James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Jones, 26 February 1813

From William Jones

Navy Department Feb. 26. 1813


The existing instructions from this Department rendering the Naval Commanders on certain stations subordinate and obedient to the Military Commanders is in my judgement fraught with consequences extremely injurious to the service and to the public interest.1

The first direct effect is that officers of talent character and spirit will not submit to the degradation and will decline or resign.

The command will of course devolve upon those of less feeling character and talent & being subordinate less responsibility will attach particalarly as to expenditure, which can readily be attributed to the effects of the military movements and direction of the Naval force, and I am much mistaken if some part thereof may not with propriety be charged to that account.

Our Naval officers revolt at the order because they feel that a General however great his talents, is as little qualified to direct the maneuvres or appreciate the effects of the position of a Naval Squadron as they are to determine that of an army. Our nautical habits mode of thinking and the example of that nation whose navy has attained the highest eminence sanction the objection, and I think it will be judicious to confine the command of the naval forces on all stations and on all occasions to Naval Officers with instructions to cooperate with the military. The enclosed letter will illustrate the subject and it is a fact well known that the most respectable officers of our Navy will not at the hazard of their Commissions obey a military Commander.2 I am very respectfully your Obdt Servt

W. Jones

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 2.

1Jones probably referred to letters of 12 Oct. 1812 from Paul Hamilton to Capts. John H. Dent, John Shaw, and Hugh G. Campbell, naval commanders at Charleston, New Orleans, and St. Marys, respectively. Hamilton instructed the three captains to “attend to the orders” of the commanding army officers near their stations regarding the use of their vessels but assured them that their authority would not be otherwise “interfered with.” His instructions, Hamilton wrote, were based not on any doubt as to the navy captains’ abilities but on “the indispensable necessity of having but one head to direct our operations on distant stations” (DNA: RG 45, Letters to Officers).

2Jones probably enclosed Shaw’s 18 Jan. 1813 letter to Hamilton (4 pp.; DNA: RG 45, Captains’ Letters; printed in Dudley, Naval War of 1812, 2:632–33) in which Shaw responded to criticism of his efforts to control piracy and smuggling on the Gulf Coast by observing that since Hamilton had placed him in a “subordinate situation under a Military General,” whereby control of the vessels on the station had been “entirely wrested” from him, he could not be held responsible for inadequate enforcement of the revenue laws. Accompanying the letter was a copy of a 24 July 1812 order (1 p.; misdated 1813) issued by Brig. Gen. James Wilkinson to Capt. Daniel Patterson directing that all four gunboats on the New Orleans station meet at St. Louis Bay. On the copy, Shaw noted that while the vessels previously at the Balize were being moved in accord with this order, they had been disabled by the hurricane of 19 Aug. 1812.

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