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Ship Building 1893-97 - Cleveland, Grover

Elected again in 1892, Cleveland faced an acute depression. He dealt directly with the Treasury crisis rather than with business failures, farm mortgage foreclosures, and unemployment. He obtained repeal of the mildly inflationary Sherman Silver Purchase Act and, with the aid of Wall Street, maintained the Treasury's gold reserve. When railroad strikers in Chicago violated an injunction, Cleveland sent Federal troops to enforce it. "If it takes the entire army and navy of the United States to deliver a post card in Chicago," he thundered, "that card will be delivered."

Cleveland's blunt treatment of the railroad strikers stirred the pride of many Americans. So did the vigorous way in which he forced Great Britain to accept arbitration of a disputed boundary in Venezuela. But his policies during the depression were generally unpopular. His party deserted him and nominated William Jennings Bryan in 1896.

Professor Frederick Jackson Turner is best known for his seminal essay of 1893, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." An American history professor at the University of Wisconsin, Turner postulated that westward migration across the North American continent and the country's population growth had finally led to the "closing" of the American frontier, with social and economic consequences. While Turner did not explicitly argue for a shift towards commercial expansion overseas, he did note that calls for a "vigorous foreign policy" were signs that Americans were increasingly looking outside the continental United States in order to satiate their desire for new socio-economic opportunities and markets.

Three gunboats, the Helena, Nashville and Wilmington, and a submarine torpedo boat were authorized by congress in 1893. The Nashville fired the first hostile shot in the war with Spam, capturing the Spanish ship Bonaventura on the morning of April 22,1898, only a few hours after war was declared and while Sampson's fleet was on its way from Key West to begin the blockade of Havana. In 1893 the secretary of the navy was authorized to expend not to exceed $200,000 for the construction of the submarine torpedo boat Plunger. The contract for the boat was let on March 13, 1895, and work began.

The year 1894 was not friendly to naval expansion. Congress authorized only the construction of three torpedo boats, the Foote, Rodgers and Winslow. The Winslow won distinction in the Spanish-American war in the action at Cardenas on May 11,1898. The Winslow had entered the bay to assist in cable cutting operations and came under range of the Spanish shore batteries. Ensign Worth Bagley and four sailors were killed, this being the first American blood shed by the Spaniards in the war.

The congress of 1895 made a notable increase in the navy, providing for the construction of no less than eleven vessels, including two firstclass battleships, six gunboats and three torpedo boats. The battleships were the sister ships Kentucky and Kearsarge and offered a radical departure from any type of battleship ever before constructed in any navy. Both were supplied with superimposed turrets-a pair of 13-inch guns in the lower turret and a pair of 8-inch guns in a smaller turret mounted upon the larger turret. The departure attracted widespread attention in worldwide naval circles and came in for no little criticism. The advantages that may have been gained by the double turret do not seem to impress the American naval authorities as compensating for some disadvantages. The gunboats provided in the same naval program were the Annapolis, Marietta, Newport, Princeton, Vicksburg and Wheeling. They were all small cruising vessels, each of 1,000 tons displacement, built for West Indian and Caribbean sea service. The torpedo boats included the Dupont, Porter and Roman.

Congress in 1896 responded to the rapidly growing national sentiment in favor of a larger navy. The naval program adopted that year included the three firstclass battleships Alabama, Illinois and Wisconsin, and ten torpedo boats. The American public was beginning to realize the growing importance of the United States as a world power. American commerce abroad had been growing by leaps and bounds for nearly ten years and American commercial interests were reaching out to lands where the American flag before had been an unfamiliar sight. The rapid expansion of American commerce, too, had created jealousy in commercial circles of rival powers. It was dimly realized that commercial jealousy might lead to complications the result of which would be disastrous to American trade as well as to American prestige. Unconsciously the demand for a stronger navy to defend American interests abroad took root in the minds of the American people. Congress responded to the demand and a sentiment in favor of a larger naval force took root in the senate and house of representatives. The naval program of 1896 was the first response to this national sentiment. The three battleships were somewhat larger and more powerful than any yet built. They were not completed when the war with Spain began, but, as events proved, their services were not required.

In 1896 congress further encouraged the experiments with submarines by authorizing the navy department to contract for two additional submarines to cost not to exceed $175,000 each. The Holland company constructed two boats, one of which was purchased by the government.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:52:28 ZULU