Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Delanceyplace.com 04/10/07-Our Anthem, Rum, and Opium

In today's excerpt--for some thirty years after the Revolutionary War, America struggled to defend its sea-going trade from the Barbary pirates of North Africa. The military commanders who led this fight were men such as Captain Stephen Decatur, Captain William Bainbridge, and Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon. Finally, through a combination of diplomacy and armed force, peace and free passage for merchants is secured and America enjoys the fruits of this victory:

"The legacy of America's Barbary Wars would live on in America. ... U.S. Marines still hymn 'to the shores of Tripoli' (though, in fact, they reached only Darna) and brandish a scimitar-shaped sword reminiscent of that presented by [Tripolitan leader] Hamid to Lieutenant O'Bannon [upon surrender]. The nation's oldest war monument, situated at Annapolis and commissioned by an act of Congress, commemorates the victory over North Africa. ... The most prominent symbol of the war, however, is perhaps the least acknowledged. First composed for Bainbridge and Decatur in 1805 and set to an old English drinking tune, the anthem for which Americans rise at ballgames and other public occasions originally described 'turbaned heads bowed' to the 'brow of the brave' and 'the star- spangled flag of our nation.' Only after the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 were the lyrics revised by their author, Francis Scott Key.

"A half century after its founding, the United States was still on its own, but fully capable of defending its trade. Freed from piracy, American commerce thrived. Mediterranean ports registered a four-fold increase in visiting American ships in the 1820s. The United States now supplied the region with some twelve million gallons of rum annually and purchased most of Turkey's opium crop. 'What a reproof to the Christians of America,' mourned one Yankee missionary after landing in Anatolia. 'Anticipated by her merchants finding a market for her poisons!' Most Americans evinced no such qualms, however, but rather reveled in their newfound strength."

Michael B. Oren, Power, Faith and Fantasy, Norton, 2007, pp. 77-8.


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