How May the Sphere of Usefulness of Naval Officers Be Extended in Time of Peace with Advantage to the Country and the Naval Service?

By Captain A. P. Cooke, U.S.N.

Such a position cannot be successfully maintained by us without an efficient navy. A naval force is necessary for the protection of our coasts and commerce, of our citizens and their property on the ocean and in distant lands. It is necessary to the preservation of our peace and the efficiency of our negotiations with foreign nations, to the advancement of our commercial interests, the maintenance of our appropriate position among nations, and the prompt vindication of our rights and the honor of our country. All these requirements for a navy are even necessary during seasons of profound peace, but as the history of the past does not warrant us in supposing- that peace is to be our perpetual possession, we also need a navy to fight the battles of our country in time of war.

The necessity for a navy being conceded, its efficiency should be such as to give it a reasonable hope of success, when opposed by those it may have occasion to encounter. Of all the means which may be employed to accomplish this end, none can be more important than that of maintaining a competent and efficient corps of officers; without which the finest ships and the most effective guns will be of no avail. But when the ships are suffered to deteriorate and the guns become obsolete and the whole system of naval defense is neglected, it must have a chilling and injurious effect upon the officers. How can they keep up their enthusiasm and their ambition and their desire to fit themselves for their high calling, when the tools they must use are old and worn out and worthless? If war unhappily comes, the public will probably trust in Providence to point the way to quickly improvised methods of defense, but the officers cannot be improvised; they must be kept ready in case of need, unless we utterly neglect our obligations and willfully jeopardize the life of the nation. And those who cannot serve must of necessity stand and wait. The question is, how may their sphere of usefulness be extended?

Naval officers are selected in their youth from all parts of the country, and carefully educated by the government for its service. They are brought in contact and in friendly emulation with youth from all parts of our great domain, and soon lose all local prejudice and sectional feeling in a broad sentiment of patriotism and love of country; the fittest only survive the careful culling continually going on, and those who receive certificates of graduation are efficient, capable and ambitious. They have a high sense of honor and feeling of esprit dc corps, and the country may well repose special trust and confidence in their patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities. It is a great mistake to discharge such men after so much care and expense have been lavished by the government on their training. All officers of the navy, except those of the medical corps and chaplains, should be appointed from graduates of Annapolis, and instead of sending the surplus graduates to their homes, they might go into the Revenue Marine, or even into the consular service of the country. What special use can those who are relegated to their homes ever be to the government in return for the careful training they have received at its hands? Yet the government has need of just such capable material in various branches of the public service.

In order to show how the sphere of usefulness of naval officers may be extended, it will perhaps be well first to consider briefly the present limits of that sphere. Our naval officers are employed at present in maintaining and using the limited naval establishment provided by the country. They are occupied on shore at the various naval stations, in guarding and protecting the public stores and property. In designing, building, rebuilding, repairing and fitting out the vessels allotted for service. In the manufacture of engines, boilers, rope, anchors, cables, rigging, sails, etc. In preparing the arms, ammunition and other public stores for the use of the fleet. In the preliminary training and education of both officers and men. In the preparation of charts, almanacs, sailing-directions and other aids to navigation. In the care of chronometers, compasses and other nautical instruments. In the supervision of lights, beacons, buoys and all other guides for the safe piloting of vessels on our extensive coasts, lakes and navigable rivers. In the development of signals, torpedoes, explosive agents and a new armament for our ships. In service on courts-martial, boards of inquiry, inspection and examination, and in the different bureaus of the Navy department.

All these important duties require the continual service of officers on shore, and it is wrong to suppose that naval officers are only needed for service afloat, and should be off duty when ashore. There is as much, and quite as important, duty involved in the preparation of ships for service and in keeping up the necessary establishment on shore, as is required for their use afloat. No one can be so well fitted for this duty as naval officers, who have to use the implements provided, and are thoroughly conversant with the needs of the service and have its best interests at heart. Moreover, all such service affords an important training and keeps the officers abreast with the improvements and changes continually going on, besides giving the government the use of the most intelligent, faithful and devoted servants it could find for the purpose.

Naval officers are employed afloat in using the force furnished. First in importance comes duty in regularly commissioned cruisers armed for service, where the routine of a man-of-war is strictly enforced, and where is to be found a school of practice for both officers and men. The ship, her armament and equipment, are tested and proved, and her people drilled and trained; they are made familiar with the vicissitudes of service afloat, and capable of battling with the elements and the enemy. Nothing but actual service afloat will accomplish this, and if the facilities are not afforded, the personnel cannot be kept efficient. Ships must be had for this purpose, and the officers familiarized with their management. They must all have a fair proportion of experience in regular cruisers, during service in each grade, as the only means of fitting them for all the duties of their office. They also perform duty afloat in ironclads, equipped for harbor and coast defense, in practice-ships and training-vessels for the education of apprentices and cadets, and in surveying vessels, both on our own coasts and abroad.

Probably the most effectual way of increasing the sphere of usefulness of naval officers in time of peace, would be to prepare for the time of war, which must be inevitable, by building up and maintaining a naval establishment commensurate with the needs of the nation; thereby furnishing the legitimate and varied occupation so essential to the efficiency of the naval service. The time of peace would seem to be the appropriate season to design and test whatever may be calculated to make our navy formidable and effective in time of war. Remarkable changes are taking place in naval matters continually, and there is no reason to suppose that we have yet reached perfection in these matters, or that we have attained the ships and armaments best fitted for permanent adoption. If a navy is ever to be used in earnest, the wisdom of keeping it continually in an efficient state is undoubted. Unfortunately we have from our earliest history, in the moment of danger, temporarily increased our naval power at enormous expense, and, as soon as the danger was passed, we have always relapsed into our usual condition of weakness and inefficiency. This course has cost the country many times more millions of dollars than were necessary to have made and maintained a most powerful navy. But our wonderful recuperative ability makes us soon forget our great losses, caused by our want of foresight and neglect to avoid the waste of precipitation.

If a sufficient naval establishment is not available for the employment of all the officers, there are many congenial avenues where their peculiar training may be profitably utilized in the service of the government, and where their faculties will neither rust nor their ideas stagnate. Their special training and experience particularly fit them for the performance of duties in connection with ships and shipping, and all matters where the knowledge of a marine expert is needed. Whenever officers of the national government are required in the performance of duties connected with the merchant marine, naval officers would be the most efficient, economical and reliable persons to employ; and retired officers of the navy might many times be profitably used and do efficient service for the government in these civil occupations.

There are several branches of the public service where vessels and seamen are employed, other than under the control of the navy. Considering the great advantages possessed by the navy, for the training of officers and men, and for building, repairing and fitting-out vessels, and furnishing their necessary stores and supplies, it would seem to be in the direction of public economy and efficiency to gather all these together under one general management. The large plant and immense amount of stores and equipment necessary to supply all these various interests could certainly be cared for and provided more economically and efficiently in that way. This would very extensively enlarge the sphere of usefulness of navy officers, and be of great advantage to the country, by placing the Revenue Marine with its Life-Saving Service, the Coast Survey and Light-House Establishment, under the care of the Navy Department. Then the many navy-yards of the country would offer accommodations for all their stores and fittings, furnish and equip their vessels and supply their wants. Great economy should certainly result. It would not be necessary to keep up so many separate establishments, and the whole business could be managed under one organization.

The Light-House Establishment affords a striking instance of how the sphere of usefulness of naval officers may be extended with advantage to the country and the naval service. Before the organization of the present Light-House Board the light-houses were in charge of the Revenue Marine Bureau, and revenue-cutters were employed on light-house duty. In 1838 a board of navy officers was created to examine into the light-house system, and on the report of that commission the coasts were divided into districts and a naval officer assigned to each. These officers were required to report, among other things, as to the plan, site and need of each proposed light-house, and did their duty so thoroughly that Congress, for the first time, had a full and clear knowledge of the real needs of commerce, and was enabled to provide for and meet its immediate necessities. The wants of shipping, however, soon outgrew these new plans, and a mixed commission of army and navy officers was raised to inquire into the Light-House Establishment, and report a program to guide legislation in extending and improving the system. Their labors resulted in the creation of the present Light-House Board, composed chiefly of navy officers and officers of the corps of engineers of the army. This board was authorized to discharge all the administrative duties relating to the construction, illumination, inspection and superintendence of light-houses, light-vessels, beacons, buoys, sea-marks and their appendages; procuring supplies and materials, and keeping all the property in good repair. A naval officer was appointed as inspector of each light-house district, who, under the special direction of the Naval Secretary of the Board, was charged with the maintenance of light-houses and lights, with the discipline of the keepers, and the location and care of beacons, buoys and all other sea-marks. A vessel was furnished each inspector to visit and supply the different stations, and they are always busy carrying supplies to the light-houses and caring for the beacons, buoys and other aids to navigation along our coasts.

It is a fortunate thing for the navy that this business of light-house inspection was placed in the hands of naval officers, who have performed the duty faithfully and well; expending judiciously and with clean hands the large appropriations devoted to that service. The navy can justly point with great pride to the work it does in the lighthouse service, as indicating what it can accomplish when employed in the civil service. The Light-House Establishment is for the benefit of shipping, and yet, singularly enough, it is not under the control of that department of the government which should have exclusive management of all nautical matters. The officers have to be transferred temporarily from the navy to the control of the Treasury, while the vessels belong to the Treasury. The vessels are not always appropriate for the service. They should be staunch sea-going propellers, of sufficient size to endure the bad weather they must frequently encounter, and with engines of sufficient power to brave an ordinary head sea. They would afford excellent commands for young navy officers, and give them valuable opportunities for gaining practical experience afloat, and becoming familiar with the handling of steamers and the approaches to our harbors. When these vessels come in for stores and repairs, they have no rights at our navy yards, though belonging to the same owners.

The Revenue Marine Service has in the popular estimation an indefinite relation to the navy, and it would be an advantage to both services if that relation were fixed and definite; the former being a regular coast-guard, service and naval reserve. There is no better field for the extension of the sphere of usefulness of naval officers in time of peace than this. The Revenue Marine has over thirty vessels, two hundred officers and seven hundred men. The cutters are handy armed steamers of light draft, frequenting all the waters along our extensive coast-line, for the protection of the revenue, and to assist vessels in distress. Vacancies in the service are filled by the appointment of cadets, who are required to serve a satisfactory probationary term of two years, and pass the necessary examination. The scope of the examination covers only the ordinary English branches. The cadets are first sent on a practice-cruise at sea, in a revenue-cutter detailed for the purpose, and are carefully trained in practical navigation and seamanship. During the winter they are instructed in mathematics and such other studies as will best fit them for the proper performance of their duties as officers. A second cruise at sea is followed by another winter of study and training on shipboard; when after examination they are, if found qualified, appointed third lieutenants in the service. The surplus graduates of Annapolis would make infinitely superior material for appointment as officers in the Revenue Marine, besides saving to the government all the expense of this preliminary training, and keeping on hand an efficient body of officers always available for active service in time of war. This service would afford a fine practical field of usefulness and a school of practice for young officers, where they might become familiar with the revenue laws of our country and our commercial interests; become acquainted with our coasts and harbors, and gain valuable experience in handling steamers. Under the present organization, the vessels of this service are not entitled to the privileges of our extensive navy-yards and never enjoy them. If they want to repair or refit they go elsewhere; and if they require to be docked it is done by private parties; when, perhaps, the government dock is adjacent and unoccupied. How can it cost more to do these things in the government yards, where the plant all belongs to the same owners and no percentage is charged on the investment, but the whole expense is simply for the material and labor required?

The Coast Guard of Great Britain was an organization formerly intended to prevent smuggling and protect the revenue merely, but is now constituted so as to serve as a defensive force also, and such would be the case with our Revenue Marine if combined with the Navy. The old coast-guardsmen of England were in the employ of the customs department, but in 1856 the Coast Guard was transferred to the Admiralty. The coasts of the United Kingdom are divided into districts and each placed under a navy captain, who has a guard ship at some port in the district. All the revenue cutters are attached as tenders to these ships and manned there from. The whole organization is disciplined and drilled and kept in efficient condition for service, and in time of war all these men may be called upon to serve as man-of-war's-men. The guard-ships are also employed as training ships for the navy. This becomes an excellent and additional school of practice for officers, something which we need so much in time of peace.

The Life Saving Service would naturally follow the transfer of the Revenue Marine to the Navy, because it is now managed by officers of that service. This would render the whole system thoroughly homogeneous and place it practically under one head. No part of the coast would be out of the view of the coast-guardsmen, who could always be at hand to give aid to sufferers or to telegraph information to headquarters.

The Coast Survey is a sub-department of the government where the sphere of usefulness of naval officers might be greatly extended with advantage to the country and the naval service. Naval officers are now employed on that service to a limited extent, in making hydrographic surveys to determine the coast-line of the United States; and in making charts of harbors and tide- waters, and of the bottom of the ocean along our coast. But the small appropriations made available for that service impede greatly its usefulness. Its operations fairly commenced in 1832 with a survey of New York harbor, and were extended to the eastward and southward, continuing later to the Gulf and Pacific, coasts. It is still going on, and there is yet much to do; besides, the early work has to be gone over in many cases. The hydrographers of forty years ago had neither the knowledge, the instruments, the experience nor the precision which they now have; and the physical changes have in some places been very great, so that new surveys are necessary. What can be done, with limited means and few men, is being done by our Coast Survey; but it is high time our coasts were all mapped out, and the approaches to our harbors thoroughly surveyed, and the charts in the possession of navigators. This would give an impetus to our coastwise commerce which would richly repay the country for the amount expended.

The Coast Survey Service naturally belongs under the supervision of the Navy Department, but was, unfortunately, located in the Treasury, because its originator and first superintendent was in the employ of that department as Superintendent of Weights and Measures. The vessels of this service do not belong to the navy, but the men and officers employed on them do, and are paid from the naval appropriation. This service affords a most excellent and necessary school of practice for naval officers. Not only do they gain valuable experience in handling the vessels and managing their affairs, but they become thorough masters of chart-work and practical navigation on pilot ground. Every nook and corner of our coast becomes familiar to them, and they learn the name of every shoal and rock, the depths of water over them, the marks by which they are distinguished, and the ranges by means of which they are located.

If these nautical branches of the civil service were located where they certainly most appropriately belong, under the intelligent supervision of the Navy Department, it would necessarily extend the sphere of usefulness of navy officers and be a great advantage in many ways. Officers, whose promotion is now so very slow, must spend long years in the subordinate grades; and after a certain amount of necessary work in regular naval cruisers, many of them would be very glad to have service in the civil branches. This would relieve them from the monotonous grind of naval routine, give them more independent and responsible duty, and keep them profitably occupied. The many little steamers of these services would give them abundant experience in their management and handling, and a just confidence in their own powers. Their knowledge would be increased and their natural abilities quickened, as it never can be done by keeping them continually employed in subordinate duties, with no opportunity for independent action or the assumption of responsibility. After long years of subordinate service, during which an officer's ambition is broken and his zeal quenched, when at last the opportunity arrives for individual action he is quite likely to find he has been so accustomed to leaning upon others, and being guided and directed by them, that he is unfit to stand alone. In every calling there must be some stimulus offered to the ambition of those who enter it, and a reasonable prospect of advancement as well as security.

These services would also afford excellent places for the men as a reward for faithfulness and long service. After a certain number of continuous re-enlistments for active service in the regular navy, the men could enjoy more comfortable and less arduous duty in the civil branches, where they would be nearer home. And their ripe experience and training would be always available in the hour of need. The records of their service would be kept in the same office and their history thoroughly known. Such men would form a valuable nucleus for the training of new levies, when expansion was necessary.

The Hydrographic Office was instituted in the Navy Department, for the purpose of improving the means for navigating safely the vessels of the navy and of the merchant marine; and here should be located the Coast Survey interest, for it is a needless expense to keep up two separate establishments, with such similar aims, in different branches of the general government. Navy officers are employed in the work of this office, but their sphere of usefulness could be largely extended by more liberal appropriations for this important service. By far the largest part of the earth's coast-line has been only approximately surveyed, and in many places only the general direction and aspect of the coast is given, so that the navigator must be constantly on his guard against hidden dangers. The Hydrographic Office has charge of the preparation of all charts of foreign coasts, while the Coast Survey Office looks after those of our own. Good policy and economy would seem to dictate that these interests should be combined. The former, unfortunately, has in service but one surveying vessel, which is doing valuable and much needed work on the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Central America. These surveys of foreign coasts should always be assigned to special vessels charged with the duty of making charts, and sent abroad with officers specially detailed for this important part of the naval work. The extension of our commerce requires a systematic examination of many reported dangers in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and a thorough survey of the Pacific and parts of the West India islands and the Spanish Main. Experience teaches that men shun hidden dangers, and if the danger, though known to exist, has no precise location, navigators will lose valuable time in endeavoring to avoid it. Those bold navigators who in the early days literally took their lives in their hands, and in their wretched little caravels penetrated into unknown seas, are entitled to every praise; but in these modern days of large and valuable steamers, with their quick movements and accurate courses, it is more than ever necessary they should be able to pursue their way with confidence and security.

The meteorological division of the Hydrographic Office could profitably employ many more officers. In this division, the information gained by the experiences of navigators in every sea is collated and analyzed, for the purpose of affording complete knowledge of ocean meteorology. Probably none of the arts has benefited to so large an extent by the labors of meteorologists as navigation. The knowledge thus acquired of the prevailing winds during different seasons of the year, of the regions of storms and calms, and of the laws of storms, has caused a great saving of life and property, and by pointing out the most expeditious routes to be followed, has shortened voyages to a remarkable degree. The science of meteorology has made rapid progress of late, since proper instruments have been invented for making correct observations with regard to the temperature, the pressure, the humidity and the electricity of the air. And since simultaneous observations over such vast regions have been instituted, all these data are accumulated from records sent in by the national and merchant marine. The work of reducing and grouping the observations is slow and tedious, and requires technical knowledge. It is the design of the Hydrographic Office to publish wind and current charts and pilot charts of all the oceans, and it is only through lack of adequate force to compile and reduce the data that it is not more rapidly executed. With these charts at hand one can see at a glance the past experience of hundreds of navigators, regarding the weather and currents at any season and in any locality, and one is thus enabled to select the best route for a short passage. With this knowledge an officer can navigate his ship or lead his squadron at a given season through the seas where they will be the least baffled by head winds and will make the finest run. We know that the question of the best route for a merchant ship between two ports is of the utmost consequence, and for a naval cruiser in time of war it might be of incalculable importance to the nation.

I have already stated that whenever officers of the national government are required, of nautical skill, in the performance of duties connected with the merchant marine, naval officers would be the best persons to employ. Our merchant navy has never received the attention bestowed upon other great national industries; probably because it has not due representation in the government. It would be a great advantage to the vast national interests coming under this general head to have them all grouped together in one responsible bureau having the necessary power to act. The merchant marine has now no direct or special representative in the highest council of the nation, but the various interests bearing on this subject are scattered through the different departments, and it is left without that active support and fostering care it so much needs.

England has a permanent department in her ministry known as the Board of Trade. It is the business of this board to execute all laws relating to the merchant marine, to watch foreign events, especially foreign maritime legislation, and to prepare bills for parliamentary action whenever the exigencies of commerce require it. It maintains a steady watchfulness over all circumstances affecting maritime affairs, and proposes opportune legislation for the benefit of British interests. Hence their present Merchant Shipping Act, an almost perfect codification of the experience of centuries, under which the Board of Trade regulates the local marine boards for the surveys of vessels, the shipping and payment of crews, and the examinations of masters and mates. The Board of Trade provides savings banks for the deposit of seamen's wages, and manages a pension fund for relief of disabled sailors and the support of their families. It controls pilotage and pilots under uniform laws, investigates wrecks, collisions and casualties, punishing incompetence, negligence and fraud. It superintends the accommodations for emigrant and other passengers, controls the lighthouses and beacons, and enforces all the maritime laws of the kingdom. Unfortunately, the United States have no Board of Trade, or any Merchant Shipping Act or commercial code worthy of the name. We have no political machinery for concentrating the power of the government on this vast interest, which is therefore much neglected. This is a defect which cannot be effectually supplemented by the spasmodic action of Congress; and commercial bodies, or the guilds of ship-owning and ship-building, cannot be expected to administer the law or inspire every change necessary. All such management of our enormous foreign and coastwise trading interests must be fitful, tardy and uncertain. The best talent and the most persevering watchfulness must be always and systematically devoted by us, as by England, to administering and improving maritime legislation, or we will always be laggards in the race.

We should therefore establish a Bureau of Commerce in the executive branch of the government, and when its machinery is in vigorous operation we may hope to contend successfully with our old and now dominant rival for the empire of the seas, and have an audible voice in the control of our own trade. The proper place to locate such a bureau is naturally in the Navy Department. Naval independence is essential to our national welfare, and to secure naval power all our shipping interests should be united and organized. They should be appropriately represented in the general government, where their voice may be heard and their influence felt, their rights maintained and their wants made known. Give, then, to the Navy Department all that bears on the protection of our commerce both at home and abroad. This would involve the inspection and supervision of the materiel and personnel of the merchant marine, so far as it devolves on the nation, and would very materially increase the sphere of usefulness of navy officers, besides being of great benefit to the country.

When we shall have relieved our merchant marine from the many burdens which have well-nigh blotted it from existence, we should offer liberal inducements to any owners who will have built such ships as can be efficiently appropriated for war purposes. There is no good reason why our steamers of commerce should not be planned so that in an emergency they could readily be converted into fit vessels for naval purposes in time of war. Build them upon such plans and give them such speed and tonnage as may be approved by the naval authorities. Let them be employed in carrying our foreign mails and commerce, officered from the navy, and liable in case of war to be taken at any time under charter by the government. With some special strengthening and certain modifications in the arrangements of bulkheads, a large number of merchant steamships might be utilized for war purposes, and sufficient inducement could readily be offered to ship-owners as a reward for the introduction of these modifications. In England many ship-owners have seen their way to comply with the wishes of the government in this respect, and have been rewarded simply by a preference in letting contracts over those not so arranged. A fleet of armed merchant steamers would constitute an excellent auxiliary force, and though they could not cope with the heavy men-of-war of the enemy, they might injure his commerce, and could meet his light unarmored cruisers on an equality. Thus we could reinforce and strengthen our navy in the most economical and expeditious manner, and at the same time promote and encourage our merchant marine in the most practical way.

Merchant marine training ships should be established and managed by navy officers. The character of our seamen has sadly degenerated in the last quarter of a century, and the ratio of Americans to be found in our ships is very small. The remedy for this is in a wisely organized system of training schools for seamen, and the government will have to be the prime mover in the matter, its appropriations developing and perfecting the system for both the navy and the merchant marine. So that when once again our flag shall have attained a position on the sea commensurate with the dignity and needs of our great nation, we shall not be under the painful necessity of calling on foreigners to command and sail our ships, and may be spared the mortification of having to man our guns with those who are not Americans. All the great maritime nations of the world except our own have established systems of training for their merchant marine. In England there are nineteen large training ships for boys and two for officers, while in our country there is but one merchant training vessel, and that, in charge of naval officers, forms a part of the public school system of the city of New York. The better trained and the more intelligent our sailors become, the fewer will be the shipwrecks and the less the loss of life and property. The aggregate losses at sea every year are astounding, and probably two-thirds of the wrecks are the result of ignorance and incompetence. Hence the importance of seeing that those who manage our ships are fitted in all respects for the duties they have to perform, and this great trust could not be committed to better hands than those of naval officers. Authority might reside with the bureau having charge of commerce to examine officers as to their fitness, with power to issue certificates and convene courts of inquiry for examining into all marine disasters, and to punish negligence or ignorance by revocation or suspension of certificates. Some uniform and responsible system is necessary.

Shipping commissioners are appointed by the general government for our principal ports, whose duty it is to afford facilities for engaging seamen by keeping a register of their names and characters; to provide means for securing the presence on board at the proper times of men who are engaged; to facilitate the making of apprenticeships to serve in the merchant marine, and to perform any other duties relating to merchant seamen or merchant ships that may be required by law. These commissioners are appointed for the protection of seamen in our ports and vessels, and their duties should be performed by men who have the welfare of seamen at heart, otherwise the office may become only an additional engine of oppression, rendering the sailor's condition worse than before. The temptation to multiply fees, which the wording of the law presents, should be removed and the officers brought under executive control, for at present no particular supervision is exercised over them. It is high time we began to look after the interests of our sailors on shore, and to endeavor to emancipate them from the clutches of the land-sharks who rob them of half their wages and continue to hold a perpetual mortgage on them. Effective means should be devised to put an end to the outrages that are perpetrated continually on those without whom we cannot hope to revive our drooping marine. Sailors would be more provident, more independent and better able to take care of themselves, by stopping the payment of advance wages to them. This has been done in England, and is found to work well, and should be effected with us. To this system of advance wages, more than anything else, is due the largest portion of the seaman's troubles. It is through such payments that boarding-house keepers are enabled to fleece the sailor by exacting extortionate, and in many cases purely fictitious, board and rum bills, thus sending him penniless to sea. He is frequently cast ashore before his advance is worked out or with little or nothing due him, and he must then put himself in the power of the keeper again, who obtains his pay from the next advance, and so on. The sailor should make his own bargain with the captain, as the sail maker, steward and carpenter make their own contracts; then he will become a man like one of them, and will go to sea cheerfully to earn his own money instead of working reluctantly for the benefit of his landlord. And then, too, will be broken up the illegal business of shipping brokers with their "blood money," which cannot be stopped so long as sailors receive advance-wages. No better or more capable and appropriate men could be selected to look after the duties of shipping commissioner than naval officers.

The Marine Hospital Service is the medical department of the merchant marine, and is charged with the duty of preserving the health interests of those officers and seamen whose services are absolutely necessary to the maritime greatness of the nation. The sphere of the naval medical service might be profitably enlarged to include this important duty, and it would afford a fine field for increasing the usefulness of naval officers. It would be a good move in the direction of economy and efficiency to unite these services and have the supplies and management combined under one head. And in connection with the shipping offices it would give the Navy Department a complete record of the merchant sailors of the country. The hospitals belonging to this service are erected and maintained at the expense of the United States, and it would certainly simplify matters to have them under the same management as the naval hospitals. The expenses of this service are defrayed out of the Marine Hospital Fund, which consists of hospital dues assessed and collected in accordance with law out of the wages of the seamen, at the rate of forty cents a month while actually employed. Thus the seamen, when ill, are cared for, not as a matter of charity, but of right, in an institution sustained by themselves, and all who become disabled, from disease contracted or injuries received in the line of duty, are entitled to its benefits. But the records show that a large number of the patients admitted are persons who were never physically fitted to be seamen and who should never have been permitted to ship. It would seem just to require some moderate physical standard for shipment in the merchant service, and the passage of a law requiring the compulsory examination of seamen would probably be a measure in the true interests of our commerce, and it is certainly the only means of keeping our crews free from persons physically incapacitated for seafaring pursuits and utterly unavailable in case of war.

Our pilot interests would doubtless be better managed under government control, and there are many reasons why the national government should assume general direction of pilotage. A national pilot law that would call into existence, under the control of the Navy Department, pilot commissioners for all the great ports of the country, with uniform regulations, strict accountability, low charges and thoroughly competent and efficient pilots, would certainly prove very advantageous to our commercial marine. The laws of different States bordering on the same navigable waters frequently conflict, and this makes it the more important that the general government should define the necessary pilot rules on all the public waters of the nation. Here, again, the sphere of usefulness of navy officers could be profitably extended.

The Steamboat Inspection Service naturally belongs under the control of the Navy Department, and this would afford an appropriate field for the employment of navy officers. The supervising inspectors of steamboats are chosen for their knowledge, skill and practical experience in the uses of steam for navigation, and are required to be competent judges of the character and qualities of steam vessels and of all parts of the machinery employed in steaming. It is their duty to confer with and examine into the doings of the local boards of inspection within their districts. The local boards are made up of the inspector of hulls and the inspector of boilers in each district, and have very responsible duties to perform. The inspector of hulls is required to have a practical knowledge of shipbuilding and navigation and the uses of steam in navigation, and to be competent to make reliable estimates of the strength, seaworthiness and other qualities of steamers and of their equipment. The inspector of boilers must have practical knowledge and experience of the duties of an engineer employed on steamers, and understand the construction and use of boilers and machinery and their appurtenances, so that he can form reliable opinions of their strength, form, workmanship and suitableness for the purposes intended. Besides satisfying themselves that the steamers which come under their inspection are in every way safe and reliable and properly fitted, these boards have to license and classify the officers and pilots of such vessels, and investigate all their acts of incompetency and misconduct. They are also required to see that passenger steamers are properly manned and officered, and to define the number of passengers they shall carry. The requirements of this service should be extended to sailing vessels as far as applicable in order to make the government supervision of our merchant marine complete.

It would be a great advantage to have a competent naval officer attached to the American legation in every important maritime country. All the leading nations except our own have such officers attached to their principal legations, whose business it is to investigate and report on the administrative methods of other governments in regard to naval affairs, and upon all experiments, improvements, changes and occurrences of interest in naval matters. Other governments have of late singularly improved the science of naval administration; they do more things, and do everything with more order, more celerity and less expense than ourselves. During our time a complete revolution has taken place in naval affairs, with which we have failed to keep pace. We might with profit learn many things from the nations whose custom it is to maintain great navies; and it would be a benefit to have special agents required to observe and report upon such matters. Every one conversant with naval affairs feels aware that our system of managing these things is not perfect; and yet it might be difficult, unhesitatingly, to point out just what are the defects, or to suggest the necessary measures of reform. Our bureau system is very well as far as it goes, and attends to an immense amount of detail and routine; but would it not be better to have them united more definitely, and made more distinctly responsible and accountable to some practical head or commission, with the necessary power and technical knowledge to direct? In England, the naval lords of the admiralty do this, and in France the Minister of Marine is generally a naval man, besides having in his office naval experts to assist in the direction.

There would be no trouble about securing proper officers for any of the services here suggested, and many would gladly fit themselves for them if there was any probability of their being employed. If the educated naval officer is not fitted for any of the duties here proposed, then his education has, to a great extent, been useless. The more openings that can be made for the useful employment of naval officers in time of peace, the greater inducement there will be among them for improving their talents and their opportunities, and the general result will redound to the credit of the country and the improvement of the naval service. The country has a right to expect a great deal of those it educates and keeps, and I am sure, so far as navy officers are concerned, they thoroughly appreciate their obligations and are full of desire to serve. They are anxious to maintain the reputation of the service; to secure a high place in the good opinion of the people, whose servants they are, and to deserve their respect, affection and willing support. The great trouble is, they do not have sufficient opportunities for coming in contact with the people, and displaying their ability to serve them efficiently and well in many public duties having a direct bearing on their own special calling. Nor are the people generally acquainted with the navy officers, neither do they know what faithful, loyal and capable public servants they are, ready at all times and anxious to do much more than they are permitted to do.

Every naval officer should, of course, endeavor to contribute to the advancement and improvement of the service, since its character depends on those who form it. Each should be properly furnished in mind and library with all that bears on his calling, or on his special department of the service. He should master his profession or his branch of it; but that is not enough. Those officers who have done the best, and accomplished the most for themselves and their country, have gone beyond the mere call of routine. They have chosen their specialties according to their tastes, and have relieved the burden and monotony of their daily duties by a few hours devoted to general culture and congenial accomplishments, thus increasing their value as members of society, and so quickening their intelligence as to make them the ready masters of their work. It is not desirable that officers should neglect their duty for some other calling, but that they should enrich themselves and their profession as much as possible without encroaching on the just demands of the service. If we are faithful, industrious, earnest, and of noble spirit, our sphere of usefulness cannot help being enlarged; but if we are idle, careless, faultfinding and contentious, it will be contracted continually. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and the navy can never secure that place it deserves in the hearts of the people but by united effort and earnest self-control. If good feeling and sympathy pervade its various branches, and all work together for the common good, there is nothing we should enjoy that is impossible to us. But if there are bickerings and jealousies and envyings, and a pervading spirit of detraction, these will not tend to enlarge the reputation of the navy or increase its sphere of usefulness. 

 

 
 

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2014 U.S. Naval Institute History Conference

Wed, 2014-10-01

The 2014 Naval History Conference is hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the U.S. Naval Academywith support from The William M...

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Sat, 2014-08-09

CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, USN

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