In seven of the eight wars waged by the United States since 1775, navies had, to borrow a phrase of George Washington, "the casting vote." Perhaps more exactly we should say that in these seven wars sea power—rather than navies alone, which form only one element of sea power—was, in the last analysis, the decisive instrument. Transmarine wars would be impossible without the transference of armed forces to the theater of operations and without the continued maintenance of the communications of such forces. These communications are the functions of navies and merchant marines. To borrow a trenchant phrase of Admiral Mahan, "Communications dominate war."
Sea power, as used by naval writers, is a wider term than military navies. It may be defined as the combination of all those means which a nation can bring to bear to gain and keep control of the sea. It embraces therefore such factors as a location with good harbors on great waters facing the highways of commerce; a productive, commercial, and sea-faring population to furnish the means of trade, and the artisans and sailors to build and man commercial and naval fleets; colonies to exchange products with, to furnish coaling, repair, supply stations, and ports for fleets to operate from against enemies and to seek refuge in; and finally a navy proper to weld together and protect this whole combination of production, commerce, trade routes, bases and colonies. Great Britain, which has all these elements, has been for centuries and is to-day the best illustration of sea power.
Before we consider the influence of American sea power as a decisive instrument in American history, let us take a glance at the influence of British sea power in winning North America for the Anglo-Saxon race. America, which was discovered by the aid lent to Columbus by the greatest sea power of his time, Spain, was lost to Spain by the rise of a greater sea power, Britain. The defeat of the Armada, 1588, wrested from Spain the control of the seas and paved the way for English colonization of North America. A century later, under Cromwell and William of Orange, British sea power defeated another rival, Holland, and by its superiority at sea was able to acquire the Dutch colonies and trade in North America and so to unite the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Florida under the British flag. Finally after another century British sea power defeated a third rival for America, France. As a result of this crushing victory over France in the Seven Years' War, England got by the Peace of Paris, 1763, all of North America east of the Mississippi River. This great result was brought about not only by England's navy, but still more by her vast commerce, which then as in later wars furnished the support for great coalitions against her enemies. In a war of attrition. Great Britain, leaning heavily on her commerce and colonies, could wear out the most powerful combinations against her.
In this Seven Years' War, the sea power of the American Colonies had an important and decisive influence. These colonies, which had till within half a century before been dependent on the mother country for food, were now able from their great surplus to export grain for the support of the mother country. With a commerce carried in five hundred and fifty American bottoms and with vast fisheries the colonies financed the war to a large degree. The reader will recall Burke's glowing tribute in Parliament to the extraordinary growth of colonial commerce which, he says, had reached a total in 1770 equal to half of England's at this time, and to the whole of England's seventy years before. Of the American fisheries—an important result of colonial ship-building and trained sailors, and therefore a factor of sea power—he says:
Look at the manner in which the people of New England have of late carried on the whale fishery. We know that whilst some of them draw the line and strike the harpoon on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude and pursue their gigantic game on the coast of Brazil. No sea but is vexed by their fisheries; no climate but is not witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise ever carried this most perilous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which it has been carried by this recent people; a people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood.
What colonial sea power, therefore, had helped the mother country to wrest from the French in 1763, colonial sea power, aided by French sea power, wrested from the mother country a score of years later. The French felt keenly the humiliation of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, and accordingly plotted in and out of season to force Britain to relinquish the fruits of her victory. If France could not win back America, she was determined that England should not keep it. Her diplomats made skilful use of the growing discontent in the American Colonies. The celebrated French author of "The Marriage of Figaro," Beaumarchais, secretly sent vast stores of munitions, tents, and uniforms to the struggling colonies. In the two critical periods of the American Revolution, American sea power played the decisive role in one and French sea power in the other.
During this war there were two strategic battles and only two, Saratoga and Yorktown, in each of which navies had, to borrow Washington's term again, "the casting vote." In the fall before the battle of Saratoga, Benedict Arnold fought with the British on Lake Champlain, the water route and therefore in those days the only route to New York, a lake action with row galleys, "a battle of pigmies for a continent," as Mahan calls it. Arnold won in this respect, that he forced the British to postpone their invasion of the colonies for a year and so gave the colonials a chance to concentrate during the winter for defense the next spring. Hence, when the British renewed the attempted invasion under Burgoyne in 1777, the colonials were ready, as they were not the previous year, and Burgoyne's whole army surrendered—a direct result of Arnold's tiny naval force. The second battle, Yorktown, was likewise made decisive by the help of sea power—a help which Washington acknowledged in the most generous terms. The American general with superb strategy had kept, through a scout frigate, in close communication with the French Admiral DeGrasse. By reason of the most careful co-operation so arranged, DeGrasse managed to outwit the British admirals on the coast. He appeared off the capes of the Chesapeake at the psychological moment and was able to keep at bay the British Admiral Graves coming to the relief of Cornwallis, whose communications were entirely dependent on the sea. The result, as we all know, was the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown and the end of the war for America. What Americans do not always realize in this battle is the vital importance of the sea fight off the capes between DeGrasse and Graves, an indebtedness to France far greater than that for Lafayette's help—an indebtedness that we can the more generously acknowledge now that the debt has been repaid. Of course the little American Navy under such men as Barry, Wickes, Conyingham, and especially under John Paul Jones, helped a great deal in harrying British commerce. But with the last three of these commanders again the debt was great to France, for she helped very much, at first secretly, and after 1778 openly, in making their harassment of the Mistress of the Seas decisive. For it was during these middle years of the American Revolution that the French-Spanish fleet for the first time in many years held a temporary control of the English Channel. Therefore, to sum up, we must acknowledge that sea power, colonial and especially French, was the decisive factor in the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown and won for the colonies their independence.
The United States, thus aided by French sea power to its independence, was early in the administration of Washington called upon by France to repay the debt by means of American sea power. The French Revolution, beginning in 1789, was to last for twenty-six years and was to bring the United States into armed conflict with each of the two great belligerents and also with the Barbary pirates before the quarter of a century of European wars ended. Four years after the beginning of the revolution, in 1793, England and her sea power were once more aligned against France. The British Navy had, after the American Revolution, won the battle of Saints' Passage and so reasserted its control of the sea. As in other periods, the British Navy, leaning on its vast sea resources, had quickly rejuvenated itself after its spell of deterioration. Thus at the outbreak of war, Britain's control of the sea forced France to a privateer war. The new French Republic sent a Von Bernstorff in the person of Citizen Genet to the United States to buy supplies for France and to operate privateers from American ports against British shipping. Genet bullied the Republicans into sympathy with France and tried, but unsuccessfully, to bully Washington in his brazen interference with American neutrality. Under Genet's intrigues relations with Great Britain became so strained that Washington sent Jay to England, who negotiated the treaty bearing his name, 1794, by which the United States practically agreed not to allow its merchant marine to carry supplies to France. As the latter's merchant marine had been driven from the seas, she had tried to substitute American bottoms to carry on her West Indian-French commerce. She had been attempting to make neutral America render service which she herself, not having control of the sea, could not render for herself. Great Britain by reviving her rule of 1756 maintained that America in thus carrying on France's commerce was acting practically as a belligerent. Jay's Treaty ended this illicit trade and so caused France to retaliate by seizing American merchantmen in the West Indies. The young American republic, forestalling trouble with Algiers and other pirates, had built the nucleus of a navy in 1794 in the construction of the frigates United States, Constitution and Constellation. With this naval force the United States in 1798 to 1800 convoyed American merchantmen to and from the West Indies and captured several French cruisers. This so-called "Naval War with France" ended when Napoleon took control of France, who signed a new treaty of peace with the United States. America, under the wise guidance of Washington, who believed in no entangling alliances with either belligerent, had been desirous of maintaining a strict neutrality; it was willing to sell goods to either belligerent. Unfortunately for France, as for Germany in 1914, England had control of the sea, and therefore the neutrality of the United States, however strict it might be, could help only the belligerent controlling the highways of commerce. In this short naval war with France, therefore, the young navy of the United States prevented the preying on American shipping by the weaker European belligerent and upheld the neutrality and the dignity of the United States. American sea power, unaided by armies, won this second war in our history.
Shortly after the war with France, American sea power, again unassisted by armies, waged a decisive contest with the pirates of Tripoli, 1801-1804, a contest that resulted from the great European war. America, whose trade at this time was second to England's, was carrying on an extensive commerce in the Mediterranean, where British trade was handicapped by a split-control ended by the great sea fight of Trafalgar in 1805. The .Barbary pirates took advantage of the general disorganization in Europe and also of the jealous connivance of the British, who secretly fostered the depredations of the Barbary corsairs against their American trade rivals in the Mediterranean. By the brilliant exploits of American officers like Preble and Decatur, Tripoli was brought to terms, and the system of extortion, blackmail, tribute paying, and white slavery, tolerated for centuries by the civilized nations of Europe, was ended by the long reach of a young sea power three thousand miles away. Even Britain, with all her boasted mastery of the seas, had not been free from tribute paying to these nests of corsairs. After the Napoleonic wars England sent a powerful expedition under Lord Exmouth to Algiers and so ended piracy and white slavery in Barbary States forever. But American sea power had blazed the way.
We have now seen that the United States was drawn into two purely naval wars—the "French War" and the Tripolitan War—by the general chaos of the Napoleonic era in Europe. We must note in passing also that these two American wars were waged in the interests of neutrality and of freedom of the seas. But the sea power of the United States was to be forced to defend these same principles of neutral rights and free seas a third time during the Napoleonic wars. In this instance—the War of 1812 the sea power of the United States was to be pitted against the second of the two great belligerents of the Napoleonic era—against the Mistress of the Seas.
Just as the causes of the former two of these three American wars were based on depreciations on the American merchant marine and were decided by sea power, so this War of 1812 was naval in origin and in its decisive features. As the American reader remembers only too well, the causes of the War of 1812 were illegal seizures and searches of American merchantmen and impressment of American seamen. In order to neutralize Napoleon's paper blockades of the British Isles and commerce, and in order to thwart Napoleon's Continental System, by which he tried to keep English products out of Europe, and thus destroy the great sea revenues of the coalitions against him—in other words, in order to maintain British commerce as the sinews of war and at the same time to deprive Napoleon of these limitless resources—England went to such extremes in regulating ocean traffic that she by her orders in Council coerced all neutral trade to her ends or drove it off the seas. Hence American commerce, which during the years 1807 to 1810 at times exceeded Britain's tonnage, was slowly but surely being driven from the seas by the violence and cupidity of both Napoleon and Great Britain. True, this annihilation of American commerce was unintentionally abetted by the President and Congress of the United States by the latters' restrictions on American trade, which helped to embargo it to death. These restrictions and British and French depredations in their ultimate effects not only ruined thousands ,of American ship owners but brought suffering and unemployment to greater thousands and changed the whole character of New England from a commercial to an industrial community. But, as in the recent World War, the depredations on property, while ruinous, did not touch the hearts of the people as the outrages on human liberty and lives. For Great Britain in her hour of need, in the struggle against the world dictator, a struggle that had already lasted twenty years, wanted men for her great marine and navy, and accordingly her officers boarded American merchantmen and even war ships and seized ruthlessly thousands of American citizens. This was the wrong that Americans of a hundred years ago felt more keenly than the mere loss of property. Great Britain was then, as a century later, really fighting with back to the wall against a great would-be world conqueror, but the people of the United States were blind to this fact by recent memories of George Ill's tyranny. As Mahan points out, America a century ago should have fought Napoleon, not England. But the wily Napoleon professed to have very "delicate ideas of the rights of non-combatants at sea, whither his power did not reach." He seized American ships wholesale without right or reason, just as he made of peoples on the continent tribute-paying Belgiums. But impressment was to the Americans of that day a more flagrant abuse of human rights than seizure of ships. It was to them somewhat like the ruthless disregard of human rights a century later by the German U-boats, and like the latter had a greater influence in forcing a pacific government and people to take sides against England rather than against the worse aggressor. Napoleon. After years of diplomatic note writing the American government declared war on June 19, 1812.
The War of 1812, therefore maritime in its origin, depended also on sea power for its decision. The United States entered the war—owing to the pacific ideals of the people and government—unprepared. We had an insignificant naval force of fourteen frigates and sloops of war, as against five to six hundred ships of the line and frigates in the British Navy actually in commission. But partly to make up for the lack of a national navy, the American people quickly transformed the idle American merchantmen into privateers, of which there were five hundred and twenty-six before the end of the war, whose depredations on British commerce had a considerable effect in the final peace. While the fourteen national warships in the American Navy won undying fame for themselves in their ocean duels with the Guerriere, Java, Macedonian, Frolic, Shannon, etc., under such leaders as Hull, Bainbridge, Decatur, Jacob Jones and Lawrence, still the odds of fourteen to a thousand were too great to influence the military result. The overwhelming British superiority in the Atlantic gradually blockaded the United States so tightly that hardly a fishing smack dared show itself even in its own Chesapeake Bay, which the British turned into a base from which their sailors and soldiers harassed the coast towns and burned the American capital.
But while American sea power on the ocean could do little but win glory in an unequal contest, on the Canadian border things were different. Here, after humiliating defeats to the raw American troops, the American Navy prevented a disastrous defensive. Perry by his victory on Lake Erie, September, 1813, regained control for communications on the American left wing and forced the retirement from the Northwest of the British right wing. A year later, September, 1814, Commodore Macdonough by his crushing naval victory on Lake Champlain achieved what Mahan declares the decisive engagement of the war. This battle of Lake Champlain determined, even more than the first battle of Lake Champlain during the Revolution, the strategy of the war. For immediately upon the victory, Prevost, the Governor-General of Canada, with his fourteen thousand veterans from Wellington's army, retreated precipitately into Canada. The battle had a far reaching effect on the peace makers at Ghent, for it ultimately forced England to give up her demands on United States territory in Michigan and Maine. Moreover the decisive influence of these lake battles—that is, of sea power—on the war is seen from the following reply of Wellington, the conqueror of Napoleon, who in the emergency in Canada was asked to take command over here:
Neither I nor any one else can achieve success, in the way of conquests, unless you have naval superiority on the lakes The question is, whether we can obtain this naval superiority on the lakes. If we cannot, I shall do you little good in America; and I shall go there only to prove the truth of Provost's defense, and to sign a peace which might as well be signed now.
After the War of 1812 the setback suffered by the American merchant marine from the Napoleonic Wars crippled the sea power of the United States for half a century. For the navy too this period was one of stagnation and deterioration. Farragut complained in 1839 that our navy was forty years behind the navies of Europe. Hence, the Mexican War is the only one of the eight wars fought by the United States from 1775 to the present in which American sea power played practically no part. Farragut made every effort to rouse the Navy Department of that day to take a leading part in capturing the Mexican stronghold San Juan de Ulloa that protected Vera Cruz, but he was overruled and felt the disappointment keenly; to him it was the loss of an opportunity to end the war quickly. This whole period lends color to the contention that a merchant marine and a navy are mutually interdependent, acting as cause and effect upon each other, the one fostering the other. An active ocean commerce furnishes the trained shipbuilders, skilled seamen, and revenues wherewith to build and man a navy. Moreover, such a merchant marine gives the people a proper reason for maintaining a navy to protect its commerce. Without such commerce, the maintenance of a big navy seems to a democratic people too much like militarism, too much like a great waste of public money. Where the two elements coexist—merchant marine and navy—they form a natural evolution, like the expansion of great cities and their concomitant metropolitan police forces. Towards the middle of the 19th century, however, the American ocean shipping had a revival, for the fast American clipper ships ran for a while close rivals of Great Britain for the trade of the world. Americans, though busy with the winning of the West, again turned their faces seaward, toward the sea route to California and the China trade, and so contributed with their merchant ships in no slight degree towards the rapid expansion of the navy at the outbreak of the Civil War.
With these elements of sea power ready at hand, it is not surprising that the sea power of the Union was able to assemble within six months of the beginning of the Civil War a naval force of two hundred and sixty-one vessels wherewith to blockade effectively the coast line of 3500 miles from Hampton Roads to the Rio Grande. This coast line with its numerous and fine harbors was on the other hand for the Confederacy, which had no merchant marine or navy, only a great handicap—only a ready means for the sea power of her enemy to strike her quickly in as many vital spots as she had harbors. The Union navy soon seized the more unprotected harbors to use as bases for military operations against the South and so converted gradually and surely the blockade into a military occupation of the whole southern coast. Moreover, the Union fleets could and did make the Mississippi a great line for northern communications, thus helping to capture the fortress Vicksburg, and split the South in two, cutting it off from the food supplies of the states bordering the Great Father of Waters on the west; for the Confederacy, whose immediate territory was early demoralized by war, had quickly become dependent on the quieter states west of the river. Moreover, as the South was agricultural, it depended almost entirely on Europe, that is, on England, for uniforms, munitions, and all military equipment, which it paid for with its cotton that brought war prices in London. So great did the demand for cotton in England and for munitions in the South become that a blockade runner could pay for itself in one successful round trip. But as the Union blockade tightened, it surrounded the South on three sides with a ring of iron, the so-called "Anaconda policy"—constriction from all sides. As the South was by the blockade cut off from the sources of manufactured articles, so vital to war, it is remarkable that it could hold out for four years. Without the Northern Blockade the South might have protracted the struggle indefinitely. As it was, Lee's armies towards the last were in rags, without shoes, powder and arms, and were on half rations. Moreover the blockade had so crippled the South financially that bread was selling in Richmond at three dollars a loaf in Confederate currency. Of course in retaliation for this slow strangulation the South with its British-bought cruisers, especially the Florida, Alabama, and Shenandoah, inflicted great damage on Northern shipping, estimated at $20,000,000, but such commerce warfare, while it might delay, could not stop the strangling process. In short, the blockade of the South by the sea power of the North was the most decisive single factor in the Civil War.
In the long interval of peace after the Civil War the sea power of the United States steadily waned, but was revived just in time for the test required of it by the Spanish-American War. Even before the Civil War the famous American clippers in competition with British steamers were on the decline. Moreover, the Southern commerce destroyers, like the Alabama, and cheaper European labor had helped to throw American commerce into foreign bottoms. But in the early eighties of the last century the American people took a renewed interest in their navy, and in the "White Squadron" they formed the nucleus of a sea power independent in its origin and growth of a merchant marine. This start stimulated Americans to enter the field of steel ship construction. While the building of this new American Navy demonstrated the fact that such a navy could come into being without the aid of the sea-going personnel and ship-building facilities afforded by the existence of a big ocean marine, still it remains true that a previously existing merchant marine would have helped greatly not only in the construction and maintenance of a naval force but would have furnished, in popular estimation at least, better reasons for spending moneys on naval armaments. Without such a commerce to foster navies and to be protected by navies, the latter seem always to popular governments as unnecessarily militaristic and imperialistic.
But while the word imperialism came into frequent use in America just before and during and after the Spanish-American War, the new sea power of the United States was used not for aggression but rather for the freeing of peoples from the aggression of older European systems. The Spanish-American War, which was brought to a quick decision by the naval battles of Manila Bay and Santiago, freed Cuba and the Philippines from a reactionary government, decadent since the days of the Armada, which now lost the last provinces of a once great empire. The sea power of America and Britain, backing up the Monroe Doctrine early in the century, had prevented Spain under the Holy Alliance from reconquering the revolted provinces of South America; and in the end of the century the sea power of America deprived Spain of the last vestiges of an autocratic empire and gained for the United States an empire founded on self-determination. After the war with Spain the United States was free to expand in the Caribbean, the gateway to Panama, and so American sea power had blazed the trail for a Panama Canal, the gateway to the Pacific and its trade. The period of isolation for the United States was over. A vast production, a growing navy and colonial expansion now pointed the way naturally for the creation of the largest element in sea power, a new and greater merchant marine.
This new and greater merchant marine was to be one of the results of the submarine menace in the World War, much the same as a century before American commerce was greatly stimulated by another great world war. And to-day as then America was to enter the struggle as a champion of neutrality and free seas. Not only were the causes in both wars maritime, but sea power—the sea power of Britain, later powerfully aided by America's—was to have "the casting vote." Admiral Mahan in "The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire," a scholarly and exhaustive argument, comes to the conclusion that Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo was the result of his defeat at the sea battle of Trafalgar ten years before. Trafalgar settled the control of the sea in England's favor. After that it was a war of attrition between sea power and the continent, with the ultimate result that the resources of the world carried in ships proved greater than the resources of the continent of Europe. Napoleon's Continental System was, in Mahan's opinion, his ruin. In much the same way in the recent war the sea power of Great Britain, and later of America, in spite of the very efficient and dangerous German U-boats, kept the control of the sea and sustained the Allies and their communications in the war of attrition. Even Von Ludendorf, a witness for the defense, in his recent book admits that the two million Americans, carried across on a bridge of boats, was the decisive factor in the war. But the bridge of boats represents the communications of this great army and communications are the arteries of war. If "communications dominate war," sea power in the World War even more than in earlier wars governed communications.
On the entry of the United States into the world conflict on April 6, 1917, it had two great elements of sea power: vast resources in raw and manufactured products and the largest navy in its history, a navy ranking next to Germany's. The third element, an ocean merchant marine, it had to create. Bryce in his "American Commonwealth" says that one of the characteristics of the American people is their great energy in national crises. This characteristic was demonstrated in the crisis of 1917. With their great resources, inventive skill and energy, the Americans sent across vast supplies of food and munitions, manufactured new types of weapons against the submarine like the depth bomb and the specially devised mines, with 57,000 of which their navy accomplished the gigantic task of creating the North Sea mine barrage, 250 feet deep and extending from the Orkneys to Norway, a distance of 230 miles. The American people also speeded up naval construction to such an extent that they launched 83 destroyers, aggregating 98,281 tons, in nine months. The Mare Island yard, for example, launched a destroyer, the Ward, in 17 ½ days and completed it in 70 days from the laying of the keel. They added to their navy to October 1, 1918, 2 new battleships, 28 submarines, 355 submarine chasers and hundreds of vessels of every conceivable type acquired by purchase, or charter, from the great coastwise and lake commerce of the country. Moreover, their navy in man power increased from 65,777 on April 6, 1917, to 497,030 on Armistice Day—a rapid expansion that had to be brought about without the aid of a trained seagoing personnel which a previously existing ocean marine would have afforded ready made. Manned by these young men—rapidly trained at the Great Lakes Training School and other similar camps—the navy in its 321 transports carried, across the Atlantic approximately half of Pershing's army and supplies and did practically the whole (82 ¾%) of the ocean convoying with its naval vessels.
But, as we have said before, the sea power of the United States lacked one vital factor, an ocean merchant marine, and this too the people of the United States through the Shipping Board and Emergency Fleet Corporation quickly created. These agencies by commandeering and unifying the shipyards of the United States speeded up construction of merchantmen. Among other achievements the Shipping Board—a corporation to-day larger than the Standard Oil Company—repaired the 103 German liners and transferred 54 of them to the Navy Department, which by means of these alone was able to transport half a million troops. Under the work of such agencies as the Shipping Board and Emergency Fleet Corporation we witnessed the paradoxical result that the greater the destruction by the submarine, the greater the merchant marine of the United States grew. Our total imports and exports amounted in 19 13 to $4,000,000,000 and in 1918 to $9,000,000,000. We came out of the war with a vast merchant fleet, the last and greatest element in our sea power.
Without in any slightest degree detracting from the great achievements of Foch and Haig and Pershing, may we not conclude in the words of George Washington that sea power in this World War as in the earlier six wars—the Revolution, the "French War," the Tripolitan War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War—had the casting vote? Moreover, American sea power in every one of these seven wars threw in its decisive weight on the side of human liberty.