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Commodore Decatur's Deposition, taken at St. George's, Bermuda.
“The President was taken on the 15th of January, being under American colors. Resistance was not made against the Endymion for two and a half hours—she having dropped out of the fight. The next ships coming up two and a half hours after the action with the Endymion, were the Pomona and Tenedos; to these two ships the President surrendered; the Pomona had commenced her firing within musket shot.”
The testimony Mr. Alison's countrymen utter against him here, is, first, that the President was not taken by the Endymion at all; second, that instead of the American having “saved her honor,” by the “fortunate” arrival of two other vessels, she had so thoroughly beaten the Endymion, that the latter was forced to retire from the fight “two and a half hours” before the Pomona arrived, and did not come up with the prize till two hours and three-quarters after she struck. This is called being “slightly aided” by the Pomona, . The officers of the two ships that boarded the President, after she struck, state that the Endymion and President commenced exchanging shots at half past two in the afternoon, and came to close engagement at half past five. At half past eight, the action having continued with more or less severity three hours, the Endymion fell astern fairly beaten off, while the President was walking away under a press of canvas, to escape the rest of the fleet that was now rapidly coming up. At this time the Pomona passed the Endymion, so crippled as to be unable longer to sustain the action. At eleven, she overhauled the President, also crippled from her long engagement, and opened her broadsides. The Tenedos now rapidly approaching, the contest became hopeless, and the noble frigate was compelled to surrender. At a quarter before one, or at least four hours after the Endymion dropped out of the action, she came up. It took two hours and three-quarters steady sailing to reach the President, after she had struck her colors.
This is a new mode of capturing a vessel. Those guns must be like Mr. Alison's imagination, to reach a ship at such a distance that it required two hours' sailing to overtake her after she had surrendered. The truth is, as evinced by the statement of the English officers and the deposition of Com. Decatur—the
President beat the Endymion, and then was beaten by the rest of the fleet, and she could not have considered her honor in particular danger from a crippled vessel, left by her four hours before, mend. her rigging. If Captain Hope considers the heavy broadsides of a fresh vessel firing within musket shot, and the rapid approach of another ship to the combat, while he was out of sight, “slight assistance,” his gratitude will never be severely taxed in this world. But the repeated victories gained by us, could not be swept away by assertion, and the world would not reason as Mr. Alison contends it ought to have done, so that their “moral effect,” he is compelled to admit, “ was astounding.” Well it might be. We know of nothing in the annals of civilized warfare that will compare with the boldness and success of our little fleet during that war. The battles of the Nile and Trafalgar, which had covered the English navy with . —the undisputed triumph with which the British flag was borne over every sea, had been for years ringing over our land. Flushed with victory, and confident of success, that fleet now bore down on our coast. With only a handful of ships to offer against this superior force, our commanders, nevertheless, stood }}} out to sea, and flung their flags of defiance to the breeze. The civilized world looked with amazement on the rashness that could provoke so unequal a strife; but while it waited to hear that our little navy was blown to atoms, the news came of the loss of the Guerriere. Report after report of victories gained by us followed with stunning rapidity. “The English were defeated on their own element,” and her hitherto undisputed claim to the mastery of the seas broken for ever. The courage that could bear up against such fearful odds, and pluck the wreaths of victory from the English navy, has covered the commanders of that time with abiding honors. Our rights were restored—our commerce protected—and the haughty bearing of England towards us, caused by the memory that we were rebels, was chastised from her. The British flag had been lowered so frequently to the “stars and stripes,” that respect and fear had usurped the place of contempt and pride. The war on land was prosecuted with equal success. Yet this war, so triumphantly carried through, Mr. Alison makes equivalent to a defeat. We never gained, if his account of the matter is to be taken, except where all the advantage was on our side; while in all our losses, we were on the average equal to our opponents. Our hazarding a war, in the first place, was the unparalleled rashness of a reckless democracy—our partial success, mere good luck not to be anticipated again; the result, on the whole, “advantageous to England, while the United States emerged worsted from the fight,” and the final treaty highly honorable to Great Britain. His conclusions are, that “the triumphs of Plattsburg and New Orleans, with which the war terminated, have so elated the inhabitants of the United States, and blinded them to the real weakness of their situation, that little doubt remains, that out of this premature and incomplete pacification the germs of a future and calamitous war between the two countries will spring,”—that the Americans are aggressive, like all republican governments, and that they are not to become a great naval power. To attempt gravely to refute these declarations, is to acknowledge their force. The statement at the outset, that we sought an unprovoked war with England, is not more erroneous than his account of the manner it was carried on. Instead of all grounds of dissatisfaction being removed previous to hostilities, grievances had accumulated, the half of which would now precipitate a war between us and any other country on the globe. And instead of our vessels being greatly the superior in those naval engagements where we came off victorious, there is not one sea-fight in fifty, where the combatants were more o; matched. If a battle is never to be considered equal until both ships have the same tonnage to a pound, the same number of cannon, and the muster roll of the crews equal to a man, we are inclined to suspect there never will be one fought. There was not a naval action during the whole war where the real, effective, practical force was so disproportionate as in the battle between the Chesapeake and Shannon; yet this last, Mr. Alison makes one of the most brilliant engagements that occurred. So the battle of the Thames, Plattsburg, and New Orleans, were the necessary results of overpowering advantages, either in position or number, while the battle of Bladensburg, and the bloodless capture of Washington, was, to use his own words,
“one of the most brilliant expeditions ever carried into execution by any nation.” An army of some four thousand regular troops, with two three-pounders, put to flight five or six thousand raw militia, and with the loss of five dozen men, marched into a small unfortified town, occupied as the Capitol of the United States, and set fire, like a band of robbers to the Capitol, Arsenal, Dockard, Treasury, War Office, President's ouse, a rope walk and a bridge. Such an affair the historian of Lodi, and Marengo, and Waterloo, of the terrible conflicts of the Peninsula, and the sublime sea-fights of Aboukir and Trafalgar, calls, “one of the most brilliant expeditions ever carried into execution by any nation,” The truth of the whole matter is, that the war, abating the usual vicissitudes, was carried on successfully to its termination, and a peace concluded, securing to us our rights and protecting our commerce. The plain conclusions that a man of common sense would draw from it all, are, that we were disinclined to a war, except in self defence, and then were equal to our own protection. But Mr. Alison is always diving after truth, and a foolish reason is better than an old one. He is, also, perpetually discoverin awful crises where #. fate of the .# depends on a single move. Thus he hinges Europe a score of times on the movement of a single column. If this had happened here or there, the fate of the continent and of the world would have been changed. Very probable: so if Bonaparte had been shot in some of his countless battles, or broken his neck by a fall from his horse at some grand review, or fallen overboard on his voyage from Elba, when the vessel was going ten knots an hour, or caught cold in some of his night marches, the history of the world would have been changed. A different result to any battle might have done it, and yet many often turned on the charge of a single body of cavalry. But history is nothing to Mr. Alison unless it is tragedy, and we believe the reputation of his work rests far more upon its dramatic character than upon its facts. To us history is important only for the philosophy it teaches, and in this respect Mr. Alison has done the world more hurt than good. He is incapable of philosophizing correctly, because he sets out with the conviction that his feelings are right in all cases. Utterly unable to escape from his prejudices and occupy a high standing-point, from whence he can survey the world with the clear eye of an impartial historian, he goes plunging on, endeavoring to make every thing bend to his philosophy of monarc i. In all the good wrought out by man, he thinks he discovers the workings of royalty, and in all the evil done under the sun, the cloven foot of democracy. Is there an unjust war commenced, it is done by republicans; is there any climax to oppression, it is that of the majority; and is there any atrocity rivalling the ho of the Inquisition, it is committed by democracy. All that is firm and useful in the world owes its place to monarchy—all that is unsettled and dangerous, to republicanism. Religion itself can flourish nowhere but under a monarchy, and literature descends to the capacities of the mob in a republic. All nations are wrong but England, and true liberty is a stranger to any other land. “No community,” says he, “need be afraid of going far astray which treads in the footsteps of Rome and England.” Lord Brougham may ask, “what mean those portentous shapes that stalk through England,” and Macauley and Earl Grey bid the throne and nation stop and feel the first throb of the coming earthquake. Sir Robert Peel may say that the “necessaries of life can be no farther taxed,” and, in a time of peace, resort to the extraordinary measures of war to keep the nation above water—the most pitiful sight of stron bodied men wandering over the land, begging for work that they may not starve, may meet one at every turn— “torch and dagger meetings” may occur almost every night in the week, and the muttered curse of millions of suffering men and women swell like distant thunder around the throne—it all matters nothing to Mr. Alison. The conclusion is, “ follow England.” Heaven keep us from that path and its issue. We have looked down that gulf.and have no desire to try its depths. When we feel the first step of the approaching earthquake, let us know it is not human suffering and human despair on the march, and we can abide the rest. Follow England and monarchy, and shun the French Revolution and American democracy, are the two great lessons Mr. Alison attempts to impress on the mind from the four volumes of his his
tory. He had better belied every miliary leader and falsified every battle, than done this. He ought to have known the omnipotence of the rising strength of the masses, and instead of urging the glory of a monarchy and aristocracy, to have pleaded the necessity of yielding betimes, and guiding the spirit which is now awake and will not be laid, and which otherwise will rend its oppressors, though it then turn and rend itself. If there is one thing clear and fearful to the thoughtful man, it is that the American rebellion, the French Revolution, and English Chartism, are but the commencement of a struggle destined to be universal. The theories of Rousseau and Woltaire never raised it in 1789, nor can the theories of Mr. Alison lay it now. The masses that create and carry it on argue from experience, and the only effect of such a history is to delay, and hence increase the intensity and violence of the conflict. The conclusion of this history is worse than the commencement, and worthy of severe censure. Independent of the radical error taught by its philosophy, it is laid down as an inevitable result, that war must take place between us and England. Having established this fact, Mr. Alison marks out the plan of the next campaign in all its details, and speaks of the necessity of suddenly precipitating vast armies upon our coast, at the outset, with the coolness of a man whose trade is war. Not satisfied with the incitements to bad feeling furnished by his history alone, he inflames the passions still more by his outlines of the coming war, and renders the catastrophe familiar and probable b declaring it to be inevitable. No suc necessity as he pretends exists; and if so i. a calamity to both nations should efall them, it will be brought about by such men and writers as Mr. Alison. One would think he had fallen in love with battles, from the fine materials for description they furnish him. Indeed, it harmonizes perfectly with another branch of his theory, drawn from the long and bloody wars of the Continent, which is, that “war is necessary for the moral purification of mankind.” He acknowledges that it is the cause of unparalleled suffering, “but,” he asks, “is not suffering necessary to the purification of the human heart? Have we not been told, by the highest authority, that man is made perfect through suffering 2 Is not misfortune, anxiety and distress, the severe but salutary school of individual improvement And what is war but anxiety, distress, and often agony, to nations : " The philanthropist will be angry at such absurdity, and the philosopher laugh at the stupid sophistry. We venture to say the apostle never dreamed that human ingenuity could ever so distort his divine precept, as to make it prove the o effect of war.
Mr. Alison certainly has the credit of being the first discoverer of this entirely original aplication of the text. Murder and massacre, the torch of civil war blazing over human dwellings, mothers and children trampled down as the car of war rolls in carnage over the land, churches pillaged, congregations scattered, education neglected, cities sacked, women ravished, and all the brutal passions of man, inflamed to the utmost, let loose on society, are necessary in order to urify it. They are to a nation what a sick É. is to a man, making it thoughtful, calm, and prayerful. Afflictions loosen us from the world by teaching us that nothing is stable here. War has the same effect on nations, lifting their thoughts to God. To close up a history of twentysix years of most bloody and wasting wars, during which religion was forgotten and education neglected, and life wasted like water, with the grave assertion that war is “necessary to the moral purification of mankind,” and base the assertion on the divine precept that “man is made perfect by suffering,” is the absurdest thing that ever found its way into the o of history. Europe must have een very near the millenium at the summing up of her long purification at the battle of Waterloo, and Spain will soon be “perfect by suffering.” The Roman Empire ought to have grown very pure as it grew older, and the incessant conflicts of South America and Mexico must end in a high state of moral culture. The excitement to military glory, the recklessness of life and principle a war creates, the influence of an army quartered in a city or country, the purity of the camp, and the husbands and sons the scythe of battle mows down, are all so many causes of purification. So says Mr. Alison, while the history of the world, the experience of mankind, the spirit of the Fo el, and the indignant response of the human heart brand it as false and calumnious. That there is no evil without some corresponding good, or in other words, that we
may learn some lessons from every event, all men admit:—but that war is a purifier of society, just as affliction purifies the Christian, is the most preposterous idea a Christian man ever entertained. Deeds of heroism are performed, and patriotism and affection and the martyr spirit often exhibited in war, as they never are in peace, but we thought it had been adopted as a maxim, long ago, that the physical evils of war, terrible as they are, were small compared to its moral evils.
But Mr. Alison has one peculiarity, which other things being equal, would place him high above ordinary historians —he recognizes a God in history. The hand of Providence is seen in the course of human events, and the principle that the Almighty visits the sins of nations upon themselves, fully recognized. It is a standing objection to the best histories of our race, that secondary causes have been put for ultimate ones. Even the Pagan writers allow their gods to have some design in the changes that visit nations, while those of a more enlightened age see nothing in the mutations around them but the work of human passions. This belief in an overruling Deity, however, is almost neutralized by the very aristocratic sort of a being i. puts in heaven to preside over human affairs. Heisa high Tory, like Mr. Alison, and has not the remotest sympathy with republicanism or republicans. Indeed, we find it expressly stated, that religion and democracy are antagonisms, and that the one cannot exist without the destruction of the other. The infidelity, the cruelty, the meanness, and utter ruin connected by necessity with a republican form of government, are taught on almost every page of this history. He has coupled the French Revolution and Democracy together in his mind, and neither facts nor argument can sunder them. The word, “revolution,” seems to have the same effect on his mind, that it might be supposed to have on one who had just
assed through the Reign of Terror.
ut the Reformation of Luther was a revolution unshackling the world, and pouring daylight on its darkness. The Cromwellian rebellion was a revolution, doing more for English liberty than all antecedent ages had done for it. The American rebellion was a revolution, breaking the spell of tyranny, and sending hope and light to the farthest limits of the earth. The French revolution did also its share of good, in holding up before despots a mirror in which they might read their own fate, and teaching the world that oppression has a limit, and buried freedom its resurrection day; and that just so deep as human rights and hopes are sunk, just so high will the tide of vengeance swell at last;
“Truth crushed to earth will rise again; The eternal years of God are hers.”
The fate of our own republic, which Mr. Alison reads so prophetically, is by no means yet decided; and even should we fall, we do not consider the question of the durability of a republican government settled. Had our o been suffered to increase, by the natural laws which govern it, and all those who control our interests been educated in the rinciples of true freedom, and been |. together by the common ties of kindred and country, and the whole glorious fabric of our constitution steadily strengthened as bulwark after bulwark was reared around it by the jealous watchfulness of an intelligent people, had we been left to try out the experiment, by ourselves, on our own soil, then we should consider the question of the expediency of a republican form of government fixed for ever,
But now we are compelled not only to struggle with the evils that gather around
every new undertaking, but to blend and incorporate into the very heart of our system the ignorance and degradation and crime of the despotisms of Europe. From such materials as tyranny sends us we are asked to rear our structure, and if it ever sways and totters, from the heterogeneous mass we are compelled to pile so hastily into it, we are tauntingly asked—How goes the doctrine of equality ? The tens of thousands of hungry, half naked, and miserable beings, that are precipitated yearly upon our bosom, and enter almost immediately upon the work of reforming our system, come from a government where all their sorrows have sprung from the oppression of the upper classes. Knowing the “wormwood and the gall,” and retaining the old hatred against the rich that has strengthened with their sufferings, they are easily led, like the mobs of Paris, by unscrupulous leaders, to act against their own permanent interests. So, also, the convicts and famine-struck wretches, that the prisons and almshouses of Europe disgorge yearly on our shores, swell #. records of crime and pauperism in our land, while the acts they commit and the sufferings they engender, are charged over to republicanism. “Laissez faire” is a just request; and could the world but have granted it to us we should have been content.
Many I love to gaze on, or to hear
spirit is thine, sweet maiden, thine
A timid, fawn-like nature, and we fear
Too heavy for thy gentleness to bear,
As for the gentlest flowers even dew-drops are: