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shall prevent us from coupling together the names of Burr and Barron as their slayers. If Hamilton had died in office, worn out by his extraordinary exertions there, as well as by the foul ingratitude of a majority of his countrymen, - if Decatur had fallen on the quarter-deck of his noble frigate just as the flag of her opponent was coming down, though the life of each had been shortened by several precious years, with what happier and prouder feelings could their eulogies be written !
The grandfather of Commodore Decatur was a lieutenant in the French navy, who, making a visit to this country for the sake of his health, became attached to a young lady at Newport, Rhode Island, and gave up his commission, his country, and his friends for the sake of marrying her. The happiness which he hoped to obtain through this great sacrifice was of short duration. He died young, leaving his widow and only son with very narrow means of support. The son, born in Newport in 1751, became a sailor, and obtained the command of a vessel almost as soon as he came of age. During the war of the Revolution, he commanded the Royal Louis, and afterwards the Fair American, both of which were privateers, and acquired much reputation and some profit by the capture of English ships. After the war, he entered the merchant service, and made frequent voyages to France as captain, and in part owner, of the vessel. He married while quite young, and his son, Stephen Decatur, was born at Sinepuxent, in Maryland, on the 5th of January, 1779. The family soon returned from this place to Philadelphia, having left the city only during the period of its occupation by the British army.
At an academy in Philadelphia Stephen received the usual education preparatory to an admission to college, and he afterwards spent a year in the Pennsylvania University. At school he was remembered as a frank and high-spirited lad, active and daring in disposition, well skilled in all the exercises and games of the play-ground, a leader in every boyish prank, and very prompt to requite an injury with a blow, whatever might be the size and strength of his antagonist. With such a temperament, he was not likely to make much progress in study, and he frankly confessed to his parents and schoolinates, that he was weary of thumbing grammars and dictionaries, and longed to be active in the business of the world. His time at the academy and college, however, was by no means wasted. He learned quickly his assigned task, though he studied only from a sense of duty. He had conceived, almost from infancy, an extraordinary liking for the profession of his father and grandfather, and circumstances contributed to foster this inclination. When he was but eight years old, he was sent upon a voyage with his father for the benefit of his health, which was then delicate. Among his earliest recollections, therefore, were the fitful aspects of the sea, and the almost romantic excitement of a sailor's life. . The favorite amusements of his leisure hours at school were boating, swimming, and fashioning miniature ships.
It is seldom worth while to oppose a boy's choice of a profession, fanciful though it may be, when it is manifested early and maintained with firmness. Decatur's parents attempted to curb his inclination, but with small success; his father had had ample experience of the hardships and dangers that attend a life on the ocean, and it was difficult for a mother's anxious tenderness to consent to the frequent and prolonged absence of her son from home. When his weariness of sedentary pursuits had risen to disgust, they yielded so far as to withdraw him from college, and place him in a countingroom, that he might prepare for mercantile life. This was one step gained by the boy, but it was insufficient for his desires. He was faithful to his employers, but the time left to his own disposal was diligently devoted to the study of mathematics, that he might qualify himself for command at
The only incidents worth remeinbering at this period in his career are, that he was chosen to make a journey for the purpose of selecting the keelpieces of the frigate United States, then building at Philadelphia, and that he was aboard of her when she was launched. So soon began his acquaintance with the gallant ship that was afterwards to bear his flag in one of the most brilliant naval actions of the last war with England.
The commencement of hostilities with France, in 1798, increased Stephen's eagerness to join the navy, and at last enabled him to gain the reluctant cousent of his parents to this change of pursuit. Measures were adopted for the increase of the naval force of the United States, and for this purpose it was necessary to obtain officers as well as seamen from the merchant service. The elder Decatur had served with distinction during the Revolutionary war, though in com
mand only of private armed vessels ; so that the offer of his services to the government at this period was readily accepted. He received his commission as a post-captain in May of this year, was appointed to the command of the Delaware, a vessel of twenty guns, and in her he immediately put to sea. Very soon he had the good fortune to fall in with and capture the French privateer Le Croyable, of fourteen guns, which had already committed great depredations on our commerce, and with this prize he returned to Philadelphia. The effect of this successful cruise on the imagination of young Decatur, already long inflamed with the idea of naval adventure, may be easily imagined. “He had seen his father sail, and bring back in triumph the first of the enemy's cruisers that had been captured, and yet he had not accompanied him.” His father was to sail again in July, still in command of the Delaware, accompanying the frigate United States, which was then ready for sea.
The commander of the latter, Commodore Barry, becoming acquainted with the character and wishes of young Decatur, obtained a warrant for him without the knowledge of his parents ; and when Stephen showed this to his mother, and renewed his entreaties, she yielded. He joined the United States as midshipman, finding two of his schoolmates already on board, the present Commodore Stewart, then fourth lieutenant, and Richard Somers, who had received a warrant just before him.
The insignificance of our naval force at this period made it seemingly very hazardous for the United States to begin hostilities with a power which had often contended with England for the empire of the seas. The politicians of that day had decided, in their wisdom, that a navy was a useless expense, and that the best mode of protecting our commerce, then insulted or plundered at will by both the European belligerents, was to retain our merchant-vessels safely in port. This bright idea was cherished by our leading statesmen for a long period, and produced at last those two remarkable experiments in the art of war, the gunboat system and the embargo. Our author gives the following account of the state of our navy at the close of the last century.
“We had at this time only three frigates, the Constitution, the United States, and the Constellation, together with a few small vessels for the protection of the revenue. Of our Revolutionary navy nothing remained; the last ship left of it, the beautiful Alliance, which had been pronounced a perfect frigate by the high authority of French constructers and naval men, had been sold in 1785. In 1794, the spoliations of Algiers on our commerce, attended by the cruel enslavement of our seamen, had provoked an act of Congress to provide a naval armament,' authorizing the purchase or construction of four frigates of forty-four guns, and iwo of thirty-six, with the proviso, that, if peace with Algiers should be concluded before their completion, no further expenditure should be made. Before their completion, peace had been obtained by the payment of near a million of dollars in money and presents, among which was a fast-sailing frigate, which might hereafter be engaged in depredating on our commerce, and by stipulating to pay an annual tribute. The same sum would have completed the six frigates, and sent them forth to extort by force, at the cannon's mouth, what was granted to supplication and bribery.
“ But the latter expedient was preferred; and peace being thus ingloriously obtained, President Washington in vain urged the completion of the frigates, which might have been placed in the water for half the cost of the treaty. Congress could only be induced to authorize the completion of two of the forty-four, and one of the thirty-six gun frigates, the most advanced, aided by the sale of the perishable part of the materials collected for the whole number. Even the preliminary resolution, that a naval force, adequate to the protection of the commerce of the United States against the Algerine corsairs, ought to be provided,'had passed by a majority of only two voices.
“ It was urged, that the force was inadequate to the object; that older and more powerful nations bought the friendship of Algiers, and we might honorably imitate their example, or else subsidize some foreign naval power to protect us. ments, and the state of feeling that prompted them, are chiefly interesting now as affording a point of comparison, whereby to estimate our advancement in national spirit and pride; an advancement in no slight degree due to the character and deeds of the subject of this memoir. To the forbearance of the Congress of that day, in selling only three of the six frigates which had been commenced, instead of the whole number, we owe the existence of the Constitution, the United States, and the Constellation, with all their associations of glory." — pp. 19, 20.
Decatur continued in the frigate during nearly the whole of the war, but had no opportunity of distinguishing himself, except by activity and zeal in performing his ordinary duties,
and by the quick attainment of knowledge and skill in the several branches of his profession. These qualities led to his promotion to a lieutenancy, when he was but twenty years of age, and had served only one year as midshipman. At this early period, also, occurred the first of those actions to which we have already alluded as constituting the only stains on his otherwise bright career. We give the account in Mr. Mackenzie's own words, though we are sorry to quote language so evidently designed to palliate or excuse a wholly indefensible proceeding.
“ Whilst the United States was undergoing repairs at Chester, Decatur, who was her fourth and junior lieutenant, was sent to Philadelphia to enter a new crew for her, the sailors being at that time entered but for a single year. Whilst engaged in this duty, some prime seamen, whom he had recruited, subsequently shipped on board of an Indiaman. Decatur took his shipping articles with him, and went on board of the Indiaman, to reclaim his men. The chief mate, being a very high-spirited young fellow, was much vexed at parting with seamen from whose services he had expected much assistance in the performance of his arduous duties on a long voyage. He lost his temper, and permitted himself to use insulting language towards Decatur, and the service in which he was engaged. Decatur kept his temper, refrained from alterca. tion, carried off the men, and subsequently related to his father what had occurred.
6. The elder Decatur, looking upon the affair as a military man, and in a view which custom and public opinion sanctioned, came to the conclusion, most painful to a father, that Stephen could not avoid calling the offender to an account. Stephen accordingly sent Somers to ask an apology for the unprovoked aggression. It was refused, and a challenge was sent and accepted.
“ Meantime Decatur had finished recruiting, and returned to his ship, which, having been refitted, had dropped down to Newcastle, preparatory to sailing. The mate, too, deferring private business for the present, had gone on with his duties. His ship, being also ready for sea, came down to Newcastle, and anchored near the United States. The mate now came on board of the frigate, and, asking for Lieutenant Decatur, told him he was ready to accept his invitation. Decatur immediately accompanied him on shore, but mentioned to Lieutenant Stewart, before he left the ship, that, as he presumed the young man was not expert in the use of arms, although he had offered him an insult wholly un. provoked, he should carefully avoid taking his life, and would shoot him in the hip. They met, Somers being the friend of