Page images
PDF
EPUB

to thousands of the English peasantry, who have been driven to insurrection for the want of food.

But extreme cases never fairly test a principle, any more than an argument that proves too much. The question is, whether the American Republic has not hitherto been too stinted in its bounty to its gallant defenders ? The fathers of our gallant navy, who retired to the shades of private life, with garlands of laurel bedecking their brows, retired with them alone. The treasury had been enriched by their toils, their perseverance, and their valour—individuals rolled in wealth around them, by the protection they had afforded—yet they retired with no reward but that applause which their valour had entitled them to. When communing together, they might well say, as WASHINGToN, in his last communication to PUTNAM, said, “REPUBLIcs have Always BEEN UNGRATEFUL.” The names and the memories of Truxton, Little, the senior Decatur, Barry, the senior Morris, Tryon, Dale, Preble, and the rest of the fathers of our navy, are cherished and remembered with delight by every midshipman and lieutenant, who learned from them the skill, the discipline, and the whole system of naval tactics which enabled them to secure to themselves the high honours and copious rewards which their country has bestowed upon them. Whether their Preceptors are to be forgotten by others, and no national token of respect to be shown to them, is for the national councils to decide. Even the mouldering manes of Washington yet remain without any national monument.

CHAPTER V.

Progress of the American Navy—Reduction of it by Act of Congress—Amount of it in 1801—Lieut. Decatur's views and determination—Depredations of Barbary States upon American commerce—Measures of the American government—Decatur enters into the first Mediterranean squadron as 1st Lieut. of the frigate Fssex—his unremitting vigilance as a disciplinarian–Address te his seamen.

In the preceding chapters, the Life of Decatur has been traced from his birth, to what may be called the first period of his naval progress from a Midshipman to a first Lieutenant. In pursuit of the design of this work, we must now revert back to that period of our Republican government, when the important question whether the American navy should be augmented beyond its small beginning, or not, was agitated.

It is not the business of the historian, or biographer, to search for the motives, or to investigate the measures of statesmen. This question called into exertion the finest talents in our country; and in the administration of John ADAMs, our national council embraced an assemblage of men who would have done honour to any country.

It was intended briefly to collate the arguments in favour of, and against the extension of the naval force, commenced by the Act of 1794. The intention is relinquished for the more exhilirating and de

lightful task of recording, with a pleasure which can be but poorly expressed by language, that the advocates for naval power, by the irresistible force of reason, supported by the most brilliant eloquence, convinced our rulers of the necessity of naval defence. In 1798, the navy was augmented from six to twenty vessels of different rates. It would be useless to give a list of them. In the succeeding year they were increased to thirty-two, and, what then convinced our statesmen of the indispensable necessity of a gradual increase of the navy, provision was made for building Six Seventy-Fours. But, lest the country should be burthened with public ships which were unfitted for service, hanging like a dead weight, and while exhausting the public treasure, could add nothing to the public defence, Congress, toward the close of Mr. Adams' administration, authorised the Executive to dispose of such

vessels as should be deemed of the above character.

The wisdom of this measure has since been clearly demonstrated to the entire satisfaction of those who are acquainted with the ponderous and inextinguishable debt in which Britain is involved, and probably will be as long as she remains a kingdom. Although her immense navy is that which gives her an almost boundless power; yet our cautious statesmen knew well that it had been one great means of involving her in almost boundless debt. At the commencement of the administration of Thomas JEFFERson, in 1801, our Republic was at peace with all the powerful nations in the world; of course, large standing armies upon land, which had no enemy upon land to conquer; and large fleets upon the ocean, which had no hostile fleets to encounter, were deemed inconsistent with the public interest. The voice of the people called for an economical expenditure of the public treasure, and chose rather to see the national debt discharged, than to see it increased by any splendid projects for the gratification of national or individual ambition. . That portion of the public ships which was adjudged useless to the nation, was sold, and converted into merchantmen. The policy of that measure is no longer doubted. But the determination of the administration, wholly to suspend the building of the Seventy-Fours, when materials to a very large amount had been accumulated for that purpose, disappointed and almost disheartened the friends of an efficient naval power. It had recently been seen what a very small naval force had accomplished in the naval warfare with France, then the second naval power in the world. It had been seen, and it had been felt, what an immense augmentation of national wealth had been secured, and what a vast amount of individual property had been saved from sacrifice by our gallant countrymen, with a few armed ships, who carried our arms where they found our enemies. In this warfare, as already shown, the senior and junior Decatur had taken an active part, although neither of them had acquired those laurels which the one, in the highest, and the other, from the lowest

*

to the highest but one in the grade of officers, had sought to obtain. The father retired; but the son still adhered to that profession for which he seemed so peculiarly designed, and in which he was destined to act so conspicuous a part. The following ships, in 1801, after the reduction of the navy, composed the whole naval force of the Republic.—United States Frigate, forty-four guns, the President, Constitution and Philadelphia, of the same force; the Chesapeake, of thirty-six guns, the Constellation, Congress and New-York, of the same force; the Boston, of thirty-two guns, the Essex, Adams, John Adams and General Greene, of the same force. With these few public ships, and which were under the necessity of undergoing, previously, frequent repairs, was the American Republic to depend upon her rank upon the ocean. It was a hard case—but Stephen Decatur was never born to despair; nor was he born to despair of the naval glory of America. He had a mind, capable of foreseeing the future greatness of his country, and a heart big enough to encounter all the dangers which might be endured in advancing its glory. When he entered into the naval service, it was not done merely to wear an epaulette upon his shoulder, or a sword by his side, to excite the unmeaning admiration, and stupid stare of the rabble.—He had a country to save, and her injuries to avenge. He knew full well that the service into which he had entered, was a service pregnant with peril, and encir

« PreviousContinue »