13th Congress.] 

No. 123.

[3d Session.



To the Honorable the Senate of the United Stales, the memorial of the subscribers, Midshipmen in the Navy of the United States, respectfully showeth:

That your memorialists conceive themselves aggrieved, and their prospects of future promotion and advancement in their profession materially injured, by the practice which has of late obtained, of promoting and commissioning sailing masters to the rank of lieutenants in the navy.

Your memorialists beg leave, most respectfully, to represent, that it is a practice which they believe is not allowed in the naval service of any other country, and that it is not likely to be attended with any beneficial results. Sailing-masters are taken from the merchant service, with qualifications no doubt perfectly sufficient for that most essential offices but they are in no respect accustomed to the peculiar and necessary regulations of vessels of war; and they are generally" of an age when it is extremely difficult to lay aside old, and become familiar with new habits: while, on the contrary, midshipmen are trained and educated, from very early years, in the practice of subordination and command, and in all the duties and discipline which may, at future periods, be required from them, as military men. And they are, moreover, instructed theoretically and practically in the sciences connected with that element on which they are to act. Sailing masters enter on their employment, (if it be their intention to hold it permanently) knowing that it is one to which promotion is not properly attached. But, in truth, they more frequently accept of" it as an occasional resource and livelihood when thrown out of their ordinary pursuits by the casualties of war, and with the resolution of abandoning it, and returning to their original occupation on the first favorable opportunity: midshipmen, on the other hand, commence by devoting themselves exclusively to the public service of their country; they embrace that service as a permanent profession, always ready to die in it; but hoping, if it should be their good fortune to live in it, that they may be permitted to earn, by their exertions and dangers, at least rank and honor.

Your memorialists beg they may not be understood as objecting to those promotions which may be the reward of gallant and conspicuous merit. Even although these be irregular, and interfere with their own prospects, yet they too much admire and value the cause of such occasional departures from established rules, not to yield to them with the utmost cheerfulness, and applaud the gratitude by which they may be dictated. Nor should they ever have objected, if such sailing masters only were commissioned to be lieutenants, as had served in the public navy the same number of years that is required of themselves: but they regret to state that no such limits have restrained the discretionary exercise of conferring that promotion. It has been given, as they understand and believe, to sailing masters who were not more than nine months in the service of the United States, and had never been able to signalize that short time by any illustrious act, while there were, and still are, many midshipmen who have served for five years, and were fit for promotion, but could not, and cannot even now, obtain it, because the vacancies have been already filled up by such irregular preferences. Your memorialists hope that no justification of what they complain against can be derived from their conductor incompetency. The history of the American navy affords no room for that suspicion; and they trust that the examples of those whom they look up to and obey, have inspired them with such a sense of their, duty and honor, that the. lustre of their profession will not be tarnished in their hands. But they beg leave further to observe, that their extent of information and acquirements depends only in a slight degree upon themselves. They have been separated, at very early ages, from their families and friends, and made, as it were, the wards and children of the public. The education they may have received depended not on their parents, guardians, or private preceptors, but on the constituted authorities of the country, and on the teachers of their choice. Your memorialists, without presuming to praise themselves, hope they will be found to have availed themselves of every opportunity given to them for acquiring knowledge. But if there could be any doubt (which they trust there cannot be) that a midshipman, regularly serving his time in the navy of the United States, is fit for promotion, they, with the utmost deference, submit, whether that great evil would not be better remedied by devising some more effectual plan for their instruction, than by promoting over their heads strangers entering from the merchant service.

Your memorialists are aware that an application of this kind, from persons so young as they are, to your august assembly, is singular, and perhaps presumptuous: for this intrusion their situation and their inexperience might well be offered as their apology. But they think they have also peculiar claims to the attention they solicit, as they have already said they are the wards and children of the public, and they address themselves to the representatives of that public, who are constitutionally vested with the power of acting towards them as fathers and guardians. They complain not merely of what may effect them with present inconvenience, but of what must interfere with prospects and interests in the more advanced periods of their lives, when it will be too late to retrace their steps, and seek for honorable independence in any other profession.

Your memorialists, therefore, respectfully and confidently submit the protection of their interests, and, as they believe, of the naval service, to your honorable body.

EDWARD F. HOWELL, and others.