For a book about pro-war rhetoric, I'm writing a short section about Churchill Cambreleng's May 7, 1836 speech about the controversy with France. I'm interested in it because it shows how the rhetorical needs of a bargaining situation (which Jackson was in) are in tension with the rhetorical practices that best serve deliberation (what Congress is supposed to do). Cambreleng decided to reply to someone (Archer, from Virginia, an anti-Jacksonian) who had shown the relative sizes of the French v. US navy in service of the argument that the US would have great difficulty winning a war with France (since it would be, presumably, a naval conflict). Part of Cambreleng's reply involves his claim that, while the US Navy was smaller, the US would be able to call on its "commercial marine." He said, "No nation so possesses so powerful and effective a commercial marine as the United States, animated and invigorated, as it is, by the spirit of freedom" and that the US would be able to call upon "the ten thousand mariners whom we have now engaged in the whale trade" and "we could put afloat in twelve months a naval force with which no nation could successfully contend."
This smells like hyperbole to me, especially since Cambreleng was a Jacksonian, but I don't want to make that claim without some hard numbers (which, of course, Cambreleng doesn't supply). I've tried to find data on what the US commercial maritime strength was in 1836, but that isn't an era that seems to interest anyone. What little I've found skims over the 30s. I can imagine the number of commercial fleets was huge, but I have trouble imagining 1) it was bigger than the UK's, and 2) those ships could easily (and willingly) have been converted into warships useful against the French.
I'd appreciate thoughts, guesses, or references on either of those two questions.