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The Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence



MACAULAY, in a striking passage of his Essay on Frederick the Great, wrote, "The evils produced by his wickedness were felt in lands where the name of Prussia was unknown. In order that he might rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel, and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of North America."

Wars, like conflagrations, tend to spread; more than ever perhaps in these days of close international entanglements and rapid communications. Hence the anxiety aroused and the care exercised by the governments of Europe, the most closely associated and the most sensitive on the earth, to forestall the kindling of even the slightest flame in regions where all alike are interested, though with diverse objects; regions such as the Balkan group of States in their exasperating relations with the Turkish empire, under which the Balkan peoples see constantly the bitter oppression of men of their own blood and religious faith by the tyranny of a government which can neither assimilate nor protect. The condition of Turkish European provinces is a perpetual lesson to those disposed to ignore or to depreciate the immense difficulties of administering politically, under one government, peoples traditionally and racially distinct, yet living side by side; not that the situation is much better anywhere in the Turkish empire. This still survives, though in an advanced state of decay, simply because other States are not prepared to encounter the risks of a disturbance which might end in a general bonfire, extending its ravages to districts very far remote from the scene of the original trouble.

Since these words were written, actual war has broken out in the Balkans. The Powers, anxious each as to the effect upon its own ambitions of any disturbance in European Turkey, have steadily abstained from efficient interference in behalf of the downtrodden Christians of Macedonia, surrounded by sympathetic kinsfolk. Consequently, in thirty years past this underbrush has grown drier and drier, fit kindling for fuel. In the Treaty of Berlin, in 1877, stipulation was made for their betterment in governance, and we are now told that in 1880 Turkey framed a scheme for such, — and pigeonholed it. At last, under unendurable conditions, spontaneous combustion has followed. There can be no assured peace until it is recognised practically that Christianity, by the respect which it alone among religions inculcates for the welfare of the individual, is an essential factor in developing in nations the faculty of self-government, apart from which fitness to govern others does not exist. To keep Christian peoples under the rule of a non-Christian race, is, therefore, to perpetuate a state hopeless of reconcilement and pregnant of sure explosion. Explosions always happen inconveniently. Obsta principiis is the only safe rule; the application of which is not suppression of overt discontent but relief of grievances.

The War of American Independence was no exception to the general rule of propagation that has been noted. When our forefathers began to agitate against the Stamp Act and the other measures that succeeded it, they as little foresaw the spread of their action to the East and West Indies, to the English Channel and Gibraltar, as did the British ministry which in framing the Stamp Act struck the match from which these consequences followed. When Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain by vigorous use of small means obtained a year's delay for the colonists, he compassed the surrender of Burgoyne in 1777. The surrender of Burgoyne, justly estimated as the decisive event of the war, was due to Arnold's previous action, gaining the delay which is a first object for all defence, and which to the unprepared colonists was a vital necessity. The surrender of Burgoyne determined the intervention of France, in 1778; the intervention of France the accession of Spain thereto, in 1779. The war with these two Powers led to the maritime occurrences, the interferences with neutral trade, that gave rise to the Armed Neutrality; the concurrence of Holland in which brought war between that country and Great Britain, in 1780. This extension of hostilities affected not only the West Indies but the East, through the possessions of the Dutch in both quarters and at the Cape of Good Hope. If not the occasion of Suffren being sent to India, the involvement of Holland in the general war had a powerful effect upon the brilliant operations which he conducted there; as well as at, and for, the Cape of Good Hope, then a Dutch possession, on his outward voyage.

In the separate publication of these pages, my intention and hope are to bring home incidentally to American readers this vast extent of the struggle to which our own Declaration of Independence was but the prelude; with perchance the further needed lesson for the future, that questions the most remote from our own shores may involve us in unforeseen difficulties, especially if we permit a train of communication to be laid by which the outside fire can leap step by step to the American continents. How great a matter a little fire kindleth! Our Monroe Doctrine is in final analysis merely the formulation of national precaution that, as far as in its power to prevent, there shall not lie scattered about the material which foreign possessions in these continents might supply for the extension of combustion originating elsewhere; and the objection to Asiatic immigration, however debased by less worthy feelings or motives, is on the part of thinking men simply a recognition of the same danger arising from the presence of an inassimilable mass of population, racially and traditionally distinct in characteristics, behind which would lie the sympathies and energy of a powerful military and naval Asiatic empire.

Conducive as each of these policies is to national safety and peace amid international conflagration, neither the one nor the other can be sustained without the creation and maintenance of a preponderant navy. In the struggle with which this book deals, Washington at the time said that the navies had the casting vote. To Arnold on Lake Champlain, to DeGrasse at Yorktown, fell the privilege of exercising that prerogative at the two great decisive moments of the War. To the Navy also, beyond any other single instrumentality, was due eighty years later the successful suppression of the movement of Secession. The effect of the blockade of the Southern coasts upon the financial and military efficiency of the Confederate Government has never been closely calculated, and probably is incalculable. At these two principal national epochs control of the water was the most determinative factor. In the future, upon the Navy will depend the successful maintenance of the two leading national policies mentioned; the two most essential to the part this country is to play in the progress of the world.

For, while numerically great in population, the United States is not so in proportion to territory; nor, though wealthy, is she so in proportion to her exposure. That Japan at four thousand miles distance has a population of over three hundred to the square mile, while our three great Pacific States average less than twenty, is a portentous fact. The immense aggregate numbers resident elsewhere in the United States cannot be transfered thither to meet an emergency, nor contribute effectively to remedy this insufficiency; neither can a land force on the defensive protect, if the way of the sea is open. In such opposition of smaller numbers against larger, nowhere do organisation and development count as much as in navies. Nowhere so well as on the sea can a general numerical inferiority be compensated by specific numerical superiority, resulting from the correspondence between the force employed and the nature of the ground. It follows strictly, by logic and by inference, that by no other means can safety be insured as economically and as efficiently. Indeed, in matters of national security, economy and efficiency are equivalent terms. The question of the Pacific is probably the greatest world problem of the twentieth century, in which no great country is so largely and directly interested as is the United States. For the reason given it is essentially a naval question, the third in which the United States finds its well-being staked upon naval adequacy.

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