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mand only of private armed vessels; so that the offer of his services to the government at this period was readily accepted. He received his commission as a post-captain in May of this year, was appointed to the command of the Delaware, a vessel of twenty guns, and in her he immediately put to sea. Very soon he had the good fortune to fall in with and capture the French privateer Le Croyable, of fourteen guns, which had already committed great depredations on our commerce, and with this prize he returned to Philadelphia. The effect of this successful cruise on the imagination of young Decatur, already long inflamed with the idea of naval adventure, may be easily imagined. "He had seen his father sail, and bring back in triumph the first of the enemy's cruisers that had been captured, and yet he had not accompanied him." His father was to sail again in July, still in command of the Delaware, accompanying the frigate United States, which was then ready for sea. mander of the latter, Commodore Barry, becoming acquainted with the character and wishes of young Decatur, obtained a warrant for him without the knowledge of his parents; and when Stephen showed this to his mother, and renewed his entreaties, she yielded. He joined the United States as midshipman, finding two of his schoolmates already on board, the present Commodore Stewart, then fourth lieutenant, and Richard Somers, who had received a warrant just before him.
The insignificance of our naval force at this period made it seemingly very hazardous for the United States to begin hostilities with a power which had often contended with England for the empire of the seas. The politicians of that day had decided, in their wisdom, that a navy was a useless expense, and that the best mode of protecting our commerce, then insulted or plundered at will by both the European belligerents, was to retain our merchant-vessels safely in port. This bright idea was cherished by our leading statesmen for a long period, and produced at last those two remarkable experiments in the art of war, the gunboat system and the embargo. Our author gives the following account of the state of our navy at the close of the last century.
"We had at this time only three frigates, the Constitution, the United States, and the Constellation, together with a few small vessels for the protection of the revenue. Of our Revolutionary
navy nothing remained; the last ship left of it, the beautiful Alliance, which had been pronounced a perfect frigate by the high authority of French constructers and naval men, had been sold in 1785. In 1794, the spoliations of Algiers on our commerce, attended by the cruel enslavement of our seamen, had provoked an act of Congress 'to provide a naval armament,' authorizing the purchase or construction of four frigates of forty-four guns, and two of thirty-six, with the proviso, that, if peace with Algiers should be concluded before their completion, no further expenditure should be made. Before their completion, peace had been obtained by the payment of near a million of dollars in money and presents, among which was a fast-sailing frigate, which might hereafter be engaged in depredating on our commerce, and by stipulating to pay an annual tribute. The same sum would have completed the six frigates, and sent them forth to extort by force, at the cannon's mouth, what was granted to supplication and bribery.
"But the latter expedient was preferred; and peace being thus ingloriously obtained, President Washington in vain urged the completion of the frigates, which might have been placed in the water for half the cost of the treaty. Congress could only be induced to authorize the completion of two of the forty-four, and one of the thirty-six gun frigates, the most advanced, aided by the sale of the perishable part of the materials collected for the whole number. Even the preliminary resolution, that a naval force, adequate to the protection of the commerce of the United States against the Algerine corsairs, ought to be provided,' had passed by a majority of only two voices.
"It was urged, that the force was inadequate to the object; that older and more powerful nations bought the friendship of Algiers, and we might honorably imitate their example, or else subsidize some foreign naval power to protect us. These argu ments, and the state of feeling that prompted them, are chiefly interesting now as affording a point of comparison, whereby to estimate our advancement in national spirit and pride; an advancement in no slight degree due to the character and deeds of the subject of this memoir. To the forbearance of the Congress of that day, in selling only three of the six frigates which had been commenced, instead of the whole number, we owe the existence of the Constitution, the United States, and the Constellation, with all their associations of glory." — pp. 19, 20.
Decatur continued in the frigate during nearly the whole of the war, but had no opportunity of distinguishing himself, except by activity and zeal in performing his ordinary duties,
and by the quick attainment of knowledge and skill in the several branches of his profession. These qualities led to his promotion to a lieutenancy, when he was but twenty years of age, and had served only one year as midshipman. At this early period, also, occurred the first of those actions to which we have already alluded as constituting the only stains on his otherwise bright career. We give the account in Mr. Mackenzie's own words, though we are sorry to quote language so evidently designed to palliate or excuse a wholly indefensible proceeding.
"Whilst the United States was undergoing repairs at Chester, Decatur, who was her fourth and junior lieutenant, was sent to Philadelphia to enter a new crew for her, the sailors being at that time entered but for a single year. Whilst engaged in this duty, some prime seamen, whom he had recruited, subsequently shipped on board of an Indiaman. Decatur took his shipping articles with him, and went on board of the Indiaman, to reclaim his men. The chief mate, being a very high-spirited young fellow, was much vexed at parting with seamen from whose services he had expected much assistance in the performance of his arduous duties on a long voyage. He lost his temper, and permitted himself to use insulting language towards Decatur, and the service in which he was engaged. Decatur kept his temper, refrained from altercation, carried off the men, and subsequently related to his father what had occurred.
"The elder Decatur, looking upon the affair as a military man, and in a view which custom and public opinion sanctioned, came to the conclusion, most painful to a father, that Stephen could not avoid calling the offender to an account. Stephen accordingly sent Somers to ask an apology for the unprovoked aggression. It was refused, and a challenge was sent and accepted.
"Meantime Decatur had finished recruiting, and returned to his ship, which, having been refitted, had dropped down to Newcastle, preparatory to sailing. The mate, too, deferring private business for the present, had gone on with his duties. His ship, being also ready for sea, came down to Newcastle, and anchored near the United States. The mate now came on board of the frigate, and, asking for Lieutenant Decatur, told him he was ready to accept his invitation. Decatur immediately accompanied him on shore, but mentioned to Lieutenant Stewart, before he left the ship, that, as he presumed the young man was not expert in the use of arms, although he had offered him an insult wholly unprovoked, he should carefully avoid taking his life, and would shoot him in the hip. They met, Somers being the friend of
Decatur. Decatur wounded the young man where he had proposed, and remained unhurt himself. The anecdote is chiefly interesting as showing, that, in this affair, in which he was the party aggrieved, and had sought redress with the advice of his father, he was influenced by the same merciful reluctance to take life in a private quarrel, which controlled him on another and more fatal occasion." pp. 37-39.
This is horrible; the father urges his youthful son to fight a duel, and the latter shows his merciful reluctance to take life" by determining to shoot his adversary only in the hip, this resolution itself, and the exact fulfilment of it, betraying long practice and much skill in the use of the weapon appropriated to these miserable encounters. He was the party aggrieved," also ; that is, he was the challenger; and his opponent, the young mate of a merchantman, had probably never before held a pistol. We are not told whether the latter was crippled or maimed for life by the magnanimity of his antagonist.
A change in the government of the French republic, which brought Bonaparte into power, led to the conclusion of a treaty with the United States, and extinguished for the present all Decatur's hopes of obtaining distinction in naval war. Congress hastened to carry into practice its system of economy by reducing the navy to a minimum; all but thirteen of the ships were directed to be sold, and seven of these were dismantled. Most of the officers, also, were to be discharged, and the selection of those who were to be retained was a delicate and painful duty. Decatur remained as lieutenant, and his younger brother as midshipman ; but their father retired, again became engaged in commercial affairs, and continued in this pursuit for the rest of his life. He was a successful and respected merchant.
Our ships of war were hardly dismantled or sold, and the officers and crews discharged, before our government was again informed, through its relations with some of the Barbary powers, of the necessity of maintaining a navy. We had been content to pay tribute to these pirates for some years, thinking that the United States needed not to be ashamed of a policy which had been followed, for a long time, by the leading maritime powers of Europe. But the corsairs could not agree about the division of this black-mail among themselves; each wished to enhance the price of his
magnanimous engagement not to plunder the commerce of the Christians. The Bashaw of Tripoli had duly received the stipulated tribute; but he complained that we had given him nothing, while his brother pirate at Algiers had received from us the present of a fine frigate. Another of his grievances was, that the Bey of Tunis had received nearly as much as himself, which was not granting to the worthy Bashaw that preeminence among pirates which he claimed, and to which, indeed, he was justly entitled. The American government continued to "speak him fair," but being a little apprehensive lest he should help himself to a few presents out of our commerce, they concluded to send an armed squadron to watch his motions. This was the more necessary, as their Highnesses of Tunis and Algiers, also, had similar grievances to be redressed, and had begun to hold menacing language towards the mutinous Christian powers. The frigates President, Philadelphia, and Essex, and the schooner Enterprise, were fitted out for the Mediterranean, under Commodore Dale; and Decatur joined the squadron as first lieutenant of the Essex, then commanded by Bainbridge.
"The orders, under which Commodore Dale acted, having been prepared in ignorance of the actual declaration of war against us by Tripoli, contemplated rather precautionary measures, in restraining her cruisers from putting to sea, and depredating on our commerce, than actual hostilities. Nothing beyond restraint, and the consequent protection of our trade, was effected by this squadron, except in a very brilliant action which took place off Malta, between the schooner Enterprise, of twelve light guns, commanded by Lieutenant Sterrett, and the Tripolitan ship Tripoli, of fourteen guns, commanded by Rais Mahomet Sous. The engagement, which the Tripoli began, lasted three hours, when the Tripoli struck, having lost her mizzen mast, and had twenty of her crew killed and thirty wounded. Lieutenant Sterrett, having no orders to make captures, threw all her guns and ammunition overboard, cut away her masts, and completely dismantled her, leaving her only one spar and a single sail to drift back to Tripoli, and bear to the Bashaw the message, that such treatment was the only tribute he would ever receive from Americans." pp. 52, 53.
After this cruise, which continued about a year, Decatur allowed himself a respite of only two or three weeks, and