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Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The Great Republic by the Master Historians
National Defence
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


The standing army of the Republic used to consist of 25,000 men. After the Spanish war it was increased to 65,000, and at the turn of the century it was enlarged to 100,000. The United States can call out a fighting force of regulars, militia, and reserves numbering over 10,000,000 men. Increased responsibilities and expansion of area involve extra means of defence. When the newly acquired territories lie far from the centre of power, those risks and duties are intensified.

The War Department expenditures for the fiscal year 1900 were $134,774,767.78, a reduction of $95,066,486.69 from those of 1899.

In the Navy Department the expenditures were $55,-953,077.72 for the year 1900, as against $63,942,104.25 for the preceding year, a decrease of $7,989,026.53.

In this connection it is interesting to note that at the end of the fiscal year there were on the pension roll 993,225 names, a net increase of 2,010 over the fiscal year 1899. The number added to the rolls during the year was 45,344.

The amount disbursed for army pensions during the year was $134,700,597.24 and for navy pension $3,761,-533.41, a total of $138,462,130.65, leaving an unexpended balance of $5,542,768.25 to be covered into the Treasury which shows an increase over the previous year's expenditure of $107,077.70. There were 684 names added to the rolls during the year by special acts passed at the first session of the Fifty-sixth Congress.

The ever-growing cost of wars makes it of vital importance to strike swiftly and mightily when the time comes. The cost in human life and suffering is thus kept at a minimum, as well as the money outlay, which is relatively so much greater when a country is found unprepared. It has been estimated that the average daily cost of the Civil War was at least $2,000,000; while it is believed to have been $3,000,000 daily for the hundred days preceding its close. According to Mulhall the wars of ninety years, down to 1880, involved an expenditure of $14,778,000,000, besides the loss of 4,470,000 lives. The cost of our Civil War is given at $3,589,000,000. "This evidently does not include expenditures since the close of that war for property destroyed, nor the pension roll of thirty- three years,-all the direct result of the war. The Treasury accounts for these items even so long ago as June 30, 1879, amounted to $2,500,000,000. No separate accounts of such expenditures have been kept since that date, except for pension payments, which alone aggregate, for that period, $1,800,000,000, making a grand known total of nearly $8,000,000,000 to the present year, while pension payments will not cease for many years to come." So states Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Vanderlip.

The eight months' war between Germany and France is said to have cost, in all, about $1,500,000,000. The military burden under which European nations groan may be understood by the following published statement: The annual war appropriations of Russia amount to about $148,000,000; of Germany, $141,000,000; of France, $123,000,000; of Great Britain, $88,000,000; of Austria, $86,000,000; of the United States, $51,000,000; of the Italy, $45,000,000; of Turkey, $20,000,000. The army of France costs yearly $3 per capita; of Germany, $2.70; of Austria, $2.05; of Russia, $1.15; of Turkey, 59 cents; of Italy, $1.52; of England, $2.32, and of the United States, 68 cents.

Our war with Spain cost an average of $1,250,000 a day, according to the above quoted authority.

The navy of the United States has always been comparatively small but exceptionally efficient. Its record in the war of 1898 was a proud one, as has been shown in preceding pages. It was deemed necessary to add to the number of the best ships that the navy of the Republic should be commensurate with its rank as a first-rate power. Congress appropriated $50,000,000 for the national defence immediately before the outbreak of the war with Spain, of which nearly $30,000,000 was allotted to the navy. Of this over $17,000,000 was spent in the purchase of the auxiliary navy, a motley assortment of yachts, tugs, cruisers, torpedo-boats, and carrying craft. This was independent of the hire of the City of New York, City of Paris, the St. Louis and St. Paul, Atlantic liners, each costing above $2,000 a day.

The great battle-ships are expensive necessities. The bill for the Oregon was $3,791,777. Secretary Long urged the need of new docks, declaring that the most decided weakness of the United States navy is at present its inferior docking facilities. A modern war-ship should be docked every few months; but of the eleven government docks, nine on the Atlantic and two on the Pacific coast only a few are capable of docking a full-size battle-ship, and one of these is at Puget Sound. For the year ending June, 1897, before the Spanish war was on the carpet, the cost of the navy reached seventeen and a half millions, an increase of about two millions over the preceding year. Since that date we have secured a splendid docking and coaling station in the Hawaiian Islands.

The necessity for an enlarged navy was urged by Secretary Herbert when the victory in Manila Bay was undreamt of. Anticipating future possibilities, he suggested that history may repeat itself:

"The gigantic naval preparations made and making in Europe sufficiently indicate, especially if Great Britain be involved in it, that the next great European maritime struggle will be as desperate as were the long wars of the Napoleonic era. Like those, it will be a war for national existence. Commerce will henceforth be even more essential to the British Isles than it was then; for with their increased population they could not long subsist without imported food. It is idle to say that the rules of international law are more humane, or that they are better understood, or that they are better protected by treaties than they were a hundred years ago. The rights of neutrals have depended in the past, and will depend in the future, in every life and death struggle between nations, whatever treaties may say, upon the exigencies of the hour.

When Great Britain and France were at war, each preying upon the commerce of the other, the carrying trade of Europe fell naturally into American hands.

All naval powers have now prepared themselves with commerce-destroyers. The moment these are turned loose, the commerce of all the warring nations will seek the protection of some great neutral power,-which means that it will come under our flag. To illustrate, the Confederate cruisers were few in number. They destroyed altogether only about 175 vessels, most of them sailing ships, and many of small value; and yet these few enemies drove more than seven hundred American ships to the British flag, many of them never to come back.

It is no sufficient answer to say that in 1810 we were seven millions, that now we are seventy millions, that our resources for the upbuilding of a great navy are second to none in the world, and that therefore our rights would be respected. Our naval and military prestige and our wonderful physical and material resources are no doubt quite sufficient to cause any statesman not under stress of some controlling necessity to think twice before provoking us to war; but who can believe, that, in the midst of a desperate struggle, any great naval power would, for fear of retribution at some future day, imperial its existence by taking account of the rights of a neutral power which was for the time being unable to maintain them? If America is to profit by the lessons of the past, she will always have on hand a navy which can, at the moment when it is needed, take care of itself and of all the commerce which may at any time be or desire to be under our flag. This does not mean that we need a maritime force as large as that of Great Britain, or even of France; but it does mean that our navy should always be so formidable that no power could ever deem it wise, even for the moment, to offend against the rights of our flag upon the seas."

Captain A. T. Mahan makes a powerful plea in his masterly book on "The Influence of Sea-Power Upon History," for a strengthened American navy. He is no dreamer of a faerie era when swords and battle-ships will be disused and the art of war be forgotten. His conviction is that strength, and the discreet display of it, is the best insurance against troubles of the international kind.

["Our only rivals in potential military strength are the great powers of Europe. These, however, while they have interests in the Western Hemisphere, to which a certain solidarity is imparted by their instinctive and avowed opposition to a policy to which the United States, by an inward compulsion apparently irresistible, becomes more and more committed, have elsewhere yet wider and more onerous demands upon their attention. Since 1884 Great Britain, France, and Germany have each acquired colonial possessions, varying in extent from one million to two and a half million square miles,-chiefly in Africa. This means, as is generally understood, not merely the acquisition of so much new territory, but the perpetuation of national rivalries and suspicions, maintaining in full vigor, in this age, the traditions of past animosities. It means uncertainties about boundaries,-that more fruitful source of disputes when running through unexplored wilderness,-jealousy of influence over native occupants of the soil, fear of encroachment, unperceived till too late, and so a constant, if silent, strife to insure national preponderance in these newly opened regions. The colonial expansion of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is being resumes under our eyes, bringing with it the same train of ambitions and feelings that were exhibited then, though these are qualified by the more orderly methods of modern days and by a well-defined mutual apprehension,-the result of a universal preparedness for war, the distinctive feature of our own time which most guarantees peace."]

To the argument that a navy for defence is all we shall ever need, Captain Mahan replies:

"In a certain sense we all want a navy for defence only. It is to be hoped that the United States will never seek war except for the defence of her rights, her obligations, or her necessary interests. In that sense our policy may always be defensive only, although it may compel us at times to steps justified rather by expediency-the choice of the lesser evil -- than by incontrovertible right. But if we have interests beyond sea which a navy may have to protect, it plainly follows that the navy has more to do, even in war, than to defend the coast; and it must be added, as a received military axiom, that war, however defensive in moral character, must be waged aggressively if it is to hope for success.

Another former Secretary of the Navy, Senator Chandler, ventures an imaginative glance at the navy of the twentieth century:

"According to my notion, it will be thought fifty years hence that six million dollars is too large a sum to risk in a single war-ship, and that it is better to build two or three of less size for the same money. I am strongly inclined to think, that, under twentieth-century conditions, two or three comparatively small fighting vessels, powerfully armed and very speedy, may do much more execution and accomplish more effective results than one huge floating fortress. One trouble about modern battle-ships is that they are apt to be obsolete by the time they are finished, and a few years hence we may find our boasted sea- fighters relegated to rust in the navy-yards, alongside of the old-time wooden frigates. It is the experience of foreign nations that any type of iron-clad vessel becomes so out of date in about ten years as to be almost useless.

"The use of the torpedo in naval warfare will be greatly developed in the course of the next fifty years. Of the employment of torpedo-boats I have always been a strong advocate; but the lessons of recent history point to the conclusion that small craft of this kind are too vulnerable to be of much practical service, unless for scouting duty, or to steal upon an unsuspecting foe at night. This latter move, indeed, is rendered almost impracticable by the detective search- light. Probably the torpedo-boat of the future will be of considerable size, and will carry a fair battery of rapid-fire guns, so as to be able to put up some sort of fight, while seeking a chance to deliver its more deadly and destructive missile.

"The ship of the future will possess an astonishing activity, traversing immense distances at a high rate of speed, and with a small consumption of fuel. A very notable point about our war-ships of the present day is their low fuel consumption on long voyages; but this has always implied slow going, the coal consumption running up with a startling multiple when speed is increased.

"If my theory be correct, the armored ship of the twentieth century will be regarded, like the mail-clad fighting man, as a relic of the past, and the war- vessel will take its chances in conflict, just as the soldier does to-day. Perhaps the war-ship may retain a light protective coat, very strong for its thickness, but the enormously heavy plates now in use will be dispensed with, simply for the reason that they interfere too much with the activity and serviceableness of the dirigible floating platform which carries the guns. Our new battle-ship, the Kearsarge, carries no less than twenty-seven hundred tons of armor, -- a weight so gigantic as to render her clumsy and sluggish.

"Already our own navy department has come to realize that armor has been overdone, and the thickness of the steel plates is to be much reduced in the newly ordered war-ships. This, unquestionably, is a step in the right direction.

"The increase of our navy depends wholly upon a determination to develop our merchant marine. If the latter is revived, our fighting force on the seas must be increased proportionately, and before the end of the twentieth century we are likely to find ourselves only second in rank among the nations of the world in respect to sea power, Great Britain still holding the first place. But commerce must come before a larger navy; for, lacking the pugnacity of Germany France, and Russia, we are not likely to build up a great fighting force on the ocean merely with a view to making ourselves formidable in a martial sense. Our first duty is to revive our carrying trade in ships suitable for naval service in time of war."

Senator Chandler's last remark suggests a recurrence, not strictly out of keeping with the subject in hand, to the keenly discussed question of paying bounties, to secure the growth of a merchant marine. Mr. Alexander R. Smith, writing in the Forum, in reply to a former Commissioner of Navigation, Captain Bates, closes his argument thus:

"The present Commissioner of Navigation estimates that the bill (before the Fifty-sixth Congress) will never involve payments from the national treasury exceeding nine millions of dollars, and that the average will be from five to six millions of dollars for twelve or fifteen years. This measure conformed to the recommendations in the President's annual message, and to those in the reports of Mr. Gage, the Secretary of the Treasury, and of Mr. Chamberlain, the Commissioner of Navigation. The bill had the support of members of both the great political parties in Congress. It was reported without opposition from the Senate Committee on Commerce, and was favorably reported by the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. If it should become a law, and its provisions should be accepted by our ship-owners, present and prospective, these will be compelled to construct at least 600,000 tons of new shipping in American ship- yards within five years.

"The United States is now confronted with the fact that the ships of other nations are built more cheaply and operated for less money than are American ships. In addition, foreign nations pay to their merchant shipping subsidies, subventions, and bounties aggregating $25,000,000 a year. If American ships are to compete, their owners must be fortified to meet the unequal conditions against them; while the aid that will be given by future ships and seamen in the event of war makes compensation doubly justifiable. Such aid will give us, as Thomas Jefferson once said in a great state paper, the home-build ships and citizen seamen essential to the national defence. It will not lead us into any of those diplomatic tangles which are inevitable when the policy of discriminating duty is adopted; and the bounty system, being patterned after foreign policies, will necessarily estop foreign governments from offering objection to its adoption."

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