Tag Archives: James Madison

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

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I recently returned to my first love in reading topics: history and biography. While fiction can be extremely enjoyable, especially when done well, I have always found the true, non-fiction stories of real people and events much more interesting.

That return to true history results here in my latest book review. For the first time in nearly four years, it does not involve the topic of baseball.
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” was published in 2015 by Penguin Random House’s ‘Sentinel’ imprint.
This joint effort of Fox News host Brian Kilmeade and author Don Yeager tells the story of “the forgotten war that changed American history.
That war is what many students of U.S. history know as the ‘First Barbary War‘, which, as the book jacket explains, “is the little known story of how a newly independent nation was challenged by four Muslim powers and what happened when America’s third president decided to stand up to intimidation.
America’s first four Presidents played key roles in the events leading up to and during the conflict. But George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison are largely secondary figures to the real military and diplomatic heroes and villains who took part in the action.
Following the War for Independence, the newly formed United States of America was saddled with enormous debt and had largely disbanded its military. This was particularly true in the area of naval force.
America was protected from more established world powers of that time primarily by distance and trade agreements. It had little or no influence on the high seas.
In trying to further those trade efforts, American merchant ships would frequently come under attack in the Mediterranean Sea by the Muslim powers of North Africa. These ‘Barbary States’ nations practiced state-supported piracy in order to exact tribute from weaker Atlantic powers.
American ships would be raided, and their goods stolen by Muslim crews. At times, the ships and their crews would be taken and held hostage for large ransoms.
The fledgling United States had no response other than to pay those ransoms. But this only further added to the national debt. Also, the problem wasn’t being dealt with in any meaningful way. It just kept happening, with no end in sight.
The United States wasn’t the only nation facing these issues. Wealthier countries with an actual naval presence in the region simply paid tribute to the Muslim leaders in order to ensure free passage of their ships.
Adams, a Federalist, and Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, were political adversaries. Those differences extended to their views on dealing with the Barbary powers.
The second President of the United States, Adams thought it possible to continue to buy peace, as was done by other nations. Jefferson, America’s third President, wanted to end that system permanently. He preferred a strong military response.
As Kilmeade and Yeager write:
In response to events on the Barbary Coast, Jefferson, in 1801, had dispatched a small U.S. Navy squadron to the Mediterranean. For the next four years, he responded to circumstances, expanding the fleet to a much larger naval presence. In the end, thanks to the bold leadership of men like Edward Preble, James and Stephen Decatur, and William Eaton, and Presley Neville O’Bannon, military force had helped regain national honor. Even the Federalists, who liked little that Jefferson did, came to accept that the United States needed to play a military role in overseas affairs.
The book is the story of those men: Preble, the Decatur’s, Eaton, and O’Bannon and many more as they battled on land and sea to help a new nation stand up for itself on the world stage.
The United States Marine Corps played a key role in the ultimate victory. This was the war from which came the USMC hymn line “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea.
As the authors state, this war against radical Muslim powers was one which we still, in many ways, are fighting today. It is a pivotal story of the immediate post-Revolutionary War, post-U.S. Constitution period. It is a story that all Americans should know.
Kilmeade and Yeager tell that story in just over 200 easy to read pages chock full of historic drama. Their book includes maps, notes, and a complete rundown of the cast of characters involved in that drama. It will make an enjoyable and educational read for any fan of history, especially of American history.

The Republic For Which It Stands

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Every good American knows and has said those words hundreds, if not thousands of times in their lives. Learning and reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance” to our flag is part of our shared civics lesson as citizens.

But do we really think of the detail in those words as we say them? After all, in saying them we are theoretically taking an actual pledge to stand behind it’s principles.

One of the most important and least appreciated of those principles is the simple line “and to the republic for which it stands” which speaks to our nation’s form of government. Did someone tell you that the United States of America was a democracy? That would be incorrect. America is actually a “constitutional republic”, and there is a very big, very important difference, one you should become familiar with if you are not already.

In a true democracy, the majority rules, either by direct voting results or through the decisions of their elected representatives. These are the two basic forms of democracy: direct and representative. The American Revolution was undoubtedly fought in part to form a more democratic society and government, as opposed to the tyranny experienced previously by the former Colonies under the British monarchy.

However, once that freedom was won and our Founding Fathers set to the task of determining and establishing our actual form of government, what they came up with was not a direct democracy, nor was it the representative democracy that many mistakenly believe exists.

These brilliant men such as George Washington, James Madison, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin believed that America should be concerned with the protection of the rights of the individual. This means that people who don’t agree with the majority – and keep in mind that a “majority” will frequently change over time and across various issues – should also have their rights protected.

To truly understand the U.S. Constitution, one needs to read and understand what has become known today as “The Federalist Papers“, the series of articles and essays written by Madison, Jay, and Hamilton in order to promote that effort. James Madison has become known as the ‘Father of the U.S. Constitution’, and his ‘Federalist No. 10’ is considered one of the most important political writings in our history.

Specifically in ‘Federalist No. 10’, the 10th in the series of these important articles, Madison states that democracies tend to become weaker as they get larger, and will tend to suffer more violently from the effects of faction. However, a republic can get stronger as it gets larger, and will combat faction by it’s very structure. The difference and it’s importance should be obvious to anyone paying attention to 21st century American politics, divided into rigid factions as at no other time in our history.

As he exited from a building after helping write the original U.S. Constitution, Ben Franklin was famously approached by a woman who asked him what type of government the group had come up with for the nation. Franklin’s historic reply: “A Republic – if you can keep it.

In a constitutional republic, the officials are indeed elected as representatives of the people. However, those representatives must govern according to existing constitutional law which limits the government’s power over the citizens.

A true constitutional republic, such as the United States of America, is a government controlled by law, not one where that government actually does the controlling. The law does the controlling. That is America. It is the Constitution that rules, not whatever elected officials happen to be in office at any given time.

So when the current President of the United States, who will in fact not be in power any longer just 3 1/2 years from now, and whose political Party may lose effective power as soon as a year from now, makes statements such as “elections have consequences” he is treading on dangerous ground. Winning an election does not give one person or Party absolute power. The power rests in the law, in the Constitution.

If they think about it for a logical minute, supporters of Obama want no parts of “elections have consequences” as a ruling principle. All they need for a perfect example is the eight years prior to the current administration, when a man they still despise, George W. Bush, was the President of the United States. Were they willing to simply sit back quietly because elections have consequences? Hardly. And in fact, their favored politicians and Party will lose elections in the future as well.

No, President Obama and Democrats, it is not we the people who must accept that elections have consequences at all. Instead, it is you who must accept that you swore to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. You must recognize that many people, more than 60 million who directly voted against you, do not share your values. You must gain as much as you can of your political and social agenda through negotiation, not by force, and must accept that you will never get all of what you want.

The next time that you pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, think of the words as you say them, rather than simply droning on out of some rehearsed obligation. You are pledging allegiance to our “Republic“, to our U.S. Constitution, and are doing so recognizing that we are one nation under God, who guided us down this path in the first place.