No. 211. [1st Session.
CONSTRUCTION OF SMALL VESSELS,
COMMUNICATED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, MARCH 29, 1822.
Mr. McLane, from the Committee on Naval Affairs, to whom was referred the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 4th instant, instructing them to inquire into the expediency of modifying the act entitled "An act for the gradual increase of the navy of the United States," so as to require a part of the annual appropriation to be expended in the construction of vessels of an inferior force to those now authorized by said law to be built, reported:
That, by the act above referred to, passed the 29th April, 1816, the sum of one million of dollars per annum was appropriated for the gradual increase of the navy of the United States; and the President of the United States was authorized to cause to be built nine ships to rate not less than seventy-four guns each, and twelve ships to rate not less than forty-four guns each, including one seventy-four and three forty-four gun ships authorized by a previous law; the President was also authorized to procure steam engines, and all the imperishable materials necessary for building and equipping three steam batteries; and, by the fourth section of the act, it was provided that the moneys appropriated by this act shall not be transferred to any other object of expenditure. By the act of 3d March, 1821, instead of the appropriation contained in the original act, the sum of five hundred thousand dollars per annum for six years was appropriated, to carry into effect the purposes of the said act; and that the whole of this sum will be required to complete the objects contemplated by these acts.
That, pursuant to the instructions and objects of these laws, there has been built and equipped one ship of the line, viz: the Columbus; and that there have been built and launched three ships of the line, viz: the Ohio, the North Carolina, and the Delaware; and one frigate, at Washington, the Potomac. That there is now on the stocks, built and ready to launch, one ship of the line at Boston; and that there are now on the stocks, nearly finished, one ship of the line at Portsmouth, N. H., one frigate at Philadelphia, and one frigate at New York; and that there is on the stocks, about half finished, one ship of the line at Gosport, Virginia; that preparations have for some time past been making for putting on the stocks one ship of the line at Boston, one frigate at New York, one frigate at Portsmouth, N. H., and one frigate at Washington; and that the frames and nearly all the other timber and other materials have been provided for building one ship of the line at Philadelphia, one frigate at Washington, one frigate at Boston, and one frigate at Norfolk; that the live oak frames and nearly all the other timber, and two steam engines, have been provided for two steam batteries at New York and one steam battery at Washington.
The committee further report, that the articles on hand, and those contracted for, could not be advantageously applied to the building of vessels of a smaller class than those for which they were provided and designed. "The frames of our ships of the line are all got to moulds; each particular piece has its appropriate place in the frame," and the labor of reducing there to a size suitable for smaller vessels would be nearly, if not quite, equal to the expense of a new frame. The copper provided, too, is generally heavier than is used for sloops of war.
In the opinion of the committee, (the frames being cut to moulds, which, being the cheaper and better plan, the Commissioners of the Navy, with a due regard to the before-recited acts, were authorized to direct,) there would be great risk of losing them entirely, by their warping out of place, if they are not put together.
The committee are of opinion, also, that the fund appropriated for the gradual increase of the navy cannot be diverted to other objects consistently with good faith or the real interests of the nation.
The policy was adopted upon great consideration, and with a view to the defence of our seacoast, and in a well-founded conviction that it was wise and prudent gradually to increase bur naval force in time of peace, and to render it efficient in the exigencies to which the country must be always more or less exposed. It is believed that the best defence for this country, and that on which it must principally rely, not only for the protection of our commerce, but to prevent the actual invasion of the soil, is the naval force. The act for the gradual increase of the navy was founded on this presumption, and designed by gradual means, in a manner least oppressive to the country, to lay the foundation of an efficient naval power, and to prepare, in time of peace, that description of force which could not be easily raised up in time of war, but which would be indispensable in such a crisis. It requires much time and great care to prepare the materials and construct the vessels of that class provided for in the acts, and the experience of the late war had fully demonstrated the necessity of such a force, by teaching us the facility with which the enemy could blockade a large portion of our coast with a single ship of the line.
The committee are of opinion that it would be unwise to change this system, founded upon so many important considerations, without some urgent necessity; and, in their opinion, none such exists. On the contrary, there seems to be even stronger reasons for adhering to the policy and cherishing the growth of our naval power, now that foreign nations are modelling their naval architecture after our improvements, and at a moment when our foreign relations are about to be extended upon a scale which should at least admonish us against any diminution of, or an indifference to, the means of national defence.
The committee are aware of the importance of sloops of war as a class of naval force indispensable both in time of peace and war; but they are a class which may be provided in a shorter time, and with considerable advantage even after the exigency has arisen; and though they would be useful in time of peace for many services, and especially for the discipline of our officers, and the more effectual suppression of the piratical marauders upon our commerce, the committee believe it would be unwise to break in upon the fund for the gradual increase of the navy, even for such objects; and they therefore recommend the adoption of the following resolution:
Resolved, That it is inexpedient to modify the act entitled "An act for the gradual increase of the navy of the United States," so as to require a part of the annual appropriation to be expended in the construction of vessels of an inferior force to those now authorized by the said, law to be built.