James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 6 June 1813

To Thomas Jefferson

Washington June 6 1813

Dear Sir,

I recd. your favor of   and now return the letter of Docr. Waterhouse, with the Newspapers sent with it.1 He appears to be a man of ability & learning, and to have been rendered interesting to several distinguished friends to the administration by the persecutions he has suffered from its Enemies. Like many others however I see at present no reward for him, but in his own virtues. The Treasury of the Mint, was allotted by the general sentiment to Dr J. Rush. and Docr. Tilton has long since been had in view for the superintendence of the Medical Department of the Army.2

Your suggestions for protecting the trade of the Chesapeak by Gun boats at the S. End of it, with a safe retreat provided for them, have been taken into consideration, with all the respect due to the importance as well as the motives of them. The present Secy. of the Navy, is not unfriendly to Gun boats; and in general, the call for them by the Inhabitants of the Coast, proves a diffusive sense of their Utility. It seems agreed at the same time, that being too slow in sailing, and too heavy for rowing, they are limited in their use, to particular situations, and rarely for other than defensive co-operations. That an adequate number of them, in Lynhaven bay, with a Safety of retreat would be useful, can not be doubtful; but if the Enemy chuse to bring such a force as they have applied & with appearances of an intended increase, the number of Gun boats necessary to controul them would be very great; and their effect pretty much restricted to guarding the interior navigation of the Bay. Cruisers on the outside of the Capes beyond the range of the Gunboats, would Still blockade the external Commerce.

Commodore Barney has suggested a species of Row Galley which he considers as better fitted for protecting the interior trade of the Bay than the Gun boat, or rather as an essential auxiliary to the Gun-boats. His plan is to allow them twenty oars & Muskets on each side, to be planked up for protection of the oarsmen agst small arms in the Enemies launches; & to have one long & heavy Gun; their construction to fit them for speed & for shallow water, & their length & form to be such that at the end of the war, they might be easily raised on & become ordinary Coasters. Twenty of these, costing 50 or 60, thousand dollars, he thinks would put an end to the depredations of the smaller vessels, which have been the greatest, and might even attack large ones in the night, or used in special circumstances.3 I have not yet ascertained the opinion of the Secy. of the Navy, who adds to a sound judgment a great deal of practical knowledge on such subjects.

You have in the Newspapers all the latest news both foreign & domestic. Be assured of my constant & sincerest affection

James Madison

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson: “recd June 9.”

2James Tilton (1745–1822), a Delaware native, graduated from the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1771. During the Revolutionary War he served as a surgeon with the First Delaware Regiment and supervised hospitals in Princeton and Trenton. In 1782, Tilton returned to his medical practice. He served briefly in the Continental Congress and repeatedly as a member of the Delaware state legislature and was appointed commissioner of loans for Delaware in 1790. By 1812, Tilton had retired from active medical practice. He published his Economical Observations on Military Hospitals in 1813, and on 9 June of that year, JM nominated him as physician and surgeon general for the U.S. Army. In that capacity, Tilton visited and reformed the hospital system along the northern frontier before being forced to curtail his activities due to his own poor health (Scharf, History of Delaware, 1:474–75; Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 1:57, 2:352).

3A written proposal by Joshua Barney provided additional arguments for and details of his plan. The British, Barney asserted, were likely to attack Washington, Norfolk, or Baltimore in the near future, and neither the frigates of the United States nor its “old Gun-boats,” which were “too heavy to Row, and too clumsy to sail,” could provide effective defense in such an event. A “Barge or Row-Galley,” however, could elude enemy vessels and threaten the smaller ones, and a “flying Squadron” of such vessels could limit the options of the British by forcing them to cover any major landing attempt with their larger ships. Such a fleet, while “continually watching & Annoying the Enemy,” could also transport troops quickly and provide cover for fireships to attack British vessels. Barney claimed that twenty barges could be manned by merchant-service seamen and officers from Baltimore alone, eliminating the need to assign navy officers to the fleet. He also recommended that the river channels leading to Washington and Baltimore be blocked by sunken ships, and that the passes be defended by existing U.S. vessels and floating batteries. His plan, he added, had been considered by the Maryland legislature “a few days ago,” and a bill to build and man twenty barges had passed the state Senate but failed in the House of Delegates.

An undated copy of Barney’s proposal is filed among the Navy Department’s records with a sketch showing side and top views of the barges (DNA: RG 45, Area File 11; sketch reproduced in Dudley, Naval War of 1812, 2:375). JM docketed a second copy, which does not differ substantially from the first but is dated 4 July 1813 (DLC; printed in Dudley, Naval War of 1812, 2:373–76). Despite this date, Barney’s reference to the Maryland House of Delegates’ recent action indicates that he wrote the proposal near the beginning of June, since the vote he mentioned took place on 28 May 1813 (Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the State of Maryland [Annapolis, 1813; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 29066], 19–21). JM may have read the undated copy of the proposal soon after it was written. By 2 July 1813, both houses of Congress had approved legislation authorizing the construction of barges for port and harbor defense. JM signed the bill into law on 5 July, one day after the date on the second copy of Barney’s proposal (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 13th Cong., 1st sess., 38, 383–84; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 3:3). When Jones wrote Barney on 20 Aug. 1813 offering him the command of a fleet of barges on the upper Chesapeake Bay, he cited this “late law” as his authority for doing so (DNA: RG 45, Letters to Officers).

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