives of no man. He conceived that
every gentleman would act according to the
dictates of his conscience, and he claimed their
indulgence to do the same.

"Were the navy now to be increased to repel
aggression from any foreign power, it would be
regarded as a proper measure. He was not in
&vor of a large increase of our Navy ; but he
conceived it necessary to have a few large ships
to drive from their ports scattering ships of an
enemy. He thought himself not out of order,
sinoe the opinion of the President of the United
States on the subject of gunboats had been read,
' verbally to quote his opinion on this subject
The President was in favor of large ships ; he
thought it was improper that any single ship
should be able to block up a port or harbor of
the United States ; and that a remedy should
be provided. Mr. C. thought that no danger
oomd arise to the liberties of the people from
an increase of the Navy ; he called upon gen-
tlemen who supported that doctrine to quote a
angle instance where any nation had lost its
liberties from a navy. He did not himself con-
sider an increase of our Navy necessary at the
wesent moment, but it might be necessary at a
nitore time ; it would not, therefore, be im-
proper now to provide materials, that they might
have them in readiness when wanted. At pres-
ent their attention should be directed solely to
the defence of their cities on the sea-coast ; but
at any future time, when it should be made sat-
is&ctorily to appear to this Gk>vemment that
the nations of Europe were disposed to coalesce
for the purpose of asserting those rights which
were dear to every maritime power, he hoped
the United States would be ready and willing to
join them in maintaining the freedom of navi-
gation. It has been said, by some people, ob-
served Mr. C, that we ought to lie by on our
arms and avert the event of the European con-
test ; let them alone, say they, let Buonaparte
fi^t it out with them. Now this was a doc-
trine to which Mr. C. could not subscribe. If
there was one great power disposed to control
and domineer over the ocean, and the United
States had great property at stake, why notpay
their proportion, theur footing as it were ? He
considered an opposite conduct pusiUanimous
and ux^just. They had more tons of shipping
afloaty and were more largely concerned in the
freedom of the seas, than any nation on earth,
one only excepted; and should they say that

they would lie by unconcerned, while the dear-
est rights of nations were destroyed by any
one nation ! It must jt^ clear to every one that
the^ should not, an^'yet instead of increasing
their defensive powers where they were assail-
able and most vulnerable, he was hurt to hear
gentlemen propose means of defence for points
perfectly unconnected with existing eyils, which
consisted in the harassing their navigation, and
inflicting injuries on their floating commerce.

Mr. C. did not want ships for protection of our
cities ; he had no fear of their being burnt ; he
considered them as sufficiently protected by the
proposed fortifications and gunboats, but all the
money in the Treasury should not be applied to
these subjects. The merchants of the United
States were more concerned for the defence of
their property which they had sent beyond seas
than for the burning or sacking of our cities.
Some citiesy it was true, had been burnt during
the Revolutionary War ; but it should be recol-
lected that the enemy then carried on a war of
extermination, and even invited the savages to
bum our towns. The war which was now fear-
ed was not a war of the same stamp ; it would
be merely a war for the right of trade, and not
carried on in so sanguinary a manner.

Mr. FiBK said the gentleman from Massachu-
setts was opposed to this measure because it
would take all tiie money out of the Treasury.
He should show : First, That it was beyond
their means ; and Second^ That it was not a
measure of exigency. Would he be willing to
leave our ports and harbors unprotected, and ^
abroad to protect our commerce ? Mr. F. did
not think that the merchants of the United
States would support that doctrine. If they
did, he wished they were out of the United
States. The gentleman had told the House that
his feelings had been wounded at the deference
shown to the statements of the Secrete^ of
War, and a few minutes after, read an extract
from an English newspaper, giving an account
of a transaction which had taken place between
gunboats and English vessels. Mr. F. confessed
he was not a little surprised at his preferring the
authority of English newspapers to that of the
Head of a Department in our own country. A
gentleman who did this, might be allowed to
indulge in the spirit of prophecy. He had said,
if they adopted this measure, diey would soon
feel the effects of it. Mr. F. wished the gentle-
man would show how. The gentleman had
said, because a few towns were burnt last war,
the House seemed to think that the war which
was expected would be a war of extermination ;
but that this was to be a harmless war, a mere
war of trade. He would ask that gentleman
what was the conduct of Great Britun towards
Denmark? Had they spared the town of Co-
penhagen? He believed not Would they spare
the towns of New York or Norfolk, if it were
in their power to destroy them ? He thought
not Mr. F. thought the great question now
was, What was the most efficient force— what
would afford the most complete protection to

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H. OF R.]



our ports and harbon ? The gentleman had said
that they had now no foroe which could con-
tend with an eighty or ninety gon ship. If that
were the case, Mr. F. said^his aigament com-
pletely recoiled npon himselfl They had now
eight or ten frigates, and if these oonld not con-
tend with one eighty or ninety gnn ship, they
had better stop wnere they were, and not erect
more of snch inefficient foroe. Let ns consider
the snbjeot for a few moments, said Mr. F. This
is not an untried force ; it was tried before that
gentleman had existence. The instance men-
tioned by the gentleman from North Oarolina,
(Mr. Sawtbb,) might have shown that this
force would be sufficient It was the opinion
of a most experienced nayal commander, and
whose standing and information entitled him to
more than ordinary credit, that he would rather
have four gunboats than a forty-four-gun frigate.
A frigate could not carry the same metal as a
gnnboat If a frigate was dismasted, becalmed,
or any accident whatever happened to her, she
oonld not get out of the way. These reasons
should have weight on the minds of any gentle-
man, particularly of one who did not pretend to
experimental knowledge on this subject If the
Treasury was as low as it was said to be, they
should surely pursue the cheapest means of de-
fence. By adopting the moae of defence by
gunboats, in preference to defence by frigatecL
they would have, at the same expense, a third
more in number of guns, besides double the
weight of metaL Wil£ gunboats there was no
loss of time in putting about Not so with a frig-
ate. She must first discharffe one side, and
then go about, before she oomd fire the other.
But, gentlemen who were steeled against con-
viction, and determined, at aU events, to haye a
Navy, would not be influenced by argument or
reason. Had not Denmark a Navy ? What
became of it ? It fell into the hands of a superior
naval power, and tket will be the &te of our
Navy ijf we erect one.

Mr. Thohab said that the gentleman on his
right, his colleague, (Mr. Gabdsnixb,) had told
the House that he should vote to build the
whole number of gunboats, not l)ecause he
thought them an efncient defence, but because
he considered them feeble machines. This rea-
soning might be conclusive in the mind of that
gentleman, and he did not care what influenced
im, siuoe it appeared they should have his vote
for the bill.

However, Mr. T. said he merely rose to reply
to one remark of that gentleman. He knew
that it had been rung through the country, by
electioneeriog gentry, for these number of years,
that the formidable navy, so carefully raised by
the former Administration, had been sold ofiTby
the present one, and the nation left without de-
fence ; and that gentleman (Mr. G.) had repeat-
ed the same story, that the formidable navy
which had been raised with so much care had
been sold oiS^ to the eternal dissraoe of the nar
tion« Hearing this assertion. Mr. T. thought it
his duty, on that floor, to dedare tiiat not a

single national ship had been ordered to be sold
since the present Administration oame into
power; that not a on^e vess^had beenwdd
except from orders issued previous to tlie time
that the administration of this Govemmeat
was taken out of the hands of those ooinddmg
with that gentleman in political sentiment

The amendment offered by Mr. Duskix was
then negatived — ayes 19.

The bill being about to be read a third time
this day, its decision was, on motion of Mr.
Eluot, postponed till tonnoirow.

Thubsdat, December 10.
Fartificatiani and Ounboatt,

The bill sent from the Senate, entitled "- An
act to appropriate money for the oonstraction of
an additional number of gunboats,'^ togetiier
with the amendment agreed to yesterday, wai
read the third time.

Mr. Eluot. — When an humble and nninfiook-
tial individual, voluntarily isolating himself from
the-several great parties that divide, distnc^
and ruin our devoted and degraded coontry —
our devoted and degraded country — (I repeat
the expression, sir, for I know it to be as con-
sonant to the rules of order as I shall proTe it
to be incontestably true ;) when such an indi-
vidual rises to deliver his sentiments upon an
important subject of national concern, it would
seem that the singularity of his situation might
attract attention, however deficient be may be
in the solid powers of argument, or the brilUant
tones of eloquence. But these are inauspidoiB
times. These are not the moUia temp&ra „fit»di
— ^the soft reasons of persuasion — the calm hours
of peace. They are times of alarm and denun-
ciation. For myself, peculiar and almost im-
sistible reasons woidd impel me to continae
silent, not only this day, but for the short re-
mainder of my political existence. But there
are periods whensUence is almost equivalent to
an abuidonment of duty. Private afflictions^
as inconceivable by others as they are indesorib-
able by myself, were I ^sposed to describe
them, indispose me for poHtical exertion, lliere
are times, however, when even the most refined
feelings of the human heart should give place
to the sublime energies of the human mind.
When imperious duty calls, the latter should be
exerted, even if it be only that the fonuer,
when the great effort is over, should resume
their empire with more exquisite sensibility.

The present is one of those great crises tiiat
rarely occur in the annals of nations — it is, in-
deed, a crisis of most awful moment Our po-
litical day of hope and joy and peace is suddenly
overcast with thick and dark clouds. In the Isn*

Sage of sacred oriental poetry, it is a day of
rkness and gloominess — a day of donds and
thick darkness— as the morning spread^upon the

In casting my eye over the various documents
upon t^e table, my attention is for the moment

Digitized by




Dbcxmbbb, 1807.]

Fort(0eationt tmd Gtmboal$.

[H. OF R.

attracted by one which has been placed npon it
this morning — ^a report from theOommittee on
Reyisal and Unfinished Business, npon matters
nndetermined at the last session. In this I find
mention made of several propositions npon the
subject of the defence of the nation, which I had
the honor then to propose, and which it was not
the pleasure of the House then to act upon.
Propositions of a similar character, so far as
respects the fortification of the ports and har-
bors, the organization and arming of the militia,
and the equipment of the frigates, it is now
hinted, will be carried into effect in the course
of the present session. I am happy that my
doctrines are becoming popular, and that there
is some prospect of their adoption. But it is
because I fear, and indeed believe, that the pres-
ent bill is pressed upon us for the purpose of
superseding every measure of national defence
which would comport with the true interest
and the honor of the nation, that I am so decid-
edly opposed to it, and that I consider the Repub-
lic degraded by the substitution of a weak and
miserable policy for measures of a manly and
magnanimous character, at a crisis which pecu-
liany requires them.

The principal argument, although this does
not seem to be openly avowed, in fiivor of the
present measure, is the supposed predilection of
the Executive for this system of defence. In-
deed, this is but a new edition, or rather a new
volume, of the celebrated proclamation and gun-
boat system, which, instead of elevating us in
the scale of nations, has greatiy sunk the na-
tional character. Tne objects in view are to
protect the commerce of tiie Union to a certain
extent, and to protect our coasts and seaports.
Of course this measure is to constitute a mate-
rial, if not the principal part of a general system
of national defence and protection. The object
is proper and patriotic, and it is a subject of
deep regret that the means are inefficient. But
•history and human experience have settied the
true character of these machines, and as we
have nothing else to hope for, we can expect
nothinglike an energetic and effectual system.

TheFresident shall recommend. The voice
of the constitution is imperative. It makes it
the duty of the Ohief Executive Magistrate to
take upon himself the responsibility of explicitly
recommending to the Legislature such measures
as he deems the public welfare to require. In
making the inquiry, in what manner has this
great and solemn duty been performed at the
nresent moment? the transition is easy to the
Message of the President at the conunencement
of this session^ These messages, as public doc-
mnents, and addressed exclusively to the Le-
gislature, are certainly fair subjects of criticism ;
and whoever shall be impelled by duty to speak
nnpleasantiy of the present qrstem of adminis-
tration, will have an abundmit source of rich
consolsdtion in the reflection, that^ when gun-
boats are the subject of discnasion, it is impossi-
ble to be out of order. The present system
begins and ends with gunboats. In the Message

to which allusion has been made, which should
have been as a polar star to guide us at this
dark season, not a single measure is explicitiy
and unequivocally recommended. I wUl read
that part of it which relates to the Naval Estab-
lishment :

*' The ganboats already prorided have been chiefly
aasignedto New York, New Orleans, and the Chesa-
peake. Whether onr movable foroe on the water,
BO material in aid of the defensive works on the land,
should be augmented in this or any other form, is left
to the wisdom of the Legislature. For the puxpoae
of manning these vessels, in sadden attacks on our
harbors, it is a matter for consideration whether the
seamen of the United States may not justly be formed
into a special militia, to be called on for tours of
duty, in defence of the harbors where tiiey sh^
happen to be ; the ordinaiy militia of the place fur-
ni^dng that portion which may consist of landsmen.'

Here the Executive submits certain matters
for consideration, without assuming to himself
the responsibility of expressly recommending
them. In relation to the Naval I^tablishmen^
he only talks of a movable force on the
water; and. if we should build our flotilla of
two hundred and flfty-seven gunboats, at an
expense which will be shown to be enormous,
and, in the event of a war with Great Britain,
two or three British ships of the line, and as
many frigates, should come upon onr coast, and
blow them aU to atoms, as would infallibly be
the case if they were to come in contact with
them, we shall no doubt be told that a wise and
prudent Executive never recommended such an
ill-judged, degrading, and disastrous measure.
But for what purpose are gunboats to be built t
To protect commerce and the coast Every one
knows that we cannot protect our commerce in
every dime and on every sea against the naval
power of Great Britain. It would be unwise,
therefore, at present, to exhaust our resources
by building a navy of ships df the line. It does
not follow, however, that nothing can be done;
that we cannot support our own Jurisdiction.
Nothing effectual, it is certain, can be done by
gunboats. They have never been of use but as
auxiliaries to more extensive and substantial es-
tablishments ; and they have always been of so
littie comparative use, as to render it impossible to
ascertain the amount of the service they have ren-
dered. We may safely challenge their advocates
to produce a single instance in which, alone and
unconnected with works of more consequence,
they have been of any essential use at all, for
purposes either of offence or defence. In my
researches into their history I have met wiw
no instance of the kind. Here I shall advert to
a document, the reading of which has been
called for by the honorable chairman of the
committee on that part of the President^fr Mes-
sage relative to aggressions committed within
our waters, and with which I should not other-
wise have troubled the House. I do it at this
time, because I flnd my voice failing so fast that
I shaJl be unable to go so fhlly into the subject
as I originally contemplated. This I shall not

Digitized by




H. OF R.]

F&fi^fieeOiotu mtd GumboaU,

[1>SCKIIBKB, 1807.

regret myself, and still less will the House regret
it. In the message of Fehruary 10, 1807, com-
municating the information requested hy the
House of Representatives in relation to the
utility and efficacy of gunhoats, we find, indeed,
that gunboats apparently constitute but a subor-
dinate species of defence, and yet they are
spoken of as competent to almost all the pur-
poses of national protection. A flotilla of no
less than two hundred is contemplated.

Annexed to the Message are Uie opinions of
several military and naval officers, some of them
celebrated and some of them obscure. Oeneral
Qates, whose memory we all venerate, has been
mentioned. He merely gives his opinion, and
f^imishes no particular information upon the
subject He is followed by General Wilkinson,
the hero of the Sabine and New Orleans, the
man who violates your constitution at the point
of the bayonet in order to preserve it inviolate ;
the idol of popular delusion for the moment,
but the object of a very different homage from
the wise and good. Unfortunately, the letter
of this great character conveys no information.
Commodore Barron says: **Ten or twelve of
these boats will probably be sufficient to com-
pel to remove from her position a frigate, and
80 on in proportion to the size and number of
the enemy ^s ships. To do more than annoy
would be difficult. With those vessels a great
number and a long time would be necessary to
capture a ship of war; but few commanders
would feel secure while open to the attack of an
enemy, which, however inferior, he could not
destroy." Tliis is all very candid and very
strong reasoning against the cause it is produced
to support It is matter of regret, however, if
it ever has been ascertained that gunboats have
been able to remove a ship of war from her po-
sition, that we have not been put in possession
of that information. The following remarks
are taken from the communication of Captain
Tingey: "The efficacy of gunboats in the de-
fence of coast*!, ports, and harbors, must be ob-
vious to every person capable of reflection;
when it is considered with what celerity they
can generally change their position and mode of
attack, extending it widely to as many differ-
ent directions as their number consists of, or
concentrating nearly to one line of direction.
Such, indeed, is believed to be the great utility
of gunboats for defence, that, notwithstanding
the gigantic power of the British Navy, in its
present state, a Judicious writer in the British
Naval Chronicle, after advising a plan for rais-
ing a fleet of 150 or 200 gunboats to assist in
repelling the threatened invasion of that country,
says, ' a gunboat has this advantage over a bat-
tery on snore, that it can be removed at pleasure
from place to place, as occasion may require,
and a few such vessels, carrying heavy guns,
would make prodigious havoc among the enemy's
flat-bottomea boats crowded with soldiers.' "
Surely we do not expect the British will come
to invade us in flat-bottomed boats. If they
should do so, we may array this miserable ma-

chinery against them, and shall probably be

But it is a popular system — the people are in
favor of it — ^and this is an overwhelming an-
swer to every argument that can be urged
against it.

With whom is it popular? Certainly not
with the people in the Northern States, for a
very great migority of them are opposed to it

Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856 : from Gales and Seaton's Annals of Congress, from their Register of debates, and from the official reported debates by John C. Rives → online text (page 155 of 184)