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The Jefferson Administration and the US Navy

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  • The Jefferson Administration and the US Navy

    After the continued discussion of Jefferson, Madison and the US Army and Navy I found a copy of Henry Adams' History of the United States 1801-1809 and there is interesting information in it regarding the Jefferson Administration's 'relationship' with the US Navy.

    '...Robert Smith [Jefferson's Secretary of the Navy] was a Baltimore gentleman, easy and cordial, glad to oblige and fond of power and show, popular in the navy, yielding in the Cabinet, but as little fitted as Jefferson himself for the task of administering with severe economy an unpopular service. The navy was wholly Federalist in tendencies and composition. The Republican party had always denounced this Federalist creation; and that a navy caused more dangers than it prevented or corrected, was one of the deepest convictions that underlay the policy of Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin. In theory they had no use for a sea-going navy; at the utmost they wanted only coast and harbor defenses, sloops-of-war and gunboats...'-150.

    'The navy...was believed to be wholly superfluous, and Jefferson was anxious to lay up all the larger ships, especially the frigates.'-151

    To say the least, the historical charges that both Jefferson and his Secretary of the Treasury, Gallatin, were against the US Navy and believed it both too expensive and a threat to the republic.
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
    Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
    To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

  • #2
    The American State Papers would be relevant to this.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by OpanaPointer View Post
      The American State Papers would be relevant to this.
      Agree.

      John Elting commented on Adams History that 'it was almost entirely based on original documentation.' Apparently, Adams spent eighteen months in Europe researching in English, Spanish, and French archives. When doing his research in the US, because of who he was 'he had free access to any official records.'

      There are errors and some omissions, but Adams history is still a credible and reliable source for the administrations of Jefferson and Adams, and the portion of it on the War of 1812 was extracted and republished separately by The Infantry Journal, with the permission of Scribner's and Sons, the original publisher, and the family heirs. It is entitled simply The War of 1812.
      We are not now that strength which in old days
      Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
      Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
      To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

      Comment


      • #4
        From the US ...

        Originally posted by Massena View Post
        Agree.

        John Elting commented on Adams History that 'it was almost entirely based on original documentation.' Apparently, Adams spent eighteen months in Europe researching in English, Spanish, and French archives. When doing his research in the US, because of who he was 'he had free access to any official records.'

        There are errors and some omissions, but Adams history is still a credible and reliable source for the administrations of Jefferson and Adams, and the portion of it on the War of 1812 was extracted and republished separately by The Infantry Journal, with the permission of Scribner's and Sons, the original publisher, and the family heirs. It is entitled simply The War of 1812.
        ..state papers/archives; Jefferson's letter to Congress dated Feb 10, 1807 outlining how wonderful his gunboats are, and some included, interesting letters of support:



        "I am Groot"
        - Groot

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        • #5
          "They cannot be surrounded..." No, but a frigate could just drive right over them. And they only had a speed advantage in low wind conditions. Add in the height advantage a two- or three-decker's cannons had and things didn't look good for the rowboats.

          But it was military-on-the-cheap, so that's what we got.
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          • #6
            Jefferson's proposal for a covered dry dock to protect those ships not in use doesn't seem to have been a bad idea. Gallatin warned him that the Republican congress would reject it, but he still made the proposal in his second annual address on December 15, 1802. The cost was projected at $417,000 and the builder was Benjamin Latrobe.

            Jefferson stated:

            Presuming it will be deemed expedient to expend annually a convenient sum toward providing the naval defense which our situation may require. I can not but recommend that the first appropriations for that purpose may go to the saving what we already possess. No cares, no attentions , can preserve vessels from rapid decay which lie in water exposed to the sun. These decays require great and constant repairs and will consume, if continues, a great portion of the moneys destined to naval purposes. To avoid this waste of our resources it is proposed to add to our navy-yard here a dock within which our present vessels may be laid up dry and cover from the sun. Under these circumstances experience proves that works of wood will remain scarcely at all affected by time. The great abundance of running water which this situation possess, at heights far above the level of the tide, if employed as is practiced for lock navigation, furnishes the means for raising and laying up our vessels on a dry and sheltered bed. And should the measure be found useful here, similar depositories for laying up as well as for building and repairing vessel may hereafter be undertaken at other navy-yards offering the same means. The plans and estimates of the work, prepared by a person of skill and experience, will be presented to you without delay, and from this it will be seen that scarcely more than has been the cost of one vessel is necessary to save the whole, and that the annual sum to be employed toward its completion may be adapted to the views of the Legislature as to naval expenditure.
            To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman. - George Santayana

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            • #7
              Originally posted by OpanaPointer View Post
              "They cannot be surrounded..." No, but a frigate could just drive right over them. And they only had a speed advantage in low wind conditions. Add in the height advantage a two- or three-decker's cannons had and things didn't look good for the rowboats.
              A few galleys (rowboats) were built, but they were useful vessels for inland waters. Nearly all the gunboats were sail. Be it remembered that the gunboat was an adjunct for the harbor fortifications and were meant to be supportive (mobile floating batteries). They were not meant for blue water operations, and frigates and ships-of-the-line were less effective in shallow waters. Gunboats and galleys could, and did, operate in shallow shoal waters where the bigger ships could not go. During the Revolutionary War they were used to some good effect. At the siege of Fort Mifflin in 1777, no Pennsylvania State Navy gunboat was lost in action whereas the Royal Navy lost a 64 and a corvette trying to operate in the shallow waters of the Delaware. Thus the concept was not without precedent.

              But it was military-on-the-cheap, so that's what we got.
              They were not actually all that cheap, and the political leanings of the day in both Congress and the nation at large was "no offensive navy" (so as not to engage in foreign enterprises). This was actually the predominant political thought for pretty much the next hundred years. A very popular Theodore Roosevelt mixed with a new public spirit of interventionism still was not able to overcome the anti-navy sentiment in Congress and the nation even during TR's great naval buildup. That is why the Great White Fleet consisted of lots and lots of battleships, but very few cruisers and destroyers. The latter Congress refused to fund. Even the battleships suffered revisions. In 1904 (or thereabouts) Roosevelt wanted three more 16,000 ton CONNECTICUT class battleships (there were five), but Congress whittled it down to two 11,000 ton MISSISSIPPI Class (which turned out to be something of a design failure). Eventually, a sixth CONNECTICUT, NEW HAMPSHIRE, was constructed, but the MISSISSIPPI's only lasted six years before they were sold to Greece. The first U.S. battleships to be disposed of.

              Even in late 1800, John Adams only asked for a navy "suitable for defense," and that with a relatively pro-navy Federalist Congress.

              Tuebor
              Last edited by Tuebor; 11 Sep 16, 22:06.

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              • #8
                The 'gunboat navy' was not only 'on the cheap' but they were generally useless, and therefore a waste of funds that could have been put to better use.
                We are not now that strength which in old days
                Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                Comment


                • #9
                  The building of gunboats had a political aspect since they could be constructed in many locations where a much larger ship could not be built. The distribution of contracts for them is listed on page 91 in Gene A. Smith's book "For the Purposes of Defense" The Politics of the Jeffersonian Gunboat Program.

                  Portland, (Maine) Mass. 17
                  Brunswick, (Maine) Mass. 3
                  Newburyport, Mass. 1
                  Westerly, RI 3
                  Newport & Greenwich, RI 4
                  Norwich, Connecticut 2
                  Middleton, Connecticut 4
                  Boston, Mass. 1
                  New York, NY 37
                  Philadelphia, Penn. 23
                  Havre de Grace, Maryland 1
                  Baltimore, Maryland 1
                  Washington, D.C. 13
                  Matthews County, VA 4
                  Hampton, VA 5
                  Portsmouth, VA 4
                  Norfolk, VA 10
                  Wilmington, NC 3
                  Charleston, SC 11
                  Charleston, (WV) VA 1
                  Marietta, OH 2
                  Cincinnati, OH 5
                  Lexington, Kent. 2
                  Eddyville, Kent 5
                  Lake Champlain 2
                  Lake Ontario 1
                  To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman. - George Santayana

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                  • #10
                    Good point, taco. The rivalry among the States was such that each year the SecNav and SecWar had to explain where new midshipmen and cadets came from, where they were living when they signed up, who proposed them, etc. No State wanted the others to get too much influence in the military, and even then the South was wary of the North in this regard.
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                    Hyperwar, Whats New
                    World War II Resources
                    The best place in the world to "work".

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by taco View Post
                      Jefferson's proposal for a covered dry dock to protect those ships not in use doesn't seem to have been a bad idea. Gallatin warned him that the Republican congress would reject it, but he still made the proposal in his second annual address on December 15, 1802. The cost was projected at $417,000 and the builder was Benjamin Latrobe.
                      That in itself does not. However, in or out of water, wooden warships require constant maintenance and repair and that aspect was not either funded or cared about by the Jefferson administration.
                      We are not now that strength which in old days
                      Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                      Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                      To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Tuebor View Post
                        A few galleys (rowboats)...
                        A galley is not merely a 'rowboat.' American galleys that were employed on Lake Champlain by Arnold not only had oars, but two masts with lateen sails. They were the Washington, Congress, and Trumbull.

                        You can find a description and an admiralty drawing of the captured Washington on pages 106-108 of Chapelle's The American Sailing Navy.

                        They were also armed, and 'rowboats' are not armed and usually, if not always, do not have masts or sails. And 'rowboats' are somewhat small-galleys were not.
                        We are not now that strength which in old days
                        Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                        Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                        To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                        Comment

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