Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Tardy Birthday Greeting

We want to hurry up and wish a tardy "Happy Birthday" to the U.S. Navy. As of yesterday, it's 233 years old.

An angry reader brought this to our attention when he wrote last evening:
I live in Pensacola, Florida , a navy town? Today was the U S Navy's 233rd birthday. Not one word was printed in the Pensacola News Journal. Not one word was said on channel 3. Not one word was said on radio. When the economy tanks or base closure comes around we send delegations to Washington to expound on what great support we give the navy. Where were we today? It makes me sad. So let me say it to all those wonderful people who serve---HAPPY BIRTHDAY NAVY.
We can't answer for the newspaper, the TeeVee station, or Radio Land, but this blog neglected to celebrate the occasion because, frankly, we just didn't know about it.

Somehow, amidst all of the other birthdays we've carefully recorded in our Journal of Dates to Remember -- for the spouse, friends, the ex-spouse, the aunt, the inlaws, the grandchildren, cousins, nephews, nieces, and shirttail relatives who didn't vote for Bush -- the U.S. Navy's birthday just didn't make it.

We are profoundly sorry for that. This being Florida, we need to add, "Please don't shoot us."

The birth of the U.S. Navy actually is an interesting bit of history, which the Navy History Museum tells well:
On Friday, October 13, 1775, meeting in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress voted to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a cruise of three months to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores to the British army in America. This was the original legislation out of which the Continental Navy grew and as such constitutes the birth certificate of the navy.

To understand the momentous significance of the decision to send two armed vessels to sea under the authority of the Continental Congress, we need to review the strategic situation in which it was made and to consider the political struggle that lay behind it.

Americans first took up arms in the spring of 1775 not to sever their relationship with the king, but to defend their rights within the British Empire. By the autumn of 1775, the British North American colonies from Maine to Georgia were in open rebellion. Royal governments had been thrust out of many colonial capitals and revolutionary governments put in their places. The Continental Congress had assumed some of the responsibilities of a central government for the colonies, created a Continental Army, issued paper money for the support of the troops, and formed a committee to negotiate with foreign countries. Continental forces captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain and launched an invasion of Canada.

In October 1775 the British held superiority at sea, from which they threatened to stop up the colonies' trade and to wreak destruction on seaside settlements. In response a few of the states had commissioned small fleets of their own for defense of local waters. Congress had not yet authorized privateering. Some in Congress worried about pushing the armed struggle too far, hoping that reconciliation with the mother country was still possible.

Yet, a small coterie of men in Congress had been advocating a Continental Navy from the outset of armed hostilities. Foremost among these men was John Adams, of Massachusetts. For months, he and a few others had been agitating in Congress for the establishment of an American fleet. They argued that a fleet would defend the seacoast towns, protect vital trade, retaliate against British raiders, and make it possible to seek out among neutral nations of the world the arms and stores that would make resistance possible.

So it seems, John Adams was the father of the U.S. Navy as well as second cousin to the Jerry Rubin of his time, Sam Adams. The first commander of the U.S. fleet was Esek Hopkins (1718-1802), who seems to have made a career of being a pirate before the American Revolution.

It's always both humbling and inspiring to be reminded that our nation, like the U.S. Navy, was conceived and birthed by political radicals, street protesters, and pirates.

Esek Hopkins was born on April 26. Mark that date, please, or you might be getting an angry email next year.

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