Langdon Cheves, (September 17, 1776 – June 26, 1857) from South Carolina, was elected to Congress in 1810. He was soon to become one of the leading War Hawks strongly supporting war with Great Britain.
In 1812, Cheves was chairman of the naval committee. Later, on January 19, 1814, Cheves succeeded Henry Clay to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Henry Clay had been appointed as a commissioner to Ghent to conduct peace talks with Britain.
On January 17, 1812, the House passed the Volunteer Bill by a vote of 87 to 23. The Volunteer Bill was to authorise the President "to accept of any company or companies of volunteers, either of artillery, cavalry, or infantry, who may associate and offer themselves for the service, not exceeding fifty thousand." The Volunteer Bill represented a problem for the Republican party, as Henry Adams noted, in his History of the United States 1809-17 (New York, Library of America, 1986), page 404:
The chief service desired from these volunteer corps was the conquest of Canada and the occupation of Florida; but every principle of the Republican party would be outraged by placing the militia at the President's orders, to serve on foreign soil.
Eventually, the Senate did pass a version of the Volunteer Bill. It was signed by the President on February 6, 1812. The extent to which the President or Congress had authority to have militia fight on foreign soil was left unresolved.
On January 17, 1812, Cheves also rose in the House to seek appropriations to build twelve 74 gun ships and twelve frigates at a cost of $7.5 million. Cheves gave the following speech:
It has been said by a strong and lively figure of rhetoric [John Randolph], that this country is a great land animal, which should not venture into the water. But if you look at its broad high back, the Alleghenies, and its great sides swelling to the east and to the west, where do you find its immense limbs terminate? Not on some great plain which has been formed for their reception, but in two great oceans, the Pacific on the one side and the Atlantic on the other. The figure explains the true interests of the country, in the inseparable union and necessary dependence of agriculture and commerce. The God of nature did not give to the United States a coast of two thousand miles in extent not to be used. No; it was intended by this bounty to make us a great commercial people; and shall we ungratefully reject the enjoyment of His unexampled beneficence? No, it has not, and will not, be neglected. A great portion of our people exist but upon the ocean and its fruits. It has been eloquently, and not less truly than eloquently, said that "the ocean is their farm," and it must and will be protected.
But how is this protection to be afforded? No proposition appears to me more true or more obvious than that it is only by a naval force that our commerce and our neutral rights on the ocean can be protected.
But the adoption of a naval establishment is deemed improper on the grounds of the enormous expense which it will necessitate, and the inability of the nation, by any force which it can provide, to resist, with effect, the immense naval power of Great Britain. Is it not surprising that so much prejudice should exist against this establishment on account of its expensiveness, when it is ascertained that, during the whole eighteen years of its existence, from 1794 to 1811, inclusive, it has cost the Government only $27,175,695? The expense of the military establishment, from 1791 to 1811, inclusive, has been $37,541,669, giving an annual average of $1,700,000, or $200,000 per annum more than that of the navy. Compare, too, the services of the army with those of the navy, and it will be found that those of the latter have been most useful and most honorable to the nation. I know of no service of this character which the army has performed, except the defeat of the Indians by General Wayne, and the late gallant affair on the Wabash. The navy, in the contest with France in 1798, was victorious wherever it encountered an enemy, and probably laid the foundation of the subsequent accommodation with that nation. In the Mediterranean its exploits gave a name to the country throughout Europe, humbled, in an unexampled manner, the piratical and barbarous foe, and crowned itself with a reputation for intrepidity and heroism which had not been exceeded by the exploits of any nation, and which must go down to a distant Posterity. Admitting that, from a variety of causes, the expense quay have been unnecessarily great, an argument cannot thence be fairly drawn against its future use--the contrary is the fair conclusion. Past errors lay the foundation of future improvement. It was thus the greatest orator, and one of the greatest statesmen of antiquity, reasoned. The great Athenian orator, when rousing his countrymen, by his impetuous eloquence, to resist the ambition of Philip, declared that it was on their past misconduct that he built his highest hopes; for, said he, "were we thus distressed, in spite of every vigorous effort which the honor of our State demanded, there were then no hope of recovery." So may we reason in this case; for, had these extraordinary expenses been the result of good economy, then, indeed, would their diminution be hopeless; but, as they have proceeded from a wasteful or unskillful expenditure, the remedy will be found in a reform of the abuse; to effect this reform is the duty of Congress. But it has not only been less expensive than the army, but it may be proved, as the committee have declared in their report, that "a naval force within due limits and under proper regulations, will constitute the cheapest defence of the nation. " This will be partly proved by a comparison between the expense of the permanent fortifications of our maritime frontier and that of an adequate naval defense. The experience of modern naval warfare has proved that no fortifications can prevent the passage of ships of war. The present fortifications of our maritime frontier, though they are more numerous and better than they have been at any other period in our history, cannot prevent an inconsiderable naval force from laying many of our towns in ashes. Indeed, it is believed that no fortifications which can be erected will afford a complete protection against such attacks, while their expense would be oppressive to the nation. The city of New York alone, if completely fortified, would require a further expenditure of three millions of dollars, and a garrison of ten thousand men, and then might be laid in ashes by four or five seventy-fours. But we have a coast of two thousand miles to protect, the expense of which could not be borne by the nation. A better defense would be furnished by such a naval force as would give you a mastery in the American seas, and at home much less expense.
But, while it is contended by some that it will not be in the power of the nation to establish an effective naval force, there are others who are opposed to it, lest we become too great a naval power. They fear that our fleets will cover the ocean, and, seeking victory on all the opposite shores of the Atlantic, involve the nation in oppressive expenses, and in wanton and habitual wars. Such objects are certainly not contemplated by the report of the committee; nor can such events possibly happen as long as we remain a free people. The committee have recommended such a navy as will give to the United States an ascendency in the American seas, and protect their ports and harbors. The people will never bear the establishment of a greater force than these objects require. The reasons which forbid Great Britain, or any other European power, to station large fleets on our seas will equally forbid us to cross the Atlantic, or go into distant seas, for the purpose of frequent or habitual wars.
We are told, also, that navies have ruined every nation that' has employed them; and England, and Holland, and Venice, and other nations have been mentioned as examples. The vast debt of Great Britain is declared to be among the pernicious fruits of her naval establishment. This I deny. Her debt has grown out of her profuse subsidies, and her absurd wars on the land. Though the ruin which is supposed to threaten England is attributed to her navy, it is obvious that her navy alone has saved, and still saves, her from ruin. Without it she must, long since, have yielded to the power of France her independence and her liberties. We are told that the same wealth which she has expended in supporting her navies would have been employed more profitably for the nation in the improvement of its agriculture and manufactures, and in the establishment of canals and roads, and other internal improvements. But experience is better than theory. Let us compare England with nations which have no navies, or comparatively inconsiderable navies. The nations of the continent of Europe are without such overgrown and ruinous naval establishments, but do you there find the highest improvements in agriculture, the most flourishing manufactures, or the best roads and canals? No, it is in this nation, that has been ruined by her navy, that you find all these improvements most perfect and most extended. I mean not either to be the panegyrist of England; but these truths may be declared for our instruction, without suppressing the feelings excited by the wrongs she has done us. England has not, then, I conclude, been destroyed or impoverished, but preserved and enriched, by her navy. Was Holland ruined by her navy? No; surrounded by the great powers of the Continent, with a population not exceeding 2,000,000 of souls, she protected and secured her independence for more than a century against her powerful neighbors by means of her commercial riches, which were cherished and defended by her naval power. Did Venice owe her decline, or fall, to her navy? While the neighboring Italian states were subdued, year after year changing their masters and their tyrants, she long continued to ride triumphantly amid the storm, independent, and, in a great degree, free. It was her naval and commercial power which made her rich and great, and secured her existence as a state so long. Look even at the little republic of Genoa, whose inhabitants, but for its commerce and its navy, would scarcely ever have possessed "a local habitation, " or " a name ! "
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