Page:Henry Adams' History of the United States Vol. 4.djvu/34

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
24
Ch. 1.
HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.

of going to quarters in such cases was seldom strictly observed. The President and the Secretary of the Navy could alone say whether Barron had understood their orders correctly, and whether his plea, founded on the secretary's instructions, was sound. In the light of Jefferson's diplomacy, Barron's course accorded with his instructions; and perhaps, had the President claimed his own share in the "Chesapeake's" disaster, he would have refused to degrade a faithful, able, and gallant seaman for obeying the spirit and letter of his orders. Unfortunately such an interference would have ruined the navy; and so it happened that what Jefferson had so long foreseen took place. He had maintained that the frigates were a mere invitation to attack; that they created the dangers they were built to resist, and tempted the aggressions of Great Britain, which would, but for these ships, find no object to covet; and when the prediction turned true, he was still obliged to maintain the character of the service. He approved the sentence of the court-martial.

So far as the service was concerned, Barron's punishment was not likely to stimulate its caution, for no American captain, unless he wished to be hung by his own crew at his own yard-arm, was likely ever again to let a British frigate come within gunshot without taking such precautions as he would have taken against a pirate; but though the degradation could do little for the service, it cost Barron his honor, and ended by costing Decatur his life.