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THE NAVAL POLICY OF THE UNITED STATES.
BY LIEUTENANT CHARLES BELKNAP, U. S. N.
Sat cito, si sat bene.”
The extraordinary attention paid of late years by the leading powers of the world to the condition and efficiency of their navies leads to a belief that there is a growing tendency to greater reliance than heretofore, in case of war, upon this arm of a country's defence. It is not only among the leading powers of Europe that this change is taking place, it has spread to South America ; and even in China and Japan, the navy appears to be the main weapon for offence or defence.
Under such circumstances, and when we find it commonly believed abroad that the United States was compelled to acquiesce in the demands of the Spanish Government for the settlement of the Virginius affair, on account of its inability to cope with the Spanish naval force of seven armored vessels, it is well to inquire into the condition of our own Navy, and to suggest such changes in our naval policy as will best tend to the proper development of our naval strength, in order that our again being placed in such a false position before the eyes of the world may be prevented.
In treating such a subject, the question naturally arises, Is there any necessity for the maintenance of a strong naral force by the United States ? At first sight, separated as the country is by its geographical position from the rest of the world, and freed by its state policy from foreign complications, the maintenance of a powerful Navy seems an useless expense. And, moreover, objection has been made on the score of the consequent danger to the national independence. In the words of the talented historian of the United States Nary, “In a democracy there exists a standing necessity for reducing everything to the average comprehension, the high intelligence of a nation usually conceding as much to ignorance as it imparts. One of the worst consequences, in a practical sense, of this compromise of knowledge is to be found in the want of establishments that require foresight and liberality to be well managed, for the history of every democracy has shown that it has been deficient in the wisdom which is dependent on those expenditures that foster true economy by anticipating evils and avoid the waste of precipitation, want of system, and a want of knowledge.” And I believe the latter objection is advanced rather as an excuse by the high intelligence of the nation for its concession to ignorance than as a real reason for the policy of neglect so long observed towards the Nary. Rejecting, then, this objection as barely worth noticing I will venture to state what seem to me ample reasons for the maintenance of a strong naral force by the United States.
The necessity for the display of a naval force can never be foretold. The navies are the police of the world at large, and events are constantly happening where peace and good order are best maintained by instantaneous and determined naval intervention. Instances will uudoubtedly present themselves to every one, but I may be permitted to refer to a few. The prompt action of Capt. Ingraham, of the U.S.S. St. Louis, at Smyrna, in 1853, in regard to Martin Kozsta, einphasized the determination of the United States to defend the rights of its adopted citizens abroad; and that it prevented, to a great extent, future complications on the same account is more than probable. The subsequent voting by Congress of a gold medal to Capt. Ingraham is sufficient proof that the Government will always appreciate the conduct of an officer who acts fearlessly upon his own responsibility where the honor of his country is involved. United States vessels have frequently interfered for the protection of life and property and the preservation of order, when the local authorities have been powerless, in Honolulu and in Panama. For the same reason, the Spanish iron-clads, in the hands of a piratical rabble from Carthagena, were seized by the English fleet and turned over to the proper authorities. portune appearance of the U. S. S. Adams saved a Chilian colony from pillage and destruction, and the arrival of an English gunboat put an end to the merciless slaughter of the Virginius prisoners at Santiago de Cuba. Many more cases might be cited, but these few selected at random will, I think, prore that the necessity for the employment of a naval force is most pressing when least apprehended.
That commercial and naval supremacy are coexistent is undeniable. The great commercial power of the world has always, for the time being, been also the great naval power, and history teaches us that when the naval supremacy of a nation has been overthrown the decay of its commerce bas followed as an inevitable result. For a period of some forty years preceding the breaking out of the late rebellion, the skill
of our ship builders and the wise administration of the scanty funds appropriated by Congress for the use of the navy furnished us with a few specimens of naval architecture unsurpassed by any in the world. During the same time our merchant marine bade fair to wrest the lion's share of the carrying trade of the world from the hands of our great commercial rival. The war that followed offered an opportunity for the destruction of our merchant marine, which was not neglected. Privateers fitted out by our generous rival, on behalf, and sailing under the flag of the Southern States, pounced upon their unprotected prey, and the question of commercial supremacy was settled, for a half century at least. By an experiment at Hampton roads, in 1862, the war settled another question, -that naral architecture was revolutionized. Since then the Government has, in its naval policy, slept the sleep of a Rip Van Winkle, and now, awakening, it vainly endeavors to answer the demands of the present age with a nary suitable to the wants of a past generation. Our share of the carrying trade of the world is lost, and until we show ourselves strong enough to protect it, we may rest assured it will not be regained. The increasing influence of the agricultural and mining interests of the West in our national councils, and the disregard paid to the commercial interests of the East; the spread of the use of iron and of steam in merchant vessels; the sharp competition by numerous and heretofore unheard of rivals ; all these reasons may be advanced for the decline of our commerce, but I hold that the inability of our Nary, on account of the inadequacy of its force, to protect the merchant vessels sailing under its colors, was the chief cause of capital's seeking safety under other flags.
Intimately connected with this is the influence exerted by a strong naval force upon nations having no merchant marine of their own, and especially upon those wliich are commonly, though not always with justice, termed semi-civilized. The commerce of the Pacific Ocean which lies along such a vast extent of our western coast, naturally should be ours, and in the same manner it might be expected that intimate commercial relations would exist between us and the two great Eastern Empires. But despite our proximity the United States flag is rarely seen off our western coast, and our trade with China and Japan is barely enough to employ two lines of steamships, sailing triweekly. And one of these lines even is under a foreign flag. The reason for this lack of intercommunication is evident. The mind of the oriental is influenced, not by theories, but by facts, and, though
the United States Government may be respected and esteemed for its policy of non-intervention, if not of sympathy, trade is gained and influence exerted in China and Japan by the nations keeping a powerful naval force on their coasts. I am strongly of the opinion that, incidentally, the restoration by the United States of indemnity funds unjustly exacted from those countries and, particularly, the maintenance in those seas of a large naval force authorized to lend its moral support to prevent the bullyings they are constantly subjected to, would do more to restore American commercial interests in that quarter of the globe than would the removal of any of the existing restrictions upon commerce that might be suggested.
The recent suggestion made by one foreign government that it might under certain contingencies interfere in the existing war between the South American republics, and the attempt about to be made, under the auspices of another, to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, recall to mind a state policy formally announced in 1823, and commonly known as the “Monroe Doctrine.' By the moral force of that doctrine the Spanish Colonies of Central and South America were materially aided in gaining, and have since been enabled to retain their independence. The withdrawal of the French troops from Mexico and the subsequent downfall of the mimic empire erected by the government of Napoleon III. at a period when internal dissensions threatened the permanent disruption of the power which promulgated that doctrine, were caused by a reassertion of its principles, after the war, by the late Mr. Seward, at that time Secretary of State. Can it be that the Monroe Doctrine, so intimately allied to the foreign policy of the United States, though apparently well-nigh forgotten, is to be allowed to sink into utter oblivion? Are we prepared, in contravention of its principles, to allow one foreign power to interfere for the avowed purpose of humanity between combatants on this continent; and another to assume control of a canal, the unfriendly possession of which would be a standing menace in time of war? cannot be so lost to the dictates of humanity that we do not care, at the proper time, to offer our intervention for the purpose of preventing the further useless waste of blood and treasure. We certainly are more interested than any other nation in the completion and control of an inter-oceanic canal, and, if it be demanded by the commercial necessities of the present age, we ought not permit any nation to forestall us in an enterprise of such vital influence upon our future welfare. I believe that free and extended discussion upon these subjects would
show that the American people as a unit demand the rigid maintenance of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine. Yet to be able to do this effectively a navy must be maintained, and I need not say that by a navy I mean something more than what we now possess under that
Under the present circumstances, we are likely to see the principles of non-intervention by any foreign nation in the affairs of the American continent, a policy we have never disavowed, violated at any moment, in contempt of our views, by some strong naval power whose interest conflicts with our own. With what heart then could the Secretary of State protest against foreign encroachments, well knowing he had no force behind him to rely upon when protest failed ? If the present penny-wise policy in regard to the Navy is to be continued, it would perhaps be preferable, while we could, not quite disgracefully, to withdraw from the stand taken, and in that way avoid possible disagreeable complications with a power possessing half a score armored sea-going vessels. For such action we bave, unfortunately, precedent in the most extraordinary policy pursued by the Government in the early part of the century, when, with a foreigu trade that employed over half a million tons native shipping, Congress, for the declared purpose of preventing it from being subjected to depredations by the belligerent powers of Europe, passed a law forbidding any vessels to leave port for any foreign country! The idea of protecting our shipping by means of a strong naval force seems to have been unthought of.
If then a strong navy be desirable in time of peace, how much more so is it in time of war. Our early experience should teach us that the proper observance of the rights of a neutral can only be forced upon the belligerents by the presence of a powerful naval force. It is extremely doubtful if either the French or English government would have become involved in hostilities with the United States had the latter, by maintaining a navy worthy of the name, showed a determination to protect itself. And would it not have been truer economy to have been so strong upon the sea as to have avoided the war with France, in 1798, and the war with England, in 1812, and the consequent expenditure of so many lives and so much money? Moreover it is extremely probable that, in any future war which may arise between the maritime powers of Europe, the first and second articles of the treaty of Paris, in 1856, will be annulled. These articles abulished privateering, and declared that the flag of a neutral protected enemy's goods, with the exception of contraband of war, from cap