Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 54
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APPEND!X-— To Gales & Sections Register.
Report from the Navy Department.
and whose character and condition, as to the accused,
give the best security of justice to him and to the pub-
lic. By the reports on the contingent expenses of the
Navy, which have been referred to, it will be perceived
that considerable sums have ben paid, at different
times, to Judge Advocates. This has arisen from the
fact, that there is no person attached to the service
whose legal acquirements, and acquaintance with legal
proceedings, fit him for the discharge of all the duties of
The Department would illy perform its obligations,
either to the public or the accused, by appointing one
to perform them who was incompetent; and those who
were qualified could not be expected to neglect their
regular and profitable employments, for a temporary en-
gagement, without full compensation.
Paper E exhibits the same information respecting
courts martial in the Marine Corps, as is exhibited by D,
and respecting those in the Navy.
Paper F and G, exhibits the number of desertions from
the Marine Corps, and the number of rank and file, con-
fined for imprisonment, as a punishment for desertion or
misconduct, for each year, during the last three years.
In answer to that portion of the resolution which re-
quires the Secretary of the Navy to repot t "his opinion
on such alterations or further provisions of law as he
may consider it expedient to be made, in order to pro-
mote a more perfect discipline of the Navy and Marine
Corps, to prevent the frequent recurrence of courts mar-
tial, and ensure to the public service, in the said esta-
blishments, the highest degree of economy and efficien-
cy the following remarks are respectfully submitted.
Discipline and the prevention of offences, economy,
and efficiency, in every military or naval establishment
must depend on its fundamental organization, the regu-
lations connected with it, and their enforc ment, and
the intelligence and still of the officers attached to it.
There must be a regular and systematic organization,
plain and simple rules, skilful and intelligent officers, or
no labor, industry, or wisdom, in the head which directs
it, can produce the desired results, to any very profitable
extent. But, if these advantages exist, a failure to pro-
duce those results may well be the subject of censure.
The Military Establishment of the United States is, at
this moment, the best possible argument and illustra-
tion which can be made upon this point. The Naval
Establishment of the United States may be said never
to have had a legal organization. Temporary acts, au-
thorizing specific matters, relating to the building of ves-
sels, and the numbers of one or two of our grades of offi-
cers, are to be abundantly found; but there is not, in
our whole code, a law, giving an organization, prescrib
ing the number and grades of all our officers—number
of our yards and stations—pay and emolumen's of those
who are attached to the service. It requires no labor of
argument to shew that, in such a state of things, they
who have had to direct, and those who have had to exe-
cute, have equally felt the want of fixed and uniform
guides to their conduct. The first "alteration" or
" provision of law," then, which appears to be necessa-
ry to effect the proposed objects, is a law organizing
the Navy Establishment. What that law ought to be, in
the opinion of the Department, witl be found in the re-
port of the plan, made during the last session of Con-
To that report, therefore, reference is now made. It is
necessary only to add, that daily experience, since that
time, has confirmed the views then presented.
Should a law of that character b<s passed, it will be
important, immediately, to prepare regulations depend-
ing upon, and adapted to it, for the discipline and ma-
nagement of every part of tlie service. To the forma-
tion of these regulations, the best intelligence within
the command of the Department would necessarily be
Drought; and, being submitted to the wisdom of Con-
gress, their adoption would free from uncertainty, and
furnish fixed and safe rules, as guides to all.
The Department is not aware of any alteration, by
law, beyond those specified, which would be necessary
for the economical administration of the moneyed con-
cerns of the Department.
Those concerns are divided into two parts; that which
relates to the purchase and care of " naval stores and
materials ; and the construction, armament, and equip,
ment of vessels of war"—which is managed by a Board
of Commissioners, under the superintendence of thte
The other, which relates to the pay and compensation
all persons in any way connected with the service,
which is exclusively under the direction and control of
the head of the Department. The latter, it is believed,
has been, heretofore, economically administered ; and,
under the proposed organization and regulations, with
the aid of the laws respecting the advance of public mo-
neys, and the settlement of public, accounts, maybe so
conducted as to squander nothing, and to lose little.
The former has, heretofore, been managed by the Board
in a way deserving the highest commendaiion. Fts
contracts and expenditures have, in general, been judi-
cious, cautious, and economical. It wa9 created in Fe-
bruary, 1815. The law " concerning disbursements of
public money," and forbidding advances, was passed in
January, 1823. It has, therefore, existed almost ten
years, during eight of which, advances were not forbid-
den ; it has made contracts for, and superintended, the
expenditure of $15,500,000; and it is believed that
nothing has yet been lost, and that not more than
$15,000, if any, are in danger of being lost.
It is but just to add, that the members, confining them-
selves to their prescribed duties, have been found valu-
able auxiliaries; and that the improvement of our vessels,
yards, and equipments, is proof that their skill and
science are not inferior to their industry and economy.
The next " alteration" which seems to be called for,
is the revision of the law "for the better government
of the Navy of the United States." It was passed in
May, 1800, and has remained without amendment. It
relates to offences and trials, punishments and rewards,
subjects of great importance in every service. Offences
which are the objects of punishment, ought to be plain-
ly and precisely stated, that every one may understand
what he is to avoid, and may certainly know when he is
criminal; and that those who would bring accusations
may be sure that they do it justly. There is great defect in
the law upon this point; a defect which has been the
cause of n.uch inconvenience and relaxation of disci,
pline. It is so extremely vague and indefinite, that it is
often not easy to frame a charge, justified by its words,
even aga nst those who have acted most incorrectly,
without a resort to some general expression, such as
" unofficer-like," or " scandalous conduct," and joining
to it a specification embracing the particular circumstan-
ces, which might as well be added to any other charge,
or to no charge. It results that the accused and the
Court are both in doubt how to proceed ; and the legali-
ty of what is done, is questionable, even where there is
no hesitation that the accused had been guilty, and merits
rebuke. The effect may readily be imagined. Among
men varying in habits, education, principles, and feel-
ings, there are always some that must be coerced, by ,
plain law, rigidly enforced. Some who regard the pro-
visions of the law as the only restriction on the freedom
of thought and action, which, as citizens, they are ac-
customed to enjoy. Where it is not clear and xplicit,
they perform acts dangerous and reprehensible, wbi«h
they do not perceive prohibited by positive enactments.
Others are induced, by the same cause, to prefer char-
ges, for that which they suppose violates the spirit of
the code. The former are tempted to irregular and
improper conduct, the latter to arraign, without just
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Gales, Joseph, 1761-1841. Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress, book, 1825; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc30752/m1/430/: accessed September 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.