Tuesday, November 6, 2012

History: John Adams and the U.S. Navy

We will make peace with all our might and we will build up the military ~ President John Adams

In the popular mind, the memory of John Adams has been poisoned to a large degree by false remembrance. His support of - and even insistence on - the passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts has made him persona non grata among those who would embrace all comers as part of the U.S. melting pot. It's a slippery slope to trust that everyone - absolutely everyone - that comes to your country comes with a bag full of hope and good intentions. Adams knew that very well. Having traveled more than any of the other founding fathers by the time he was elected to the highest office, he knew how much other countries coveted all that America had.

Adams, however, was a visionary who understood long before Teddy Roosevelt that to "walk softly and carry a big stick" was the best strategy in the treacherous world of international politics. He knew England, France and Spain - all superpowers whose grip on the New World was slipping - wanted America back. He knew that the only way they could achieve that was to send men and arms here by ship. He knew that a strong, capably manned and well equipped Navy was the one sure way to stop that from happening.

I had planned to discuss John Adams' pioneering advocacy for the U.S. Navy and for privateering as well but there is no reason for me to reinvent the wheel. Click over to Naval History Blog to read historian David McCullough's brilliant lecture on just that subject. His focus on the importance of "the war that never was" - America's entirely nautical Quasi-War with France - is a fascinating evaluation of a time that Americans have largely chosen to forget but that was so very important to the shaping of the country and indeed the world that we know today.

The French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, once said of John Adams that his "pedantry, stubbornness, and self-importance will give rise to a thousand vexations."

Adams, in reply, said simply: "Thanks to God that he gave me stubbornness when I know I am right." Spoken like a true Yankee.

Header: America by David Armstrong via American Gallery ~ U.S. citizens, get out and vote today; it matters!


Timmy! said...

Great post, Pauline! And still relevant in today's political climate. McCullough's book on Adams and the HBO miniseries based on his book are very dear to me (as I know they are to you as well)...

“Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

And how about this one for today:

"In the midst of these pleasing ideas we should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections" - John Adams, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1797

Pauline said...

100% agree. President Adams may have been self-important, stubborn and pedantic (far be it from me to disagree with the French foreign minister) but he foresaw the troubles we face today with a clear, unblinking inner eye. That is something we Americans should be very thankful for.

Now go watch this and get pumped for democracy:


"Join or die!"

Dale B said...


You have once again struck on a story I have found of interest, Let me offer a link I Wrote on the Quasi-War.


A most interesting time.

Dale B

Charles L. Wallace said...

Very interesting, Pauline, and sure increased my understanding of John Adams. Thank you! (and, Go Navy! :-)

Pauline said...

Dale: thank you for sharing the link and your thoughts on the Quasi-War. If nothing else, it gave the U.S. Navy a chance to flex her muscles in preparation for the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812.

Wally: I'm a big fan of John and Abigail Adams. They were both brilliant individuals of the kind we rarely see these days. Most couples one meets now are more like Dan and Roseanne Connor... Myself and Timmy! included :)