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Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce to Captain Alfred T. Mahan


13 Francis Street,

Newport, R.I.,

August 25th, 1898.


My dear Captain:1 -

          The morning papers contain a copy of the letter of the Secretary of the Navy, addressed to the Chairman of the Naval War Board,2 expressing his appreciation of the services it – the Board – has rendered since the War began. The letter furnishes such strong testimony in favor of the permanency of a similar Board, that I venture to suggest that the occasion offers an opportunity of conferring upon the Service a great and lasting benefit by taking the initiative step to remedy the defects of our Naval Administration.3

     The Secretary writes: - “In view of the practical ending of the war, and well earned relief from further duty to which the Naval War Board is now entitled &c”. The Naval War Board has, therefore, been “on duty” in the Navy Department, in connection with the operations of the war. Of course the Secretary knew that the Board, as a Board, had no legal status; that its function were, if I may borrow an international law term EX-TERRITORIAL Extra-territorial.4 It had no lawful standing in the Department. The Act establishing the Navy Department declares that “The business of the Department of the Navy shall be distributed in such a manner as the Secretary of the Navy shall judge to be expedient and proper” among eight Bureaus.5  This “business” lies principally in the direction of the furnishing of supplies; or as the act of incorporation has it, “the procurement of naval supplies and materials and the construction, armament, equipment and employment of vessels of war. (Section 417 – 419 R. S.)6

All the “business” of the Department is therefore to be confined to the Secretary and eight Bureaus, and no provision whatever is made for the transaction of business, whether civil or military, by persons unconnected with the Bureaus. In other words, a state of war, when the military, as distinct from the Civil character of the organization, could be prominently brought forward, does not seem to have been contemplated by the framers of the law.

     True, one member of the Board is a Chief of Bureau, but the majority of the members give the Board its true character and the Board, as thus characterized, has no part whatever in our system of naval administration.7

      I am not questioning the right of the Secretary to appoint such a Board. Please understand that. My contention is, simply, that the Secretary of the Navy having experienced the great benefits of an, advisory Board forced into existence by the exigencies of war should be furnished with arguments in favor of making the Board or its Equivalent8 a permanent part of our Naval Organization.9

     The argument in favor of a Permanent Naval War Board under what name so-ever one may please to call it, whether General Staff, or any other title, are too familiar to you to need recapitulation. Suffice to say that “Naval Strategy”, the peculiar function of such a Board is, according to high authority “as necessary in peace as it is in war.”

     Should you concur in these views I do not know of anyone so well qualified as you are to present them in their most favorable light for the consideration of the Secretary, or from whom they would be received with greater deference. Should the Board, also, concur, and add the weight of its authority, I doubt not that a recommendation made by the Executive to amend the organic law so as to recognize Strategy as a part of the ”business” of the Department of the Navy and provide for it a especial office, connected with, and made part of the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, would be favorably received by Congress.

     It must be gratifying to you that the net results of this war have so fully illustrated your theory of Sea Power. The war practically ended with the elimination from the war [the] problem of Spain’s Navy.10

Very truly yours,

(Signed) S. B. Luce

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Stephen B. Luce Papers, roll 9. Addressed below close: “Captain A. T. Mahan, U.S.N.,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.” Handwritten at top-center of the first page: “Copy.” In late August, Capt. Mahan was still serving on the Naval War Board.

Footnote 1: For the response to this letter, see: Mahan to Luce, 31 August 1898.

Footnote 2: Secretary of the Navy John D. Long and President of the Naval War Board RAdm. Montgomery Sicard. See: Long to Sicard, 21 August 1898.

Footnote 3: Naval reformers and “Old Salts” debated methods to improve the Navy before the Spanish-American War. For more information, see, Herrick, American Naval Revolution, 13-38.

Footnote 4: RAdm. Stephen B. Luce is using the word “extraterritorial” to illustrate that the Naval War Board exercised authority beyond the accepted normal scope.

Footnote 5: The eight bureaus, as reorganized in 1862, were: Navigation; Steam Engineering; Yards and Docks, Construction and Repairs; Equipment and Recruiting; Provisions and Clothing; Ordnance; and Medicine and Surgery.

Footnote 6: The first act to establish the Navy was in 1794. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America… vol. I (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1861), 350-51.

Footnote 7: RAdm. Luce referring to the Naval War Board being outside the regular Bureau system. Of the three members of this body, RAdm. Montgomery Sicard, Capt. Alfred T. Mahan, and RAdm. Arent S. Crowninshield. Only Crowninshield, as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, held an official Navy position.

Footnote 8: The words “or its Equivalent” were a handwritten interlineation.

Footnote 9: RAdm. Luce’s foresight bore fruit with the establishment of the General Board in 1900. Challener, Admirals, Generals, and Foreign Policy, 47-48.

Footnote 10: RAdm. Luce is referring to Alfred T. Mahan’s concept regarding the mass concentration of naval ships and guns in the seminal work, The Influence of Seapower upon History: 1660-1783 first published in 1890 by Little, Brown & Co. of Boston.

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