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Ship Building 1889-93 - Harrison, Benjamin

Nominated for President on the eighth ballot at the 1888 Republican Convention, Benjamin Harrison conducted one of the first "front-porch" campaigns, delivering short speeches to delegations that visited him in Indianapolis. In the Presidential election, Harrison received 100,000 fewer popular votes than Cleveland, but carried the Electoral College 233 to 168. Although Harrison had made no political bargains, his supporters had given innumerable pledges upon his behalf. When Boss Matt Quay of Pennsylvania heard that Harrison ascribed his narrow victory to Providence, Quay exclaimed that Harrison would never know "how close a number of men were compelled to approach... the penitentiary to make him President."

Harrison was proud of the vigorous foreign policy which he helped shape. The first Pan American Congress met in Washington in 1889, establishing an information center which later became the Pan American Union. At the end of his administration Harrison submitted to the Senate a treaty to annex Hawaii; to his disappointment, President Cleveland later withdrew it. Substantial appropriation bills were signed by Harrison for internal improvements, naval expansion, and subsidies for steamship lines. For the first time except in war, Congress appropriated a billion dollars. When critics attacked "the billion-dollar Congress," Speaker Thomas B. Reed replied, "This is a billion-dollar country."

When Benjamin Harrison was elected President in 1888, he invited Blaine to become Secretary of State once again. In 1889, a Pan American Congress was finally convened in Washington. Blaine followed up by campaigning tirelessly for arbitration treaties with Latin American nations and for Congressional authority to negotiate trade agreements on the basis of reciprocity. Blaine's "spirited foreign policy" also included settlement of a dispute with Germany and Great Britain over the Samoan Islands, long-running negotiations with Great Britain over the right of Canadian vessels to hunt seals in the Bering Sea, and resolution of serious disputes with Chile and Italy over the murder of American citizens. Blaine's major accomplishment in his second tenure as Secretary was the promotion of closer political and commercial relations between the United States and the nations of Latin America. But even here these good feelings began to deteriorate with rising jingoism in the United States, which stirred latent Latin American suspicions of the "Colossus of the North." Whether because of worsening relations with President Harrison, deteriorating health, or ambition to again secure the Republican nomination for the presidency, Blaine resigned in June 1892.

It was during the administration of Benjamin Harrison that the Navy's strategy began to change from defense and commerce protection to offensive fleet action. President Harrison called for the continued and rapid construction of modern warships and the acquisition of bases to maintain the U.S. fleet in foreign seas. He later urged Congress to authorize construction of battleships, giving support to Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy's goal of making the U.S. fleet strong enough "to be able to divert an enemy's force from our coast by threatening his own, for a war, though defensive in principle, may be conducted most effectively by being offensive in its operations."

Tracy proved to be an excellent administrator, and he marshaled allies for his expansionist policies in both Congress and the Navy, including Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. Mahan's involvement stemmed from his strong belief that government leaders played a crucial role in determining the growth or decay of a nation's sea power. Navalists around the world used his 1890 publication, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, to promote naval expansion in their own countries.

American navalists' work bore fruit with the Navy Bill of 30 June 1890, authorizing construction of three battleships later named Indiana, Oregon, and Massachusetts. Along with the battleship Iowa, authorized in 1892, this force formed the core of a new fleet willing to challenge European navies for control of the waters in the Western Hemisphere. The protected cruiser Columbia which afterwards startled all the European naval powers by its voyage across the Atlantic in ocean greyhound time, was designed especially as a commerce destroyer in tune of war. It had a speed of 22.6 knots, was not armored and had a strong armament of one 8-inch and two 6-inch breech loading rifles and eight 4-inch rapid fire guns - an armament sufficiently heavy to destroy the largest merchant liner afloat at long range, but not of especial service in a combat with a warship. The Columbia was not designed as a fighting ship, however, but as a commerce destroyer, and in time of war doubtless would prove its value.

The Indiana, Massachusetts and the Oregon were the first battleships rated as firstclass built for the American navy -the Maine and Texas authorized in 1886 being rated as only second class. The three were sister ships, each having a displacement of 10,288 tons, and each carrying four 13-inch guns, eight 8-inch guns and four 6-inch guns in their main batteries. The Oregon was built on the Pacific coast, in pursuance of a policy adopted by congress in 1888, of having a part of the new ships for the navy constructed on the west coast. The Indiana and Massachusetts played important parts in the naval operations in Cuban waters during the war with Spain in 1898.

In 1891 congress provided but for one addition to the navy - the protected cruiser Minneapolis - a sister ship of the commerce destroyer Columbia. In 1893 however congress added the armored cruiser Brooklyn and the firstclass battleship Iowa to the navy. Both ships represented a distinct advance in naval construction. The Brooklyn was larger and more heavily armed than the New York, the only armored cruiser in the navy at that time, while the Iowa had a displacement of 11,340 tons as against the 10,288 tons of the Indiana, Massachusetts, and Oregon. Both ships rendered valuable service in the Spanish-American war. The Brooklyn was the flagship of Rear Admiral Schley, second in command at the battle of Santiago, and was hit of tener by Spanish shells than any other American vessel in the engagement. The Iowa took part in the same battle.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:52:27 ZULU