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Excerpts from The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (1890) by Alfred Thayer Mahan


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Excerpts from The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (1890) by Alfred Thayer Mahan

“ First, in peace: The government by its policy can favor the natural growth of a people's industries and its tendencies to seek adventure and gain by way of the sea;”

“Secondly, for war: The influence of the government will be felt in its most legitimate manner in maintaining an armed navy, of a size commensurate with the growth of its shipping and the importance of the interests connected with it. More important even than the size of the navy is the question of its institutions, favoring a healthful spirit and activity, and providing for rapid development in time of war by an adequate reserve of men and of ships and by measures for drawing out that general reserve power which has before been pointed to, when considering the character and pursuits of the people. Undoubtedly under this second head of warlike preparation must come the maintenance of suitable naval stations, in those distant parts of the world to which the armed shipping must follow the peaceful vessels of commerce…Colonies attached to the mother-country afford, therefore, the surest means of supporting abroad the sea power of a country…Having no foreign establishments, either colonial or military, the ships of war of the United States, in war, will be like land birds, unable to fly far from their own shores. To provide resting-places for them, where they can coal and repair, would be one of the first duties of a government proposing to itself the development of the power of the nation at sea.”

“To avoid blockades of America, there must be a military force afloat that will at all times so endanger a blockading fleet that it can by no means keep its place. Then neutral ships, except those laden with contraband of war, can come and go freely, and maintain the commercial relations of the country with the world outside.”

“The question is eminently one in which the influence of the government should make itself felt, to build up for the nation a navy which, if not capable of reaching distant countries, shall at least be able to keep clear the chief approaches to its own…It may safely be said that it is essential to the welfare of the whole country that the conditions of trade and commerce should remain, as far as possible, unaffected by an external war. In order to do this, the enemy must be kept not only out of our ports, but far away from our coasts.”

"In a representative government any military expenditure must have a strongly represented interest behind it, convinced of its necessity. Such an interest in sea power does not exist, cannot exist here without action by the government. How such a navy should be built up, whether by subsidies or by free trade, by constant administration of tonics or by free movement in the open air, is not a military but an economical question. Even if the United States had a great national [system of national maritime trade], it may be doubted whether a strong navy would follow; the distance which separates her from other great powers, in one way a protection, is also a snare."



Questions [Answer questions on a separate sheet of paper.]

1. Why does Admiral Mahan believe America had to develop a strong peacetime navy?

2. Why does Mahan equate a powerful navy with the need to acquire colonies?

3. What is the purpose of the final paragraph?

4. What is the meaning of the underlined portion of the text?


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