Monday, December 22, 2014

Answerable to None: Commodore Patterson and the Absent Secretary of the Navy

It is a minor footnote to the War of 1812 that between December 2, 1814 and January 16, 1815 the United States had no Secretary of the Navy.  But to those of us who are following the exploits of Daniel Todd Patterson, it means that for over six weeks, during the most important battles of the war, the Commodore had no immediate superior, save for the President.

 And the President, at the time, was very busy issuing Letters of Marque to independent privateers.  Or was he? The letter of marque reproduced below was issued two hundred years ago on December 22, 1814, but there is no signature on the documents by either the President or the Secretary of State. Where was everyone? Who was in charge?

Dated 22 December 1814. Commissioning the private armed schooner Lucy of 25 tons and commanded by John Lawton, Captain and Perez Drinkwater, Lieutenant,  to seize and take British vessels. Unsigned by either the President or Secretary of State.

Source:Old Source 
              New Source:

Andrew Jackson had declared martial law in New Orleans. All the ordinary forms of law and order had ceased. Property was being confiscated for military use.  Daniel Patterson was authorized along with Jackson to issue passes into and out of the city. Sailors were even  being impressed into service on the US side. But the ships looted from the Baratarian privateers were sitting idly by in the Navy dockyards. There was no Secretary of the Navy, and Daniel Patterson was answerable to none.

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