Page:Henry Adams' History of the United States Vol. 4.djvu/33
THE "CHESAPEAKE" AND "LEOPARD."
The defence was open to criticism, especially because Barron himself could claim to have made no use of the time he gained. Yet perhaps, on the whole, the court-martial might have done better to punish Barron for his want of caution in permitting the British frigate to approach. This was his first error, which could not be retrieved; and Barron could hardly have complained of his punishment, even though every officer in the service knew that the rule
this point proved to be mistaken, it was reasonable, and in accord with his instructions. He produced the orders of the Secretary of the Navy, dated May 15, 1807, written with full knowledge that the deserters from the "Melampus" had been claimed by the British minister, and that a British squadron was lying in Chesapeake Bay. "Our interest as well as good faith requires," said the secretary, "...that we should cautiously avoid whatever may have a tendency to bring us into collision with any other Power." Barron urged that if he had given the order to prepare for battle as required by the court-martial, he must have detained by force the British lieutenant and his boat's crew, which would have had a direct "tendency to bring us into collision," or he must have let them go, which would have hurried the collision. He said that he had tried to gain time by keeping the appearances of confidence and good-will. He admitted that he had failed, but claimed that the failure was due to no fault which could have been corrected at that moment by those means.