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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Up to 1807 her commerce and shipping


[Footnote

1: In spite of this crisis, British trade showed progressive increase in each half decade from 1800 to 1815, and did not fall off again until the five years after the war. The figures (in millions of pounds sterling) follow: 1801-05, 61 million; 1806-10, 67 million; 1811-15, 74 million; 1816-20, 60 million.--Day, HISTORY OF COMMERCE, p. 355.]

In June of 1812 Napoleon gathered his "army of twenty nations" for the fatal Russian campaign. Now that they had served their purpose, England on June 23 revoked her Orders in Council. The Continental System had failed.

_The War of 1812_

In the same month, on June 18, the United States declared war on Great Britain. Up to 1807 her commerce and shipping, in the words of President Monroe, had "flourished beyond example," as shown by the single fact that her re-export trade (in West Indies products) was greater in that year than ever again until 1915.[1] Later they had suffered from the coercion of both belligerents, and from her own futile countermeasures of embargo and non-intercourse. Her final declaration came tardily, if not indeed unwisely as a matter of practical policy, however abundantly justified by England's commercial restrictions and her seizure of American as well as British seamen on American ships. An additional motive, which had decisive weight with the dominant western faction in Congress, was the hope of gaining Canada

or at least extending the northern frontier.

[Footnote 1: United States exports rose from a value of 56 million dollars in 1803 to 108 million in 1807; then fell to 22 million in 1808, and after rising to about 50 million before the war, went down to 6 million in 1814.--_Ibid._, p 480.]

A subordinate episode in the world conflict, the War of 1812 cannot be neglected in naval annals. The tiny American navy retrieved the failures of American land forces, and shook the British navy out of a notorious slackness in gunnery and discipline engendered by its easy victories against France and Spain.

In size the British Navy in 1812 was more formidable than at any earlier period of the general war. Transport work with expeditionary forces, blockade and patrol in European waters, and commerce protection from the China Sea to the Baltic had in September, 1812, increased the fleet to 686 vessels in active service, including 120 of the line and 145 frigates. There were 75 in all on American stations, against the total American Navy of 16, of which the best were the fine 44-gun frigates _Constitution, President_ and _United States_. In the face of such odds, and especially as England's European preoccupations relaxed, the result was inevitable. After the first year of war, while a swarm of privateers and smaller war vessels still took heavy toll of British commerce, the frigates were blockaded in American ports and American commerce was destroyed.

But before the blockade closed down, four frigate actions had been fought, three of them American victories. In each instance, as will be seen from the accompanying table, the advantage in weight of broadside was with the victor. The American frigates were in fact triumphs of American shipbuilding, finer in lines, more strongly timbered, and more heavily gunned than British ships of their class. But that good gunnery and seamanship figured in the results is borne out by the fact that of the eight sloop actions fought during the war, with a closer approach to equality of strength, seven were American victories. The British carronades that had pounded French ships at close range proved useless against opponents that knew how to choose and hold their distance and could shoot straight with long 24'S.


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