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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Some footnotes have two anchors in the text, the second of these has 'a' appended to distinguish it from the first, i.e.  and [1a]. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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SEA POWER IN ITS RELATIONS TO THE WAR OF 1812
CAPTAIN A.T. MAHAN, D.C.L., LL.D.
United States Navy
AUTHOR OF "THE INFLUENCE OF SEA POWER UPON HISTORY, 1660-1783," "THE INFLUENCE OF SEA POWER UPON THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND EMPIRE," "THE INTEREST OF AMERICA IN SEA POWER," ETC.
IN TWO VOLUMES
LONDON SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON & COMPANY LIMITED
The present work concludes the series of "The Influence of Sea Power upon History," as originally framed in the conception of the author. In the previous volumes he has had the inspiring consciousness of regarding his subject as a positive and commanding element in the history of the world. In the War of 1812, also, the effect is real and dread enough; but to his own country, to the United States, as a matter of national experience, the lesson is rather that of the influence of a negative quantity upon national history. The phrase scarcely lends itself to use as a title; but it represents the truth which the author has endeavored to set forth, though recognizing clearly that the victories on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain do illustrate, in a distinguished manner, his principal thesis, the controlling influence upon events of naval power, even when transferred to an inland body of fresh water. The lesson there, however, was the same as in the larger fields of war heretofore treated. Not by rambling operations, or naval duels, are wars decided, but by force massed, and handled in skilful combination. It matters not that the particular force be small. The art of war is the same throughout; and may be illustrated as really, though less conspicuously, by a flotilla as by an armada; by a corporal's guard, or the three units of the Horatii, as by a host of a hundred thousand.
The interest of the War of 1812, to Americans, has commonly been felt to lie in the brilliant evidence of high professional tone and efficiency reached by their navy, as shown by the single-ship actions, and by the two decisive victories achieved by little squadrons upon the lakes. Without in the least overlooking the permanent value of such examples and such traditions, to the nation, and to the military service which they illustrate, it nevertheless appears to the writer that the effect may be even harmful to the people at large, if it be permitted to conceal the deeply mortifying condition to which the country was reduced by parsimony in preparation, or to obscure the lessons thence to be drawn for practical application now. It is perhaps useless to quarrel with the tendency of mankind to turn its eyes from disagreeable subjects, and to dwell complacently upon those which minister to self-content. We mostly read the newspapers in which we find our views reflected, and dispense ourselves easily with the less pleasing occupation of seeing them roughly disputed; but a writer on a subject of national importance may not thus exempt himself from the unpleasant features of his task.
The author has thought it also essential to precede his work by a somewhat full exposition of the train of causes, which through a long series of years led to the war. It may seem at first far-fetched to go back to 1651 for the origins of the War of 1812; but without such preliminary consideration it is impossible to understand, or to make due allowance for, the course of Great Britain. It will be found, however, that the treatment of the earlier period is brief, and only sufficient for a clear comprehension of the five years of intense international strain preceding the final rupture; years the full narrative of which is indispensable to appreciating the grounds and development of the quarrel,—to realize what they fought each other for.
That much of Great Britain's action was unjustifiable, and at times even monstrous, regarded in itself alone, must be admitted; but we shall ill comprehend the necessity of preparation for war, if we neglect to note the pressure of emergency, of deadly peril, upon a state, or if we fail to recognize that traditional habits of thought constitute with nations, as with individuals, a compulsive moral force which an opponent can control only by the display of adequate physical power. Such to the British people was the conviction of their right and need to compel the service of their native seamen, wherever found on the high seas. The conclusion of the writer is, that at a very early stage of the French Revolutionary Wars the United States should have obeyed Washington's warnings to prepare for war, and to build a navy; and that, thus prepared, instead of placing reliance upon a system of commercial restrictions, war should have been declared not later than 1807, when the news of Jena, and of Great Britain's refusal to relinquish her practice of impressing from American ships, became known almost coincidently. But this conclusion is perfectly compatible with a recognition of the desperate character of the strife that Great Britain was waging; that she could not disengage herself from it, Napoleon being what he was; and that the methods which she pursued did cause the Emperor's downfall, and her own deliverance, although they were invasions of just rights, to which the United States should not have submitted.
If war is always avoidable, consistently with due resistance to evil, then war is always unjustifiable; but if it is possible that two nations, or two political entities, like the North and South in the American Civil War, find the question between them one which neither can yield without sacrificing conscientious conviction, or national welfare, or the interests of posterity, of which each generation in its day is the trustee, then war is not justifiable only; it is imperative. In these days of glorified arbitration it cannot be affirmed too distinctly that bodies of men—nations—have convictions binding on their consciences, as well as interests which are vital in character; and that nations, no more than individuals, may surrender conscience to another's keeping. Still less may they rightfully pre-engage so to do. Nor is this conclusion invalidated by a triumph of the unjust in war. Subjugation to wrong is not acquiescence in wrong. A beaten nation is not necessarily a disgraced nation; but the nation or man is disgraced who shirks an obligation to defend right.
From 1803 to 1814 Great Britain was at war with Napoleon, without intermission; until 1805 single handed, thenceforth till 1812 mostly without other allies than the incoherent and disorganized mass of the Spanish insurgents. After Austerlitz, as Pitt said, the map of Europe became useless to indicate distribution of political power. Thenceforth it showed a continent politically consolidated, organized and driven by Napoleon's sole energy, with one aim, to crush Great Britain; and the Continent of Europe then meant the civilized world, politically and militarily. How desperate the strife, the author in a previous work has striven fully to explain, and does not intend here to repeat. In it Great Britain laid her hand to any weapon she could find, to save national life and independence. To justify all her measures at the bar of conventional law, narrowly construed, is impossible. Had she attempted to square herself to it she would have been overwhelmed; as the United States, had it adhered rigidly to its Constitution, must have foregone the purchase of the territories beyond the Mississippi. The measures which overthrew Napoleon grievously injured the United States; by international law grievously wronged her also. Should she have acquiesced? If not, war was inevitable. Great Britain could not be expected to submit to destruction for another's benefit.
The author has been indebted to the Officers of the Public Records Office in London, to those of the Canadian Archives, and to the Bureau of Historical Research of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, for kind and essential assistance in consulting papers. He owes also an expression of personal obligation to the Marquis of Londonderry for permission to use some of the Castlereagh correspondence, bearing on the peace negotiations, which was not included in the extensive published Memoirs and Correspondence of Lord Castlereagh; and to Mr. Charles W. Stewart, the Librarian of the United States Navy Department, for inexhaustible patience in searching for, or verifying, data and references, needed to make the work complete on the naval side.
ANTECEDENTS OF THE WAR
COLONIAL CONDITIONS Page Remote origin of the causes of the War of 1812 1
Two principal causes: impressment and the carrying trade 2
Claim of Great Britain as to impressment 3
Counter-claim of the United States 4
Lack of unanimity among the American people 5
Prevailing British ideas as to sea power and its relations to carrying trade and impressment 9
The Navigation Acts 10
Distinction between "Commerce" and "Navigation" 11
History and development of the Navigation Acts, and of the national opinions relating to them 13
Unanimity of conviction in Great Britain 22
Supposed benefit to the British carrying trade from loss of the American colonies 23
British entrepot legislation 24
Relation of the entrepot idea to the Orders in Council of 1807 27
Colonial monopoly a practice common to all European maritime states 27
Effect of the Independence of the United States upon traditional commercial prepossessions 29
Consequent policy of Great Britain 29
Commercial development of the British transatlantic colonies during the colonial period 31
Interrelation of the continental and West India colonies of Great Britain 35
Bearing of this upon the Navigation Acts 36
Rivalry of American-built ships with British navigation during the colonial period 37
Resultant commercial rivalry after Independence 40
Consequent disagreements, derived from colonial restrictions, and leading to war 41
FROM INDEPENDENCE TO JAY'S TREATY
Rupture of the colonial relation 42
Transitional character of the period 1774-1794, to the United States 43
Epochal significance of Jay's Treaty 43
The question of British navigation, as affected by the loss of the colonies 45
British commercial expectations from the political weakness of the United States, 1783-1789 46
System advocated by Lord Sheffield 47
Based upon considerations of navigation and naval power 49
Navigation Acts essentially military in purpose 51
Jefferson's views upon this question 52
Imperial value of the British Navigation Act before American Independence 53
Influence of the inter-colonial trade at the same period 55
Essential rivalry between it and British trade in general 55
Common interest of continental America and of Great Britain in the West Indies 56
Pitt's Bill, of March, 1783 58
Controversy provoked by it in Great Britain 60
British jealousy of American navigation 63
Desire to exclude American navigation from British colonial trade 65
Lord Sheffield's pamphlet 65
Reply of the West India planters 66
Lapse of Pitt's bill 67
Navigation Acts applied in full rigor to intercourse between the United States and West Indies 68
This policy continues till Jay's Treaty 69
Not a wrong to the United States, though an injury 70
Naval impotence of the United States 71
Dependence on Portugal against Barbary pirates 72
Profit of Great Britain from this impotence 74
Apparent success of Sheffield's trade policy, 1783-1789 75
Increase of British navigation 75
American counteractive legislation after the adoption of the Constitution 76
Report of the committee of the British Privy Council on this subject, 1790 77
Aggressive spirit of the Navigation Acts 79
Change of conditions through American navigation laws 80
Recommendations of the British committee 81
Effects of the French Revolution 85
Collapse of French colonial system 85
Failure of Sheffield's policy, in supplying the West Indies from Canada 86
Great Britain's war necessities require aid of American shipping 86
Her resolve to deprive France of the same aid 88
Consequent lawless measures towards American ships and commerce 88
Jay's mission.—Impressment not mentioned in his instructions 88
FROM JAY'S TREATY TO THE ORDERS IN COUNCIL, 1794-1807
Arbitrary war measures of Great Britain, 1793 89
Rule of 1756 90
Peculiar relation of the United States to this Rule 92
Jay's arrival in London 93
Characteristics of his negotiations 94
Great Britain concedes direct trade with West Indies 95
Rejection of this article by the Senate, on account of accompanying conditions 96
Concession nevertheless continued by British order 97
Reasons for this tolerance 97
Conditions of trade from Jay's mission to the Peace of 1801 97
No concession of the principle of the Rule of 1756 98
Renewal of war between Great Britain and France, 1803 99
Prosperity of American commerce 100
Question raised of "direct trade" 100
Decision in British Admiralty Court adverse to United States, 1805 101
United States subjected again to colonial regulation 103
Remonstrance and negotiation of Monroe, American Minister in London 104
Death of Pitt. Change of ministry in Great Britain. Position of Charles James Fox 105
Fox's attempt at compromise 108
The blockade of May 16, 1806 108
Its lawfulness contested by the United States 110
Its importance in history 112
Retaliatory commercial action by the United States 113
Pinkney sent to England as colleague to Monroe 113
Colonial trade, and impressment of seamen from American vessels, the leading subjects mentioned in their instructions 114
Historical summary of the impressment question 114
Opening of negotiations by Monroe and Pinkney 128
Death of Fox 131
Course of the negotiations 131
Provisional treaty, signed December 31, 1806 133
Rejected by United States Government 133
Monroe and Pinkney directed to reopen negotiations 133
Change of ministry in Great Britain. Canning becomes Foreign Secretary 134
The British Government refuses further negotiation 135
Monroe leaves England, Pinkney remaining as minister 135
"Free Trade and Sailors' Rights" 135
Consistency of Jefferson's Administration on the subject of impressment 137
It neglects to prepare for war 138
FROM THE ORDERS IN COUNCIL TO WAR
Reservation of the British Government in signing the treaty of December 31, 1806 141
The Berlin Decree 142
Ambiguity of its wording 143
The question of "private property," so called, embarked in commercial venture at sea. Discussion 144
Wide political scope of the Berlin Decree 148
Twofold importance of the United States in international policy 149
Consequent aims of France and Great Britain 149
British Order in Council of January 7, 1807 150
Attitude of the United States Government 152
Military purpose of the Berlin Decree and the Continental System 153
The "Chesapeake" affair 155
Conference concerning it between Canning and Monroe 156
Action of President Jefferson 160
Use made of it by Canning 161
Correspondence concerning the "Chesapeake" affair 161
Rose appointed envoy to Washington to negotiate a settlement 165
Failure of his mission 167
Persistent British refusal to punish the offending officer 169
Significance of the "Chesapeake" affair in the relations of the two nations 168
Its analogy to impressment 170
Enforcement of the Berlin Decree by Napoleon 172
Its essential character 174
The Decree and the Continental System are supported by the course of the American Government 175
Pinkney's conviction of Great Britain's peril 177
The British Orders in Council, November, 1807 177
Their effect upon the United States 178
Just resentment in America 178
Action of the Administration and Congress 181
The Embargo Act of December, 1807 182
Explanations concerning it to Great Britain 183
Its intentions, real and alleged 185
Its failure, as an alternative to war 186
Jefferson's aversion to the carrying trade 187
Growing ill-feeling between the United States and Great Britain 190
Relief to Great Britain from the effects of the Continental System, by the Spanish revolt against Napoleon 191
Depression of United States industries under the Embargo 192
Difficulty of enforcement 194
Evasions and smuggling 195
The Embargo beneficial to Canada and Nova Scotia 198
Effects in Great Britain 199
Relief to British navigation through the Embargo 200
Effect of the Embargo upon American revenue 202
Numbers of American vessels remain abroad, submitting to the Orders in Council, and accepting British licenses and British convoy 203
Napoleon's Bayonne Decree against them; April 17, 1808 203
Illustrations of the working of Napoleon's Decrees and of the Orders in Council 204
Vigorous enforcement of the Embargo in 1808 206
Popular irritation and opposition 207
Act for its further enforcement, January 9, 1809 208
Evidences of overt resistance to it 209
Act for partial repeal, introduced February 8 210
Conflicting opinions as to the Embargo, in and out of Congress 211
The Non-Intercourse Act, March 1, 1809 214
Its effect upon commercial restrictions 215
Canning's advances, in consequence of Non-Intercourse Act 215
Instructions sent to Erskine, British Minister at Washington 216
Erskine's misleading communication of them, April 18, 1809 218
Consequent renewal of trade with Great Britain 219
Erskine disavowed. Non-Intercourse resumed, August 9, 1809 219
Orders in Council of November, 1807, revoked; and substitute issued, April 26, 1809 220
Consequent partial revival of American commerce 220
Francis J. Jackson appointed as Erskine's successor 221
His correspondence with the American Secretary of State 222
Further communication with him refused 225
Criticism of the American side of this correspondence 226
Wellesley succeeds Canning as British Foreign Secretary 229
Jackson's dismissal communicated to Wellesley by Pinkney 229
Wellesley delays action 230
British view of the diplomatic situation 231
Failure of the Non-Intercourse Act 232
Difficulty of finding a substitute 233
Act of May 1, 1810.—Its provisions 234
Napoleon's Rambouillet Decree, March 23, 1810 235
Act of May 1, 1810, communicated to France and Great Britain 236
Napoleon's action. Champagny's letter, August 5, 1810 237
Madison accepts it as revoking the French Decrees 238
The arguments for and against this interpretation 239
Great Britain refuses to accept it 242
Statement of her position in the matter 243
Wellesley's procrastinations 245
Pinkney states to him the American view, at length, December 10, 1810 245
Wellesley's reply 246
Inconsistent action of the French Government 247
Non-Intercourse with Great Britain revived by statute, March 2, 1811 249
The American Minister withdraws from London, February 28, 1811 251
Non-Intercourse with Great Britain remains in vigor to, and during, the war 252
Augustus J. Foster appointed British Minister to the United States, February, 1811 252
His instructions 253
His correspondence with the Secretary of State 254
Settlement of the "Chesapeake" affair 255
The collision between the "President" and the "Little Belt" 256
Special session of Congress summoned 259
The President's Message to Congress, November 5, 1811 259
Increase of the army voted 259
Debate on the navy 260
Congress refuses to increase the navy, January 27, 1812 263
Embargo of ninety days preparatory to war, April 4 263
The evasions of this measure 264
Increasing evidence of the duplicity of Napoleon's action 266
Report of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, March 10, 1812 269
Consequent British declaration 270
Use of these papers by Barlow, American Minister to France 271
The spurious French Decree of April 28, 1811, communicated to Barlow 272
Communicated to the British Government 273
Considerations influencing the British Government 274
The Orders in Council revoked 276
Madison sends a war message to Congress, June 1, 1812 279
Declaration of war, June 18, 1812 279
Conditions of the army, navy, and treasury 279
THE THEATRE OF OPERATIONS
Limitations on American action through deficient sea power 283
Warfare against commerce considered 284
Its financial and political effects 285
Its military bearing 285
Distinction between military and commercial blockade 286
Commercial blockade identical in essence with commerce-destroying by cruisers 287
Recognition of this by Napoleon 287
Commerce destruction by blockade the weapon of the stronger navy; by cruisers, of the weaker 288
Inefficiency of the American Government shown in the want of naval preparation 289
Conditions in the army even worse 290
Jefferson's sanguine expectations 291
Propriety of the invasion of Canada discussed 292
The United States, weak on the seaboard, relatively strong towards Canada 295
Function of the seaboard in the war; defensive 296
Offensive opportunity essential to any scheme of defence 298
Application of this principle; in general, and to 1812 298
Conditions on the Canada frontier, favoring the offensive by the United States 300
Importance of the Great Lakes to military operations 301
Over-confidence of Americans 303
Corresponding apprehension of British officers 304
Decisive points on the line between the countries 305
Importance of the Indians as an element in the situation 306
Proper offensive policy of the United States 307
Natural advantages favoring the United States 309
The land frontier the proper scene of American offensive action 310
Seaboard conditions, for offence and defence 311
EARLY CRUISES AND ENGAGEMENTS. HULL'S OPERATIONS AND SURRENDER
Composition of Commodore Rodgers' squadron at outbreak of war 314
Indecisions of the Navy Department 315
Question between small squadrons and single cruisers for commerce-destroying 315
Opinions of prominent officers 316
British convoy system for protecting trade 319
The Navy Department formulates a plan of operations 320
Discussion of its merits 321
Rodgers sails without receiving Department's plan 322
Encounter with the "Belvidera" 323
The cruise unproductive, offensively 324
But not therefore unsuccessful, defensively 325
Its effect upon the movements of British vessels 326
The sailing of the "Constitution" 328
Chased by a British squadron 329
Cruise of the "Constitution" under Hull 329
Engagement with the "Guerriere" 330
Hull and Rodgers meet in Boston 335
Misfortune on land 336
Wretched condition of the American army 336
Appointment of Henry Dearborn and William Hull as generals. Hull to command in the Northwest 337
Isaac Brock, the British general commanding in Upper Canada 337
His well-considered scheme of operation 338
Incompetency of the American War Department 339
Hull takes command at Dayton 340
Advances to Detroit 341
Crosses to Canada 341
Brock causes seizure of Michilimackinac 341
Hull's delays in Canada, before Malden 343
The danger of his position 343
The British attack his communications 345
Hull recrosses to Detroit 345
Brock's difficulties 346
Moves against Hull, and reaches Malden 346
Crosses to Detroit, and advances 346
Hull surrenders 347
Criticism of his conduct 348
Extenuating circumstances 349
Ultimate responsibility lies upon the Governments which had been in power for ten years 350
OPERATIONS ON THE NORTHERN FRONTIER AFTER HULL'S SURRENDER. EUROPEAN EVENTS BEARING ON THE WAR
Brock returns to Niagara from Detroit 351
Prevost, Governor-General of Canada, arranges with Dearborn a suspension of hostilities 352
Suspension disapproved by the American Government. Hostilities resumed 353
Brock's advantage by control of the water 353
Two of his vessels on Lake Erie taken from him by Lieutenant Elliott, U.S. Navy 354
Brock's estimate of this loss 356
American attack upon Queenston 357
Repulsed, but Brock killed 357
Abortive American attack on the Upper Niagara 358
Inactivity of Dearborn on the northern New York frontier 359
Military inefficiency throughout the United States 360
Improvement only in the naval situation on the lakes 361
Captain Chauncey appointed to command on Lakes Erie and Ontario 361
His activity and efficiency 362
Disadvantages of his naval base, Sackett's Harbor 363
Chauncey's early operations, November, 1812 364
Fleet lays up for the winter 366
Effect of his first operations 366
General Harrison succeeds to Hull's command 367
Colonel Procter commands the British forces opposed 367
His instructions from Prevost and Brock 367
Harrison's plan of operations 368
The American disaster at Frenchtown 370
Effect upon Harrison's plans 371
The army remains on the defensive, awaiting naval control of Lake Erie 371
Chauncey visits Lake Erie 374
Disadvantages of Black Rock as a naval station 374
Chauncey selects Presqu'Isle (Erie) instead 375
Orders vessels built there 375
Advantages and drawbacks of Erie as a naval base 375
Commander Perry ordered to the lakes 376
Assigned by Chauncey to command on Lake Erie 376
Naval conditions on Lakes Erie and Ontario, at close of 1812 377
Contemporary European conditions 378
Napoleon's expedition against Russia 379
Commercial embarrassments of Great Britain 379
Necessity of American supplies to the British armies in Spain 381
Preoccupation of the British Navy with conditions in Europe and the East 382
Consequent embarrassment from the American war 383
Need of the American market 384
Danger to British West India trade from an American war 384
Burden thrown upon the British Admiralty 385
British anxiety to avoid war 385
OCEAN WARFARE AGAINST COMMERCE—PRIVATEERING—BRITISH LICENSES—NAVAL ACTIONS: "WASP" AND "FROLIC," "UNITED STATES" AND "MACEDONIAN"
Consolidation of British transatlantic naval commands 387
Sir John Borlase Warren commander-in-chief 387
British merchant ships forbidden to sail without convoy 388
Continued hope for restoration of peace 389
Warren instructed to make propositions 390
Reply of the American Government 391
Cessation of impressment demanded. Negotiation fails 391
Warren's appreciation of the dangers to British commerce 392
Extemporized character of the early American privateering 394
Its activities therefore mainly within Warren's station 394
Cruise of the privateer "Rossie," Captain Barney 395
Privateering not a merely speculative undertaking 396
Conditions necessary to its success 397
Illustrated by the privateer "America" 398
Comparative immunity of American shipping and commerce at the beginning of hostilities 399
Causes for this 400
Controversial correspondence between Warren and the Admiralty 401
Policy of the Admiralty. Its effects 404
American ships of war and privateers gradually compelled to cruise in distant seas 406
American commerce excluded from the ocean 406
Sailing of the squadrons of Rodgers and Decatur 407
Their separation 408
Cruise of Rodgers' squadron 409
British licenses to American merchant vessels 410
Action between the "Wasp" and "Frolic" 412
Cruise of the "Argus," of Decatur's division 415
Action between the "United States" and "Macedonian" 416
The "United States" returns with her prize 422
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE IMPRESSMENT OF AN AMERICAN SEAMAN Frontispiece From a drawing by Stanley M. Arthurs.
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS Page 6 From the painting by Marchant, after Sully, in Independence Hall, Philadelphia.
JOHN JAY Page 88 From the painting by Gilbert Stuart, in Bedford (Jay) House, Katonah, N.Y.
JAMES MONROE Page 104 From the painting by Gilbert Stuart, in the possession of Hon. T. Jefferson Coolidge.
THOMAS JEFFERSON Page 120 From the painting by Gilbert Stuart, in Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Me.
JAMES MADISON Page 223 From the painting by Gilbert Stuart, in Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Me.
THE CHASE OF THE Belvidera Page 322 From a drawing by Carlton T. Chapman.
THE FORECASTLE OF THE Constitution DURING THE CHASE Page 328 From a drawing by Henry Reuterdahl.
CAPTAIN ISAAC HULL Page 330 From the engraving by D. Edwin, after the painting by Gilbert Stuart.
THE BURNING OF THE Guerriere Page 334 From a drawing by Henry Reuterdahl.
CAPTAIN STEPHEN DECATUR Page 420 From the painting by Gilbert Stuart, in Independence Hall, Philadelphia.
MAPS AND BATTLE PLANS.
Theatre of Land and Coast Warfare Page 283
The Atlantic Ocean, showing the positions of the Ocean Actions of the War of 1812 and the Movements of the Squadrons in July and August, 1812 Page 326
Plan of the Engagement between the Constitution and Guerriere Page 332
Map of Lake Frontier to illustrate Campaigns of 1812-1814 Page 370
The Cruises of the Three American Squadrons in the Autumn of 1812 Page 408
Plan of the Engagement between the United States and Macedonian Page 418
Sea Power in its Relations to the War of 1812
ANTECEDENTS OF THE WAR
The head waters of the stream of events which led to the War of 1812, between the United States and Great Britain, must be sought far back in the history of Europe, in the principles governing commercial, colonial, and naval policy, accepted almost universally prior to the French Revolution. It is true that, before that tremendous epoch was reached, a far-reaching contribution to the approaching change in men's ideas on most matters touching mercantile intercourse, and the true relations of man to man, of nation to nation, had been made by the publication, in 1776, of Adam Smith's "Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations;" but, as is the case with most marked advances in the realm of thought, the light thus kindled, though finding reflection here and there among a few broader intellects, was unable to penetrate at once the dense surface of prejudice and conservatism with which the received maxims of generations had incrusted the general mind. Against such obstruction even the most popular of statesmen—as the younger Pitt soon after this became—cannot prevail at once; and, before time permitted the British people at large to reach that wider comprehension of issues, whereby alone radical change is made possible, there set in an era of reaction consequent upon the French Revolution, the excesses of which involved in one universal discredit all the more liberal ideas that were leavening the leaders of mankind.
The two principal immediate causes of the War of 1812 were the impressment of seamen from American merchant ships, upon the high seas, to serve in the British Navy, and the interference with the carrying trade of the United States by the naval power of Great Britain. For a long time this interference was confined by the British Ministry to methods which they thought themselves able to defend—as they did the practice of impressment—upon the ground of rights, prescriptive and established, natural or belligerent; although the American Government contended that in several specific measures no such right existed,—that the action was illegal as well as oppressive. As the war with Napoleon increased in intensity, however, the exigencies of the struggle induced the British cabinet to formulate and enforce against neutrals a restriction of trade which it confessed to be without sanction in law, and justified only upon the plea of necessary retaliation, imposed by the unwarrantable course of the French Emperor. These later proceedings, known historically as the Orders in Council, by their enormity dwarfed all previous causes of complaint, and with the question of impressment constituted the vital and irreconcilable body of dissent which dragged the two states into armed collision. Undoubtedly, other matters of difficulty arose from time to time, and were productive of dispute; but either they were of comparatively trivial importance, easily settled by ordinary diplomatic methods, or there was not at bottom any vital difference as to principle, but only as to the method of adjustment. For instance, in the flagrant and unpardonable outrage of taking men by force from the United States frigate "Chesapeake," the British Government, although permitted by the American to spin out discussion over a period of four years, did not pretend to sustain the act itself; the act, that is, of searching a neutral ship of war. Whatever the motive of the Ministry in postponing redress, their pretexts turned upon points of detail, accessory to the main transaction, or upon the subsequent course of the United States Government, which showed conscious weakness by taking hasty, pettish half-measures; instead of abstaining from immediate action, and instructing its minister to present an ultimatum, if satisfaction were shirked.
In the two causes of the war which have been specified, the difference was fundamental. Whichever was right, the question at stake was in each case one of principle, and of necessity. Great Britain never claimed to impress American seamen; but she did assert that her native-born subjects could never change their allegiance, that she had an inalienable right to their service, and to seize them wherever found, except within foreign territory. From an admitted premise, that the open sea is common to all nations, she deduced a common jurisdiction, in virtue of which she arrested her vagrant seamen. This argument of right was reinforced by a paramount necessity. In a life and death struggle with an implacable enemy, Great Britain with difficulty could keep her fleet manned at all; even with indifferent material. The deterioration in quality of her ships' companies was notorious; and it was notorious also that numerous British seamen sought employment in American merchant ships, hoping there to find refuge from the protracted confinement of a now dreary maritime war. Resort to impressment was not merely the act of a high-handed Government, but the demand of both parties in the state, coerced by the sentiment of the people, whose will is ultimately irresistible. No ministry could hope to retain power if it surrendered the claim to take seamen found under a neutral flag. This fact was thoroughly established in a long discussion with United States plenipotentiaries, five years before the war broke out.
On the other hand, the United States maintained that on the sea common the only jurisdiction over a ship was that of its own nation. She could not admit that American vessels there should be searched, for other purposes than those conceded to the belligerent by international law; that is, in order to determine the nature of the voyage, to ascertain whether, by destination, by cargo, or by persons carried, the obligations of neutrality were being infringed. If there was reasonable cause for suspicion, the vessel, by accepted law and precedent, might be sent to a port of the belligerent, where the question was adjudicated by legal process; but the actual captor could not decide it on the spot. On the contrary, he was bound, to the utmost possible, to preserve from molestation everything on board the seized vessel; in order that, if cleared, the owner might undergo no damage beyond the detention. So deliberate a course was not suited to the summary methods of impressment, nor to the urgent needs of the British Navy. The boarding officer, who had no authority to take away a bale of goods, decided then and there whether a man was subject to impressment, and carried him off at once, if he so willed.
It is to the credit of the American Government under Jefferson, that, though weak in its methods of seeking redress, it went straight back of the individual sufferer, and rested its case unswervingly on the broad principle. That impressment, thus practised, swept in American seamen, was an incident only, although it grievously aggravated the injury. Whatever the native allegiance of individuals on board any vessel on the open ocean, their rights were not to be regulated by the municipal law of the belligerent, but by that of the nation to which the ship belonged, of whose territory she was constructively a part, and whose flag therefore was dishonored, if acquiescence were yielded to an infringement of personal liberty, except as conceded by obligations of treaty, or by the general law of nations. Within British waters, the United States suffered no wrong by the impressment of British subjects—the enforcement of local municipal law—on board American vessels; and although it was suggested that such visits should not be made, and that an arriving crew should be considered to have the nationality of their ship, this concession, if granted, would have been a friendly limitation by Great Britain of her own municipal jurisdiction. It therefore could not be urged upon the British Government by a nation which took its stand resolutely upon the supremacy of its own municipal rights, on board its merchant shipping on the high seas.
It is to be noted, furthermore, that the voice of the people in the United States, the pressure of influence upon the Government, was not as unanimous as that exerted upon the British Ministry. The feeling of the country was divided; and, while none denied the grievous wrong done when an American was impressed, a class, strong at least in intellectual power, limited its demands to precautions against such mistakes and to redress when they occurred. The British claim to search, with the object of impressing British subjects, was considered by these men to be valid. Thus Gouverneur Morris, who on a semi-official visit to London in 1790 had had occasion to remonstrate upon the impressment of Americans in British ports, and who, as a pamphleteer, had taken strong ground against the measures of the British Government injurious to American commerce, wrote as follows in 1808 about the practice of seizing British subjects in American ships: "That we, the people of America, should engage in ruinous warfare to support a rash opinion, that foreign sailors in our merchant ships are to be protected against the power of their sovereign, is downright madness." "Why not," he wrote again in 1813, while the war was raging, "waiving flippant debate, lay down the broad principle of national right, on which Great Britain takes her native seamen from our merchant ships? Let those who deny the right pay, suffer, and fight, to compel an abandonment of the claim. Men of sound mind will see, and men of sound principle will acknowledge, its existence." In his opinion, there was but one consistent course to be pursued by those who favored the war with Great Britain, which was to insist that she should, without compensation, surrender her claim. "If that ground be taken," he wrote, "the war [on our part] will be confessedly, as it is now impliedly, unjust." Morris was a man honorably distinguished in our troubled national history—a member of the Congress of the Revolution and of the Constitutional Convention, a trained lawyer, a practised financier, and an experienced diplomatist; one who throughout his public life stood high in the estimation of Washington, with whom he was in constant official and personal correspondence. It is to be added that those to whom he wrote were evidently in sympathy with his opinions.
So again Representative Gaston, of North Carolina, a member of the same political party as Morris, speaking from his seat in the House in February, 1814, maintained the British doctrine of inalienable allegiance. "Naturalization granted in another country has no effect whatever to destroy the original primary allegiance." Even Administration speakers did not deny this, but they maintained that the native allegiance could be enforced only within its territorial limits, not on the high seas. While perfectly firm and explicit as to the defence of American seamen,—even to the point of war, if needful,—Gaston spoke of the British practice as a right. "If you cannot by substitute obtain an abandonment of the right, or practice, to search our vessels, regulate it so as to prevent its abuse; waiving for the present, not relinquishing, your objections to it." He expressed sympathy, too, for the desperate straits in which Great Britain found herself. "At a time when her floating bulwarks were her whole safeguard against slavery, she could not view without alarm and resentment the warriors who should have manned those bulwarks pursuing a more gainful occupation in American vessels. Our merchant ships were crowded with British seamen, most of them deserters from their ships of war, and all furnished with fraudulent protections to prove them Americans. To us they were not necessary." On the contrary, "they ate the bread and bid down the wages of native seamen, whom it was our first duty to foster and encourage." This competition with native seamen was one of the pleas likewise of the New England opposition, too much of which was obstinately and reprehensibly factious. "Many thousands of British seamen," said Governor Strong of Massachusetts, in addressing the Legislature, May 28, 1813, "deserted that service for a more safe and lucrative employment in ours." Had they not, "the high price for that species of labor would soon have induced a sufficient number of Americans to become seamen. It appears, therefore, that British seamen have been patronized at the expense of our own; and should Great Britain now consent to relinquish the right of taking her own subjects, it would be no advantage to our native seamen; it would only tend to reduce their wages by increasing the numbers of that class of men." Gaston further said, that North Carolina, though not a commercial state, had many native seamen; but, "at the moment war was declared, though inquiry was made, I could not hear of a single native seaman detained by British impressment."
It is desirable, especially in these days, when everything is to be arbitrated, that men should recognize both sides of this question, and realize how impossible it was for either party to acquiesce in any other authority than their own deciding between them. "As I never had a doubt," said Morris, "so I thought it a duty to express my conviction that British ministers would not, dared not, submit to mediation a question of essential right." "The way to peace is open and clear," he said the following year. "Let the right of search and impressment be acknowledged as maxims of public law."
These expressions, uttered in the freedom of private correspondence, show a profound comprehension of the constraint under which the British Government and people both lay. It was impossible, at such a moment of extreme national peril, to depart from political convictions engendered by the uniform success of a policy followed consistently for a hundred and fifty years. For Great Britain, the time had long since passed into a dim distance, when the national appreciation of the sea to her welfare was that of mere defence, as voiced by Shakespeare:
England, hedged in with the main, That water-walled bulwark, still secure And confident from foreign purposes.
This little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house Against the envy of less happier lands.
By the middle of the seventeenth century, the perception of Great Britain's essential need to predominate upon the sea had dawned upon men's minds, and thence had passed from a vague national consciousness to a clearly defined national line of action, adopted first through a recognition of existing conditions of inferiority, but after these had ceased pursued without any change of spirit, and with no important changes of detail. This policy was formulated in a series of measures, comprehensively known as the Navigation Acts, the first of which was passed in 1651, during Cromwell's Protectorate. In 1660, immediately after the Restoration, it was reaffirmed in most essential features, and thenceforward continued to and beyond the times of which we are writing. In form a policy of sweeping protection, for the development of a particular British industry,—the carrying trade,—it was soon recognized that, in substance, its success had laid the foundations of a naval strength equally indispensable to the country. Upon this ground it was approved even by Adam Smith, although in direct opposition to the general spirit of his then novel doctrine. While exposing its fallacies as a commercial measure, he said it exemplified one of two cases in which protective legislation was to be justified. "The defence of Great Britain, for example, depends very much upon the number of its sailors and shipping. The Act of Navigation therefore very properly endeavors to give the sailors and shipping of Great Britain the monopoly of the trade of their own country.... It is not impossible that some of the regulations of this famous Act may have proceeded from national animosity. They are as wise, however, as though they had all been dictated by the most deliberate wisdom.... The Act is not favorable to foreign commerce, nor to the opulence which can arise from that; but defence is of much more importance than opulence. The Act of Navigation is perhaps the wisest of all the commercial regulations of England." It became a dominant prepossession of British statesmen, even among Smith's converts, in the conduct of foreign relations, that the military power of the state lay in the vast resources of native seamen, employed in its merchant ships. Even the wealth returned to the country, by the monopoly of the imperial markets, and by the nearly exclusive possession of the carrying trade, which was insured to British commerce by the elaborate regulations of the Act, was thought of less moment. "Every commercial consideration has been repeatedly urged," wrote John Adams, the first United States Minister to Great Britain, "but to no effect; seamen, the Navy, and power to strike an awful blow to an enemy at the first outbreak of war, are the ideas which prevail." This object, and this process, are familiar to us in these later days under the term "mobilization;" the military value of which, if rapidly effected, is well understood.
In this light, and in the light of the preceding experience of a hundred and fifty years, we must regard the course of the British Ministry through that period, extremely critical to both nations, which began when our War of Independence ended, and issued in the War of 1812. We in this day are continually told to look back to our fathers of the Revolutionary period, to follow their precepts, to confine ourselves to the lines of their policy. Let us then either justify the British ministries of Pitt and his successors, in their obstinate adherence to the traditions they had received, or let us admit that even ancestral piety may be carried too far, and that venerable maxims must be brought to the test of existing conditions.
The general movement of maritime intercourse between countries is commonly considered under two principal heads: Commerce and Navigation. The first applies to the interchange of commodities, however effected; the second, to their transportation from port to port. A nation may have a large commerce, of export and import, carried in foreign vessels, and possess little shipping of its own. This is at present the condition of the United States; and once, in far gone days, it was in great measure that of England. In such case there is a defect of navigation, consequent upon which there will be a deficiency of native seamen; of seamen attached to the country and its interests, by ties of birth or habit. For maritime war such a state will have but small resources of adaptable naval force; a condition dangerous in proportion to its dependence upon control of the sea. Therefore the attention of British statesmen, during the period in which the Navigation Act flourished, fastened more and more upon the necessity of maintaining the navigation of the kingdom, as distinguished from its commerce. Subsidiary to the movement of commerce, there is a third factor, relatively stationary, the consideration of which is probably less familiar now than it was to the contemporaries of the Navigation Act, to whom it was known under the name entrepot. This term was applied to those commercial centres—in this connection maritime centres—where goods accumulate on their way to market; where they are handled, stored, or transshipped. All these processes involve expenditure, which inures to the profit of the port, and of the nation; the effect being the exact equivalent of the local gains of a railroad centre of the present day. It was a dominant object with statesmen of the earlier period to draw such accumulations of traffic to their own ports, or nations; to force trade, by ingenious legislation, or even by direct coercion, to bring its materials to their own shores, and there to yield to them the advantages of the entrepot. Thus the preamble to one of the series of Navigation Acts states, as a direct object, the "making this Kingdom a staple [emporium], not only of the commodities of our plantations, but also of the commodities of other countries, and places, for the supply of the plantations." An instructive example of such indirect effort was the institution of free ports; ports which, by exemption from heavy customary tolls, or by the admission of foreign ships or goods, not permitted entrance to other national harbors, invited the merchant to collect in them, from surrounding regions, the constituents of his cargoes. On the other hand, the Colonial System, which began to assume importance at the time of the Navigation Act, afforded abundant opportunity for the compulsion of trade. Colonies being part of the mother country, and yet transoceanic with reference to her, maritime commerce between them and foreign communities could by direct legislation be obliged first to seek the parent state, which thus was made the distributing centre for both their exports and imports.
For nearly three centuries before the decisive measures taken by the Parliament of the Commonwealth, the development and increase of English shipping, by regulation of English trade, had been recognized as a desirable object by many English rulers. The impulse had taken shape in various enactments, giving to English vessels privileges, exclusive or qualified, in the import or export carriage of the kingdom; and it will readily be understood that the matter appeared of even more pressing importance, when the Navy depended upon the merchant service for ships, as well as for men; when the war fleets of the nation were composed of impressed ships, as well as manned by impressed sailors. These various laws had been tentative in character. Both firmness of purpose and continuity of effort were lacking to them; due doubtless to the comparative weakness of the nation in the scale of European states up to the seventeenth century. During the reigns of the first two Stuarts, this weakness was emphasized by internal dissensions; but the appreciation of the necessity for some radical remedy to the decay of English naval power remained and increased. To this conviction the ship-money of Charles the First bears its testimony; but it was left to Cromwell and his associates to formulate the legislation, upon which, for two centuries to come, the kingdom was thought to depend, alike for the growth of its merchant shipping and for the maintenance of the navy. All that preceded has interest chiefly as showing the origin and growth of an enduring national conviction, with which the United States came into collision immediately after achieving independence.
The ninth of October, 1651, is the date of the passing of the Act, the general terms of which set for two hundred years the standard for British legislation concerning the shipping industry. The title of the measure, "Goods from foreign ports, by whom to be imported," indicated at once that the object in view was the carrying trade; navigation, rather than commerce. Commerce was to be manipulated and forced into English bottoms as an indispensable agency for reaching British consumers. At this time less than half a century had elapsed since the first English colonists had settled in Massachusetts and Virginia. The British plantation system was still in its beginnings, alike in America, Asia, and Africa. When the then recent Civil War ended, in the overthrow of the royal power, it had been "observed with concern that the merchants of England had for several years usually freighted Dutch ships for fetching home their merchandise, because the freights were lower than in English ships. Dutch ships, therefore, were used for importing our own American products, while English ships lay rotting in harbor." "Notwithstanding the regulations made for confining that branch of navigation to the mother country, it is said that in the West India Islands there used, at this time, out of forty ships to be thirty-eight ships Dutch bottoms." English mariners also, for want of employment, went into the Dutch service. In this way seamen for the navy disappeared, just as, at a later day, they did into the merchant shipping of the United States.
The one great maritime rival of England, Holland, had thus engrossed, not only the carrying trade of Europe at large, most of which, from port to port, was done by her seamen, but that of England as well. Even of the English coasting trade much was done by Dutch ships. Under this competition, the English merchant marine was dwindling, and had become so inadequate that, when the exclusion of foreigners was enforced by the Act, the cry at once arose in the land that the English shipping was not sufficient for the work thus thrust upon it. "Although our own people have not shipping enough to import from all parts what they want, they are needlessly debarred from receiving new supplies of merchandise from other nations, who alone can, and until now did, import it." The effect of this decadence of shipping upon the resources of men for the navy is apparent.
The existence of strained relations between England and Holland facilitated the adoption of the first Navigation Act, which, as things were, struck the Dutch only; they being the one great carrying community in Europe. Although both the letter and the purpose of the new law included in its prohibitions all foreign countries, the commercial interests of other states were too slight, and their commercial spirit too dull, to take note of the future effect upon themselves; whether absolutely, or in relation to the maritime power of Great Britain, the cornerstone of which was then laid. This first Act directed that no merchandise from Asia, Africa, or America, including therein English "plantations," as the colonies were then styled, should be imported into England in other than English-built ships, belonging to English subjects, and of which "the master and mariners are also, for the most part of them, of the people of this commonwealth." This at once reserved a large part of the external trade to English ships; and also, by the regulation of the latter, constituted them a nursery for English seamen. To the general tenor of this clause, confining importation wholly to English vessels, an exception was made for Europe only; importations from any part of which was permitted to "such foreign ships and vessels as do truly and properly belong to the people of that country or place of which the said goods are the growth, production, or manufacture." Foreign merchantmen might therefore import into England the products of their own country; but both they and English vessels must ship such cargoes in the country of origin, not at any intermediate port. The purpose of these provisos, especially of the second, was to deprive Holland of the profit of the middleman, or the entrepot, which she had enjoyed hitherto by importing to herself from various regions, warehousing the goods, and then re-exporting. The expense of these processes, pocketed by Dutch handlers, and the exaction of any dues levied by the Dutch Treasury, reappeared in increased cost to foreign consumers. This appreciation of the value of the entrepot underlay much of the subsequent colonial regulation of England, and actuated the famous Orders in Council of 1807, which were a principal factor in causing the War of 1812. A second effect of these restrictions, which in later times was deemed even more important than the pecuniary gain, was to compel English ships to go long voyages, to the home countries of the cargoes they sought, instead of getting them near by in Dutch depots. This gave a corresponding development to the carrying trade—the navigation—of the Commonwealth; securing greater employment for ships and seamen, increasing both their numbers and experience, and contributing thereby to the resources of the navy in men. "A considerable carrying trade would be lost to us, and would remain with the merchants of Holland, of Hamburg, and other maritime towns, if our merchants were permitted to furnish themselves by short voyages to those neighboring ports, and were not compelled to take upon themselves the burden of bringing these articles from the countries where they were produced."
The Act of 1660, officially known as that of 12 Charles II., modified the provisos governing the European trade. The exclusion of goods of European origin from all transportation to England, save in ships of their own nation, was to some extent removed. This surrender was censured by some, explicitly, because it again enabled the Dutch to collect foreign articles and send them to England, thereby "permitting competition with this country in the longer part of the voyage;" to the injury, therefore, of British navigation. The remission, though real, was less than appeared; for the prohibitions of the Commonwealth were still applied to a large number of specified articles, the produce chiefly of Russia and Turkey, which could be imported only in their national ships, or those of England. As those countries had substantially no long voyage shipping, trade with them was to all practical purposes confined to English vessels. The concession to foreign vessels, such as it was, was further qualified by heavier duties, called aliens' duties, upon their cargoes; and by the requirement that three-fourths of their crew, entering English ports, should be of the same nationality as the ship. The object of this regulation was to prevent the foreign state from increasing its tonnage, by employing seamen other than its own. This went beyond mere protection of English vessels, and was a direct attack, though by English municipal law, upon the growth of foreign shipping.
This purpose indeed was authoritatively announced from the bench, construing the Act in the decision of a specific case. "Parliament had wisely foreseen that, if they restrained the importation or exportation of European goods, unless in our own ships, and manned with our own seamen, other states would do the same; and this, in its consequences, would amount to a prohibition of all such goods, which would be extremely detrimental to trade, and in the end defeat the very design of the Act. It was seen, however, that many countries in Europe, as France, Spain, and Italy, could more easily buy ships than build them; that, on the other hand, countries like Russia, and others in the North, had timber and materials enough for building ships, but wanted sailors. It was from a consideration of this inaptness in most countries to accomplish a complete navigation, that the Parliament prohibited the importation of most European goods, unless in ships owned and navigated by English, or in ships of the build of and manned by sailors of that country of which the goods were the growth. The consequence would be that foreigners could not make use of ships they bought, though English subjects might. This would force them to have recourse to our shipping, and the general intent of the Act, to secure the carrying trade to the English, would be answered as far as it possibly could." It was therefore ruled that the tenor of the Act forbade foreigners to import to England in ships not of their own building; and, adds the reporter, "This exposition of the Act of Navigation is certainly the true one." Having thus narrowed foreign competition to the utmost extent possible to municipal statutes, Parliament made the carrying industry even more exclusively than before a preserve for native seamen. The Commonwealth's requirement, that "the most" of the crew should be English, was changed to a definite prescription that the master and three-fourths of the mariners should be so.
Under such enactments, with frequent modification of detail, but no essential change of method, British shipping and seamen continued to be "protected" against foreign competition down to and beyond the War of 1812. In this long interval there is no change of conception, nor any relaxation of national conviction. The whole history affords a remarkable instance of persistent policy, pursued consecutively for five or six generations. No better evidence could be given of its hold upon the minds of the people, or of the serious nature of the obstacle encountered by any other state that came into collision with it; as the United States during the Napoleonic period did, in matters of trade and carriage, but especially in the closely related question of Impressment.
Whether the Navigation Act, during its period of vigor, was successful in developing the British mercantile marine and supporting the British Navy has been variously argued. The subsequent growth of British navigation is admitted; but whether this was the consequence of the measure itself has been disputed. It appears to the writer that those who doubt its effect in this respect allow their convictions of the strength of economical forces to blind them to the power of unremitting legislative action. To divert national activities from natural channels into artificial may be inexpedient and wasteful; and it may be reasonable to claim that ends so achieved are not really successes, but failures. Nevertheless, although natural causes, till then latent, may have conspired to further the development which the Navigation Act was intended to promote, and although, since its abolition, the same causes may have sufficed to sustain the imposing national carrying trade built up during its continuance, it is difficult to doubt the great direct influence of the Act itself; having in view the extent of the results, as well as the corroborative success of modern states in building up and maintaining other distinctly artificial industries, sometimes to the injury of the natural industries of other peoples, which the Navigation Act also in its day was meant to effect.
The condition of British navigation in 1651 has been stated. The experience of the remaining years of the Protectorate appears to have confirmed national opinion as to the general policy of the Act, and to have suggested the modifications of the Restoration. To trace the full sequence of development, in legislation or in shipping, is not here permissible; the present need being simply to give an account, and an explanation, of the strength of a national prepossession, which in its manifestation was a chief cause of the events that are the theme of this book. A few scattered details, taken casually, seem strikingly to sustain the claims of the advocates of the system, bearing always in mind the depression of the British shipping industry before the passage of the law. In 1728 there arrived in London from all parts beyond sea 2052 ships, of which only 213 were under foreign flags; less than one in nine. In Liverpool, in 1765, of 1533 entered and cleared, but 135 were foreign; in Bristol, the same year, of 701 but 91 foreign. Of the entire import of that year only 28 per cent, in money value, came from Europe; the carriage of the remaining 72 per cent was confined to British ships. It may, of course, be maintained that this restriction of shipping operated to the disadvantage of the commerce of the kingdom; that there was direct pecuniary loss. This would not be denied, for the object of the Act was less national gain than the upbuilding of shipping as a resource for the navy. Nevertheless, at this same period, in 1764, of 810 ships entering the great North German commercial centre, Hamburg, 267—over one-third—were British; the Dutch but 146, the Hamburgers themselves 157. A curious and suggestive comparison is afforded by the same port in 1769. From the extensive, populous, and fruitful country of France, the entrepot of the richest West Indian colony, Santo Domingo, there entered Hamburg 203 ships, of which not one was French; whereas from Great Britain there came a slightly larger total, 216, of which 178 were British.
Such figures seem to substantiate the general contemporary opinion of the efficacy of the Navigation Act, and to support the particular claim of a British writer of the day, that the naval weakness of Holland and France was due to the lack of similar measures. "The Dutch have indeed pursued a different policy, but they have thereby fallen to a state of weakness, which is now the object of pity, or of contempt. It was owing to the want of sailors, and not to the fault of their officers, that the ten ships of the line, which during their late impudent quarrel with Britain had been stipulated to join the French fleet, never sailed." "The French Navy, which at all times depended chiefly upon the West India trade for a supply of seamen, must have been laid up, if the war (of American Independence) had continued another year." Whatever the accuracy of these statements,—and they are those of a well-informed man,—they represented a general conviction, not in Great Britain only but in Europe, of the results of the Navigation legislation. A French writer speaks of it as the source of England's greatness, and sums up his admiration in words which recognize the respective shares of natural advantages and sagacious supervision in the grand outcome. "Called to commerce by her situation, it became the spirit of her government and the lever of her ambition. In other monarchies, it is private individuals who carry on commerce; but in that happy constitution it is the state, or the nation in its entirety."
In Great Britain itself there was substantial unanimity. This colored all its after policy towards its lately rebellious and now independent children, who as carriers had revived the once dreaded rivalry of the Dutch. To quote one writer, intimately acquainted with the whole theory and practice of the Navigation Acts, they "tend to the establishment of a monopoly; but our ancestors ... considered the defence of this island from foreign invasion as the first law in the national policy. Judging that the dominion of the land could not be preserved without possessing that of the sea, they made every effort to procure to the nation a maritime power of its own. They wished that the merchants should own as many ships, and employ as many mariners as possible. To induce, and sometimes to force, them to this application of their capital, restrictions and prohibitions were devised. The interests of commerce were often sacrificed to this object." Yet he claims that in the end commerce also profited, for "the increase in the number of ships became a spur to seek out employment for them." In 1792, British registered shipping amounted to 1,365,000 tons, employing 80,000 seamen. Of these, by common practice, two-thirds—say 50,000—were available for war, during which it was the rule to relax the Act so far as to require only one-fourth of the crew to be British. "That the increase in our shipping is to be ascribed to our navigation system appears in the application of it to the trade of the United States. When those countries were part of our plantations, a great portion of our produce was transported to Great Britain and our West India Islands in American bottoms; they had a share in the freight of sugars from those islands to Great Britain; they built annually more than one hundred ships, which were employed in the carrying trade of Great Britain; but since the Independence of those states, since their ships have been excluded from our plantations, and that trade is wholly confined to British ships, we have gained that share of our carrying trade from which they are now excluded." In corroboration of the same tendency, it was also noted during the war with the colonies, that "the shipyards of Britain in every port were full of employment, so that new yards were set up in places never before so used." That is, the war, stopping the intrusion of American colonists into the British carrying trade, just as the Navigation Act prohibited that of foreign nations, created a demand for British ships to fill the vacancy; a result perfectly in keeping with the whole object of the navigation system. But when hostilities with France began again in 1793, and lasted with slight intermission for twenty years, the drain of the navy for seamen so limited the development of the British navigation as to afford an opening for competition, of which American maritime aptitude took an advantage, threatening British supremacy and arousing corresponding jealousy.
Besides the increase of national shipping, the idea of entrepot received recognition in both the earlier and later developments of the system. Numerous specified articles, produced in English colonies, could be carried nowhere but to England, Ireland, or another colony, where they must be landed before going farther. Because regularly listed, such articles were technically styled "enumerated;" "enumerated commodities being such as must first be landed in England before being taken to foreign parts." From this privilege Ireland was soon after excepted; enumerated goods for that country having first to be landed in England. Among such enumerated articles, tobacco and rice held prominent places and illustrate the system. Of the former, in the first half of the eighteenth century, it was estimated that on an average seventy-two million pounds were sent yearly to England, of which fifty-four million were re-exported; an export duty of sixpence per pound being then levied, besides the cost of handling. Rice, made an enumerated article in 1705, exemplifies aptly the ideas which influenced the multifold manipulation of the nation's commerce in those days. The restriction was removed in 1731, so far as to permit this product to be sent direct from South Carolina and Georgia to any part of Europe south of Cape Finisterre; but only in British ships navigated according to the Act. In this there is a partial remission of the entrepot exaction, while the nursing of the carrying trade is carefully guarded. The latter was throughout the superior interest, inseparably connected in men's minds with the support of the navy. At a later date, West India sugar received the same indulgence as rice; it being found that the French were gaining the general European market, by permitting French vessels to carry the products of their islands direct to foreign continental ports. Rice and sugar for northern Europe, however, still had to be landed in England before proceeding.
The colonial trade in general was made entirely subservient to the support and development of English shipping, and to the enrichment of England, as the half-way storehouse. Into England foreign goods could be imported in some measure by foreign vessels, though under marked restrictions and disabilities; but into the colonies it was early forbidden to import any goods, whatever their origin, except in English-built ships, commanded and manned in accordance with the Act. Further, even in such ships they must be imported from England itself, not direct; not from the country of origin. The motive for this statute of 1663 is avowed in the preamble: to be with a view of maintaining a greater correspondence and kindness between them and the mother country, keeping the former in a firmer dependence upon the latter, and to make this kingdom the staple both of the commodities of the plantations, and of other countries in order to supply them. Further, it was alleged that it was the usage of nations to keep their plantation trade to themselves. In compensation for this subjection of their trade to the policy of the mother country, the supplying of the latter with West India products was reserved to the colonists.
Thus, goods for the colonies, as well as those from the colonies, from or to a foreign country,—from or to France, for example,—must first be landed in England before proceeding to the ultimate destination. Yet even this cherished provision, enforced against the foreigner, was made to subserve the carrying trade—the leading object; for, upon re-exportation to the colonies, there was allowed a drawback of duties paid upon admission to England, and permanent upon residents there. The effect of this was to make the articles cheaper in the colonies than in England itself, and so to induce increased consumption. It was therefore to the profit of the carrier; and the more acceptable, because the shipping required to bring home colonial goods was much in excess of that required for outward cargoes, to the consequent lowering of outward freights. "A regard to the profits of freights," writes a contemporary familiar with the subject, "as much as the augmentation of seamen, dictated this policy." From the conditions, it did not directly increase the number of seamen; but by helping the shipping merchant it supported the carrying industry as a whole.
Upon the legislative union of Scotland with England, in 1707, this entrepot privilege, with all other reserved advantages of English trade and commerce, was extended to the northern kingdom, and was a prominent consideration in inducing the Scotch people to accept a political change otherwise distasteful, because a seeming sacrifice of independence. Before this time they had had their own navigation system, modelled on the English; the Acts of the two parliaments embodying certain relations of reciprocity. Thenceforward, the Navigation Act is to be styled more properly a British, than an English, measure; but its benefits, now common to all Great Britain, were denied still to Ireland.
It will be realized that the habit of receiving exclusive favors at the expense of a particular set of people—the colonist and the foreigner—readily passed in a few generations into an unquestioning conviction of the propriety, and of the necessity, of such measures. It should be easy now for those living under a high protective tariff to understand that, having built up upon protection a principal national industry,—the carrying trade,—involving in its ramifications the prosperity of a large proportion of the wealth-producers of the country, English statesmen would fear to touch the fabric in any important part; and that their dread would be intensified by the conviction, universally held, that to remove any of these artificial supports would be to imperil at the same time the Royal Navy, the sudden expansion of which, from a peace to a war footing, depended upon impressment from the protected merchant ships. It will be seen also that with such precedents of entrepot, for the nourishing of British commerce, it was natural to turn to the same methods,—although in a form monstrously exaggerated,—when Napoleon by his decrees sought to starve British commerce to death. In conception and purpose, the Orders in Council of 1807 were simply a development of the entrepot system. Their motto, "No trade save through England,"—the watchword of the ministry of Canning, Castlereagh, and Perceval, 1807-12,—was merely the revival towards the United States, as an independent nation, of the methods observed towards her when an assemblage of colonies, forty years before; the object in both cases being the welfare of Great Britain, involved in the monopoly of an important external commerce, the material of which, being stored first in her ports, paid duty to her at the expense of continental consumers.
Nor was there in the thought of the age, external to Great Britain, any corrective of the impressions which dominated her commercial policy. "Commercial monopoly," wrote Montesquieu, "is the leading principle of colonial intercourse;" and an accomplished West Indian, quoting this phrase about 1790, says: "The principles by which the nations of Europe were influenced were precisely the same: (1) to secure to themselves respectively the most important productions of their colonies, and (2) to retain to themselves exclusively the advantage of supplying the colonies with European goods and manufactures." "I see," wrote John Adams from France, in 1784, "that the French merchants regard their colonies as English merchants considered us twenty years ago." The rigor of the French colonial trade system had been relaxed during the War of American Independence, as was frequently done by all states during hostilities; but when Louis XVI., in 1784, sought to continue this, though in an extremely qualified concession, allowing American vessels of under sixty tons a limited trade between the West Indies and their own country, the merchants of Marseilles, Bordeaux, Rochelle, Nantes, St. Malo, all sent in excited remonstrances, which found support in the provincial parliaments of Bordeaux and Brittany.
A further indication of the economical convictions of the French people, and of the impression made upon Europe generally by the success of the British Navigation Act, is to be seen in the fact that in 1794, under the Republic, the National Convention issued a decree identical in spirit, and almost identical in terms, with the English Act of 1651. In the latter year, said the report of the Committee to the Convention, "one-half the navigation of England was carried on by foreigners. She has imperceptibly retaken her rights. Towards the year 1700 foreigners possessed no more than the fifth part of this navigation; in 1725 only a little more than the ninth; in 1750 a little more than a twelfth; and in 1791 they possessed only the fourteenth part of it." It is perhaps unnecessary to add that the colonial system of Spain was as rigid as that of Great Britain, though far less capably administered. So universal was the opinion of the day as to the relation of colonies to navigation, that a contemporary American, familiar with the general controversy, wrote: "Though speculative politicians have entertained doubts in regard to favorable effects from colonial possessions, taking into view the expenses of their improvement, defence, and government, no question has been made but that the monopoly of their trade greatly increases the commerce of the nations to which they are appurtenant." Very soon after the adoption of the Constitution, the Congress of the United States, for the development of the carrying trade, enacted provisions analogous to the Navigation Act, so far as applicable to a nation having no colonies, but with large shipping and coasting interests to be favored.
To such accepted views, and to such traditional practice, the independence of the thirteen British colonies upon the American continent came not only as a new political fact, but as a portentous breach in the established order of things. As such, it was regarded with uneasy jealousy by both France and Spain; but to Great Britain it was doubly ominous. Not only had she lost a reserved market, singly the most valuable she possessed, but she had released, however unwillingly, a formidable and recognized rival for the carrying trade, the palladium of her naval strength. The market she was not without hopes of regaining, by a compulsion which, though less direct, would be in effect as real as that enforced by colonial regulation; but the capacity of the Americans as carriers rested upon natural conditions not so easy to overcome. The difficulty of the problem was increased by the fact that the governments of the world generally were awaking to the disproportionate advantages Great Britain had been reaping from them for more than a century, during which they had listlessly acquiesced in her aggressive absorption of the carriage of the seas. America could count upon their sympathies, and possible co-operation, in her rivalry with the British carrier. "It is manifest," wrote Coxe in 1794, "that a prodigious and almost universal revolution in the views of nations has taken place with regard to the carrying trade." When John Adams spoke of the United States retaliating upon Great Britain, by enacting a similar measure of its own, the minister of Portugal, then a country of greater weight than now, replied: "Not a nation in Europe would suffer a Navigation Act to be made by any other at this day. That of England was made in times of ignorance, when few nations cultivated commerce, and no country but she understood or cared anything about it, but now all courts are attentive to it;" so much so, indeed, that it has been said this was the age of commercial treaties. It was the age also of commercial regulation, often mistaken and injurious, which found its ideals largely in the Navigation Act of Great Britain, and in the resultant extraordinary processes of minute and comprehensive interference, with every species of commerce, and every article of export or import; for, while the general principles of the Navigation Act were few and simple enough, in application they entailed a watchful and constant balancing of advantages by the Board of Trade, and a consequent manipulation of the course of commerce,—a perfectly idealized and sublimated protection. The days of its glory, however, were passing fast. Great Britain was now in the position of one who has been first to exploit a great invention, upon which he has an exclusive patent. Others were now entering the field, and she must prepare for competition, in which she most of all feared those of her own blood, the children of her loins; for the signs of the menacing conditions following the War of Independence had been apparent some time before the revolt of the colonies gained for them liberty of action, heretofore checked in favor of the mother country. In these conditions, and in the national sentiment concerning them, are to be found the origin of a course of action which led to the War of 1812.
Under the Navigation Act, and throughout the colonial period, the transatlantic colonies of Great Britain had grown steadily; developing a commercial individuality of their own, depending in each upon local conditions. The variety of these, with the consequent variety of occupations and products, and the distance separating all from the mother country, had contributed to develop among them a certain degree of mutual dependence, and consequent exchange; the outcome of which was a commercial system interior to the group as a whole, and distinct from the relations to Great Britain borne by them individually and collectively. There was a large and important intercolonial commerce, consistent with the letter of the Navigation Act, as well as a trade with Great Britain; and although each of these exerted an influence upon the other, it was indirect and circuitous. The two were largely separate in fact, as well as in idea; and the interchange between the various colonies was more than double that with the mother country. It drew in British as well as American seamen, and was considered thus to entail the disadvantage that, unless America were the scene of war, the crews there were out of reach of impressment; that measure being too crude and unsystematic to reach effectively so distant a source of supply. Curiously enough, also, by an act passed in the reign of Queen Anne, seamen born in the American colonies were exempted from impressment. "During the late Civil War (of American Independence) it has been found difficult sufficiently to man our fleet, from the seamen insisting that, since they had been born in America, they could not be pressed to serve in the British navy." In these conditions, and especially in the difficulty of distinguishing the place of birth by the language spoken, is seen the foreshadowing of the troubles attending the practice of Impressment, after the United States had become a separate nation.
The British American colonies were divided by geographical conditions into two primary groups: those of the West India Islands, and those of the Continent. The common use of the latter term, in the thought and speech of the day, is indicated by the comprehensive adjective "Continental," familiarly applied to the Congress, troops, currency, and other attributes of sovereignty, assumed by the revolted colonies after their declaration of independence. Each group had special commercial characteristics—in itself, and relatively to Great Britain. The islands, whatever their minor differences of detail, or their mutual jealousies, or even their remoteness from one another,—Jamaica being a thousand miles from her eastern sisters,—were essentially a homogeneous body. Similarity of latitude and climate induced similarity of social and economical conditions; notably in the dependence on slave labor, upon which the industrial fabric rested. Their products, among which sugar and coffee were the most important, were such as Europe did not yield; it was therefore to their advantage to expend labor upon these wholly, and to depend upon external sources for supplies of all kinds, including food. Their exports, being directed by the Navigation Act almost entirely upon Great Britain, were, in connection with Virginia tobacco, the most lucrative of the "enumerated" articles which rendered tribute to the entrepot monopoly of the mother country. It was in this respect particularly, as furnishing imports to be handled and re-exported, that the islands were valuable to the home merchants. To the welfare of the body politic they contributed by their support of the carrying trade; for the cargoes, being bulky, required much tonnage, and the entire traffic was confined to British ships, manned three-fourths by British seamen. As a market also the islands were of consequence; all their supplies coming, by law, either from or through Great Britain, or from the continental colonies. Intercourse with foreign states was prohibited, and that with foreign colonies allowed only under rare and disabling conditions. But although the West Indies thus maintained a large part of the mother country's export trade, the smallness of their population, and the simple necessities of the slaves, who formed the great majority of the inhabitants, rendered them as British customers much inferior to the continental colonies; and this disparity was continually increasing, for the continent was growing rapidly in numbers, wealth, and requirements. In the five years 1744-48, the exports from Great Britain to the two quarters were nearly equal; but a decade later the continent took double the amount that the islands demanded. The figures quoted for the period 1754-58 are: to the West Indies, L3,765,000; to North America, L7,410,000. In the five years ending 1774 the West Indies received L6,748,095; the thirteen continental colonies, L13,660,180.