Address by Hon. Patrick H. Drewry, Representative of the Fourth Congressional District of Virginia on the occasion of the launching of the USS Swanson, Charleston Navy Yard, Charleston, South Carolina, November 2, 1940
Admiral Allen, Ladies and Gentlemen:
An undefinable attraction between certain States, as between individuals, seems to exist among the respective States of the Union. Virginia and South Carolina illustrate this rather interesting attachment. Their history runs along strikingly parallel lines. Since the first settlement of the country, the leaders of the two States have worked hand in hand for the same political philosophy and from the foundation of the Government, at one time, Virginia, and at another time, South Carolina, have been considered as the leaders of Southern opinion, especially tenacious of their State sovereignty.
Today is Charleston's day, for the latest, most modern, best equipped fighting ship in the world today - of its class - is to enter her element. She enters it at a time when all the people of the country are praying that her guns may never be used for destruction; but if needs must be, then they are cheering her for the indomitable courage which they know she will carry into her fight.
It is very fitting that the newest ship to be launched in the Charleston Navy Yard, of South Carolina, should be named for a great and much beloved son of Virginia, Claude A. Swanson. It is another bond of affection between Virginia and South Carolina. Virginians and South Carolinians will together watch with interest the conduct of this gallant ship, The Swanson. And I believe the immortal and intrepid spirit of the namesake of this ship rejoices that the ship which bears his name will be launched on the waters of South Carolina which have witnessed the gallantry and bravery of South Carolinians so characteristic of Swanson himself in his early career.
Claude Augustus Swanson was born amid the hills of the beautiful Piedmont Section of Southern Virginia and grew up on his father's farm, far removed from the sound of "the bass eternal of the sea." As a boy he ploughed the land, not the sea. In the formative period of his life there was nothing to indicate to him that his greatest work was to be concerned with the Naval activities of his Country. It is speculative, but interesting, that there lay dormant in his soul echoes from sea-roving Viking ancestors which needed but the opportunity to bring into being his great love for stately ships, and a longing to know the secrets of the sea, and the heart of the great ocean. It is not necessary, however, to describe deeds of ancestors as a hereditary motive impelling men who want to serve their country. His patriotism and statesmanship gave him the foresight that made him bring all the experience of his years of service to the great purpose of building a great Navy, which he knew, as few men did, was the great essential of security for his loved country. He might well have said, as did Lowell,
"God give us Peace! Not such as lulls to sleep.
But sword on thigh and brow with purpose knit!
And let our Ship of State to harbor sweep
Her ports all up, her battle lanterns lit,
And her leashed thunders gathering for their leap."
He was thoroughly educated, and possessed an alert intelligence and a retentive memory that enabled him to top his academic training with a B.A. Degree from Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. Then, working hard and earnestly for his professional work, he received his B.L. Degree from the University of Virginia, and began the practice of law at Chatham in his native county in Virginia.
Lack of time forbids lingering on his educational training and his success in the practice of law. Already an eloquent and forceful speaker, he was soon in the public eye and entered the field of politics which was to be his life-work, upon his election as a member of the House of Representatives of the United States, and in that body his constituents retained him for 13 years. There for the first time he became interested in the Navy, and by close study prepared himself for his future work when he became a Member of the United States Senate, rising to the Chairmanship of the Naval Affairs Committee of the Senate.
In that interval between his service in the House and his service in the Senate, he served a term of four years as Governor of Virginia, and left such a mark upon the administration of the affairs of his native State that many students of history have acclaimed him as the greatest Governor Virginia ever had. He came in as Governor soon after the reorganization of the State's services incident to the new Constitution of 1902 and found ready to hand and necessary to the success of his administration the completion of that reorganization. His chief interest, as Governor, seemed to be in education, probably due to the fact that he recalled the hard way that he had to go in obtaining his education. It my truthfully be said that he established the present educational system in Virginia. The State owes him a debt of gratitude which it never forgot, because of his intensive study and development of its resources in that critical period when he was Governor. In his term began the modern advancement of the State.
After his Governorship ended he was appointed to the United States Senate and remained in the Senate from 1910 to 1933. His knowledge of human nature, his adaptability, his fairness of mind, and his genial, affable temperament, made him so many friends in that body that it was said of him that even in a Republican Administration, he, a Democrat, could got more done then any other man in the Senate. Here in this body he further developed his interest in the United States Navy. He was known as a "big Navy" man and he laid the foundtions in the legislation passed through his efforts upon which has been built the present naval establishment.
Prior to his appointment as Secretary of the Navy, in his years of service in the Congress, any statement of his activities would be incomplete unless some reference was made to his outstanding Congressional service. His voice had been heard on the floor of the Senate in a series of debates that were all-important to the welfare of this country.
He delivered the key-note speech in favor of the League of Nations and also led the fight for the World Court, and for what was known as the "fifteen cruiser bill". He also supported action leading to the construction of the Panama Canal and fought for the adoption of the London Naval Treaty. His knowledge of the Navy and its needs was so great, and his vision of a navy adequate for the defense of the country so broad, that he was appointed a participant in international naval conferences and councils of the Federal Government.
Occupying such a foremost position in the affairs of the country with relation to disarmament, he was appointed a member of the American Delegation to the World Disarmament Conference. There he insisted on retention of sizes and capacities of ships (surface and submersible) sufficient for [the] cruising range needed by our fleet with its widely scattered bases. He became so widely known in his Senate career for his wide range of information concerning the Navy that without dissent the Congress and the people applauded his appointment as Secretary of the Navy in 1933.
It might be said that he realized his life's ambition when he was made Secretary of the Navy for the Navy was his first Legislative love. Although he had a severe spell of illness while Secretary, from which he never entirely recovered, he concentrated all his energies in his office, ignoring as far as possible his own physical disabilities, devoting the last days of his life to the work of upbuilding the Navy of the United States. It is enlightening, however, to learn from speeches and statements made prior even to his service in the United States Senate, how his mind almost from the beginning of his public service was fixed on the development of the Navy. In keeping with this thought, our attention is called to a part of his remarks when as Governor of Virginia in 1906 he presented a Silver Service to the Battleship Virginia at the Norfolk Navy Yard. He said:
"Our past history has shown us the necessity for a splendid Navy and how many difficulties and disasters we have averted by our naval successes.
"The demand for a great Navy in the future will far transcend any which existed in the Past.
" The United States has ceased to be an isolated and provincial nation; it has become a world power and must accept and perform its work, duty and responsibility.
"Our National greatness and glory are inseparably interwoven with the future of our Navy. In modern civilization, with all its complexities of trade and commerce, that nation will be paramount in the world and arbiter of its destinies which is supreme on the sea. Naval supremacy ultimately means national pre-eminence.
"The rise and fall of nations and empires teach the sure lesson, that national safety and national successes are inseparable from Naval supremacy. Prudence and wisdom demand that this nation should have a great Navy."
We can but think how unfortunate it is that we have just become alive to the prophetic utterances of this voice from the past. After thirty-four years from the deliverance of this statement, we at least recognize that what the foresighted genius of this great statesman saw so long ago is what we have just began to see.
I am aware that I have omitted many things of great importance in the life of Claude Swanson that could not be compressed into this short sketch. I have tried to stress his great love for the Navy and for his Country and its security and welfare in the development of the Navy. While that work was great, and while we will be impressed more and more, as the years go by, with the magnificent accomplishment, yet he left behind him something greater than this. Probably there remains in a greater degree than to any public man in the last fifty years, in the hearts of his friends and his countryman, an affection as deep and as great as his affection for the Navy, and an admiration for his splendid statesmanship, and great sorrow at the loss of his services to his beloved country in the time of our emergency.