We printed on Monday, amidst the voluminous correspondence which reached us by the Cambria, the report of the Secretary of the Navy of the United States. The naval force spoken of in this document is formidable, both numerically and with regard to the efficiency of the ships, as ascertained by the report of gentlemen conversant with the subject. Mr. Bancroft accounts satisfactorily for the proceedings of forty-nine ships of various force which are distributed in the different quarters of the globe - mainly off Brazil, in the Pacific, on the African coast, and, above all, on the home station. It would appear that on this last there are ten ships (including the Vandalia) in commission, under the command of Commodore Conner, and ready to act at a moment's notice on any point required.
Turning from this document to their Navy List, we find, of all classes of ships in whatever condition as follows :
|Line of battle ships.........
|Frigates of the first-class
|Frigates of the second-class
|Sloops of war
|Store ships and brigs
On this list of 75 we have seen that 49 are in commission, that is to say, about two. thirds ; of the remaining third there is little doubt that many could quickly be got ready for sea. We have taken no account of their mercantile navy.
This document, then, should give matter of serious thought to our Admiralty; but it is not only the number of the ships which should be considered, but by whom they are manned. It is a startling fact to find that at the present moment, out of the total number of sailors by whom the United States navy is manned, 6100, that not above 960 are native born Americans ; with the exception of a few Swedes and Hanseatics, all the rest are Englishmen. Their pay is fifteen dollars a month, and two dollars per month additional if they do not draw any grog ration. In other words their pay is equal to £3 1Os. per month. An able seaman in our navy receives but 30s. the lunar month.
This difference of pay is not, however, sufficient to account for the fact, although, of course, it must be taken as one of the main elements in the calculation. For we believe that in our own merchant service there never has been found any difficulty in procuring an abundance of good hands, able and willing to do the work. Now, the pay of an able seaman on board a merchantman varies from 40s. to 50s. the calendar month, and when on shore he is off pay. In the case of the royal navy, as a set-off to this slight difference, there are these facts to betaken into account - continuous pay, promotion, pensions for wounds, and, finally, Greenwich Hospital.
Limited service (and the same remark will apply to the army) would be one of the great changes which would render the service more popular. It is idle to say that this would be an alteration for the worse, inasmuch as you would lose a man's services as soon as practice and discipline had made him invaluable. Once a seaman always a seaman ; and when free to change, we have little doubt that Jack would remain contentedly where he was well off. But a sailor is just like another man; he does not like to find himself cribbed and confined for an indefinite period
Digitis a morte remotus
Quattuor aut septem.
Although the strong probabilities are that once out of his hammock, he would never be quite easy till be was back in it again.
Increase of pay, at any rate to the level of the merchant service, is obviously a necessary alteration, if we would wish to retain the services of our sailors in our own fleet. We are using supposing that the owners of merchant vessels do not give the seamen they employ more than the market value of their labour. How can it then be supposed that a seaman should acquiesce contentedly in so very arbitrary an act as that the Government should step in and say - "No ! whether you like it, or like it not, you shall serve us for a smaller sum than you could earn elsewhere ; surely you would not dream of refusing your services to your native land at the price she chooses to fix." But, unhappily, the sailors do dream of refusing, for in 1840, although we had 200,000 registered seamen in active service in the royal and mercantile navies, 700,000 men living on the sea and by the sea, the greatest difficulty was found is manning a few ships for a summer cruize.
What, then, must be the resource of the Government in case of a sudden emergency? To grant press-warrants as before. Surely it is time that this inhuman and useless practice were done away with ; at least that we should have recourse to it but in last resort, when other means had been tried and failed. In no class of men is there a higher or nobler spirit of patriotism than amongst British sailors, nor is it of their own choice that they fire on English ships instead of from English ships - this is the result of cruel mismanagement on the part of their rulers. " Sailors," as Sir Charles Napier nobly and justly observes, "are made of rough materials, it is true, but still they have some feeling, and their families still more; and it can easily be conceived how these feelings are outraged by such shameful treatment." (Sir Charles is speaking of impressment.) Can it be supposed that an English sailor would not rather go aloft to haul down the stars of the United States than the union jack of his own country ? In the first case he feels that at the hazard of his life he has done his duty to the land of his birth; in the second, he has escaped being run up to the yard-arm, and that is just all."
Increase of pay is the first thing needful: limited service the next; and be sure that the odious and unwarrantable custom of impressment could then be laid aside. We invite all our readers to cast their eyes over Sir Charles Napier's account of how the practice operates, and we will answer for it, if they have one spark of right feeling left, they will not grudge the miserable addition to the debit side of the budget which would be required to place matters on a right footing. Other alterations of less moment have been suggested such as a just share of prize-money, pensions earned while serving, &c. ; but these are evidently, however just and politic, of less consequence than the changes which we have suggested. A few Acts have been passed of late years, such as the Merchant Seamen's Fund Act of 1834, the Register Act of 1835, and another bearing date the same year, to encourage voluntary enlistment; but all these are but drops of water in the sea.
Now, we are far from being war alarmists. On the contrary, our opinion is that in some fashion or other this black cloud on the western horizon will be dispersed, without having recourse to the fearful alternative of war. For a fearful alternative it would be, as it would have for object to settle, once for all, every dispute with the United States, and to draw our boundary line so wide and so deep that no one should dare to quibble about it for the future. We have in this case been writing against a standing grievance, which the circumstances of the time force upon our notice perhaps a little more distinctly than usual. What is certain is this, that our Government, and we think rightly so, are overhauling our military and naval resources. Jersey, we see, is bristling with fortifications, Guernsey is emulating her warlike sister, and even poor little Alderney is making dire preparations against any cattle raid, should the United States be foolish enough to be meditating a coup de main against her choice breed of cows. When all the minor points are thus carefully attended to, why should the manning of the British navy, the most important of all, be the only one lost sight of ?
From the Morning Chronicle, 31 December, 1845
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