STATEMENT OF THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT THAT CAN BE BENEFICIALLY EXPENDED, PER ANNUM, FOR ORDNANCE, GRADUAL INCREASE, REPAIRS, NAVY YARDS AND DOCKS, AND OTHER HEADS OF EXPENDITURE FOR THE NAVY.
COMMUNICATED TO THE SENATE, APRIL 28, 1836.
Navy Department, April 21, 1836.
In answer to the resolution of the Senate of the 19th instant, requiring of this Department "to inform the Senate what is the maximum amount which can be beneficially expended, annually, towards completing the naval defences of the country; embracing, 1st, ordnance and ordnance stores; 2d, gradual increase of the navy, and collection of materials; 3d, repairs; 4th, navy yards and docks, and other incidental heads of expenditure; provided the appropriations for the expenditures be made at once for a series of years, to be drawn from the Treasury annually, as needed," I have the honor to state that the subject was referred to the Board of Navy Commissioners, whose report is herewith submitted.
In this report they present estimates of much larger amounts than those contained in their report of the 2d of March last, as the maximum, which, in their opinion, might be beneficially expended, annually, towards completing the naval defences of the country, "without any limit in reference to the means."
It will be perceived that these estimates are based upon the supposition that our naval preparations
shall have no limit, except that imposed by a due regard to the public revenues, and by the probable condition of other maritime nations; and that the fixed, immovable fortifications of our country are to be kept within prescribed limits; and also upon the supposition that we shall erect six dry docks in addition to those already completed, to wit: one at Portsmouth, one at Boston, two at New York, one at Norfolk, and one at Pensacola.
Should it not be deemed expedient by Congress to increase our naval preparations to the extent contemplated by the Commissioners; or should the estimates for immovable fortifications, now submitted, be adopted; or should it not be deemed expedient to provide, at this time, for the construction of six dry docks, a corresponding reduction in the amount of the estimates of the Commissioners should be made.
It must also be observed, that the estimates of expenditures are made without regard to the effect they may have upon the commercial shipping interest of the country.
An expenditure of more than a million and a half of dollars annually, for the "gradual increase of the navy, and collection of materials," would, in my opinion, create such a demand for labor and materials as essentially to increase the expense of ship building, which could not fail to give foreign navigating interests an advantage over our own.
1 thought it due to myself, in presenting the report of the Commissioners of the Navy Board, to make the foregoing observations.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. M. Van Buren, President of the Senate
NAVY COMMISSIONERS' Office, April 21, 1836.
The Commissioners of the Navy have had the honor of receiving from your hands the resolution of the Senate of the 19th instant, with directions, given personally and by endorsement on the resolution, to report thereon.
The resolution requires that the Senate be informed "what is the maximum amount which can be beneficially expended annually towards completing the naval defences of the country; embracing, first, ordnance and ordnance stores; second, gradual increase of the navy, and collection of materials; third, repairs; fourth, navy yards and docks, and other incidental heads of expenditure; provided the appropriations for the expenditure be made at once, for a series of years, to be drawn from the Treasury annually, as needed."
In the report which the Commissioners had the honor of presenting to you on the 2d ultimo, it was proposed "that the force to be prepared, ready for use when circumstances may require it, shall consist of fifteen ships of the line, twenty-five frigates, twenty-five sloops-of-war, twenty-five steamers, and twenty-five smaller vessels; and that the frames and other timber, the copper, ordnance, tanks and chain cables shall also be prepared for ten ships of the line and ten frigates." It was further observed that "the force, to be ready for use, would employ thirty thousand seamen; the number assumed as that for which vessels ought to be prepared, for the commencement of a state of hostilities." In preparing that report, the board, unapprised of your views or those of the government upon the subject, looked to the then fiscal condition of the country, as exhibited in the Treasury reports, and thence drew the inferences expressed as to the sums which might, annually and conveniently, be applied towards completing our naval defences; confining their views to the supposed convenience of the Treasury, and indicating rather the minimum of the amount of money necessary to place the naval defences of the United States upon the footing of strength and respectability due to the security and welfare of the Union.
But the resolution of the Senate calls for the maximum amount which can be beneficially expended, annually, towards completing the naval defences of the country, without any limit in reference to the means. The question, thus presented, appears to be unfettered with any restriction, or any consideration, other than that which refers exclusively to the completion of the naval defences of the country.
Had the resolution given any intimation as to the amount of the naval force, or, in other words, as to the- nature and extent of the force deemed necessary for the defence of the country, a satisfactory reply might more easily and with more certainty come within the. professional ability of the board. Uninformed upon this material point as to the views of the honorable body by whom the resolution was passed, the board must of necessity express their own, to show the basis of their calculations upon the subject.
If it be the settled policy of our government to consider the navy as "our first and best fortification;" if it be determined that our naval preparations shall have no limit, except that imposed by a due regard to the public revenues, and by the probable condition of other maritime nations; if the fixed, immovable fortifications of our country are to be kept within prescribed limits, that the naval defences, deemed more important because more efficient, may be enlarged to an extent necessary to defend our coast, on the ocean, and guard it against invasion; the Commissioners would, with great deference, though with entire confidence in its correctness, express the opinion that an increase of naval preparations beyond that proposed in their letter of the 2d ultimo may become a measure of wise precaution in reference to the high interests thus committed to the protection of the navy, and the solemn duties and responsibilities imposed upon it. Our means of naval defence and annoyance should surely be such as, when exerted against those possessed by other maritime nations with whom we may come in conflict, would fairly promise, if not secure, success.
Leaving, however, the nature and extent of our naval preparations to be decided by those with whom the decision rests, the Commissioners will suppose that fifteen ships of the line, twenty-five frigates, twenty-five sloops-of-war, twenty-five steamers, and twenty-five smaller vessels, with the frames and other timber, the copper, ordnance, tanks, and chain cables, for ten ships of the line and ten frigates, as a reserve force, may be considered as the amount of force which it may be the pleasure of Congress to provide; and upon this hypothesis they base the reply to the resolution which they have now the honor to submit, observing here that, if a greater force be adjudged expedient, the means necessary to provide it must be proportionately increased.
In the opinion of the board, every ship belonging to the navy should be kept in such a state of preparation that her full equipment and readiness for actual service, on any emergency, may be secured by the time a crew can be collected for her. The hulls of those not in service at sea should be frequently examined and kept in good condition; their armament, masts, spars, boats, tanks, chain cables, and imperishable stores of every description, should be procured, and carefully preserved in a state of readiness for immediate use; and there should be always kept on hand a full supply of seasoned timber, of all kinds used in the construction of ships-of-war, and a full supply of spare ready-made masts and spars, of sizes and dimensions adapted to each of the various classes of our ships.
Our navy yards should possess all the conveniences and facilities of building and repairing ships of every class, with the greatest dispatch and economy. They should possess ample means of seasoning and preserving timber, and of keeping in a state of perfect security and preservation, ready for immediate use, all the stores and munitions of every description essential in the equipment and armament of our ships. To place the yards in this condition, preparations involving large expenditures are indispensable. Dry docks, timber docks, seasoning sheds, building slips, launching ways, ship houses, storehouses, smitheries, workshops, wharves, &c, must be possessed to an extent proportionate to the number and size of our ships, and the quantity of materials to be kept on hand. We cannot, in a state of peace, secure the services of our ships as promptly as would be desirable, without these conveniences. In war, when time is all-important, when celerity of movement and vigorous action are alike in constant requisition, the want of them would paralyze every exertion, and be felt as a heavy national calamity. Suppose a squadron coming into port after a long cruise, or after a serious engagement at sea, or after encountering unusual storms; the ships composing it would require repairs, some of them probably very extensive; many might require docking, and they arrive at a port where there is but one dock; while one is in dock, the residue must wait and take their turn to be docked, and months, at least, may elapse before the squadron (possibly wanted for immediate service) can be repaired and put in a condition for further service. Golden opportunities of sustaining the honor of our flag and advancing the highest interests of our country may thus be lost.
But, without supposing a case, the present actual condition of our ships at New York may be cited as affording ample illustration of the value of these facilities and conveniences, and particularly in reference to docks. If we possessed them at that yard, the ships now there, particularly those of the line, which require extensive repairs, might be put in a condition for service in a much shorter space of time, more effectually, at far less expense, and without incurring any of the risks attending the process of heaving down.
With these considerations in view, the Commissioners would observe that, in their opinion, the sum of one million and eight hundred thousand dollars might be "beneficially expended" in procuring ordnance and ordnance stores; that the maximum amount which could be expended in the first year, from the date of an appropriation, would probably not exceed 8300,000, but in the second and subsequent years, at least $500,000 might be beneficially expended in providing cannon, carronades, bombs, shot, bomb shells, muskets, pistols, cutlasses, boarding pikes, boarding axes, powder or the materials for making it, and all the other various articles necessary to the armament of the ships. That for "the increase of the navy and collection of materials," the sum of sixteen millions of dollars might be beneficially expended; that during the first year the expenditure for timber could not be very considerable. It might be contracted for in the course of a few months, but the trees should not be felled before the month of October next, and the contractors would not probably commence delivering the timber at the yards before April or May, 1837; and possibly such interruptions from Indian hostilities might arise in getting out the live oak as to postpone the operations of those engaged in that business for a still greater length of time. But the imperishable articles of copper, iron, and lead might be procured during the first year, and it may be observed, as an inducement to procure them now, that the prices now asked for such articles are as low as they have ever been known to be. This observation is grounded upon the latest contracts made for copper and iron.
Under all circumstances, the Commissioners believe that the sum of one million and a half of dollars might be judiciously expended "for the gradual increase of the navy, and collection of materials," during the first year after an appropriation, and that in the six subsequent years the residue of the $16,000,000 (viz: $14,500,000) might be expended; making, in these years, an average expenditure of about $2,417,000.
The probable inability to expend any considerable sum during the first year, for timber, is a circumstance not to be regretted, because we have not the means of seasoning and preserving it. The preparation of such means, which consist of timber docks and seasoning sheds, should precede the reception of timber. They may be prepared by the time the timber will be delivered; and when they shall be ready for the reception of the timber, the timber should be procured as early as may be practicable, in order to give it the longest time possible for seasoning, before it shall be actually used in the construction or repair of ships.
As to "repairs," the operations under this head would necessarily be protracted and limited, until we can have a sufficient number of dry docks, and other conveniences, for repairing ships-of-war. We have now only two dry docks—one at Norfolk and the other at Boston; so that only one vessel can be taken into dock at a time at either of those places; and at other yards, where we have ships of the line, it would probably be advisable rather to wait the construction of docks, before commencing any repairs which their bottoms may require. The Commissioners, however, believe that, under this head, nine hundred thousand to a million of dollars may be annually and judiciously expended.
Upon the subject of "navy yards, docks, and other incidental heads of expenditure," the board would respectfully observe, that the plans for improving the yards, adopted under the act of Congress of 1827, and approved by the President of the United States, contemplate expenditures to a large amount, the means of estimating which are not in the possession of the board. It is certain, however, that it will require a series of years to complete the improvements, and it is equally certain that the expense will unavoidably be very large. But, to confine our views at present to a portion of those improvements, say a dry dock at Portsmouth, an additional dry dock at Boston, two dry docks at New York, an additional dry dock at Norfolk, and a dry dock at Pensacola; with the number of timber docks, timber sheds, ship houses, slips, wharves, storehouses, &c, required for these and other yards, and adapted to the proposed force, and essential to keep it in a state of desirable preparation for service, one million and a half of dollars may be considered as the maximum amount which could be "beneficially expended" during the
first year; but for each succeeding year, two millions and a half may be expended, and very beneficially, until the necessary improvements shall be completed.
These views present the following results, showing the maximum which, in the opinion of the Navy Commissioners, might be beneficially expended, annually, for different series of years:
1. "Ordnance and ordnance stores," during the first year, $600,000, and, during the second year, $500,000; the third year, $500,000, and the fourth year, $500,000.
2. "Gradual increase of the navy, and collection of materials," during the first year, $1,500,000, and each of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh years, about $2,417,000.
3. "Repairs," about $1,000,000; say one million of dollars annually.
4. Navy yards and docks, and other incidental heads of expenditure, $1,500,000, during the first year, and two millions and a half of dollars during the second year, and the like sum annually, till the necessary improvements be completed.
If an appropriation, adopting these views, were made, and the number and description of vessels recommended in our letter of the second ultimo were kept in commission, without diminution or increase, then the annual naval expenditure, exclusive of the expenditure under "gradual improvement," but including $400,000 annually for the corps of marine, would be, for the first year, $8,550,000; for the second, third, and fourth years, each, $10,667,000; for the fifth, sixth, and seventh years, each, $10,167,000; for subsequent years, each, $7,750,000; until the improvements in the navy yards should be completed to the extent desirable and necessary.
All which is respectfully submitted.
The resolution of the senate is herewith returned.
Hon. M. Dickerson, Secretary of the Navy.