Plymouth Rock

Imagine if you will, crumpled, travel-worn pilgrims who have been sailing for months—an eternity, it might as well have been in their minds. They’d been cramped together in a ship that could only seem to decrease in size every with every passing day of their arduous journey.

They were seeking freedom, a goal that made all the miles, uncertainty, and discomforts worth the unprecedented effort. They were dreaming of a new land, a fresh start in a place where they’d be free of tyranny. Collectively, they shared a dream, but it’s highly likely each also possessed their own individual aspirations. It would be interesting to consider the details of these personal plans. Was there someone onboard who wanted to be a merchant? A creator of a new system of governance? A farmer?

It’s hard to imagine all of the potential dreams that were sailing across the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the way to the New World. Nevertheless, all of these dreams were one step closer to fruition the moment the weary travelers stepped onto Plymouth Rock, in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Plymouth Rock was the first piece of the untamed land touched by the feet of the settlers who would eventually become known as the Pilgrims. It is a true relic of American freedom.

French historian and political thinker Alexis De Tocqueville said it so eloquently:

“This Rock has become an object of veneration in the United States. I have seen bits of it carefully preserved in several towns in the Union. Does this sufficiently show that all human power and greatness is in the soul of man? Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an instant; and the stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a great nation; its very dust is shared as a relic.”

Interestingly enough, formal references to Plymouth Rock were found over 100 years after their arrival. Knowledge of its existence was passed along by word of mouth and tradition.

No doubt when people see the remains of Plymouth Rock today [it has been cut in sections for preservation], many see just a rock fragment, not the fragments of the countless dreams that make the United States of America such a great and inspirational country.

—Brooke Musterman

 

About the Author: Harried yet happy barista Brooke Musterman is the author of Reptiles on Caffeine and the proprietor of the excellent blog Reptilian Rantings. Follow her on twitter and connect with her on Facebook.

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The Barbary Pirates

“From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli; we fight our country’s battles, in the air, on land, and sea.“

– The Marines’ Hymn (author unknown)

With the rise in commerce following the feudal self-sufficiency of the Middle Ages, technological advances in seafaring, and increased discovery and exploration arose a new villain:  pirates.

Based out of the North African states of Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers, the Barbary Pirates preyed on ships in the Mediterranean, plundering commercial vessels and conscripting the crews into slavery.  As they grew more successful, the pirates extended their reach to coastal Europe; at one point, they abducted an entire Irish village population for the slave trade.  It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million people were enslaved by the Barbary “corsairs”.

The European powers eventually calculated that it was cheaper to pay the pirates rather than go to war, so a system of “tributes” was established to secure safe passage.  American ships were protected by the British Navy during the colonial days; when the United States declared independence and went to war with Britain, France offered its protection to American vessels.

Following the Revolutionary War, the new nation was faced with a question:  pay the pirates, sacrifice goods and sailors, or fight?  Unsurprisingly, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams disagreed, the former wanting to fight and the latter favoring payment.  Jefferson even attempted to assemble a coalition of American and European nations for a mission, but Adams won the day, and the United States signed treaties offering payment.  By 1800, payment of tribute to the North African states was 10-20% of the entire federal budget.

The conflict was influential in the early history of the new Republic.  In the Federalist Papers, both Alexander Hamilton (#24) and James Madison (#41) reference the pirate threat and protection of American trade as justification for a more assertive federal government, and it was to protect the growing American merchant marine that the United States Navy was founded in 1794.

On taking the office of President in 1801, Jefferson decided to end the payment of tributes on both economic grounds and principle.  The Barbary response was a declaration of war on the United States by the state of Tripoli.   Without waiting for his own Congress to issue a formal war declaration, Jefferson sent a naval squadron to the Mediterranean to fight the pirates.  When the Marines and Navy captured Tripoli in 1805, they installed a new monarch who negotiated an end to the war.  The dress sword worn today by Marines symbolizes this first foreign soil victory for the young nation.

Emboldened by what they saw as American weakness following the War of 1812, the Barbary Pirates declared war again on the USA in 1815, this time led by the state of Algiers.  The US Navy was once more victorious, and the practice of paying ransoms and bribes to the pirates met its final end.  The Barbary States themselves would soon be ended by the European colonization of Africa.

— Dave Smith

About the Author:

Dave Smith is a hard-working capitalist and liberty-lover residing in Houston, Texas. Read more of his commentary at his blog, Semper Libertas and follow him on Twitter @SemperLibertas to connect with him directly.

Sources:

The Marines Website (http://www.marines.com)
The Thomas Jefferson Papers at The Library of Congress (http://memory.loc.gov/)
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the Barbary Pirates:  An Illustration of Relevant Costs for Decision-Making, Dennis Caplan, Iowa State University
Federalist Paper #24, Alexander Hamilton
Federalist Paper #41, James Madison
“Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates”, Christopher Hitchens, City Journal, Spring 2007

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