Flogging in the US Navy
A Plea in Favor of Maintaining Flogging in the Navy
A Plea in Favor of Maintaining Flogging in the Navy.
[Essay by an anonymous US Navy officer on the benefits of floggingfor maintaining discipline, probably written in the 1840s.]
Image of inside of A Plea in Favor of Maintaining Flogging in the Navy, note: there is no printed title page, only a handwritten title and note indicating date and authorship unknown and inked stamp of receipt in 3 Jul 1885.
As at the present time a great effort is being made to abolishthe law which authorizes flogging in the Navy as one method ofpunishment, a member of that service desires to express his viewsupon the subject.
The Navy is the armed police of the country upon the ocean; itspurposes are warlike, and its service is that of emergencies,whilst its duties are always rendered precarious by the natureof the element upon which it exists. It is maintained by the Nation,for the protection of its commerce upon the high seas, and inthose countries of the globe, whose laws are unequal to assurethe safety of vessels visiting their ports. Thus, the guns ofnumerous cruizers, keep the ocean a secure highway for traders;and the presence of a man of war, in distant and half civilizedports, is almost the only surety the merchant possesses for theundisturbed prosecution of his business. The ultimate use of theNavy, is of course, as a means of offence and defence afloat inthe event of a war.
To prepare ships of war, for the services that may be desiredof them, at any moment, they are carefully provided with heavyarmaments, comprising the most improved inventions for the wholesaledestruction of human life; and they are thronged with men, whoare more zealously taught to wield these instruments of death,than they ever were to fear God and obey his commandments.
The crew of our vessels of war, comprise men of all nations andof almost every variety of character. Among them are many whoare respectable in their demeanor, capable, tractable and industrious;there are many others who are insolent, ignorant, quarrelsome,lazy and mischievous. And there is always, in every ship, a knotof abandoned and incorrigible vagabonds, sweepings of the jailsand streets, the outcasts of the shore, who herd with the viciousportion of the seamen, and form a turbulent and unruly gang; settingat defiance all moderate attempts to govern them, and having thefixed purpose, so far as in them lies, of shirking duty and ofoverturning decency, order and law on board.
The number of men, according to the size of the vessel, variesfrom 100 to 1000 men.
They engage to serve for three years, or longer, should they necessarilybe detained abroad; to be obedient to the laws of the Navy, andto the orders of their superiors. On the part of the government,they receive settled wages per month, a daily ration, medicalattendance, and after a length of service, provision for theirold age.
The laws for the government of men thus banded together for thepurposes of war, are necessarily arbitrary and severe. Death isprescribed as the penalty for offences, which, in shore communities,would be deemed trivial, as well as for the higher crimes. Punishment,with the cat of nine tails, is awarded to specified cases; otheroffences are to be noticed after the customs at sea, methods embracingvarious devices of a milder nature.
The duties required of the crew of ships of war, are all suchas appertain to the management of the great guns and the use ofother arms; to the manoeuvering under canvass, and to the servicein boats; to the care of the rigging, provisions and stores; andto the cleanliness of the vessel and of their clothing and persons.
In the performance of these duties, by such numbers, obedience,attention, silence, order and alacrity, are necessary to ensureefficiency and decorum, and to preserve the creditable characterof the country afloat, and abroad, amid the nations of the earth.
To the captain and officers, the responsibility is entrusted,of organizing and disciplining the crew, and of maintaining theship in good and efficient condition for the most active service.
Thus manned and equipped the ship of war goes forth on her errandto distant seas.
How is her nondescript community to be governed, that it may bean orderly and useful body ?
Not like a town, where the inhabitants are born, grow up, feellocal attachments, have cent[e]red their families, property andbusiness, and therefore feel a strong and lasting interest inits prosperity; where each man has his own house and castle forhis dwelling and where, notwithstanding all this, are establishedpolice, courts, prisons and the gallows, for the preservationof the public peace and security, for the detection of crime,and for the safe keeping and punishment of offenders.
Not like a workshop, where men assemble during the day, disperseat night; are measured by their ability, faithfulness and goodconduct, and are discharged the moment their labor becomes valuelessto the owner, or their behavior injurious to his establishment.
Not like a penitentiary, where all are condemned criminals, withits appropriate system of labor and confinement.
Not like any civil administration under the sun, neither exactlylike an army on the land.
The crew of the ship of war come on board mostly as strangersto each other, to be banded together for a specified and limitedperiod, at the expiration of which their association ceases, andthey separate. They are without any but casual ties to link themto each other, or to identify their interests with the welfareof the vessel in which they sail. They have neither wives norchildren with them, nor have they any capital invested in theirtemporary home. Men of every clime and of every shade of character,are to be made to assimilate in their narrow quarters which theyrarely leave. They must work, eat, drink, dress, wash, mend, make,cook, sleep and play within limits that are known by no otherclass of men; and jostling each other as they do, their angrypassions must be kept down, by means powerful enough to quellthe most reckless natures, and so produce quiet, or, they maybe let loose, and Bedlam is afloat.
The crew, good, bad and indifferent, are engaged for a term ofyears, at specified wages, chiefly without previous trial, andwithout any such shore going process, as a reference for character.When aboard, they form a whole, which cannot be weakened by discharges.They are to be kept together, the wicked and the worthless, aswell as the rest. They cannot be dismissed in foreign ports formisconduct. Ships of war, would be neither very welcome nor creditablevisitors abroad, if they sent their scape-gallows rascals ashore.Nor would it be good policy to resort to this means, even if itwere allowed by law; discontented men would commit offences onpurpose to be discharged, and the ship's company weakened in itsnumerical force, where vacancies could not be filled.
The various duties expected from a vessel of war, require so manymen to enable her to perform them; she is supplied with the requisitenumber, such as they are, when she leaves home, and byno act of hers is she to reduce it. Sickness and death cannotbe avoided; but no other cause is to induce her to lose an armfrom her complement, except to relieve vessels in distress. Shemust keep every body she can, and must form out of such incongruousmaterials an orderly and systematic body, with all its effortsdirected for the benefit of the nation. She must subdue thewicked-she must tame the insubordinate-she must make the disobedientprompt and willing-she must cause the idle to be industrious-shemust tutor the ignorant-she must preserve peace among her people,without any aid from outside her own decks, and must therein do,what is not done, elsewhere, in the world.
The crew cannot be set to work in solitary cells, neither canthey labor in apartments common to those of a certain trade, andbe shut up alone for the night. They are not all rogues, and cannotbe treated as such; and if they were, the penitentiary systemis totally opposed to the duties, and inapplicable to the necessarilygregarious habits of ship board, and to the contracted limitsbetween the decks.
The crew cannot be governed like any civil body, because thereis not, nor can there be, any parallel between their differentcondition.
Nor can the system that applies to armies be adapted to ships,because of the radically opposite nature of the two services;because of the wide difference in their respective methods ofassociation and accommodation, which difference is all in favorof the army; and because the solitude, as well as the hazards,of the ocean, are unknown upon the land.
The ship of war, with her crew composed of the most discordantmaterial, banded together in a highly unnatural state of association,not very much inclined to habits of docility, and possessing aphysical majority sufficient to throw off and to defy all control;with her position often isolated upon a treacherous element, entirelycut off from any appeal to other human aid, and always remotefrom the protecting influences which surround more happily balancedcommunities on shore-must inevitably be governed on principlespeculiar to her anomalous condition.
A few words will explain the system by which, hitherto, shipsof war have succeeded in ruling their disorderly spirits; in keepingthe idle to their duty; in suppressing entirely, or in a greatmeasure, the vicious propensities of the ill-disposed; in preventingthe leaven of the disaffected characters from infecting the mass;in short, in sustaining within their own narrow limits, an obedientand serviceable body. It is not too much to say, that this controlhas often been exercised over men, who, if gathered and kept withinone room on shore, would, from their confirmed and monstrous depravityof habit, utterly dishearten and repel the most sanguine of philanthropists.
Arbitrary laws, directing severe bodily, as well as other milderpunishments for offenders; the power to administer these punishmentssummarily, and as an example to all, lodged in the hands of theman who is held responsible for the safety and good conditionof his vessel; the resistance to these laws or to these punishments,made mutiny, and the consequence of mutiny, death!Such is the code and the practice, by which the turbulent andill-assorted characters common on board every ship of war, havebeen kept within the bounds that distinguish the discipline ofthe cruizer, from that of the pirate.
There can be no rational hope, that a better class of men thansuch as ships now get, will speedily, if ever, be furnished ourvessels of war. The inducements offered by a sea-life are notof the kind to attract quiet people afloat, nor can any such begiven. The Navy will continue to be manned by the unsettled populationof the world, and all the chimerical plans for supplying it witha steady body of men, will expire upon the pages on which theyare written.
While shore communities cannot by any means purge themselves fromthe hosts of scamps and villains who disturb their peace, howis it to be expected that a service like that of the Navy, filledup at hap-hazard-with men so badly wanted, that all who offer,are taken-can be freed from its portion of the abandoned characterswho are constantly going up and down on the earth?
Can human ingenuity furnish a scheme, by which this evil, commoneverywhere in the world, shall be excluded from the Navy, whereinit is most likely to abound?
If seamen were so plenty that characters could be sifted and selectionsmade, the remedy would not yet be found. The nature of mankindmust change, ere men can be had for such, or for any purposes,by the hundred and by the thousand, who will act from proper impulses,and with the opportunities for concentrated association on shipboard and the power to work evil, need no other control than slightchecks and moral suasion.
Crime, by an inevitable law, steadily increases with population,and is now, of course, more rife than ever throughout the globe.Each succeeding day brings its dreadful record of wicked deeds;acts of iniquity, of outrage and of murder, into the commissionof which, men of every class are led, by the bad passions thathave been common to our race since its creation. Is this, then,a propitious time to remove the harsher restraints, which longand often tried experience has shown to be the only effectivepunishment, that will hold in dread the lawless spirits, whosevery recklessness of nature impels them to quit the land, forthe ocean?
Reflection upon the lessons of the past, and that kind of considerationfor the rights, peace and comforts of communities, which is notentirely merged in sympathy for offenders, would seem to demandthat such an organic change should not be made, without deliberationand inquiry as to the probable consequences.
Other things remaining unaltered; ships of war still to be sentabroad; trust and authority to carry out the public purposes confidedto the few; ill assorted material in an unnatural state of association,supplied wherewith to accomplish those purposes; and the stringentmeans and power withdrawn, by which such material can be ruledand such association held in order; it may be, that the NationalCruizer will not exactly fulfil[l] the objects for which she hasbeen equipped; but, the rather, turn herself into a floating Hell,with the hand of every man raised against his neighbors.
It is not contended that flogging on the bare back, with the cat-o'-ninetails, should be the sole and the universal method of punishmenton ship board: far from it. An infinite variety of milder formsanswers perfectly for the generality of offenders. But there areoccasions when such an appeal is necessary, to prevent the spreadingof disaffection, which, under milder and more remote measureswould disorganize a ship; there are, and ever will be, cases thatnothing but the lash will reach, and occasionally, some hardenedreprobates who care not for the pain and degradation of the lash,until its repetition, combined with other extremes, brings eventhem into subjection.
Lenient schemes are of no avail with such characters, and reprimandand persuasion are but mockeries. It is only by carrying intoeffect the severities of the law, and by having the support ofthe well-disposed of the crew on such occasions, that order ispreserved.
Extra labor, ordinary confinement, solitary confinement, breadand water diet, are plans that do not suit very well on shipboard.
How can extra labor be got out of men, who are averse to do theirown proper share? The man who would avoid this, would also rebelon being saddled with a double load. The mere order tohim, to exert himself, would be of no avail, unless the authorityof the ship could be brought into play by some other method toenforce it.
Ordinary confinement, such as is practised, is scarcely a modeof punishment at all. The offender hears and sees most of whatis going on, is relieved from work, his pay is not stopped, andhe lies snug between his blankets, while others who have doneno wrong, are exposed to the weather and deprived of sleep, upontheir watch. Of what consequence is it to such offenders, thattheir confinement is so little closer than that of the rest ofthe crew ? At sea, the ship herself is a prison, in limits, toall hands.
Prisoners at large, are only afforded opportunities by day andby night, to add to the mischief they have already fomented.
Solitary confinement is not practicable on board ship, from thewant of room. If cells were built in the hold for the purpose,they would take up space required for stowage, and be at the sametime totally destitute of ventilation and reeking with a foulatmosphere. Above the hold, the accommodations for the crew andfor the battery, preclude the erection of any thing of the kind.
But without considering the matter, as one of dimensions, a systemof imprisonment would neither suit the discipline, nor contributeto the efficiency, of vessels of war. That ship cannot be readyfor emergencies of any kind, which has a score or two of her crewlaid by the heels in the stocks. Her internal economy demandsthat every man should be at all times at his post, a useful andactive agent in her work. This end would not be gained if sheweakened her effective force by throwing offenders into confinement,and putting additional labor upon the faithful and zealous men.
Bread and water diet has been tried, but does not succeed well,owing to the many opportunities for contraband supplies.
Various resorts, that place the offenders in a disgraceful orridiculous position before the crew, and others that curtail themof their privileges, are adopted with good effect in many instances;but when these fail, or when they are not adapted to the natureof the offence, then the contest for the mastery between the culpritor culprits and the authorities of the ship, remains to be decidedby the lash, as the last resort, which seldom fails to bring thematter to a termination, conducive to the cause of order, andto the suppression of riotous desires.
When two hundred, five hundred, or a thousand men sit down totheir meals on one deck, three times each day, and rise therefrom,without engaging in a system of single combats or creating a generalmelee, there must be some powerful influence at work to keep downall belligerent propensities. Every body knows how easy it isfor men on shore to come to blows, under circumstances infinitelyless liable to provoke them, than such as attend every meal onboard ship; and it may be safely asserted, that the prevalenceof these disgraceful outbreaks is only prevented afloat, by thefear of a punishment so keen in its effects, as to induce menat least to make an effort to quell their passions, rather thanen-counter it. Mild or tardy measures would be of no avail here,to allay the incitings of human wrath amid such a crowd, and butfor the knowledge that speedily and sharply the dreaded consequenceswould follow the offence, a host of angry passions would findtheir vent, to the utter destruction of proper discipline, andto the ruin of anything like order in the ship.
During the night at sea, one-half of the crew are constantly ondeck, each part taking a watch of four hours duration. Thus, oneset come on at 8 P. M., and remain on duty until midnight, whenthey are relieved by the sleepers below, who keep the ship until4 A. M., when the first set are called again. This arrangementgives each division, on alternate nights, eight hours sleep andeight hours watch.
It is not the easiest matter in the world to get these sleepinghundreds out of their hammocks and at their posts on deck, ina reasonable time, and without noise or disorder. There are alwaysskulkers, who, secure from passing observation, prefer the comfortsof additional moments between their blankets, to a speedy exposureto the weather; others who abandon their ham-mocks and stow themselvesaway in hiding places, that they may secure an extra snooze beforethey can be found; the majority promptly turn out, and shew themselvesat once, on deck. To secure this promptness it is an establishedand necessary custom, not to allow those whose watch has expiredto go below until all the others are on deck, except in caseswhere only a few stragglers remain unaccounted for, and for whomit is afterwards necessary to search the ship with lanterns. Itis neither conducive to good order that this habit of skulkingshould prevail, nor agreeable to the weary watchers, often wetand cold from exposure, that they should be cheated of their fullterm of repose by the sluggards of the crew. To break up thispractice, no means of punishment tried, has ever succeeded, butthe application of the lash.
Even during the period of their watch, these same dodgers willtake advantage of the security of darkness and of numbers, tosneak below and keep their jackets dry, while the rest are hardat work in the squalls and rain.
In ill-regulated ships, where the arm of authority is but weaklyextended over the crew, the night is the time for scenes of disorderand riot, such as can hardly be conceived but by those who havehad the misfortune to sail in vessels whose systems of indisciplinehave rendered them a disgrace to the country and to the service.
There must be something more potent than the voice of a solitaryofficer from amid the gloom, to direct and to control the massof beings who swarm the deck, in every snug posture for theircomfort, or grouped together with every facility for mischief.Even the best of men are sometimes rather slow in their movementsto execute the manoeuvers attendant upon every change of the evervarying wind; while not a few are much more disposed to consulttheir own ease, or to follow their schemes for their own amusementor for the annoyance of others, than to attend to the commandswhich fall upon their heedless ears.
It is not the necessity of the occasion, nor the habit of obedience,which answers generally in the light of day, that supplies thispotency; it is only to be found in consequences which are toomuch dreaded, to be endured for the sake of a luxurious doze,or for the pleasure of being willful[l]y wicked and contumacious.
The offences commonly committed on board ship, are such as these:disobeying and thwarting the rules for the preservation of cleanliness,system and order; defacing the ship's furniture, and throwingparts of it overboard ; stealing; smuggling liquor on board, andgetting drunk there-on ; fomenting mischief, in all its varieties;throwing every possible obstacle in the way of the quiet performanceof the daily routine of duty; misbehaving grossly when away fromthe ship in boats, and deserting from them and from the ship temporarily,to have a spree on shore; inciting quarrels at meal times; gettingup fights; receiving orders with contempt, obeying them with sullenmurmurs or neglecting to obey them at all; appearing dirty, whenthey should be clean; soiling purposely the paint and decks justafter every thing has been scrubbed and put in order; contrivingall kinds of malicious and outrageous acts to throw discreditupon the ship generally, and often upon occasions of evolutionand ceremony in foreign ports, when the best foot is to be putforemost; getting up insubordinate plots; discouraging willingmen from working freely, as "their pay will go on all thesame, if they work slow "; skulking as before described,and in any other way that offers : going deliberately to sleepon the look-out, and thus hazarding the frightful consequencesof a collision with passing ships; refusing flatly to obey orders;uttering mutinous language and setting at defiance the authorityof the ship; taking shelter under the cover of crowds and of darkness,to be insolent, to be noisy, to get up riots, to thieve, to makeindecent noises, to violate the sanctity of the quarter deck,to commit filthy nuisances in improper places, to take revengeof each other by unseen blows, to fight out their battles, tobe dilatory, impudent and disobedient aloft, and to require frequentcalls to move them to their duty.
The minutiae of these offences consists of such diversified specimensof wickedness, of spite, of mischief, and of foul and disgustinghabits, as cannot be known to those who are unaccustomed to consortso closely with men, and yet they are results that might naturallybe expected to attend such mixed material of the one sex, in suchan artificial state of association as exists on board every shipof war.
These things commence at the beginning of a cruise; the pulseof the commander is felt, as it were, and as he is either resoluteor weak in the exercise of his authority, so follows either thegood or the bad condition of his ship.
The effect of improper example, the evil of contamination, thespread of disaffection, the consequences of outrage are of infinitelymore serious account on the sea than on the land. Shore communitieshave many outlets for escape from the results of crime committedin their midst, while the ship of war has none. Her "foes"are always of "her own household," and the issue oftheir deeds, remains with-in her wooden walls.
But instead of abolishing the punishment of the lash upon theocean, would not its revival upon the land be productiveof good, supposing it to be applied to certain gangs of "bouncers"and "killers," whose acts on shore, are in some measureparallel to those of their fellows upon the sea?
Much more may be said and thought about the matter, but as longas human nature remains as it is now and ever has been, (and fora change for the better in which, unless by divine means, thereis not a reasonable ground for hope,) and so long as such badsamples of it are congregated with-in the narrow limits of a man-of-war'sdecks, just so long should that system be preserved, which, itis fully evident, will alone fulfil[l] the end for which it wasadopted. Wherever a crew, or a number of crews, can be found,who will live together in brotherly love, and in the observanceof the golden rule, then, and not until then, will it answer todo away with the only method, short of hanging, by which ordercan be maintained among the men of this generation upon the solitudesof the ocean.
And when that day comes, perhaps the nations will at last be atpeace, and men will be no longer trained for the purposes of war.But now, as the moral sense of our people has not yet arrivedat that happy pitch ; while we maintain forces instructed afterthe most expensive modes in wholesale methods for human slaughter;and while maintaining them, in an unnatural state of associationfor such bloody ends, it is found necessary to govern them withthe laws of Draco, taking life for crimes that would be but venialoffences in peaceable communities on the land, whence, it maybe asked, comes that delicate and feeling humanity which shuddersat the application, to offenders, of a punishment of a less degree,such, as by authority from Heaven, was inflicted upon the chosenpeople of God? The camel is swallowed, while the gnat chokes us.
Source: Anonymous. A Plea in Favor of Maintaining Floggingin the Navy. n.p., n.d. [This rare item is non-circulatingand must be examined in the Navy Department Library. Its callnumber is Spec. Coll. VB840.P53].
Brief History of Punishment by Floggingin the US Navy
Warnings against the excessive use of flogging were written asearly as 1797 by Captain Thomas Truxtun and in 1808 by SurgeonEdward Cutbush. A proposal to abolish flogging was first introducedin Congress in 1820 by Representative Samuel Foot, but it wasunsuccessful. Congressman Foot was the father of Andrew Hull Foote,who was later an admiral in the Civil War. In 1831 Secretary ofthe Navy Levi Woodbury issued an order that said until Congresschanged the existing laws governing punishment in the Navy, wheneversuch laws allowed a discretion in the use of punishments, he recommendedthat in the case of seamen, commanding officers should first resortto fines and badges of disgrace, and other forms of mild correctionsrather than using "the humiliating practice of whipping."Later, Secretary of the Navy James K. Paulding issued an orderto commanding officers that flogging was to be administered inaccordance with the law and always in the presence of the captain.The New York Evening Star newspaper praised Secretary Paulding'saction. It also reprinted some material from the Norfolk Heraldconcerning the arrival of the sloop-of-war Vandalia inNorfolk after a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico under Captain UriahP. Levy. The Herald noted that Captain Levy had kept hisship in prime condition without the use of flogging. The storytold of Levy's system discipline and substitutes for the lashincluding badges of disgrace. The editorial of the EveningStar on Levy and material from the Norfolk Herald werereprinted without comment in the January 1840 issue of the magazine,Army and Navy Chronicle. But Lieutenant George Mason Hooebrought charges against Levy for "scandalous and cruel conduct,unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman" in ordering a substitutepunishment for a boy in the ship. The boy, who was 16 to 18 yearsof age, was charged with mimicking an officer of the ship. Unwillingto flog the boy, Levy ordered him tied to a gun with his trouserslowered. A small quantity of tar, variously described as the sizeof a silver dollar to the size of a man's head, was applied withoakum to his buttocks along with some parrot feathers. Levy wastried by a court martial and sentenced to be dismissed from theservice. President John Tyler reviewed the findings. He said thatLevy had acted within the spirit of Secretary Woodbury's order.While Levy had resorted to "an entirely disgraceful punishment"his motives were good, the punishment drew no blood and causedno harm. Tyler reduced Levy's sentence to a twelve month suspension.The court martial of Levy probably made many other officers unwillingto employ substitutes for flogging. Levy continued to oppose thepractice and reportedly wrote newspaper articles on the subject.Other line officers who opposed the use of flogging were CaptainsRobert F. Stockton, Lawrence Kearney and John C. Long.
Meanwhile men who identified themselves as former sailors werepresenting their views to the public. In 1840 William M. Murrellpublished a book entitled Cruise of the Frigate Columbia Aroundthe World. In it he recounts how men received twelve lashesfor trivial offences such as having dirty pots or failing to closethe door of a toilet. He himself received twelve lashes for failingto properly mark a piece of clothing and for accidentally spillingink on the deck. Murrell condemned the flagrant use of authority,but he believed that flogging should be retained for some offencessuch as stealing.
The year 1840 also saw the publication of Richard Henry Dana'sTwo Years Before the Mast, in which he recounted his experienceas a merchant sailor in the brig Pilgrim. He presenteda description of a terrible flogging in the ship in 1839 and ofliving under tyranny in the ship. But in the last chapter he doubtedthe expediency of abolishing flogging. In 1841 a former enlistedman named Solomon Sandborn published a pamphlet entitled AnExposition of Official Tyranny in the United States Navy whichset forth instances of the abuse of various regulations by officersand called for the abolition of flogging. Other former enlistedmen also published accounts of their naval service and of abusesof authority by officers.
In the public mind, especially in the North, the practice offlogging was often associated with the treatment of convicts andslaves, and it was believed to be contrary to the democratic spiritof the times and the ideals of the United States. Support forthis view came from Willliam McNally, who claimed to be a formersailor. In 1839 he published a work on Evil Island Abuses inthe Naval and Merchant Service in which he argued that sailorswere treated worse than slaves. He cited instances where morethan the legal number of lashes were inflicted in floggings. Healso argued that flogging kept Native American men from joiningthe Navy. This, in turn, led to a shortage of manpower in theNavy and merchant service which led both to resort to using foreign-bornsailors. Reformers said that if American citizens were decentlytreated, they would be more likely to serve in both the Navy andmerchant service. Such reformers also argued that the Navy's dailyissue of grog, or whiskey mixed with water, was the source ofmany of the disciplinary problems. Therefore if the grog rationwas abolished there would be less need for flogging. If floggingwas abolished the service would be more attractive to Americanmen. The American Seamen's Friend Society, a religious based organization,was in the forefront of the movement to eliminate grog and flogging.It included among its membership some naval officers. In the 1840'sa number of civilian groups began to petition Congress to abolishflogging.
One reflection of this movement came in 1847 when John P. Haleof New Hampshire was elected to the Senate by an anti-slaveryparty. Earlier Hale had served as a Democratic Representativefrom New Hampshire, and in 1844 and 1845 he introduced amendmentsto bills that would abolish flogging in the Navy. These effortswere unsuccessful. Following his return to Washington he announcedto the Senate his intention to abolish flogging. Between December1849 and June 1850 the Senate received 271 petitions from thecitizens of various states urging the end of flogging. In 1850the Secretary of the Navy sent an inquiry to a number of navalofficers asking for their opinions on whether flogging and grogcould be eliminated without damage to the Navy. Of the 84 repliesreceived by the secretary, only seven officers thought that floggingshould be discontinued. Therefore when Senator Hale succeededin getting a law passed in September 1850 abolishing floggingin the Navy and merchant marine, there were a number of navalofficers who thought that the legislation was misguided.
Meanwhile in March 1850 Herman Melville's novel, White-Jacket,or The World in a Man-of-War was published. It containeda chapter on flogging and others on its evil effects and unlawfuluse. He called for its abolition. Some naval officers took exceptionto Melville's remarks and wrote rebuttals, a few of which werepublished in newspapers or pamphlets. The document reproducedabove, A Plea in Favor of Maintaining Flogging in the Navy,may have been inspired by Melville's novel, by the action of Congress,or by the campaign of some officers and civilians to restore thepractice of flogging. This effort was decisively defeated aftera speech in the Senate in 1851 by Senator Robert F. Stockton ofNew Jersey, a former Navy captain. Naval officers had to adjustto new conditions, and there was increased pressure on Congressto enact new regulations. In March 1855 Congress passed a lawfor the more efficient discipline in the Navy. This establisheda system of summary courts martial for minor offences. It couldsentence guilty men to a solitary confinement, with or withoutsingle or double irons, and/or a diet of bread and water for alimited time. It could also give bad conduct discharges. In 1862Congress gave the force of law to a major revision of all Navyregulations that reflected a more progressive view of discipline.
Note: In September 1846, after the death of his father,Andrew Hull Foote added an "e" to his last name.
On discipline in the early Navy and the attitudes of officerson flogging, see: Christopher McKee, A Gentlemanly and HonorableProfession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815(Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991). McKee makes a casefor the utility and effectiveness of flogging and that very fewmembers of a crew experienced it. The work also contains a table(see page 479) of the number of lashes awarded by the captainper instance of punishment.
On the movement to abolish flogging and grog and reform enlistmentand discharge practices, see Harold D. Langley, Social Reformin the U.S. Navy, 1798-1862, (Urbana, IL: University of IllinoisPress, 1967).
For information on the writing, publication and reception ofWhite Jacket, see Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: ABiography, Volume 1, 1819-1851 (Baltimore, MD: Johns HopkinsUniversity Press, 1996).
A discussion of the role of Melville's work in the campaignagainst flogging is in Robert B. Chapel "The Word Againstthe Cat: Melville's Influence on Seaman's Rights. The AmericanNeptune 42, no.1 (January 1982): 57-65, and H. Edward Stessel,"Melville's White-Jacket: A Case Against the 'Cat.'"Clio 13, no.1 (1983): 37-55.
For a detailed account of discipline in the Navy see James E.Valle, Rocks and Shoals: Order and Discipline in the Old Navy,1800-1861 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980).
Biographical accounts of some of the reformers include RobertH. Sewell's, John P. Hale and the Politics of Abolition(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965); Harold D. Langley,"Robert F. Stockton: Naval Officer and Reformer," inCommand Under Sail: The Makers of the American Naval Tradition,1775-1850, edited by James C. Bradford (Annapolis, MD: NavalInstitute Press, 1985). A well documented account of the lifeof Commodore Uriah P. Levy has been completed by Captain Ira Dye,USN (Ret.) and is awaiting publication.
Additional useful sources include:
Horan, Leo F. S. "Flogging in the United States Navy:Unfamiliar Facts Regarding Its Origin and Abolition." USNaval Institute Proceedings 76, no.9 (September 1950):969-975.
Laws of the United States Relating to the Navy and Marine CorpsFrom the Formation of the Government to 1859 Baltimore,MD: John Murphy & Co., 1866 [For the 1850 legislation mentionedabove see p.374. For the 1862 legislation see p.91.].
Lockwood, John A. An Essay on Flogging in the Navy: ContainingStrictures Upon Existing Naval Laws, and Suggesting Substitutesfor the Discipline of the Lash. New York: Pudney & Russell,Printers, 1849.
A Naval Encyclopaedia: Comprising a Dictionary of NauticalWords and Phrases; Biographical Notices, and Records of NavalOfficers; Special Articles on Naval Art and Science, Written Expresslyfor This Work by Officers and Others of Recognized Authority inthe Branches Treated by Them. Philadelphia, PA: L.R. Hamersly& Co., 1884. [includes definitions of flog and Cat o' NineTails.].
"Secretary's Notes: The Navy and Flogging." US NavalInstitute Proceedings 55, no.3 (March 1929): 270-273.
Definition of "flog"
To punish by striking with the cat-o'nine-tails. This punishmentis now forbidden in our [US Navy] service, though quite commonin some others, particularly the Russian. To flog the [hour]glass, to agitate and so hasten the flow of sand throughit; sometimes practiced in early days by midshipmen eager fortheir watch to be up.
Definition of "Cat o' Nine Tails"
An instrument formerly used for flogging in the [US] navy. Itconsisted of nine pieces of cord, with three knots in each, fixedon a short piece of thick rope as a handle. With this the offenderwas flogged on the bare back.
Source: A Naval Encyclopaedia: Comprising a Dictionaryof Nautical Words and Phrases; Biographical Notices, and Recordsof Naval Officers; Special Articles on Naval Art and Science,Written Expressly for This Work by Officers and Others of RecognizedAuthority in the Branches Treated by Them. Philadelphia, PA:L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1884.