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John Adams Champions the U.S. Navy During the War of 1812
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The “Father of the American Navy” congratulates the Secretary of the Navy on his recent appointment, recommends a future rear admiral, and encourages publication of an American naval history as “beneficial to the Interest, the Safety, the Independence the Honour Power and Glory of [the]Country.” Though Adams disclaims “any Pride or Vanity” in his role in the creation of the Navy, he was still actively promoting the often neglected branch of the service.

JOHN ADAMS (1735-1826). Autograph Letter Signed, to William Jones, Quincy, [Mass.], April 24, 1813. 1¼ pp. 9⅞” x 7¾”

Inventory #22648       ON HOLD

Transcript

                                                                                    Quincy April 24. 1813

Dear Sir

 

As it ever has been, and forever ought to be, a general Rule of The Presidents and Heads of Departments not to answer Letters soliciting or recommending Appointments to Office: the Exception to the general Rule by your kind Letter of the 13th of this month,[1] lays me under a particular obligation.

The Reason you assign is perfectly satisfactory to me: and I rejoice in it, as it proves the good sense and generous Feelings of our American young Men, which have animated such Numbers, to sollicit the Post of danger

Commodore Rodgers has accepted young Marston as a volunteer, and he is now on Board the President below the Castle, ready I presume for Sea as soon as Winds and Circumstances will permit

Far be from me, any Pride or Vanity, in the recollection of any share I have taken in the Institution of Our American Navy: I am ashamed when I look back and recollect how little I have done said or written in favour of this Essential Arm for the defence of our Country. I know it to be the astonishment of every Man of Sense in Europe that we have neglected it so long. In my opinion a compleat History of our military Marine ought to be written, from the Law of Congress in October 1775 and the Law of Massachusetts in November 1775 to the present hour. Congress could not appropriate Money, to a purpose more beneficial to the Interest, the Safety, the Independence the Honour Power and Glory of their Country, if they should devote to a Man of Letters, who would undertake the Work, four times as large a sum as the Dutchess of Marlborough bequeathes for the [2] Biography of her Husband.

I rejoice in the appointment to the Head of the naval Department, of a Gentleman who is represented to me, to be so well qualified and so well disposed to promote the Service.

                                                                        With much respect, I am Sir your

                                                                                    Sincere and obliged Servant

 

                                                                                                John Adams

The Honourable William Jones

Secretary of the Naval Department.

Historical Background

John Adams’s statement that he could not take “any Pride or Vanity … in the Institution of Our American Navy,” having done too little for “this Essential Arm for the defence of our Country” reflects an uncharacteristic bit of modesty. For good reason, Adams has often been called the “Father of the American Navy.”  At the outset of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress hoped that a small naval force could help offset the uncontested exercise of British sea power. The founding legislation, championed by Adams, was passed in October of 1775. It called for fitting out armed vessels for national service, as well as the creation of a Marine Committee to oversee naval affairs. Adams was one of the three original committee members. Before the year was out, again in large part due to Adams’s lobbying, Congress authorized the construction of a small fleet. Adams then drafted the first regulations for the American Navy, adopted on November 28, 1775. (The other measure he mentions here, passed by Massachusetts in early November of 1775, authorized the issuance of letters of marque and created a board of admiralty to adjudicate the disposition of captured prizes.)

As president, Adams went on to strengthen the American fleet during the Quasi-War with France, establish a Department of the Navy, and push through an act authorizing a peacetime naval force. His actions stood in marked contrast to those of his successor. Thomas Jefferson, never a proponent of naval power, turned his back on the navy once he became president. The department’s resources were allowed to dwindle away, even as war with Britain - or France - loomed. As late as January of 1812, House Republicans voted down a measure expanding the service. When the War of 1812 finally commenced in June of that year, the U.S. Navy consisted of a fleet of just seventeen ships.

The “compleat History of our military Marine” that Adams advocates, came to fruition with the publication of Thomas Clark’s Naval History in 1813. Adams worked closely with publisher Mathew Carey to help improve the second edition of the massive work, “a persuasive piece of political propaganda.”[2] “Throughout July of 1813 [Adams] bombarded Carey weekly with suggestions and complaints.”[3] Though Carey was a former political foe, both men were strong naval proponents.

Adams made another contribution to the U.S. Navy in 1813: He recommended John Marston for the position of midshipman.[4] In his previous position as messenger, Marston is said to have brought Adams news of the 1812 victory of the USS Constitution over the HMS Guerriere. Marston was duly appointed to “the Post of danger” and assigned to the USS President, commanded by John Rodgers, which was about to sail on her third cruise of the war. Marston went on to have a notable naval career, eventually reaching the rank of rear admiral.

William Jones was apprenticed in a shipyard during the Revolutionary War; he saw combat at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton and later served at sea. In January of 1813, with the War of 1812 raging, Jones became Secretary of the Navy. His direction contributed substantially to American success on the Great Lakes and to the strategic defense of the American coastline. Toward the end of his term, in late 1814, he made recommendations on the reorganization of the naval department.

John Marston V (1795-1885) was appointed midshipman in the U.S. Navy in April 1813, on the recommendation of John Adams. In 1826, he was at Adams’s deathbed, and relayed details of the former presidents final hours to John Quincy Adams. Marston had a long naval career, serving on the Constitution, in the Pacific Squadron, the African Squadron, and as a Union commodore during the Civil War. (He was the senior officer present at the Battle of Hampton Roads.) He retired with the rank of rear admiral.

Condition

Small docket hole in upper left corner, closed short tear on bottom margin with residual stain. Pale blue moire folding case, blue morocco spine, 3 teal morocco lettering pieces.

Selected References

Carter, Edward C., II. “Mathew Carey, Advocate of American Naval Power, 1785-1814.”

American Neptune 26 (July 1966)

Naval Historical Center. “Congress and the Continental Navy, 1775-1783: Chronology and

Documents,” Department of the Navy, http://www.history.navy.mil/wars/revwar/chron.htm

Weidman, Rob. Annotations on John Adams’s July 5, 1813 letter to Mathew Carey in “‘I

Remain’: A Digital Archive of Letters, Manuscripts, and Ephemera,” Lehigh University Digital Library,

http://digital.lib.lehigh.edu/cdm4/remain_viewer.php?DMTHUMB=1&ptr=231&view=de0


[1]We are in the process of obtaining a copy of Jones’s April 13, 1813 letter to Adams.

[2]Carter, 187.

[3]Carter, 186.

[4]Adams had written Jones with a recommendation for Marston on April 5, 1813 (The Morgan Library & Museum, Collection #MA 3142).


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