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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 2

This foot note contained in document ADMS-01-02-02-0005-0004-0004
1. On 3 Oct. “One of the Delegates for Rhode Island laid before the Congress a part of the Instructions given them by the House of Magistrates, Aug. 26, 1775,” stating that “this Assembly is persuaded, that the building and equipping an American fleet, as soon as possible, would greatly and essentially conduce to the preservation of the lives, liberty and property of the good people of these Colonies,” and urging, therefore, that such a fleet be built “at the Continental expence” (JCC , 3:274). This momentous proposal was debated for the first time on 7 Oct., and in the present notes JA has recorded the earli• { 202 } est formal discussion of the idea of an American navy. The time not yet being quite ripe, Congress deferred further discussion until the 16th, and continued to postpone action until mid-December (same, p. 281, 420). Meanwhile a very urgent practical problem arose, and though it bore directly on the question of establishing a naval armament, Congress for a time kept the general and the particular problems strictly separate. The particular problem sprang from the news, received 5 Oct., that two vessels loaded with powder and munitions had sailed from England for Quebec. A committee of three was immediately appointed “to prepare a plan for intercepting” these valuable prizes; it brought in recommendations which were adopted the same day; and next day it brought in further recommendations (for a pair of swift armed vessels) which were adopted on 13 Oct. (same, p. 276–279, 293–294). Still no “navy”! The Journal does not name the members of the committee that prepared these reports, but in his Autobiographyand elsewhere JA says they were Silas Deane, John Langdon, and himself; see especially JA to Langdon, 24 Jan. 1813 ( LbC , Adams Papers; printed in JA, Works , 10:27–28). A new committee was appointed on the 13th to carry out the resolutions adopted that day; it consisted of Deane, Langdon, and Gadsden ( JCC , 3:294). But on the 30th Congress enlarged both the membership and duties of the committee and named JA as one of the additional members (same, p. 311–312). At first called the committee to fit out armed vessels, it was soon referred to as “the naval committee,” because it was actually organizing a naval force; see List of Persons Suitable for Naval Commands, Nov. 1775, below, and note there. In his Autobiography JA left a graphic account of the sessions of this committee, held every evening “in a public house in the City” and constituting, JA thought, “the pleasantest part of my Labours for the four Years I spent in Congress.” Early in 1776 the nominally limited functions of this special committee were absorbed by the new and permanent Marine Committee, which in December had developed out of the Rhode Island instruction quoted at the beginning of this note. The Marine Committee consisted of one member from each colony, and since JA was absent when it was formed he was not a member.
Dry as these details are, they are essential for understanding and correcting JA 's various accounts of the origins of the American navy and for filling in the gaps left by the meager record in the Journal. For further clarification and references see Charles O. Paullin, The Navy of the American Revolution, Cleveland, 1906, chs. 1 and 3; and two exhaustively documented notes in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:216, and 2:318. The pertinent documents will be published in The Naval Documents of the American Revolution, in preparation by the Office of Naval History of the United States Navy, under the editorship of William Bell Clark.