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Bank stock generally rose from five to ten per cent." In
Philadelphia, flour which sold at $7.50 the barrel on Saturday had
risen to $10 on Monday; a testimony that not only foreign export but
home supply to the eastward was to be renewed. The fall in foreign
products, due to freedom of import, was naturally accompanied by a
rise in domestic produce, to which an open outlet with proportionate
increase of demand was now afforded. In Philadelphia the exchange on
Boston reflected these conditions; falling from twenty-five per cent
to thirteen.

It may then be concluded that there is little exaggeration in the
words used by "a distinguished naval officer" of the day, in a letter
contributed to Niles' Register, in its issue of June 17, 1815. "No
sooner had the enemy blockaded our harbors, and extended his line of
cruisers from Maine to Georgia, than both foreign and domestic
commerce came at once to be reduced to a deplorable state of
stagnation; producing in its consequences the utter ruin of many
respectable merchants, as well as of a great multitude besides,
connected with them in their mercantile pursuits. But these were not
the only consequences. The regular supply of foreign commodities being
thereby cut off, many articles, now become necessaries of life, were
raised to an exorbitant price, and bore much upon the finances of the
citizen, whose family could not comfortably exist without them. Add to
this, as most of the money loaned to the Government for the purposes
of the war came from the pockets of merchants, they were rendered
incapable of continuing these disbursements in consequence of this
interruption to their trade; whence the cause of that impending
bankruptcy with which the Government was at one time threatened.... At
a critical period of the war [April, 1814] Congress found it
necessary to remove all restrictions upon commerce, both foreign and
domestic. It is a lamentable fact, however, that the adventurous
merchant found no alleviation from these indulgences, his vessels
being uniformly prevented by a strong blockading force, not only from
going out, but from coming into port, at the most imminent risk of
capture. The risk did not stop here; for the islands and ports most
frequented by American vessels being known to the enemy, he was
enabled from his abundance of means to intercept them there also. The
coasting trade, that most valuable appendage to an extensive
mercantile establishment in the United States, was entirely
annihilated. The southern and northern sections of the Union were
unable to exchange their commodities, except upon a contracted scale
through the medium of land carriage, and then only at a great loss; so
that, upon the whole, nothing in a national point of view appeared to
be more loudly called for by men of all parties than a naval force
adequate to the protection of our commerce, and the raising of the
blockade of our coast."

Such was the experience which sums up the forgotten bitter truth,
concerning a war which has left in the United States a prevalent
impression of distinguished success, because of a few brilliant naval
actions and the closing battle of New Orleans. The lesson to be
deduced is not that the country at that time should have sought to
maintain a navy approaching equality to the British. In the state of
national population and revenue, it was no more possible to attempt
this than that it would be expedient to do it now, under the present
immense development of resources and available wealth. What had been
possible during the decade preceding the war,--had the nation so
willed,--was to place the navy on such a footing, in numbers and
constitution, as would have made persistence in the course Great
Britain was following impolitic to the verge of madness, because it
would add to her war embarrassments the activity of an imposing
maritime enemy, at the threshold of her most valuable markets,--the
West Indies,--three thousand miles away from her own shores and from
the seat of her principal and necessary warfare. The United States
could not have encountered Great Britain single-handed--true; but
there was not then the slightest prospect of her having to do so. The
injuries of which she complained were incidental to a state of
European war; inconceivable and impossible apart from it. She was
therefore assured of the support of most powerful allies, occupying
the attention of the British navy and draining the resources of the
British empire. This condition of things was notorious, as was the
fact that, despite the disappointment of Trafalgar, Napoleon was
sedulously restoring the numbers of a navy, to the restraining of
which his enemy was barely competent.

The anxiety caused to the British Admiralty by the operations of the
small American squadrons in the autumn of 1812 has already been
depicted in quotations from its despatches to Warren.[215] Three or
four divisions, each containing one to two ships of the line, were
kept on the go, following a general round in successive relief, but
together amounting to five or six battle ships--to use the modern
term--with proportionate cruisers. It was not possible to diminish
this total by concentrating them, for the essence of the scheme, and
the necessity which dictated it, was to cover a wide sweep of ocean,
and to protect several maritime strategic points through which the
streams of commerce, controlled by well-known conditions, passed,
intersected, or converged. So also the Admiralty signified its wish
that one ship of the line should form the backbone of the blockade
before each of the American harbors. For this purpose Warren's fleet
was raised to a number stated by the Admiralty's letter to him of
January 9, 1813, to be "upwards of ten of the line, exclusive of the
six sail of the line appropriated to the protection of the West India
convoys." These numbers were additional to detachments which, outside
of his command, were patrolling the eastern Atlantic, about the
equator, and from the Cape Verde Islands to the Azores, as mentioned
in another letter of February 10. "In all, therefore, about twenty
sail of the line were employed on account of American hostilities; and
this, it will be noticed, was after Napoleon's Russian disaster was
fully known in England. It has not been without interfering for the
moment with other very important services that my Lords have been able
to send you this re-enforcement, and they most anxiously hope that the
vigorous and successful use you will make of it will enable you
shortly to return some of the line of battle ships to England, which,
if the heavy American frigates should be taken or destroyed, you will
immediately do, retaining four line of battle ships." Attention should
fasten upon the importance here attached by the British Admiralty to
the bigger ships; for it is well to learn of the enemy, and to
appreciate that it was not solely light cruisers and privateers, but
chiefly the heavy vessels, that counted in the estimate of experienced
British naval officers. The facts are little understood in the United
States, and consequently are almost always misrepresented.

The reasons for this abundance of force are evident. As regards
commerce Great Britain was on the defensive; and the defensive cannot
tell upon which of many exposed points a blow may fall. Dissemination
of effort, however modified by strategic ingenuity, is thus to a
certain extent imposed. If an American division might strike British
trade on the equator between 20 and 30 west longitude, and also in
the neighborhood of the Cape Verdes and of the Azores, preparation in
some form to protect all those points was necessary, and they are too
wide apart for this to be effected by mere concentration. So the
blockade of the United States harbors. There might be in New York no
American frigates, but if a division escaped from Boston it was
possible it might come upon the New York blockade in superior force,
if adequate numbers were not constantly kept there. The British
commercial blockade, though offensive in essence, had also its
defensive side, which compelled a certain dispersion of force, in
order to be in local sufficiency in several quarters.

These several dispersed assemblages of British ships of war
constituted the totality of naval effort imposed upon Great Britain by
"the fourteen sail of vessels of all descriptions"[216] which composed
the United States navy. It would not in the least have been necessary
had these been sloops of war--were they fourteen or forty. The weight
of the burden was the heavy frigates, two of which together were more
than a match for three of the same nominal class--the 38-gun
frigate--which was the most numerous and efficient element in the
British cruising force. The American forty-four was unknown to British
experience, and could be met only by ships of the line. Add to this
consideration the remoteness of the American shore, and its dangerous
proximity to very vital British interests, and there are found the
elements of the difficult problem presented to the Admiralty by the
combination of American force--such as it was--with American advantage
of position for dealing a severe blow to British welfare at the
period, 1805-1812, when the empire was in the height of its
unsupported and almost desperate struggle with Napoleon; when Prussia
was chained, Austria paralyzed, and Russia in strict bonds of
alliance--personal and political--with France.

If conditions were thus menacing, as we know them to to have been in
1812, when war was declared, and the invasion of Russia just
beginning, when the United States navy was "fourteen pendants," what
would they not have been in 1807, had the nation possessed even one
half of the twenty ships of the line which Gouverneur Morris, a shrewd
financier, estimated fifteen years before were within her competency?
While entirely convinced of the illegality of the British measures,
and feeling keenly--as what American even now cannot but feel?--the
humiliation and outrage to which his country was at that period
subjected, the writer has always recognized the stringent compulsion
under which Great Britain lay, and the military wisdom, in his
opinion, of the belligerent measures adopted by her to sustain her
strength through that unparalleled struggle; while in the matter of
impressment, it is impossible to deny--as was urged by Representative
Gaston of North Carolina and Gouverneur Morris--that her claim to the
service of her native seamen was consonant to the ideas of the time,
as well as of utmost importance to her in that hour of dire need.
Nevertheless, submission by America should have been impossible; and
would have been avoidable if for the fourteen pendants there had been
a dozen sail of the line, and frigates to match.



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