Tag Archives: John Adams

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 Declaration of Independence

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Reflections on the Fourth of July 2009

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Fireworks light the sky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway


Over this past weekend our country celebrated it’s 233rd birthday. We the people of the United States of America celebrated in a variety of ways.

Many flocked to the beaches along our coastlines. Even more celebrated with family or community barbecue cookouts during the day, followed by fireworks displays at night. Our family was no different.

No matter how we celebrated the day, the vast majority of Americans did indeed celebrate in some way. The reasons that we celebrated were many. Some would say that for many, like Christmas, the true meaning of Independence Day has become lost on most people. I don’t believe that is so.

As most Americans know and celebrate, Independence Day (or the ‘Fourth of July’) celebrates that date that the young American colonies declared their independence from the British crown back in 1776. Thus the massive display of the American flag, and of people incorporating the American colors of red, white, and blue into their wardrobes this weekend.

John Adams himself declared: “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

He was off by two days in that letter, written to his wife on July 3rd, 1776, the reason being that Congress debated and revised the original Declaration of Independence after approving it a day earlier. The final version famously lists the July 4th ratification date. The actual signing of the Declaration, famously highlighted by John Hancock’s gorgeous signature, happened on August 2nd, 1776.

Amazingly, both Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of America’s most celebrated Founding Fathers, two of the first men to lead our nation as President, and two signers of the Declaration, both died on the 4th of July, 1826 within hours of one another on the fiftieth anniversary of that great event. Five years later, President James Monroe also died on July 4th, though he was not a signer of the Declaration.

In 1777, Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary in ways that a modern American would be familiar with, including an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships on the Delaware River were decked with red, white, and blue bunting to mark the occasion.

In 1781, Massachusetts became the first state to adopt July 4th as a state holiday. In 1785, Bristol, Rhode Island, held the first-ever parade in honor of the date, and has held one continuously on that date ever since.

In 1791, the first recorded use of the term ‘Independence Day’ happened. In 1870, Congress made the date an unpaid holiday for federal employees, then changed that to a paid holiday in 1938. Many American businesses have followed suit.

My own family had a very nice Independence Day weekend. We began our celebrations with my oldest daughter, Christine, and grandkids Elysia and Reznor staying at our home on both Friday and Saturday nights.

On Saturday, I spent the day in our pool with my granddaughter, then fired up the grill for a cookout as younger daughter Kelly and her boyfriend Jay Dooley joined the festivities. At night we lit sparklers in our backyard, and got to enjoy a tremendous neighborhood fireworks display put on by one of our neighbors. I even got to enjoy the New York and Philly fireworks displays on television.

On Sunday, my wife Debbie and I packed up Chrissy, Elysia and Rez, and headed over to Williamstown, New Jersey for a cookout and pool party with some of Deb’s family in honor of her father’s 84th birthday.

While there we had the great fortune to watch as the Phillies defeated the Mets to sweep a holiday weekend series, setting up the finale of our own celebration. Deb and I will be heading down to Citizens Bank Park tonight to watch the Phils take on the Cincinnati Reds.

Our family celebrates Independence Day the way that the vast majority of normal Americans do: family gatherings, cookouts, swimming, baseball, fireworks and all with the flag proudly displayed and the red, white, and blue clothing worn.

On this date in particular, we all pause to reflect on the braveness of our forefathers, the greatness of our nation, and the unity of purpose with which we must all move forward together to keep our country free. May God continue to bless the United States of America.

God and country

Of course it’s purely a hypothetical question if you live in America or most any free nation, but if you simply had to make a choice, which would you choose: God, or country?

If you’re someone who is among the tiny minority of Americans who doesn’t believe in God to begin with, it’s an easy question. And if you’re one of those who loves God completely but has little faith or confidence in any government, then it’s probably an easy choice for you as well.

But the vast majority of Americans would find this a difficult question with which to wrestle. Your first inclination would be to say something like “There’s no way that would ever happen here in the U.S., so I don’t even have to worry about it.” Perhaps true.

When the United States of America publicly issued its Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, the document began:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” 

The Declaration goes on to famously state:

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

The document, written by Thomas Jefferson, was signed with affirment by him, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and leaders from all 13 original colonies. So the United States at its founding was a nation of believers.

Then in what is commonly known as the ‘Bill of Rights’, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1791 guaranteed “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

What the authors were striving for was tolerance, not abolition of religion from society. So you would seem to have a pretty solid backing to believe that you shouldn’t ever have to worry about being forced to make such a choice.

But the fact is, those words were written and spoken in the past, and we are talking about a hypothetical future. Think it can’t happen in actuality? Then you simply haven’t been paying attention to the history of the world.

One thing that you can most certainly count on in the future is change, and for anyone to say they know where that change is going to take us in the next few centuries, even just in the next few decades, would be extremely presumptuous and naive. So just play along. Something happens, and you are forced to make that choice: God or country.

The likely way such a choice would come is from the country end of things. Some entity coming to power and telling you that you may worship no God, or must worship some particular version of God, or else you have to leave the country (or worse.)

In the Bible, the last years of mankind on earth are filled with this type of individual, personal decision in the Book of Revelation. You will be forced to choose between God and the ruling power manifest by Satan, and the immediate price of choosing incorrectly will be your life.

In his own life, Jesus Christ spoke of the relevance of government in the Gospel of Luke: “Give to the emperor the thing’s that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s“. This famous ‘render unto Caesar’ statement shows that the Lord understood and supported that there was a need for government of men by men.

I would say that if you are ever forced into such a choice, then you only have one decision to make – choose God.

That means even if you have to die for your choice. Because no government worth living in would force such a choice on you, and none is worth the price of your immortal and eternal soul.

Now for some, the choice might come from God Himself. For reasons only he may fully appreciate, you may be called to some action or to take some position that runs counter to that of your official American government position.

And when I say ‘called’, I mean ‘called by God’ in a manner that leaves you no doubt as to the origin of the call to action. In that case, you most certainly need to choose to do or say whatever it is that God is calling you to. There is every probability that His reasons go to a message that He wants delivered through you to the rest of mankind.

The bottom line is that you should always choose God over country. The simple reason is that your country, the United States of America, was formed with the blessings of God and inspired by His Word. God came first, His will and power are greater.

You will be subject to the laws, rules, customs, and opinions of your countrymen for a few decades. You will answer to God for eternity. So while there is no choice to make, while America remains a God-fearing, God-loving nation in most hearts, continue to fight with everything that is in you and pray with everything you have that this status continues.

But if one day the situation changes, and it all falls apart, be sure that you are ready to make the right decision. The correct choice will always be the choice for God.