Friday, December 07, 2007

If Only Gore in 2000 Had Reacted Like Adams in 1800

The 2000 episode of Al Gore conceding, and then calling back to retract the concession has caused the biggest division in the United States since the Civil War. Of course the election was close in 2000, but it was even closer in 1800. Unlike John Adams, Al Gore was not an incumbent President. Still Al Gore the incumbent Vice President was a legend in his own mind (father of the internet, inspiration of novel & movie Love Story, and discoverer of toxics in Love Canal). The obvious answer is that Al Gore is not anything like John Adams.

Before George Washington was elected President both Adams and Jefferson served this country as ambassador to England and France respectively. They wrote letters to each other. They were trying to put together a coalition of countries to fight the war on terror against the Islamists that were hijacking merchant ships in the Mediterranean, and holding the crews for ransom. Sound familiar? Before the Revolutionary War the American ships were protected from these thugs by the British Navy and the payment England made to these Islamists. During the war they were protected by France in the same fashion. After the war ended the USA lost this protection. From the Thomas Jefferson Papers
Jefferson prepared a detailed plan for the interested states. "Portugal, Naples, the two Sicilies, Venice, Malta, Denmark and Sweden were favorably disposed to such an association," Jefferson remembered, but there were "apprehensions" that England and France would follow their own paths, "and so it fell through."

As Jefferson wrote to Adams in a July 11, 1786, letter, "I acknolege [sic] I very early thought it would be best to effect a peace thro' the medium of war." Paying tribute will merely invite more demands, and even if a coalition proves workable, the only solution is a strong navy that can reach the pirates, Jefferson argued in an August 18, 1786, letter to James Monroe: "The states must see the rod; perhaps it must be felt by some one of them. . . . Every national citizen must wish to see an effective instrument of coercion, and should fear to see it on any other element than the water. A naval force can never endanger our liberties, nor occasion bloodshed; a land force would do both." "From what I learn from the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of their money," Jefferson added in a December 26, 1786, letter to the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, "it will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them."

Jefferson's plan for an international coalition foundered on the shoals of indifference and a belief that it was cheaper to pay the tribute than fight a war. The United States's relations with the Barbary states continued to revolve around negotiations for ransom of American ships and sailors and the payment of annual tributes or gifts. Even though Secretary of State Jefferson declared to Thomas Barclay, American consul to Morocco, in a May 13, 1791, letter of instructions for a new treaty with Morocco that it is "lastly our determination to prefer war in all cases to tribute under any form, and to any people whatever," the United States continued to negotiate for cash settlements. In 1795 alone the United States was forced to pay nearly a million dollars in cash, naval stores, and a frigate to ransom 115 sailors from the dey of Algiers. Annual gifts were settled by treaty on Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli.

Fred Thompson wrote an interesting article at Townhall about Adams and Jefferson.
After the Revolution, U.S. ships were sailing the world in search of trade without British protection. With no real navy to protect our merchants and travelers, American vessels and citizens were being targeted for looting, enslavement and ransom. The enemy was the so-called Barbary pirates -- agents of the North African provinces of the Ottoman Caliphate.

Ransom and protection money were demanded and paid. Stories of terrible treatment of American men and women in the dungeons of North Africa were well known. Behind it all, the country was having a pro- and anti-war debate.

On the one hand were those who took the "no blood for trade" approach. They had legitimate concerns about the cost and political impact of maintaining a standing military. They favored negotiations and payments rather than fighting. For a long time, their side was winning the argument.
In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams even went to London to negotiate directly with the envoy from Tripoli.

Several historians and writers have reminded us recently of the ambassador’s nearly forgotten answer. Fortunately, Jefferson prepared a written report for the government and left other records of the incident. Here’s a description from The Atlantic Monthly in 1872:

“Disguising their feelings as best they could, they ‘took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury.’ The ambassador replied that it was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.” He claimed every one of their guys who was “slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise."

This answer may have helped sway the debate to the side of those who favored military response over further attempts at diplomacy. Some believe it had a personal impact on Jefferson himself, though higher and higher ransoms probably helped too. Congress finally acted, creating the US Navy in 1794. This included approval for the construction and manning of six frigate warships, including the USS Constitution -- which is afloat and commissioned to this day.

Still, though, congress refused to act directly against the Barbary pirates for years. Eventually, between 10 and 20 percent of U.S. revenues would be paid annually without ever buying actual safety for Americans. In the end, Thomas Jefferson acted on his own, sending forces into harm’s way. America entered into its first and protracted foreign war. From beginning to end, in fact, the conflict lasted approximately 14 years. I couldn’t tell you, by the way, if the Barbary wars were ever described as a “quagmire” or "lost."

I won’t describe here the taking of Tripoli by courageous American soldiers. And I sure don’t have time to talk about America's eventual victory over the forces of that era's religiously justified terrorism. I would though encourage you to read about it for yourself. It's a great story and it holds an important lesson about the nature of the world.

Sometimes folks around the world mock Americans for not having more of a sense of history. They might be right, but I think it is often for a good reason. Americans are a people who look to the future instead of the past. We hope and believe that things can and will get better. We are more than willing to forgive our old enemies and move forward together in peace. So we tend to forget the bad things we left behind.

Unfortunately, some of our enemies feel differently. They neither forgive nor forget. Listening to the messages of al Qaida's leaders, you understand that they see their old defeats in very personal and contemporary terms. They are in a “long war” against us, even if we don’t know it. And they’re committed to winning it.

Most of the time people don't think much of John Adams 1 term sandwiched between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson presidencies. John Adams won the first contested race for the presidency, and at that time the defeated opponent became the Vice President. I'm glad that's been changed. John Adams biggest headache was trying to keep the US from getting involved in the war between France and England. The Federalists led by Hamilton wanted the US to side with England, and Jefferson wanted the US to side with France. John Adams signed a bill from Congress, the Aliens and Seditions Act.

The Acts were composed of four laws, supposedly dealing with the protection of national security, the Alien Enemies Act, the Alien Friends Act, the Naturalization Act, and the Sedition Act. The Alien Enemies Act defined how the government could determine whether foreigners posed a threat in wartime–this Act was not used in 1812. The second, the Alien Friends Act, allowed the president to deport any foreigner–in peacetime and in war–whom he deemed a threat to the country. The third, the Naturalization Act, lengthened the time it took become a citizen of the US from five to fourteen years. The fourth and final act, also the most controversial and unconstitutional, the Sedition Act, forbade any individual to oppose "any measure or measures of the United States," or to speak, write or print anything about the president that caused him "contempt or disrepute." The Sedition Act expired in 1801, but not before four of the five major Republican newspapers had been charged with sedition and several foreign- born writers threatened with expulsion. Of the seventeen people charged under the Act, ten were convicted. The acts were meant to help solidify the Federalists hold on power in the 1798 and 1800 elections. Although Adams never vigorously enforced these laws, they quickly became synonymous with the Federalist Party and Adams in particular. Far from helping the Federalists, however, the Alien and Sedition Acts turned much of the country against them.

I boldfaced to make a point that path to citizenship was an issue then as well as today.

From a description of John Adams loss in 1800:
In the last moments of his administration, he appointed a cadre of Federalist judges to life-time spots in the judiciary–a move that became known as the "midnight judges." His judges included John Marshall, the future Supreme Court justice who would solidify the role of the powerful judiciary as only the best Federalists could have hoped. Embittered by his loss, Adams left office with a major breach of presidential etiquette: He left without attending Jefferson's inauguration and left behind only an abrupt note explaining a gift of "seven horses" to the President's House.

I found an interesting blog about Adams and Jefferson in their later years
Adams and Jefferson
"You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other."

Adams's Friend (and Rival)

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did patch things up, despite the fact that Adams did not even attend Jefferson's inauguration. Adams was disappointed in losing to Jefferson, but was also grieving the loss of his son Charles when Jefferson was sworn in. There also had been an incident during the campaign that underscores the differences between the two men. Jefferson, when presented with an Adams-related scandal he knew to be false, chose to use this during the campaign to further his own fortunes. Adams, who held Jefferson-related scandalous information he knew to be true, refused to stoop to that level of behavior. His integriy intact, he nevertheless lost the election. Though Abigail Adams understandably never forgave Jefferson his behavior, Adams and Jefferson eventually set aside their bad blood. The letters between them in their waning years remain some of the best depictions of that time in history that survive.

What initially united them reunited them at death. Both died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the Declaration's 50th anniversary. Adams was 90 and Jefferson was 83. It was said that Adams's last words were, "Thomas Jefferson survives." A less certain account details that Jefferson's last words, upon dying several hours earlier, were "At least John Adams lives on."

Somehow, I don't think Al Gore and George W Bush will ever patch things up, and this troubles me about the future of the united States of America.

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