"Sat cito, si sat bene."
The extraordinary attention paid of late years by the leading powers of the world to the condition and efficiency of their navies leads to a belief that there is a growing tendency to greater reliance than heretofore, in case of war, upon this arm of a country's defence. It is not only among the leading powers of Europe that this change is taking place, it has spread to South America; and even in China and Japan, the navy appears to be the main weapon for offence or defence.
Under such circumstances, and when we find it commonly believed abroad that the United States was compelled to acquiesce in the demands of the Spanish Government for the settlement of the Virginius affair, on account of its inability to cope with the Spanish naval force of seven armored vessels, it is well to inquire into the condition of our own Navy, and to suggest such changes in our naval policy as will best tend to the proper development of our naval strength, in order that our again being placed in such a false position before the eyes of the world may be prevented.
In treating such a subject, the question naturally arises, Is there any necessity for the maintenance of a strong naval force by the United States? At first sight, separated as the country is by its geographical position from the rest of the world, and freed by its state policy from foreign complications, the maintenance of a powerful Navy seems an useless expense. And, moreover, objection has been made on the score of the consequent danger to the national independence. In the words of the talented historian of the United States Navy, "In a democracy there exists a standing necessity for reducing everything to the average comprehension, the high intelligence of a nation usually conceding as much to ignorance as it imparts. One of the worst consequences, in a practical sense, of this compromise of knowledge is to be found in the want of establishments that require foresight and liberality to be well managed, for the history of every democracy has shown that it has been deficient in the wisdom which is dependent on those expenditures that foster true economy by anticipating evils and avoid the waste of precipitation, want of system, and a want of knowledge." And I believe the latter objection is advanced rather as an excuse by the high intelligence of the nation for its concession to ignorance than as a real reason for the policy of neglect so long observed towards the Navy. Rejecting, then, this objection as barely worth noticing I will venture to state what seem to me ample reasons for the maintenance of a strong naval force by the United States.
The necessity for the display of a naval force can never be foretold. The navies are the police of the world at large, and events are constantly happening where peace and good order are best maintained by instantaneous and determined naval intervention. Instances will undoubtedly present themselves to every one, but I may be permitted to refer to a few. The prompt action of Capt. Ingraham, of the U.S.S. St. Louis, at Smyrna, in 1853, in regard to Martin Kozsta, emphasized the determination of the United States to defend the rights of its adopted citizens abroad; and that it prevented, to a great extent, future complications on the same account is more than probable. The subsequent voting by Congress of a gold medal to Capt. Ingraham is sufficient proof that the Government will always appreciate the conduct of an officer who acts fearlessly upon his own responsibility where the honor of his country is involved. United States vessels have frequently interfered for the protection of life and properly and the preservation of order, when the local authorities have been powerless, in Honolulu and in Panama. For the same reason, the Spanish ironclads, in the hands of a piratical rabble from Carthagena, were seized by the English fleet and turned over to the proper authorities. The opportune appearance of the U.S.S. Adams saved a Chilian colony from pillage and destruction, and the arrival of an English gunboat put an end to the merciless slaughter of the Virginius prisoners at Santiago de Cuba. Many more cases might be cited, but these few selected at random will, I think, prove that the necessity for the employment of a naval force is most pressing when least apprehended.
That commercial and naval supremacy are coexistent is undeniable. The great commercial power of the world has always, for the time being, been also the great naval power, and history teaches us that when the naval supremacy of a nation has been overthrown the decay of its commerce has followed as an inevitable result. For a period of some forty years preceding the breaking out of the late rebellion, the skill of our ship builders and the wise administration of the scanty funds appropriated by Congress for the use of the navy furnished us with a few specimens of naval architecture unsurpassed by any in the world. During the same time our merchant marine bade fair to wrest the lion's share of the carrying trade of the world from the hands of our great commercial rival. The war that followed offered an opportunity for the destruction of our merchant marine, which was not neglected. Privateers fitted out by our generous rival, on behalf, and sailing under the flag of the Southern States, pounced upon their unprotected prey, and the question of commercial supremacy was settled, for a half century at least. By an experiment at Hampton roads, in 1862, the war settled another question,—that naval architecture was revolutionized. Since then the Government has, in its naval policy, slept the sleep of a Rip Van Winkle, and now, awakening, it vainly endeavors to answer the demands of the present age with a navy suitable to the wants of a past generation. Our share of the carrying trade of the world is lost, and until we show ourselves strong enough to protect it, we may rest assured it will not be regained. The increasing influence of the agricultural and mining interests of the West in. our national councils, and the disregard paid to the commercial interests of the East; the spread of the use of iron and of steam in merchant vessels; the sharp competition by numerous and heretofore unheard of rivals; all these reasons may be advanced for the decline of our commerce, but I hold that the inability of our Navy, on account of the inadequacy of its force, to protect the merchant vessels sailing under its colors, was the chief cause of capital's seeking safety under other flags.
Intimately connected with this is the influence exerted by a strong naval force upon nations having no merchant marine of their own, and especially upon those which are commonly, though not always with justice, termed semi-civilized. The commerce of the Pacific Ocean which lies along such a vast extent of our western coast, naturally should be ours, and in the same manner it might be expected that intimate commercial relations would exist between us and the two great Eastern Empires. But despite our proximity the United States flag is rarely seen off our western coast, and our trade with China and Japan is barely enough to employ two lines of steamships, sailing tri-weekly. And one of these lines even is under a foreign flag. The reason for this lack of intercommunication is evident. The mind of the oriental is influenced, not by theories, but by facts, and, though the United States Government may be respected and esteemed for its policy of non-intervention, if not of sympathy, trade is gained and influence exerted in China and Japan by the nations keeping a powerful naval force on their coasts. I am strongly of the opinion that, incidentally, the restoration by the United States of indemnity funds unjustly exacted from those countries and, particularly, the maintenance in those seas of a large naval force authorized to lend its moral support to prevent the bullyings they are constantly subjected to, would do more to restore American commercial interests in that quarter of the globe than would the removal of any of the existing restrictions upon commerce that might be suggested.
The recent suggestion made by one foreign government that it might under certain contingencies interfere in the existing war between the South American republics, and the attempt about to be made, under the auspices of another, to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, recall to mind a state policy formally announced in 1823, and commonly known as the 'Monroe Doctrine.' By the moral force of that doctrine the Spanish Colonies of Central and South America were materially aided in gaining, and have since been enabled to retain their independence. The withdrawal of the French troops from Mexico and the subsequent downfall of the mimic empire erected by the government of Napoleon III at a period when internal dissensions threatened the permanent disruption of the power which promulgated that doctrine, were caused by a reassertion of its principles, after the war, by the late Mr. Seward, at that time Secretary of State. Can it be that the Monroe Doctrine, so intimately allied to the foreign policy of the United States, though apparently well-nigh forgotten, is to be allowed to sink into utter oblivion? Are we prepared, in contravention of its principles, to allow one foreign power to interfere for the avowed purpose of humanity between combatants on this continent; and another to assume control of a canal, the unfriendly possession of which would be a standing menace in time of war? We cannot be so lost to the dictates of humanity that we do not care, at the proper time, to offer our intervention for the purpose of preventing the further useless waste of blood and treasure. We certainly are more interested than any other nation in the completion and control of an inter-oceanic canal, and, if it be demanded by the commercial necessities of the present age, we ought not permit any nation to forestall us in an enterprise of such vital influence upon our future welfare. I believe that free and extended discussion upon these subjects would show that the American people as a unit demand the rigid maintenance of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine. Yet to be able to do this effectively a navy must be maintained, and I need not say that by a navy I mean something more than what we now possess under that name. Under the present circumstances, we are likely to see the principles of non-intervention by any foreign nation in the affairs of the American continent, a policy we have never disavowed, violated at any moment, in contempt of our views, by some strong naval power whose interest conflicts with our own. With what heart then could the Secretary of State protest against foreign encroachments, well knowing he had no force behind him to rely upon when protest failed? If the present penny-wise policy in regard to the Navy is to be continued, it would perhaps be preferable, while we could, not quite disgracefully, to withdraw from the stand taken, and in that way avoid possible disagreeable complications with a power possessing half a score armored sea-going vessels. For such action we have, unfortunately, precedent in the most extraordinary policy pursued by the Government in the early part of the century, when, with a foreign trade that employed over half a million tons native shipping, Congress, for the declared purpose of preventing it from being subjected to depredations by the belligerent powers of Europe, passed a law forbidding any vessels to leave port for any foreign country! The idea of protecting our shipping by means of a strong naval force seems to have been unthought-of.
If then a strong navy be desirable in time of peace, how much more so is it in time of war. Our early experience should teach us that the proper observance of the rights of a neutral can only be forced upon the belligerents by the presence of a powerful naval force. It is extremely doubtful if either the French or English government would have become involved in hostilities with the United States had the latter, by maintaining a navy worthy of the name, showed a determination to protect itself. And would it not have been truer economy to have been so strong upon the sea as to have avoided the war with France, in 1798, and the war with England, in 1812, and the consequent expenditure of so many lives and so much money? Moreover it is extremely probable that, in any future war which may arise between the maritime powers of Europe, the first and second articles of the treaty of Paris, in 1856, will be annulled. These articles abolished privateering, and declared that the flag of a neutral protected enemy's goods, with the exception of contraband of war, from capture. Belligerent nations, their own shipping being liable to capture, will be forced to take this step to prevent their carrying trade passing into the hands of the neutral powers. At present, a very large percentage of our exports is shipped to Europe in foreign bottoms. A war breaking out there would throw the principal part of this to us, as being neutral, provided we showed ourselves willing and able to protect our ships from illegal exactions and capture. The embargo act of 1807 could hardly be repeated in 1880, and the other alternative would be to strengthen the Navy; but if we begin to make preparations during a foreign war, and any preparation in the present state of our Navy would be extraordinary, it would very likely, if not considered a casus belli by one of the combatants, be thought unfriendly at least, and apt to give rise to future unfriendly relations. In the hopes, then, of regaining our own carrying trade at the earliest opportunity, we ought to maintain such a naval force that, upon the breaking out of war between foreign nations, we should be able, without extraordinary exertions, to send enough men-of-war to act as convoys to our merchant vessels in all parts of the world. And by doing this, in addition to the advantage gained from announcing our intentions beforehand, we would have the satisfaction of knowing that we were at the same time providing the best safeguard against a repetition of the difficulties which led to the wars of 1798 and 1812.
In fine, though I cannot claim to have exhausted the subject, I trust I have said enough to show that the unsettled condition of society in the less civilized parts of the world; the depressed state of our maritime interests; the enforcement of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine and of our neutral rights, all demand the maintenance of a strong naval force, and I now purpose inquiring to what extent the present force maintained by the United States answers to that description.
It may be gathered from my preceding remarks that I do not consider the present condition of the materiel of the Navy one from the contemplation of which much satisfaction can be derived. Even the Honorable Secretary of the Navy, who, from his office, is expected to view all naval short-comings through a roseate atmosphere, says in his last annual report, "The largest part of the Navy, however, is composed of vessels of the old types, and while some of them possess excellent qualities and are equal to any in the world, of the same types, yet the Navy as a whole cannot be brought up to the modern standard of naval architecture until we shall avail ourselves of existing improvements."
The men-of-war of the present day are so far superior to those of the last century that it is scarcely to be doubted that two or three of them could defy the combined navies that fought under and against Nelson. In fact, owing to the increased power of maneuvering due to the introduction of the twin screw; to the greater resistance to projectiles on account of the increased thickness of the armor in which they are clad; and to the enormously increased range and destructive power of the ordnance they carry, the development, since the first were built twenty years ago, has been wonderful. A swift, armored ship, with heavy guns and skilful gunners, is nearly the equal if not the superior of the fort, which affords a stationary target, and moreover some of the recently constructed foreign men-of-war are to carry heavier guns than are mounted in any fort in the world.
Let us suppose now that the United States should become a belligerent, and the record of the few past years shows that this is by no means an impossible hypothesis. In such a case the war would necessarily at first be carried on at sea. And here let me say, that for some reasons, I think the part which the Navy took in the late war between the Northern and Southern states, though so highly creditable to the skill and courage of the personnel, was perhaps as great a misfortune as could have befallen it: for the nation generally is firmly persuaded that it has at any time like Glendower but to call spirits from the vastly deep, and a navy will appear. It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that the Southern states had no navy and that in any foreign war in which the United States might become involved, the conditions would be entirety different. The construction of armored sea-going men-of-war, requires in addition to time, skilled workmen, and larger rolling mills than are now to be found in the United States; and, besides, the modern men-of-war are so different from those we now possess, both in management and in the ordnance they carry, that long practice would be required before they could be skillfully maneuvered, and careful training would be necessary to prevent the mechanism of the guns and carriages becoming disabled, in the haste and excitement of action, by the manipulation of inexperienced gunners. Notwithstanding these considerations, we go on year after year, blindly trusting our naval defences to a navy, "the largest part of which is composed of vessels of the old types"!
The non-professional enquirer, upon learning that there are one hundred and forty two vessels composing the Navy of the United States, is apt to be too easily deceived by the figures. Let us look over the list, and, striking off those which are virtually worthless for war purposes, find out what realty constitutes our naval force. In the first place twenty seven tugs and twenty two sailing vessels must be deducted from the one hundred and forty two, leaving ninety three to be accounted for. Of these ninety three, sixty seven are steamers of all classes, twenty four are iron-clad batteries or monitors, and two are torpedo boats. Of the sixty seven steamers, four are on the stocks, never having been launched, eight are old paddle wheel boats, seventeen of various classes are in different stages of decay, but principally so rotten as to be unworthy of repair, one is a tug converted into a gunboat and another is a despatch vessel; all of which should be deducted, leaving thirty six. Out of these thirty six, a dozen or so might be picked which have sufficient speed to overhaul an ordinary merchant steamer; the remainder are too slow to run away and too lightly armed to defend themselves should they fall in with a man-of-war of the improved type belonging to an enemy. Of the twenty four iron-clad batteries three are said to be on the stocks, but I believe they either have been or are about to be broken up; one, the Roanoke, is utterly worthless, and, though borne upon the register, is commonly believed to have been broken up by a former secretary of the Navy; one, the Puritan, has never been finished, and five are undergoing repairs which require considerable time and expense for completion. Excluding the two torpedo boats as being simply experiments, and including the five monitors undergoing repairs, we have nineteen ironclad vessels to be added to the thirty six wooden steamers, making the total force amount to fifty five vessels. I need hardly say that in speed, with one or two exceptions, in ease of maneuvering, in thickness of armor plating, and in weight and penetrating power of projectiles, all these monitors are far surpassed by the more modern type of sea-going armored vessels, and their main reliance in time of action would be upon the small target they would present, and upon the hope of a chance shot crippling in some way their more powerful adversaries whose armor they could not penetrate.
We have then the astonishing spectacle of a nation of fifty millions of inhabitants, occupying a position midway between the two great centers of population of the world, with a commerce that needs the electrifying influence of a powerful navy to stimulate it, with a policy of non-intervention in the affairs of its continent by foreign nations, and with an enormous coast line and innumerable ports to be protected, relying for its defence upon the navy I have described, which, whatever may have been its value twenty years ago, is to-day, on account of the inferiority of its ships and ordnance, barely noticed in calculations in regard to the relative strength of the navies of the world. The peaceful dissipation of the threatening clouds that have from time to time obscured our political horizon has given rise to a widely spread optimism in regard to our future welfare; but is there no danger in trusting too much to the manifest destiny of the Republic? "Will nothing but the quickening effect of a heavy war indemnity awaken us to the necessity of maintaining our national defences in a high state of efficiency?
Of the claims of the Navy upon the people of the United States, I need hardly speak; the recital of its deeds forms some of the most brilliant pages of our country's record, yet, as we review the treatment the Navy has received, we find its history presents an almost continual struggle for existence. One of the necessary concomitants to the contests of political parties in the United States seems to be a demand for economy in the expenses of the Government, especially after any period when extraneous troubles have materially increased the national expenditures. This cry for economy has generally been satisfied by the decimation of the very branches of service upon which the country relied for its preservation and defence. Thus, every time that there has been occasion for the employment of a naval force, it has been necessary to create it, using the small nucleus regularly maintained as a leaven to the mass. The necessity past, the additional force has been discharged, the material purchased has been either sold at a great sacrifice or allowed to fall into decay, and the normal state of res angusta domi has resumed its sway in naval affairs.
But apart from this there is, I think, another reason for the illiberal policy shown towards the Navy. Evidences are not wanting that upon several occasions of late, the national legislature would have been willing to make ample appropriations for the purpose of increasing the efficiency of the Navy had they been persuaded that a fixed policy would be adopted which would bring about the desired result. Or, to give expression to the idea, it seems to have been about as follows: "If you, officers of the Navy, can agree upon some settled policy which will best tend to the development of our naval strength, we, members of the naval committees of Congress, shall not be found wanting in the proper spirit to aid you to accomplish the effect." The lack of unity shown in the recommendations of the multiplicity of advisers has succeeded in so bewildering the members of the committees that, Micawber like, they have postponed all action from session to session in the hopes that something would turn up. On account of this, and in order that a definite naval policy may be adopted, which the Bureau system seems to have failed to accomplish, I venture to recommend the reestablishment of a Board of Naval Inspectors, or Commissioners.
Naval operations during the Revolutionary war were naturally of an isolated and desultory character, and the small naval force formed was disbanded upon the conclusion of peace. From that time until 1798, the direction of such naval operations as became necessary was entrusted to the War Department. Despite the creation of a separate department for the management of affairs of the Navy, in 1798, the war of 1812 found the country almost wholly unprepared for sea warfare, and it was not until the Navy had shown itself by several brilliant actions worthy of trust that Congress was induced to grant appropriations for increasing its efficiency. Nevertheless, the preparations came too late, and the close of the war found the Navy driven from the sea, its ships captured, destroyed, or blockaded by overwhelmingly superior forces of the enemy. The wisdom of entrusting the direction of a navy to officers, fitted by profession and experience to judge of its requirements, became so apparent that, in 1815, Congress created a Board of Inspectors, three in number, which, under the superintendency of the Secretary of the Navy, was charged with all the duties of the department relating to the collection of materials and supplies, and to the construction, equipment, armament, and employment of vessels. There was no rotation in office, the naval committee of the House of Representatives, rejecting a proposal to that effect, in 1820, on the ground that it would prevent "securing the accumulating experience and talent of our naval commanders." The success of the management of naval matters by this Board soon became apparent, and the Navy attained a state of discipline and efficiency which, perhaps, has never been surpassed. In 1842, however, the Board of Inspectors was merged into the present bureau system. The increasing business of the Navy Department may have rendered imperative the establishment of sub-departments for the proper consideration of matters coming under its cognizance, but there was no call for the abolition of the Board of Inspectors, and the wisdom of the step taken is questionable. As a result, we have, to-day, seven separate and distinct bureaus, each working independently, and following out the ideas of its own head without regard to the plans of the others. The lack of unity consequent to this arrangement, and the necessity for a superior controlling power, have on many occasions been only too obvious.
I recommend, therefore, that a board of commissioners be established as an Advisory Board to the Secretary of the Navy. At the same time the Secretary of the Navy should be given a seat in each House of Congress; in either of which he Could, when necessary, appear personally to answer interrogatories in regard to the Navy, and to propose, explain, and advocate measures calculated to increase its efficiency. By this arrangement, the Secretary of the Navy, who is not, ordinarily, conversant with the details of the Naval Service, would have a board of officers, selected for their professional attainments, ready at any moment to give him the benefit of their knowledge and experience; while the Navy would have, what it so greatly needs, a statesman, eloquent and ready in debate, to defend it in the Houses of Congress against the attacks of unwise economy, and to advocate those measures upon which its future welfare depended. The Board should be composed of the senior admiral on the navy list, presiding officer ex officio, and of two other officers, of a grade not lower in rank than commodore, to be selected by the Secretary of the Navy and appointed by the President. The Board should have the power of selecting, as secretary, an officer of a grade not lower than commander. It should hold its meetings at Washington unless otherwise directed by the Secretary of the Navy and the members and secretary should be entitled to the sea pay of their grades. The evils inherent to the bureau system being now counteracted, the Bureaus should be maintained and the chiefs should be held responsible for the economical and thorough execution of such work as would be entrusted to them. The Board should have power to call upon the chiefs of bureaus for the information they naturally as specialists would collect.
After such a long period of inactivity, our policy should be to advance as rapidly as consistent with safety. Radical changes, except where necessary for the cure of existing evils, should be avoided. The conservatism natural to a board constituted as I have recommended would prevent too much innovation on the one hand, and attain increased efficiency on the other. Appropriations should be husbanded, and unexpended balances at the end of the year should be turned not into the treasury as at present, but over to a general construction fund, which should also receive the sums accruing from the sale of condemned stores and vessels. The attention of the Board should at first be given to determining the best means for satisfying our requirements, (1) for the naval defence of our coasts and sea ports; (2) for the protection of our commerce and the destruction of an enemy's; (3) for the destruction or capture of the men-of-war of an enemy; (4) for carrying the war into an enemy's country.
(1) The determination of the best means of defending our coasts and seaports would involve a thorough course of experiment and investigation in regard to torpedoes, steam rams, and floating batteries. Officers of the line, stationed at or in the neighborhood of the different naval stations, should be required to thoroughly acquaint themselves with the approaches from seawards, and to suggest the most advantageous positions for the placing of sub-marine mines and torpedoes,
and for the concentration of the means of naval defense; in fact they should be expected to prepare careful plans for the defence of the naval stations and the adjoining seaports. In this connection, I would recommend that no officer of the line, be promoted to the grade of lieutenant until he has passed through the course of instruction at the torpedo school; and, after the lapse of a suitable time, the same restriction should apply to those now occupying the grades of lieutenant, lieutenant-commander, and commander.
(2) Enquiries as to the best means of protecting our commerce, and destroying an enemy's, would involve the selection of the best type of a vessel for a cruiser, which would combine speed with economy of fuel and at the same time carry a sufficiently powerful battery to defend itself against the corresponding class of an enemy's vessels. Also the methods of convoy sailing, and the points to which cruisers should be despatched upon the declaration of war, for the purpose of capturing an enemy's merchant vessels, should be discussed. Lists of merchant vessels capable of being converted into swift, light-armed cruisers should be kept. As coal in time of war is virtually contraband of war, the question of coal supply and coaling stations would be a necessary adjunct.
(3) By far the most important question to be decided by the Advisory Board would, however, be the selection of a model for the construction of an offensive, sea-going, armored man-of-war. Upon this point there is such a conflict of opinion, some eminent authorities claiming the superiority of torpedoes over ironclads, others as strenuously advocating the claims of the steam ram, that only after careful and patient investigation, and calm and mature deliberation could a decision be arrived at. The rival claims of torpedo, ram, and iron-clad would first be considered; and if, as I think, the palm were awarded to the iron-clad, the questions of iron-clad ship construction and of armor plating, the material, the manner of fastening, the angular inclination, the thickness of plates and their manufacture;—these questions and many more, intimately allied, would require careful reflection. The kind of gun, ammunition, and projectile, the style of carriage, and the manner of delivering the fire would require a continued series of experiments before determination.
For the purpose of encouraging discussion and stimulating enquiry, the Advisory Board should be empowered to offer, annually, or even semi-annually, suitable rewards for prize essays upon these and other subjects so intimately connected with the future of the Navy.
The experiences of the leading naval powers of Farope for the last fifteen or twenty years in the construction of armored men-of-war, and the series of experiments in the contest between guns and armor, though by no means ended, would materially aid us in arriving at satisfactory conclusions. And I recommend the appointment of a naval officer, as naval attaché to each of the legations maintained by the United States in Europe, in order that we may obtain early and trustworthy information in regard to all matters going on of interest to the naval service. The officers to. be selected for this important duty should have, in addition to the special qualifications of suitable rank and of familiarity with European languages, professional attainments of a high order. They should take advantage of every opportunity offered to make themselves acquainted with the naval strength of the country to which they are accredited and with the details of all experiments in which naval materials or implements are concerned, embodying the results of their observations in confidential reports to the Advisory Board.
(4) The custom of imposing heavy war indemnities upon the conquered combatant seems to have become prevalent of late years in Europe; and, consequently, the immense advantage to be derived from the occupation of a portion of an enemy's country as a pledge for payment, can be readily seen. Plans of naval campaigns should then be prepared, involving combined naval and military operations against assailable portions of an enemy's territory. Lists of merchant vessels capable of conversion into transports should be made and constantly corrected, and the manner of marine counter-mining and of removing torpedo obstructions should be thoroughly discussed. In addition, officers on foreign stations should be required to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the approaches to the various ports visited, their means of defence, and the best positions to be occupied as points d'appui for operations against the surrounding country.
In addition to determining a policy to be followed by the United States in regard to these most vital questions, the attention of the Advisory Board might be turned with advantage to the consideration of matters of minor importance. The Board should require careful estimates for the repairs of naval vessels and in any case where the cost of such repairs would exceed one half the original cost of the vessel, the vessel should be broken up or sold, and the proceeds devoted to the fund above mentioned.
The uniform for the officers and men of the Navy as now established should not be changed except by Act of Congress, upon recommendation of the Advisory Board. With such a law in force, the body of officers and men composing the Navy would not be compelled to make a change in their uniform, unless the advantages to be gained there from were greater than the satisfying of a caprice of a few individuals.
Again, the Advisory Board, after a careful consideration of the laws passed by Congress, should compile a complete system of rules and regulations for the government and discipline of the Navy of the United States. The want of harmony at present existing among the different branches of the naval service is well known, and that it detracts from the efficiency of the Navy as a whole, is undeniable. This lack of concord so necessary to the prompt and efficient execution of duty is partly due to the existing ill-digested and self-conflicting set of rules and regulations by which the Navy is governed, but more so to the evils arising from special legislation by Congress. All special legislation in regard to individuals, and branches of the Navy should be stopped and no such bills should be considered by the Naval Committees of Congress except upon the favorable recommendation of the Advisory Board, or, failing that, of the Court of Claims. The rights and duties of all officers and men being, then, clearly defined by law, and the hopes of individuals or branches of selfishly gaining advantages over others, by special legislation, being cut off, the former harmony which existed among the various branches of the Navy would be restored and the efficiency increased in a corresponding degree.
To briefly summarize, the first step in the future Naval Policy of the United States should be the establishment of a Board of Naval Officers, which, under the supervision and direction of the Secretary of the Navy should consider and determine:—
(1) All plans for the construction, alteration, repairs, equipment, and armament of the vessels of the Navy.
(2) A system of rules and regulations for the government and discipline of the Navy.
(3) Plans for naval campaigns, both offensive and defensive.
(4) Minor matters affecting the welfare of the officers and men of the Navy; and all claims requiring legislation for the benefit of individuals or branches of the Naval service.
They should also collect and compile, ready for reference:—
(1) Information in regard to the naval strength of foreign nations.
(2) Lists of merchant vessels suitable for transport service, or for conversion into light-armed cruisers for destroying an enemy's commerce.
(3) The number and capacity of private ship-building yards, ironworks, and rolling mills.
(4) And any other information likely to be serviceable in time of war.
The question of promotion is always, in time of peace, one difficult of solution. The many years that must pass before the casualties incidental to the service enable a young officer to gain his promotion are apt to deaden the ambition which should urge him to keep abreast the wave of advancement which appears to be sweeping over the present era. As an incentive to emulation and self-improvement, I venture to recommend that the present system of promotion by seniority be so far modified as to allow every third promotion to a grade to be made by selection from the officers, having a required amount of sea service, in the grade next below that in which the vacancy occurs. Again, this would in a few years enable the selection of two members of the Advisory Board to be made from officers who had advanced themselves by constant application and by devotion to the details of their profession. In order, however, to make vacancies on the active list, I recommend that officers be permitted to retire, at any time after ten years sea service and a course of instruction at the torpedo school, upon half pay. A number would annually avail themselves of this privilege; promotion would be more rapid, and a Naval Reserve would be formed upon which the Government could in case of emergency rely for service afloat or for torpedo duty ashore.
For want of other employment, warrant officers are frequently detailed for duty on board vessels already too cramped for the proper accommodation of their crews. From causes too obvious to mention, the man-of-war of the present age is so different from that of last century, that the necessity for the retention in the service of the grades of boatswain, sail maker, and carpenter, no longer exists. These grades should, then, be allowed to lapse by not making any appointments to fill vacancies. The care of the battery and small arms of a vessel alone being of sufficient importance to require the services of a warrant officer, the grade of gunner should be retained, and all applicants for the position should be required to pass a thorough examination to prove that they have sufficient intelligence and capacity to understand the mechanism, and to take the proper care for the preservation of the improved weapons now in use. By thus dispensing with the services of these one hundred and forty two superfluous officers, a sum sufficient for the pay and maintenance of over six hundred men would annually be gained.
The difficulty of obtaining seamen to man our vessels, during the late war, was seriously felt. We cannot rely upon merchant seamen, for the class has through so many causes become so deteriorated as to be generally worthless; and so large a proportion are foreigners that they cannot be depended upon to fight for the country that employs them. While the raw recruit may in a comparatively short time be converted into the disciplined soldier, the sailor is made only from the boy. The number of training ships should be increased and twenty five hundred boys, at least, enlisted in addition to the regular complement of the Navy. Each man-of-war going into commission should take a certain proportion of her crew from the boys on board the training ships who have shown most aptitude for a sea life. In this way a reserve of seamen would gradually be formed, for although these boys after the first cruise might not remain in the Navy, in case of war they would naturally gravitate to the service in which they were educated.
During time of peace, the navy yards might with advantage be reduced to four; three, New York, Norfolk, and Pensacola, on the Atlantic coast, and one, Mare Island, on the Pacific; with a fresh water basin for iron vessels. But, as the extent of our territory would render the yards closed very valuable in time of war, sufficient money should be annually appropriated to keep them from deterioration. In this connection, I would recommend that the complete control of the navy yards, even to the exclusion of local politicians, should be by law given to the naval officers in charge. The officers might then be held strictly accountable for the work done, and the spectacle of a large increase of the working force prior to elections and the discharge immediately after, happily not visible during the present administration, but so common in former days, would be avoided.
With these few suggestions I bring my remarks to an end. I have shown that the United States does not possess a navy commensurate with its wants, and I have pointed out what I believe to be the best way of properly developing our naval strength. But, after all, it is Congress which decides the naval policy of the country, and it is to Congress therefore, that we must look for the means to accomplish our end. The recommendations I have made apply equally well, in event of the continuation of the present economical policy towards the navy, or should Congress determine that the time had come to again strive to be foremost in the struggle for the commercial supremacy of the world. Sooner or later the day will come when the nation will again enter the arena; let us then endeavor to be so prepared that in the heat of the strife we may not be disheartened by a discovery of fatal weakness in our trusted weapons.