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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;
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5762. NAVY, Early history of.—
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3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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5762. NAVY, Early history of.—

I have
racked my memory and ransacked my papers,
to enable myself to answer the inquiries of
your favor of Oct. the 15th; but to little purpose.
My papers furnish me nothing, my
memory, generalities only. I know that while
I was in Europe, and anxious about the fate of
our sea-faring men, for some of whom, then in
captivity in Algiers, we were treating, and all
were in like danger, I formed, undoubtingly,
the opinion that our government, as soon as
practicable, should provide a naval force sufficient
to keep the Barbary States in order; and
on this subject we communicated together, as
you observe. When I returned to the United
States and took part in the administration
under General Washington, I constantly main


Page 617
tained that opinion; and in December, 1790,
took advantage of a reference to me from the
first Congress which met after I was in office,
to report in favor of a force sufficient for the
protection of our Mediterranean commerce;
and I laid before them an accurate statement
of the whole Barbary force, public and private.
I think General Washington approved of building
vessels of war to that extent. General
Knox, I know, did. But what was Colonel
Hamilton's opinion, I do not in the least remember.
Your recollections on that subject
are certainly corroborated by his known anxieties
for a close connection with Great Britain,
to which he might apprehend danger from collisions
between their vessels and ours. Randolph
was then Attorney-General; but his
opinion on the question I also entirely forget.
Some vessels of war were accordingly built and
sent into the Mediterranean. The additions to
these in your time, I need not note to you, who
are well known to have ever been an advocate
for the wooden walls of Themistocles. Some
of those you added, were sold under an act
of Congress passed while you were in office.
I thought, afterwards, that the public safety
might require some additional vessels of
strength, to be prepared and in readiness for the
first moment of a war, provided they could be
preserved against the decay which is unavoidable
if kept in the water, and clear of the expense
of officers and men. With this view I
proposed that they should be built in dry docks,
above the level of the tide waters, and covered
with roofs. I further advised that places for
these docks should be selected where there was
a command of water on a high level, as that
of the Tiber at Washington, by which the vessels
might be floated out, on the principle of a
lock. But the majority of the Legislature was
against any addition to the Navy, and the
minority, although for it in judgment, voted
against it on a principle of opposition. We
are now, I understand, building vessels to remain
on the stocks, under shelter, until wanted,
when they will be launched and finished. On
my plan they could be in service at an hour's
notice. On this, the finishing, after launching,
will be a work of time. This is all I recollect
about the origin and progress of our navy. That
of the late war, certainly raised our rank and
character among nations. Yet a navy is a very
expensive engine. It is admitted, that in ten or
twelve years a vessel goes to entire decay; or,
if kept in repair, costs as much as would build
a new one: and that a nation who could count
on twelve or fifteen years of peace, would gain
by burning its navy and building a new one in
time. Its extent, therefore, must be governed
by circumstances. Since my proposition for a
force adequate to the piracies of the Mediterranean,
a similar necessity has arisen in our own
seas for considerable addition to that force.
Indeed, I wish we could have a convention
with the naval powers of Europe, for them to
keep down the pirates of the Mediterranean,
and the slave ships on the coast of Africa, and
for us to perform the same duties for the society
of nations in our seas. In this way, those
collisions would be avoided between the vessels
of war of different nations, which beget wars
and constitute the weightiest objection to navies.
To John Adams. Washington ed. vii, 264. Ford ed., x, 238.
(M. 1822)


Mr. Adams in the letter to which the quotation is
a reply said that he “always believed the navy to
be Jefferson's child”.—Editor.