The following piece is cross-posted from our partners at the CDA Institute as part of an ongoing content sharing relationship. You can read the article in its original form here.
CDA Institute guest contributor Paul Mitchell, a professor at Canadian Forces College, explores the question of narratives as it relates to Canada’s submarine fleet.
As HMCSChicoutimi slipped silently into the depths of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I reflected on what many friends and family remarked when I told them of my opportunity to spend a day underwater on her: “are you crazy?” Indeed, this particular submarine made their concern all the more poignant. Chicoutimi, after all, is arguably the most infamous submarine in the fleet given the fire on its maiden voyage to Canada, an incident that cost the life of Lt. (N) Chris Saunders, repairs costing millions of dollars, and a long delayed re-entry into operational service. The fire established a story that we had bought lemons from a used car lot.
Since the fire, the navy has had to fight against this very well established narrative. Along with the usual references to the West Edmonton Mall, such derision extends even into the intellectual realm. Professor Michael Byers regularly publishes critiques of the program under snappy titles like That Sinking Feeling. If you Google “Canadian submarine” and “boondoggle,” you will get the picture very quickly.
I shared neither of the qualms of my family, nor the derision of the critics. The dedication and professionalism of those who work beneath the waves is remarkable. The cramped quarters would challenge most of us. Passageways are similar to airplane aisles, requiring passing people to turn sideways and get closely acquainted with their physical features. The “racks” in which one sleeps are roughly the size of a coffin, with just as much headspace. Three toilets are shared by 48 crew men and women (four women proudly serve aboard Chicoutimi), and the mess, a space measuring roughly ten by ten feet, is the only spot where one might escape the demands of the work environment. The biggest space aboard her is the operations room, smaller than most people’s living room, in which a team of 15 to 20 people work. The stink of diesel fuel embeds itself into hair and clothing. Finally, the secrecy of submarine movements means that no one may reveal when they will be leaving or returning to port, thus complicating any sort of social or family life.
The constraints of life are dominated by rigid safety protocols followed religiously. Failure results in death. Once the hatches were locked down, a rapid roll call raced through the vessel to ensure that no one had been left outside: early in the last decade, such a procedure was not standard in another navy, and two submariners, forgotten in the conning tower, paid for it with their lives. Once underwater, a constant drone of contacts, distances, and bearings, as well as depth soundings echoed within the operations room to ensure that Chicoutimi neither hit the bottom, nor vessels sailing above. When you can’t look out a window and see where you are, your reliance on technical systems becomes paramount.
Telling the real submarine story is inherently difficult. To begin with, Canadians have a certain “sea blinded-ness” and the navy is an “unseen service”: most live far from the coasts and the demands of protecting them does not resonate. Submarines’ inherent stealthiness and secrecy compounds this further. Last, while the navy has good public relations programmes that enable ordinary Canadians to visit its ships and even sail aboard them for a lucky few, similar opportunities with submarines are rare. For my day aboard Chicoutimi, I lobbied the navy relentlessly for about a year, and then had to wait a further 18 months for an opening to occur.
Still, the basic problem affecting the navy’s submarine story is its plot. The navy likes to focus on technical details of the submarines.
Compared with surface vessels, submarines are relatively cost effective in conducting surveillance given the enormous ranges that their sensors are able to surveil together with the small size of their crews. Furthermore, this surveillance can be done very discreetly, allowing submarines to operate undetected in sensitive areas. Canadian submarines have performed very useful roles in the Caribbean Sea monitoring the transit of drug shipments, passing along such information to surface vessels and aircraft for their physical interdiction. Submarines also were able to monitor illegal fishing by American vessels in Canadian waters, surprising a few with a radio transmission noting their activities. It promotes the notion of the “balanced fleet”: waterspace control requires operating in all three dimensions – above, on, and below sea level.
Such arguments ring cold for ordinary Canadians given the lack of connection these success stories have for day to day life. The durability of the narrative of dysfunction is frustrating. Thus, no sub news is good news for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). That may satisfy admirals running the day to day operation of the fleet, but it is short sighted when it comes to justifying and replacing these vessels.
In order to drive out the narrative of dysfunction, the navy needs to address the emotive angle: when Canadians call our submarines lemons, they do so not because they know this to be a fact, but rather they feel it to be so. The metaphor of the used car is an easy one to understand and resonates strongly. But our submarines, used though they may be, are so much more than that. A trip on a submarine is like going into outer space. The safety culture of space engineering share much in common with submarines: the environment of outer space is every bit as unforgiving as the undersea environment.
Similarly, there is a “cool” factor that stems from such high technology that has never been exploited by the RCN (although has been by the US Navy – witness films such as The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide). If the RCN wishes to change the narrative of its submarines, it must begin to think along these lines. Only then may ordinary Canadians begin to see these vessels, critical to modern maritime security, as something less dysfunctional, and something more relatable to their day to day lives.
Dr. Paul T. Mitchell is a Professor of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College, where he is the Director of Academics and the RMC Associate Dean of Arts (CFC). He is well published on submarine affairs: his very first academic publication in 1991 examined the issue of Strategic ASW and War Termination. (Images courtesy of Paul Mitchell.)
This article originally appeared on the CDA Institute and was republished with permission. You can find the article in its original form here.
CDA Institute guest contributor Ken Hansen, a research fellow at Dalhousie’s CFPS, comments on the necessity of logistics in light of the decommissioning of HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver.
The loss of at-sea replenishment capability has dropped the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) standing from a blue-water, global force projection navy to an offshore territorial defence organization. The major fire in HMCSProtecteur and the severe rust-out problems in HMCSPreserver have resulted in the decommissioning of both ships and a logistical crisis that requires corrective action. Some signs for optimism have arisen recently in two contracts with the Spanish and Chilean navies for the use of two of their replenishment ships for a period of 40 days each. The total cost is rumoured to be approximately $160MCAD.
Forty days of sea time will allow each coastal formation to run an exercise involving replenishment at sea training and perhaps a tactical scenario for task group readiness. By doing this, Canadian sailors will get a chance to preserve complex and perishable skills that are vitally important in modern naval operations.
Replenishment at sea involves all of the ship’s departments. Navigation, operations, deck, engineering, and supply must all understand the sequence of events intimately if all is to go as planned. While sailing a ship alongside another at 20 to40 metres distance is demanding in calm seas, at night and in rough weather is no place to be doing this for the first time. The most graphic example of what can go wrong occurred off the coast of South Africa on the night of 18 February 1982, when the South African navy’s replenishment ship SASTafelberg rammed and sank the frigate SASPresident Krugerafter the latter made the fatal mistake of turning in front of the bigger ship. Sixteen sailors were lost in this incident.
The South African accident occurred due to confusion in close-quarters manoeuvring during an anti-submarine exercise. Replenishment is a common activity in multi-ship exercises and is often scheduled to coincide with other tactical ‘challenges’ to raise the complexity of challenges facing commanders. I have had many first-hand experiences with these exercises and their hazards. On one occasion, north of Iceland, nearly four hours spent attempting to refuel in stormy winter conditions resulted in a mere 20 cubic meters of fuel transferred, much damage to the equipment, plus lots of frozen fingers and faces from the spray. We nearly lost one sailor overboard from the icy deck before the two captains conferred and agreed to call it off. Another occasion resulted in a side-swiping by our ship of the much larger oiler. We slid backward along her side, leaving a long smear of distinctive Canadian naval paint on her hull and eventually cleared her stern ignominiously. Everyone knew trying to extricate ourselves by going the other way was potentially fatal.
The history of replenishment at sea training is full of such near misses and embarrassing moments. The calamity that befell President Kruger is actually a rarity. More common are parted fueling hoses and span wires, fouled screws, plus minor dents and scratches. Such tough lessons become legend amongst seafarers and we learned vicariously from these mistakes.
In operations, failure during replenishment at sea takes on a more serious nature. Less well known are replenishment events from the Second World War. Canadian escorts frequently had to abandon their convoys despite the presence of attacking U-boats, owing to the difficulty of mastering the intricacies of refueling at sea. At one point in the war, the Admiralty forbade Canadian warships from refueling in eastbound convoys due to the amount of damage they were doing to scarce replenishment equipment. A related problem arose during the Cuban Missile Crisis when returning Canadian warships had to pass right through their assigned anti-submarine patrol stations and carry on to Halifax to refuel. They returned days later. The accompanying aircraft carrier simply did not carry enough fuel to sustain her ‘thirsty’ escorts. Analysis showed that the navy needed a minimum of three replenishment ships to sustain short-range escorts at a distance of only 250 to 500 nautical miles from base.
Today, the Government of Canada has a penchant for deploying the RCN worldwide. The fuel capacity of our current frigates (.1 tonne of fuel per tonne of displacement) equals historic pre-war lows. This has forced planners to assume replenishment is a given in fleet operations. That assumption is now false. Without replenishment ships, the navy’s status has fallen and precious seamanship skills are wasting away.
Contracting foreign naval replenishment ships for short-term training is a necessary expedient but it is only a stopgap measure. It may be that Chantier Davie will be able to produce an interim solution in short order, but if it goes longer than six months you can expect the RCN to re-contract with the Spanish and Chileans on a regular basis.
The cost of leasing replenishment at sea services must now be added to the construction costs of the two new ships being built at Seaspan plus the cost of the building the interim ship by Chantier Davie. It should have been obvious that delaying the replacements for Protecteur and Preserver would result in added expense and more complexity in operations. It is a sad but entirely predictable mess and there is no real end in sight.
The blame for all this has to lay with the naval leadership. Somehow, generations of Canadian admirals decided that logistics is less important than combat capability. The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) is based on a one-for-one replacement plan of the Cold War Fleet, with the notable exception of the DeWolf-class arctic/offshore patrol ships. The logistical demands of this new security era are vastly greater than they were during the Cold War. The history of the RCN since 1989 has an abundant array of examples to prove this point.
I find it sad that the admirals care more about politics than they do about the history of their own service. A much more robust logistical capacity is needed immediately. They should remember this advice from American General Omar Bradley: “Amateurs talk tactics; professionals study logistics.”
Ken Hansen is an adjunct professor in graduate studies at Dalhousie University and a research fellow with the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. He served for 33 years as a maritime surface warfare officer with the RCN. (Image courtesy of the Royal Canadian Navy.)
On October 16th 1891, a group of USS Baltimore sailors, no doubt happy to have liberty after months at sea, set off to enjoy the delights of Valparaiso, Chile. After several hours (of, let’s be honest, presumably heavy drinking), a scuffle broke out between local Chileans and the American crew. The ensuing violence left two U.S. sailors dead, seventeen injured and a hemispheric relationship in tatters. Unable to resolve the issue locally, the USS Baltimore’s commander telegraphed Washington for instructions. The Chileans, meanwhile, held fast to their jurisdiction over the U.S. personnel, and the investigative proceedings more broadly, as a matter of national sovereignty. From these humble sparks came a war crisis over hemispheric leadership and the relative standing of the United States as a “great power.”
To date, scholars have tended to underestimate the Baltimore Incident as “a mere tempest in a teapot,” or at best a signpost en route to the War of 1898. That the crisis has inspired relatively little comment in English literature should obscure neither its significance to contemporaries nor its enduring relevance to strategic planners.Indeed, the Baltimore Incident might better be understood as an acute manifestation of the larger, chronic competition between the United States and Chile over regional autonomy and control. When, in 1891, Chilean leaders provoked a confrontation with the U.S, they sought political advantage from the crisis (at a domestic and international level) and had good reason to be optimistic. Chile had used its maritime forces and commercial partnerships to defeat Spain (1866), Peru (1884) and to overawe the United States into diplomatic concessions in 1882, 1885 and 1888. By 1891, however, the realities of power-politics in the American Pacific had shifted dramatically. In the United States imperialist sentiment, domestic military production and a dedicated navalist lobby all underwrote a newfound bellicosity and assertiveness. Opinion in Washington held that Chilean regional primacy represented a substantial threat to American expansionism and, moreover, the self-image of the United States in the “great power” system. National “honor” was no idle phrase in the Harrison administration.
At this 1891 juncture for the “dominant position in the Western Hemisphere,” war seemed likely, perhaps even inevitable. As The New York Times reported on Christmas Day 1891: “Looks like a Chilean War, Little Hope Now of a Peaceful Settlement.” Nonetheless, and to the chagrin of many, hostilities were averted in late January 1892 when Chile acceded to U.S. demands. The tantalizing question remains, what might have been? What if the United States and Chile went to War in 1890? What ramifications would conflict have had for the U.S. emergence in the great power system? And as long as we’re entertaining counterfactuals, what might defeat at the hands of “little Chili” have spelled for navalist ambitions and the U.S. role in South America?
The United States, Chile and the Pacific at the Fin-De-Siècle Such an outcome was hardly a remote possibility. In 1884, Chile emerged from the War of the Pacific (its territorial struggle with Peru and Bolivia over nitrate deposits), as the dominant naval power in the Pacific. That result seems as incredible today as it was obvious to contemporary observes. Secretary of the Navy John Long complained that in the 1880s, “the American Navy was inferior to that of any European and at least one South American power. Little Chile, triumphant over Peru, could have sent her Admiral Cochrane and Huascar against San Francisco and the United States would have been unable to repel them.” Likewise, the prize winning essay of the U.S. Naval Institute in 1884 lamented, “in our present condition, Brazil, Chili or the Argentine Republic might send a fleet of ironclads to devastate our seaport cities.” Overseas, in 1881, the London Standard noted (smugly, but with little exaggeration), “The American Navy, if not a phantom fleet, would certainly find it difficult to compete successfully with the Chilean fleet.”
Those observations reflected the scope of Chile’s investment in naval supremacy along the Pacific Slope in the 1880s and 90s. Chilean President Jose Manuel Balmaceda argued in 1891: Chile should be able to resist on its own territory any possible coalition, and if it cannot succeed in attaining the naval power of the great powers, it should at least prove, on the base of a secure port and a fleet proportionate to its resources, that there is no possible profit in starting a war against the Republic of Chile. Resources were appropriated accordingly and with some notable success. The most prolific Chilean naval historian estimated that (in absolute terms) the “peak of Chilean naval power was in 1899.” In 1882 Chile rebuffed—rudely—U.S. attempts to mediate an end to the War of the Pacific. In 1885, it countered U.S. incursions against the Colombians by deploying a gunboat to Panama. Most tangibly, in 1888 Chile annexed Easter Island as a symbol of its hemispheric stature and, more practically, a strategic (coaling/early warning) asset. By 1894, in a revealing detail, Santiago even began to export surplus warships to Japan.
Of the Pacific’s many foreign observes, none eyed Chile’s position with more concern than the United States. The central U.S. political objectives of the late nineteenth century were hemispheric expansion and the development of overseas markets, primarily in Asia—what Seward called “the chief theater of events in the world’s great hereafter.” Both efforts were contingent on an Isthmian Canal and/or sea lines of communication around South America, which in practice pushed the U.S. toward a policy of hemispheric hegemony. Andrew Carnegie captured the spirit of the age in 1882 when he wrote to then Secretary of State James Blaine, “You are exactly right. America is going to control anything and everything on this Continent. That’s settled. . . . No joint arrangements, no entangling alliances with monarchical, war-like Europe. America will take this Continent in hand alone.” In such an environment of imperial ascendancy (U.S.) and regional resistance (Chile), the Baltimore Incident, or some similar provocation, was almost inevitable.
By December 1891, institutional and political incentives had pushed the would-be belligerents to the “ragged edge” of war. That month, as a U.S. task force transited toward South America, the USS Baltimore was replaced on station by the USS Yorktown, commanded by “Fighting Bob” Evans (an officer who could calmly confide in his journal, “I cannot see any good reason why I should not be perfectly civil and polite to [the Chileans], even if I have to shoot them tomorrow.”)Relations deteriorated further when, on New Year’s Eve 1891, the Chileans provocatively fired rockets in the Yorktown’s vicinity, and days later—some sources say —conducted torpedo drills using the U.S. vessel as a notional target. “Fighting Bob” Evans, surveying the scene from the Yorktown was typically blunt, “I don’t see how war can now be avoided.”
Waging War with “Little Chili” Bombast and hindsight aside, if it came to war between the U.S. and Chile the outcome remained highly contingent. U.S. navalist pretensions belied a central irony of the crisis. American leaders managed to assert that Chile was simultaneously a real threat to U.S. regional hegemony and that it would be relatively easy to defeat in an offensive war. That dissonance spoke to the larger uncertainty about the balance of power in the Pacific. Perceptions of Chilean naval expansion had helped spur U.S. naval expansion in the 1880s, but in 1891 U.S. forces remained relatively limited, and decidedly untested. Tracy, for one, was shocked to learn that “the best American naval expeditionary force which could be mustered at this time numbered scarcely twenty warships.” Moreover, many of these ships teetered on obsolescence. As the Naval Historian Timothy Wolters convincingly documented, in the 1890s:
Naval recapitalization in the United States lagged well behind political debates over, and public perceptions of, the new American navy. Intriguingly, the data show that immediately prior to the country’s war with Spain in 1898, the old navy still consumed about one-third of the navy’s fiscal resources, contributed three-sevenths of the service’s aggregate tonnage, and accounted for just over half of all vessels in the navy’s inventory.
The gap between perception and capability bred miscalculation. Establishing a clear balance of “real power” from which to base strategic planning was frustratingly imprecise.
That was all the more true because naval assessments at the fin-de-siècle were complicated by recent and largely untested developments in naval technology. Innovations in naval architecture (low-freeboard, armored warships; rapid firing guns) and the application of second industrial revolution technologies (electric firing systems; navigational aids; armor piercing shells) rendered traditional assessments of naval efficacy unsure. Chile’s fleet of torpedo boats, for example, presented a novel form of power in the Pacific. It was widely noted that during the Chilean Civil War, the Balmacedist navy had become the first in history to successfully use a propelled “automobile” torpedo to sink another warship. What impact these new weapons might have on the ability of the Chilean’s to defend their coast against aggression was hotly debated.
Complicating matters further were geographic realities that hampered U.S. deployments and ensnared military preparations with European shipyards. The Peruvian minister in Washington, Jose Yrigoyen, appreciated as much, cabling his government to describe “the difficulties the [U.S.] squadron will have in a war with Chile.”Without “coaling station in the Pacific,” he argued perceptibly, the U.S. ships would be forced to ferry coal from San Francisco, a “difficult task, above all if Chile dedicates a few of its ships to capturing this important element of the American squadron.” These geographic challenges injected a sobering realism into the United States’ preparations for war. No less than Mahan wrote, “we are so confident in our bigness and so little realize the great extra load entailed by the distance of Chili, in case of war.” Relatedly, in the winter of 1891, Chile retained the services of a British shipyard for additional ship construction over the objections of the Harrison administration. How the interruption of global supply lines via an Atlantic guerre de course might effect power projection in the Southern Hemisphere defied clear assessment. All this is to say, the war was hardly a foregone conclusion.
Indeed—looking forward to the 1905 Russo-Japanese War—we might even speculate about the use of torpedoes to asymmetrically attack U.S. capital ships (that is to apply a key innovation in second industrial revolution technology to obviate investments in steel, ships, guns etc…). The New York Times certainly did, arguing that “Naval constructors who advocate and powers that have adopted the policy of building larger and larger war ships with constantly- increasing thickness of armor will devote much study and sober thought to [Chile’s] first decisive exhibition of the effectiveness of the automobile torpedo in actual warfare.” Distance, new weapons systems and interruptible lines of communication all suggested that the United States might have fared no better than Spain had a generation (1866-72) earlier in its unsuccessful war with Peru and Chile (one which ended with the Spanish commander committing suicide to avoid humiliation).
If Chile had defeated the United States in a limited regional war, it might have proved a a major setback for Tracy, Mahan and the like. It would likely have undermined U.S. stature in the great power system and elevated Chile on a par with, say, Japan. Indeed in the same way that Russian defeat in 1905 saw it recast as backwards, U.S. defeat might have seriously altered the time, place and manner in which it entered into the European great power system. It might also have seen Chile, backed by a commercial relationship with Great Britain, double-down on its program of navalist expansion and develop into a long-term regional competitor with the United States. It might even have encouraged Santiago to follow up on its territorial annexations (in the Atacama and Easter Island) to become a regional hegemon in its own right.
The resolution of the Baltimore Incident is at once a case study in crisis management and a cautionary tale of military and civilian leaders using war to advance their institutional interests. It is an equally useful reminder (and perhaps necessary corrective) of the limits of U.S. hemispheric control before 1890, and of the speed of the imperial-navalist transformation by 1898. The offensive capabilities of the United States morphed from a near-peer competitor with Chile in the 1880s into those of a global power in under a generation. In this sense, the Baltimore Incident is a window onto the United States “adapting to the status of a world power” amid a period of technological change and imperial rivalry. The great diplomatic historian Ernest May argued that the United States became “a world power in many respects comparable to Great Britain or Russia or Imperial Germany” after the War of 1898.Looking back a decade, the Baltimore Incident marks an important precedent in a longer process of ascendancy. Considering alternative outcomes (namely defeat) further reminds us of that ascendancy’s contingent nature. As a nomological exercise, the Baltimore Incident suggests a raft conclusions. Namely, that regional actors often resist imperial hegemony in order to secure domestic cohesion; that military bureaucracies incentivize the militarization of foreign policy; and that technological progress can rapidly destabilize the balance of power, encouraging misperceptions and bellicosity. These tendencies belong as much to the twenty first century as they do the nineteenth. Parallels between the Baltimore Incident and recent Sino-Japanese tensions, to name one possible example, are almost irresistible. Consider in this analogy China as the Harrisonian United States and Japan as Chile; supported then, as now, by the world’s leading commercial power. It is conceivable, as in 1891, that a minor incident, like an attack on a foreign owned business, could encourage nationalist posturing in Beijing as a means to (1) rally domestic support, (2) advance the interests of recapitalizing military forces (a process ongoing in both China and Japan), and (3) assert regional primacy. That possibility should be especially concerning because of the comparative proximity of China and Japan and the profound uncertainties created by the militarization of digital technology. A critical perspective on the Baltimore Incident should sensitize policymakers to this relevant, but under-appreciated war scare. It should also reinforce the imperative of clear assessments of power as a tool for conflict mitigation amid the exaggerations of modern-day nationalism.
Tommy Jamison is a PhD candidate in International History at Harvard University. From 2009 to 2014 he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. The views expressed here are his own.
Having just completed his latest assignment as Commodore of the Home Squadron, Charles Stewart had returned to his intermittent business interests that had afforded opportunities to officers without orders. He had seen the flyers, his stately image emblazoned above the appeals for him to run for president of the United States. At the behest of fellow Philadelphian merchants, he agreed to join them in Baltimore where both the Whigs and Democrats held their conventions. Henry Clay was already certain to be the Whig nominee; the fight for the Democratic nomination was far more complex.
Martin van Buren’s lock began to falter based on his position on slavery and opposition to the annexation of Texas. War of 1812 hero Lewis Cass supported annexation. There were other contenders: James Buchanan, John C. Calhoun, and Silas Wright. In the background was the decidedly non-political hero of the War with the French in 1798, the Barbary War, and the War of 1812. Van Buren was gone by the seventh ballot. Massachusetts delegate George Bancroft offered Speaker of the House James Knox Polk as a running mate for Van Buren or Stewart. Polk’s supporters vowed to endorse Stewart if he selected Polk as his vice president.
The matter was offered to Stewart at a dinner. He said nothing, appearing unusually nervous and fidgety. This was the moment of decision. If he turned them away, there would never be another opportunity and he would return to his estate in Bordentown to live out his days as the chance for another sea command – particularly as he had already been commodore of the Mediterranean, Pacific and Home Squadrons – was unlikely.
With Jackson’s protégé, Polk, by his side, and the delegates from Pennsylvania and New York committing to the ticket, the northern and western states soon followed suit. The sixty-six year old Stewart provided a heroic narrative for the newspapers, much as Jackson’s army experience had vaulted him into the presidency. In the general election, Polk’s Tennessee roots offset Clay’s enough for Stewart to be elected president.
Though his vice president kept pushing an agenda to annex Texas and secure the northwestern territories, Stewart was resistant to fighting on too many fronts for a nation with a small army and navy. He named his friend and navalist James Fenimore Cooper Secretary of the Navy, a move not unprecedented since another of the literary Knickerbocker Group James Kirke Paulding, had held the same position under Van Buren. Cooper’s extensive non-fiction writing in the previous decade about building up the fleet convinced Stewart that he was the right man for his administration. Stewart focused his administration on building and modernizing the navy and providing new markets for the merchant fleet. Westward expansion held no interest to the sailor-president.
In late 1845, Stewart sent his Secretary of State Richard Rush, a former Minister to Great Britain, to issue demands of the British Empire including accepting U.S. terms on the Oregon Territory. Rush and Stewart alone remained from their Philadelphia schoolyardfrom where two other friends perished – first Richard Somers at Tripoli and then Stephen Decatur in a duel. Stewart built a coalition of those defeated by the Royal Navy that had allowed it to rule the seas. Spain had a small navy with some ships that remained in harbor since the days of Trafalgar. But France offered Stewart more hope.
England rebuked Rush and when he returned, Stewart asked for a declaration of war.
Queen Victoria, Prime Minister Robert Peel by her side, sent the British Fleet under the aged Admiral of the Fleet James Hawkins-Whitshed off to the Americas to put the upstart nation down quickly, lest other nations be inspired by their defiance. The Royal Navy hadn’t been defeated in forty years and its wooden walls would not fail now. Its objective was the Chesapeake Bay where transport ships would land in Norfolk, Baltimore, and up the Potomac River to Washington.
A recognized Constitutionalist, Stewart had averted a war with Algiers in 1805 when he pointed out to the squadron’s Commodore that only Congress could declare war and again in 1815 when notified that the Treaty of Ghent had been signed pressed the crew of the Constitution to continue its wartime footing since only the Senate could ratify a treaty – and there had been no such news. It allowed him just a few weeks later his greatest victory of the USS Constitution over the HMS Cyane and HMS Levant. Now, he followed the Constitution again while anti-British fervor in Congress overwhelmingly supported a third war for American independence and reduce England’s control of the oceans and the trade it dominated. He also knew Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution which stated that the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. He would lead the fleet.
Perry objected as the honor should have been his as Admiral until Stewart divided the fleet. One squadron under Perry steamed south from Baltimore toward Norfolk. The English fleet of nearly one hundred ships sailed slowly into the mouth of the Chesapeake toward the unmistakable plumes steamships to the north. Stewart’s fleet waited in Gosport. Thirty years before, Stewart was in command of USS Constellation and was prevented from getting underway because of Admiral Sir John Warren’s squadron. This new British fleet had several steamships, but no ironclads. Unfortunately the British, who had always been prone to overpowering their ships at the risk of maneuverability, sent their expedited screw-propelled ships-of-the-line like the QUEEN and ALBION classes at the head of the fleet.
Perry’s squadron was the first to fire upon the fleet while Stewart’s squadron of iron-clad ram ships steamed east into the heart of British fleet. Ships of the line and frigates were holed one after the other while others fell to Perry’s barrage. A quarter of the fleet, including most of the transports, tried to escape to the Atlantic, but soon encountered a joint French-Spanish fleet at the mouth of the Chesapeake. The remaining ships surrendered without firing a shot. In just a few hours with the Battle of the Chesapeake, Stewart had achieved the greatest maritime victory since Trafalgar.
England soon sent diplomats to negotiate a peace. During negotiations, Stewart provided aid to his son-in-law, John Parnell, to foster a rebellion in Ireland as Napoleon III became more active in the English Channel. The Peel government acquiesced to Stewart’s primary demand and lost not only claims to the Oregon territory but all of Canada. Stewart had doubled the size of the country in a short war, secured a western coast for the country with additional ports, increased the number of free states, and assured additional pro-Stewart members of Congress in the 1846 election.
Stewart was able to turn to domestic issues, particularly that of slavery which continued to politically divide the country. With the addition of the new northern states, Stewart had enough support in Congress to outlaw slavery, fomenting revolt in the South. Stewart averted a civil war by listening to his vice president who for years had been advocating Texas annexation and a war with Mexico.
Encouraged by Stewart’s stance, Napoleon III launched an invasion of Mexico claiming the right of free trade was being denied by President Farias and then Santa Anna. Stewart announced support for France as he ordered squadrons to support US operations in Texas and California. After a long-standing feud with General Winfield Scott (Stewart’s marriage of proposal to Maria Mayo, Scott’s eventual wife, was rebuked,) Stewart appointed General Zachary Taylor to command the Army.
Within two months, the US controlled all of Mexico’s territory north of the Rio Grande while France controlled all territories to the south. The final battle occurred outside Mexico City where the French defeated and killed Santa Anna on the fifth of May, 1847, a day still celebrated in 21st century France as “Cinque de Mai.” With this war concluded, Stewart dispatched a squadron under Commodore John Aulick to open trade with Japan and expand trade with China.
After the First Franco-American Coalition War, Stewart knew he could not avert a civil war with pro-slavery and states’ rights forces demanding that Texas and the new territories become slave-holding states. While Congress debated the Great Compromise of 1848, Stewart took preemptive action and sent the fleet under Commodore David Conner to secure southern ports and Admiral Perry into New Orleans to take the Mississippi River. Taylor took his army and advanced them on all federal arsenals and depots before the southern states could organize.
The south began a guerilla campaign led by a young hero of the Coalition War, Robert E. Lee. But Lee, an engineer accustomed to large troop operations was either by temperament or experience unable to conduct the only warfare option available to the south. Within four months, Lee’s Raiders and their associated militias were captured with the loss of nearly one thousand Union troops. Stewart was criticized for such a costly operation but soon found favor from both the north and south with the Stewart Proviso. A delegation composed of Stewart, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Lewis Cass, Stephen Douglas, and Nicholas Trist, agreed that: 1) slavery would be abolished in the United States, 2) any freed slaves would be offered five acres of land in the new Canadian states, 3) federal occupation of the port cities would end, and 4) the former slave states would receive exclusive trade rights due to the recent agreements in southeast Asia.
Having gained control of most of North America fulfilling his party’s dreams of Manifest Destiny, diminishing the role of the world’s superpower, increased America’s geopolitical position, and enriching the country – particularly the South which enjoyed unprecedented riches, enabled Stewart to easily defeat his opponent in the 1848 election, the Whig nominee Winfield Scott. The Free Soil Party dissolved before the election because of the resolution of slavery.
His first term marked by rapid military operations and overtures to both Europe and Asia, Stewart’s second term soon took advantage of the European Revolutions of 1848. Stewart’s son-in-law John Parnell took control of an independent Ireland as his wife gave birth to their son, Charles Stewart Parnell. Stewart formed global squadrons to secure America’s interests and expand commerce in South America and Africa as European powers yielded what little control they had in the wake of the revolutions.
In 1852, the seventy-four year old chose to run for a final, third term. James Fenimore Cooper remained one of his closest cabinet members and penned a major treatise on the American navy’s global imperative. The tome was advanced by Stewart in his third inaugural address and embraced by Congress which supported the Naval Expansion Act of 1853 assuring construction of the largest fleet in the world and ensuring global security for nearly sixty years.