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Quotation for Trafalgar Day?

October 21st, 2008 (10:54 am)
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"The English list of ships of war is long and formidable, but not a tenth part of them are at any one time fit for service, numbers of them are not in being; yet their names are pompously continued in the list, if only a plank be left of the ship: and not a fifth part of such as are fit for service can be spared on any one station at one time. The East and West Indies, Mediterranean, Africa, and other parts over which Britain extends her claim, make large demands upon her navy. From a mixture of prejudice and inattention, we have contracted a false notion respecting the navy of England, and have talked as if we should gave the whole of it to encounter at once, and for that reason supposed that we must have one as large; which not being instantly practicable, has been made use of by a set of disguised tories to discourage our beginning thereon. Nothing can be further from truth than this; for it America had only a twentieth part of the naval force of Britain, she would be by far an overmatch for her; because, as we neither have nor claim any foreign dominion, our whole force would be employed on our own coast, where we should in the long run have two to one the advantage of those who had three or four thousand miles to sail over before they could attack us, and the same distance to return in order to refit and recruit. And although Britain, by her fleet, hath a check over our trade to Europe, we have as large a one over her trade to the West Indies which, by laying in the neighbourhood of the continent, lies entirely at its mercy."

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Philadelphia, 1775.

I think that Britain is still considered to have won the naval side of the War of American Independence, no matter what Paine thought was the case. (Nelson, at this point, was a midshipman, and seriously ill on board the frigate Seahorse in the East Indies.)


Posted by: Adilo Creamon (the_marquis)
Posted at: October 21st, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC)

Methinks Mr Paine was talking through his tricorn!

And while he talked of false notions one might regard his wittering as intended to falsely give his fellow men the notion that building a fleet would benefit anyone but the shipwrights. I'm given to understand (from limited reading) that the main naval threat to the RN off the coast of the colonies was the French Navy.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 21st, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)

It was. Paine thought that a standing navy was unnecessary, and proposed that the emerging United States should instead subsidise merchant vessels to arm themselves, so they could be mobilised when necessary. This appears to me to be a recipe for commercial civil war.

Edited at 2008-10-21 09:37 pm (UTC)

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: October 22nd, 2008 08:29 am (UTC)

I'm given to understand (from limited reading) that the main naval threat to the RN off the coast of the colonies was the French Navy.

Same here (although my reading has also been limited).

Edited at 2008-10-22 08:29 am (UTC)