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Our Merchant Marine.
los period of glory, its prolonged decadence and its
WILLIS J. ABBOT
"Soldiers of the Sea," etc.
No more perplexing nor more baffling problem confronts the people of the United States to-day than the future of the nation's merchant marine.
For the first half century of our existence as a nation the sea was our greatest industrial field. Seafaring and international trade engaged our brightest minds and most adventurous spirits. By the middle of the 19th Century we had attained so preëminent a position on the ocean that we were the most important commerce carrier in the world. Then began a process of gradual decline until our overseas fleet had sunk to contemptible proportions. In 1913 less than ten per cent. of our exports and imports was carried in American bottoms.
The reasons for this decline are many, and, despite the clamor of politicians, not all are connected with legislation or with political doctrines. It is quite true that the United States has always been niggardly in the matter of subsidies, if not indeed absolutely antagonistic to that system. Accordingly we have seen the British merchant fleet greatly increased by government aid, while the German merchant marine, annihilated by the war, may fairly be said to have been raised to second place entirely by liberal subsidies. During this period the Congress of the United States stubbornly refused financial aid of this character to shipping corporations and our fleet, engaged in international or overseas trade fell below even those of France, Germany and Norway.
But the subsidy idea came in with steam navigation and the decline of our merchant fleet was apparent even
before that era. In the body of this book the causes of
Iron as a shipbuilding material was more economically
Such, briefly stated, are the causes which brought the American merchant marine to its ignoble state prior to the war. All, with the possible exception of the concentration of American effort upon internal development, are operative to-day. The problem now confronting the American people is how to use the impetus furnished by war-time necessities to advance our merchant fleet to preëminence and keep it there under peace conditions.
We have approaching completion an enormous fleet of cargo ships. When launched and outfitted they will put us first on the ocean. Can we retain that position? Can we even retain a creditable second place, conceding first to Great Britain in view of her insular citadel and farflung colonial empire? The questions are not easy to answer.
Our ships have been built with war-time extravagance. The Government will have to charge off hundreds of millions of their cost to put them on terms of economic equality with those of Great Britain. And are they to be owned