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Duly to weigh
this result, regard must be had to the fact that, when the navy is
adequate, the most numerous seizures of commercial shipping are
usually effected at the beginning, because the scattered merchantmen
are taken unawares. The success of the last few months of this war
indicates the stimulus given to privateering, partly by the conditions
of the country, imperiously demanding some relief from the necessity,
and stagnancy of occupation, caused by the blockade; partly by the
growing appreciation of the fact that a richer harvest was to be
reaped by seeking the most suitable fields with the most suitable
vessels. In an energetic and businesslike people it will be expected
that the experience of the two preceding twelvemonths would have
produced decided opinions and practical results in the construction of
privateers, as well as in the direction given them. It is one thing to
take what is at hand and make the most of it in an emergency; it is
another to design thoughtfully a new instrument, best qualified for
the end in view. The cruiser needed speed and handiness,--that is the
first and obvious requirement; but, to escape the numerous enemies
gradually let loose to shorten her career, it became increasingly
requisite that she should have also weight of armament, to fight, and
weight of hull--tonnage--to hold her way in rough and head seas. These
qualities were not irreconcilable; but, to effect the necessary
combination, additional size was inevitable.

Accordingly, recognition of these facts is found in the laying down of
privateers for the particular business. Niles' Register, a Baltimore
weekly, notes with local pride that, although the port itself is
bolted and barred by the blockade of the Chesapeake, the Baltimore
model for schooners is in demand from Maine to Georgia; that they are
being built, often with Baltimore capital, in many places from which
escape is always possible. In Boston, there are in construction three
stout hulls, pierced for twenty-two guns; clearly much heavier in
tonnage, as in armament, than the schooner rate, and bearing the
linked names of "Blakely," "Reindeer," and "Avon." Mention is made of
one vessel of twenty-two long, heavy guns, which has already sailed,
and of two others, to carry as many as thirty to thirty-six, nearly

Between the divergent requirements of size and numbers, there is
always a middle term; a mean, not capable of exact definition, but
still existent within certain not very widely separated extremes. For
commerce destroying by individual cruisers, acting separately, which
was the measure that commended itself to the men of 1812, vessels
approaching the tonnage of the national sloops of war seemed, by their
successes and their immunity from capture, to realize very nearly the
best conditions of advantage. The national brigs which put to sea were
all captured, save one; and she was so notoriously dull of sailing
that her escape was attributed to mere good luck, experienced on
several critical occasions. Nearly all the sloops escaped; while the
three frigates lost, the "Chesapeake," "Essex," and "President," were
taken under circumstances that offered no parallel to the exigencies
to which the privateer was liable. They were not run down, uninjured,
in a fair race. The only sloop so lost was the "Frolic," of the class
of the "Wasp" and "Peacock;" and the circumstances under which she was
caught by a frigate are not sufficiently known to pronounce whether
she might have been saved, as her sister ship, the "Hornet," was, from
the hot pursuit of a seventy-four. Under some conditions of wind and
sea, inferiority of bulk inflicts irredeemable disadvantage of speed;
but, taking one thing with another, in a system of commerce destroying
which rejected squadron action, and was based avowedly upon
dissemination of vessels, the gain of the frigate over the sloop due
to size did not counterbalance the loss in distribution of effort
which results from having only one ship, instead of two, for a first

That some such convictions, the fruit of rude experience in actual
cruising, were gradually forming in men's understanding, is probable
from the particulars cited; and they would receive additional force
from the consideration that, to make a profit out of privateering
under existing conditions, it would be necessary, not only to capture
vessels of weak force, but to return safely to port with at least some
notable salvage from their cargoes. In other words, there must be
power to fight small cruisers, and to escape large ones under all
probable disadvantage of weather. Whatever the conclusions of
practical seamen and shipowners in this respect, they found no
reflection in the dominant power in the Administration and Congress.
The exploits of the "Comet," the "Chasseur," and a few other fortunate
privateer schooners or brigs of small size, among them being cited
specifically the "Mammoth," which in the autumn of 1814 made
twenty-one prizes in three months, produced a strong popular
impression; and this was diligently but somewhat thoughtlessly
deepened by the press, as such popular movements are apt to be,
without thorough mastery of all facts, _contra_ as well as _pro_. It
was undeniable, also, that in the threatening aspect of affairs, when
Great Britain's whole strength was freed to be exerted against the
country, want of time to prepare new means was a weighty element in
decision, and recourse must be had to resources immediately at hand
for the retaliatory depredation upon the enemy's commerce, from the
effect of which so much was expected then, as it is now. For this
reason the scheme had naval backing, prominent in which was Captain
Porter, who had reached home in the July after the capture of the

Under these circumstances, the Secretary of the Navy addressed a
letter, October 22, 1814,[262] to the naval committees of both houses
of Congress, enlarging on the greater attention of the enemy drawn to
the heavy frigates, and the increased difficulty of their getting to
sea. He recommended an appropriation of $600,000 for the purchase of
fast-sailing schooners for preying on the hostile commerce. In
consequence, a bill was introduced to build or purchase for the navy
twenty vessels, to carry not less than eight nor more than fourteen
guns; in short, of privateer class, but to be under naval control, not
only as regarded discipline and organization but direction of effort.
It was intended that a squadron of them should be intrusted to Captain
Porter, another to Captain Perry;[263] and Porter drew up a plan of
operations, which he submitted to the Department, providing for the
departure of the vessels, their keeping together for support in one
quarter, scattering in another, and again reuniting at a fixed
rendezvous.[264] Both officers reported great difficulty in procuring
suitable vessels, owing to the extent of privateering, the lack of
necessary funds, and the depreciation of Government credit, which
caused its drafts to be refused.

When introducing the bill into the lower House, the Chairman of the
Naval Committee, after paying some compliments to the military
achievements of the naval vessels, said that in regard to depredation
on the commerce of the enemy, he believed their efficiency could not
be compared to that of vessels of a smaller class. This note dominated
the brief discussion; the speakers in favor being significantly enough
from Maryland, prepossessed doubtless by local pride in their justly
celebrated schooners. Mr. Ingersoll, of Pennsylvania, moved an
amendment to allow vessels of twenty-two guns; an increase of fifty
per cent. The limitation to fourteen guns, he remarked, was inserted
in the Senate by a gentleman from Maryland; but it was not the fact
that the best privateers were limited to fourteen guns. One or two
which had arrived lately, after reaping a rich harvest, carried
sixteen. Mr. Lowndes, of South Carolina, seconded this amendment,
hoping that the Senate limitation would be rejected. He quoted Captain
Perry, who had "never known an instance in which a brig of the United
States had failed to overtake a schooner." One member only, Mr. Reed,
of Massachusetts, spoke against the whole scheme. Though opposed to
the war, he said, he wished it conducted on correct principles. He
"was warranted by facts in saying that no force would be half as
efficient, in proportion to its expense; none would be of so much
service to the country; none certainly would touch the enemy half so
much as a naval force of a proper character;" which, he affirmed, this
was not. Ingersoll's amendment was rejected, obtaining only
twenty-five votes. The bill went again to conference, and on November
11, 1814, was reported and passed, fixing the limits of armament at
from eight to sixteen guns; a paltry addition of two. Forty years
later the editor of the "Debates of Congress," Senator Benton, wrote,
"This was a movement in the right direction. Private armed vessels,
and the success of small ships of war cruising as privateers, had
taught Congress that small vessels, not large ships, were the
effective means of attacking and annoying the enemy's commerce."[265]

The final test was not permitted, to determine what success would have
attended the operations of several Baltimore schooners, united under
the single control of a man like Porter or Perry, and limited strictly
to the injury of the enemy's commerce by the destruction of prizes,
without thought of profit by sending them in. The advent of peace put
a stop to an experiment which would have been most instructive as well
as novel. Looking to other experiences of the past, it may be said
with confidence little short of certainty that, despite the
disadvantage of size, several schooners thus working in concert, and
with pure military purpose, would effect vastly more than the same
number acting separately, with a double eye to gain and glory. The
French privateer squadrons of Jean Bart and Duguay Trouin, in the
early eighteenth century, the example of the celebrated "Western"
squadrons of British frigates in the war of the French Revolution, as
protectors and destroyers of commerce, demonstrated beyond
peradventure the advantage of combined action in this, as in all
military enterprise; while the greater success of the individual
United States cruiser over the average privateer, so singularly
overlooked by the national legislators, gives assurance that Porter's
and Perry's schooners would collectively have done incomparable work.
This, however, is far from indicating that divisions of larger
vessels,--sloops or frigates,--under officers of their known energy,
could not have pushed home into the English Channel, or elsewhere
where British commerce congregated, an enterprise the results of which
would have caused the ears of those that heard them to tingle.


[217] Captain Allen to Navy Department.

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