Brina J. Agranat
THOROUGH AND EFFICIENT REPAIR: REBUILDING IN THE AMERICAN SAILING NAVY.
(Under the direction of Professor William N. Still, Jr.) Department of History, Program in Maritime Studies, September 1993.
This work is a contextual study of the practice of rebuilding ships of war in the American sailing Navy. It refutes Howard I. Chapelle's longstanding "administrative rebuilding" argument which contends that through the first half of the nineteenth century the United States Navy illegally diverted funds and clandestinely built new ships to replace existing vessels when confronted with an unsupportive Congress. Although not disputing the reality that in several cases substantially new, or even completely new hulls were constructed to replace existing hulls unfit for repair, the author contends that previous efforts to quantify the process of individual episodes of rebuilding fail to address or to interpret accurately the administrative, political, and fiscal context in which a long succession of rebuilding efforts, considerably more numerous than those embraced by Chapelle's "administrative rebuilding" scheme, were undertaken.
The objective of this study is, therefore, to provide an historical framework in which individual episodes of rebuilding should be examined and interpreted. Central to that framework is the nineteenth-century Navy's wholistic approach to vessel maintenance and repair, which perceived the vessel as an entirety wherein the hull represented but a single component part. Within that framework, as well, the author considers the changing administrative and accounting structure of the Navy, Congressional and naval fiscal policy, foreign and domestic affairs, and the Navy's political situation through time, to demonstrate that while rebuilding may have been an ongoing practice in the United States Navy, it was approached and pursued on a case by case basis according to the situation of each individual vessel and the requirements of the Navy at the time.
Rebuilding could encompass hulls which existed as well as those which did not. Some vessels were entirely rebuilt and others only partially, according to no particular pattern or administrative directive. Congress often played an integral role in the determination to rebuild. Moveover, although Congress was well apprised of the Navy's rebuilding efforts, the various modifications made to the Navy's approach to rebuilding through the period of the sailing Navy were instigated at the behest of the Navy Department and the Executive, not the Congress. At all times through the period of the sailing Navy, rebuilding was pursued legally and within an administrative and fiscal structure which clearly recognized rebuilding as either an extreme in vessel repair or a third, intermediate option between repair and new construction. Frauds and abuses which may have occurred on occasion were not unique to rebuilding programs, but were endemic to an expanding and increasingly burdened system of naval governance.