In general, the Harvard speakers maintained than the United States can not avoid embroilment in foreign troubles, and that war, therefore, is always a possibility. To protect the seaboard cities from destruction, and to prevent a blockade, a powerful navy is necessary. The greatness of the interests at stake justifies almost any expense.
The Yale argument was as follows: The present navy consisting mainly of cruisers is sufficient for a peace footing. Battleships are money thrown away except in case of war, which is unlikely. Finally, even if war is declared, land defences are more effectual than a seagoing fleet.
The judges announced their decision unanimously for Harvard after being out ten minutes.
The Harvard speakers were decidedly superior in form, but their strongest point was that they stuck to a single well-defined line of argument, without repetition or confusion.
The Yale men, on the other hand, did not seem to have divided up their ground definitely. They also failed to remove benefiting but minor considerations. For this reason it was difficult to grasp their main argument.
William Henry Conroy, Jr., opened the debate for Harvard by pointing out the modern change of relations between the United States and Europe. He showed that science has brought us into close touch with all parts of the world, and that with England and Spain especially the United States must deal as with next door neighbors.
Conroy spoke in excellent form, combining ease and force. His voice would have filled a larger room with ease, and he worked up to several very effective climaxes. His matter also was excellent, as he adhered to the single main argument, reinforcing it by well chosen examples.
As instances of recent unavoidable difficulties, Conroy mentioned Samoa, Cuba, Hawall and Venezuela. He closed by declaring most emphatically that the United States is no longer isolated from the rest of the world, but is constantly in more or less danger of war.
For Yale, Edward Theodore Noble delivered a strong speech, which included many telling arguments, but lacked to a certain degree the concentration which was Conroy's strong point.
Noble called attention to the exact terms of the question. He showed that by "sea-going vessels" was meant only cruisers and battleships Our present fleet of cruisers ranks third in the world, and no more are needed. To raise the battleships to a like efficiency would require 25 new vessels.
Thus of the three chief uses for a navy (1) coast defense does not require sea-going vessels, (2) peace duties are now cared for by cruisers, (3) the sea battle alone remains, a remote possibility. Moreover, the increase of the fleet will force the country into an un-American policy of aggression.
Phillip Greenleaf Carleton continued for Harvard, showing that since 1883 the policy of the government has been to build battleships. However, the work, he said, is but begun. He went on to show the weakness of the present navy and the insufficiency of land defence alone to protect our immense seacoast. At present we would be unable to prevent a blockade, a landing of troops, or, in many instances, the bombardment of cities.
Carleton was very clear in his statements, and showed a thorough knowledge of the subject. His style was smooth, but not in any way brilliant.
John Kirkland Clark who spoke second for Yale, followed the lines of argument of his colleague, and showed that the only possible use for a large sea-going fleet, is in case of war. War, however, is most improbable, (1) on account of our geographical situation, (2) on account of our inherent strength. Clark concluded by asking whether we are justified in spending 100 millions to forestall such an unlikely evil. He had a smooth delivery, and in general his points were well taken. His chief fault was lack of unity, and a tendency to repeat what had already been stated by Noble.
The third Harvard speaker, Wilbur Morse, spoke earnestly and distinctly with much force and persuasion. He said that as long as we keep our position under the Monroe doctrine as protector of the South American republics, they act as colonies. As to our love for England, the war scare last December did not show it. As to our navy, the present rate of increase is not adequate. As for torpedo boats they must be classed with the sea-going navy. Furthermore a large and immediate increase in the navy is demanded as an insurance for the property invested in the coast cities.
Charles Leroy Darlington, the last Yale man, lacked force in his presentation and confidence in his argument. He called attention to the increasing national indebtedness, which keeps us from having both a sea-going navy and coast defences. The question then is, what do we need most? We must have protected harbors to act as a foundation for our navy and to protect our small navy in case it needs repairs.
In rebuttal Carleton said that the Harvard men had had an interview with Admiral Belknap, who said that torpedo boats are a part of the sea-going navy. "We have proved," he said, "that war is a possibility at any time, and this justifies an adequate system of defence which is a sea-going navy."
Clark, for the negative, again called attention to the exact reading of the question. He was earnest, but wasted his rebuttal in drawing out a somewhat inapt simile in regard to building a fence around an apple orchard.