Great American Duels #2

Challenger: James Barron-  Former Commodore, United States Navy

Challenged: Stephen Decatur-  Commodore, Commissioner, United States Navy

The Offense:  James Barron was court martialed for his poor handling of the USS Chesapeake during the confrontation with the HMS Leopard in 1807.  Decatur served on the court and recommended Barron be barred from command for five years.  Barron spent those five years in Denmark composing a lengthy defense of his actions.  Upon his return, he applied for reinstatement to Naval command.  Decatur was one of many officers who opposed Barron’s reentry into the service.  Long jealous of Decatur’s fame, Barron singled out his younger rival and challenged him to a duel. 

Relegated to historical obscurity

Background:  Stephen Decatur’s naval career was marked by acts of heroism and exceptional performance under fire.  He was the youngest man in naval history to reach the rank of Captain and distinguished himself in the first and second Barbary Wars.  His stunning victories early in the War of 1812 helped keep morale high during some of the darker days of the conflict.  These exploits established him as one of country’s first heroes and earned the resentment of many fellow officers.   James Barron served without much distinction along side Decatur, rising to the rank of Commodore by 1812.  Barron’s failure to properly oppose the boarding action of the HMS Leopard cost him his commission.  Decatur’s position on the court-martial, as well as his vocal opposition to Barron’s reinstatement led to the duel.  By 1820, dueling was such a problem for the US Navy’s officer corps, there was actually a shortage of properly trained commanders.  

A life most bold and daring….

The Field of Honor:  March 22, 1820–Neither Second in the duel was a suitable choice, for both men wanted to see Stephen Decatur dead.  Barron’s Second was the unpredictable Jesse Elliott, an officer known for his burning ambition and hatred of Decatur.  Commodore William Bainbridge was chosen by Decatur, which was an unfortunate decision.  Bainbridge blamed Decatur for stealing his command during the second Barbary War.  The Seconds negotiated a deadly eight pace turn, guaranteeing bloodshed.  Decatur, a crack shot, did not plan on killing his challenger and made it known in the negotiations.  It is doubtful  either Second mentioned this to Barron.  The count was given by Bainbridge, shots had to be fired after ‘one’ and before ‘three’.  The duelists fired before ‘two’  and both went down with serious wounds.  Barron was struck in the lower abdomen but would survive.  Decatur was hit through the pelvis, severing three arteries, sealing his fate.  Decatur cried out, “Oh Lord, I’m a dead man!”   Barron answered back, “I forgive you, God bless you Decatur!”    The hero’s  funeral was attended by every member of Congress, the entire Supreme Court, President James Monroe, and over 10,000 citizens. 

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Exit Interview Pt. 3

Assessment of Barack Obama’s Presidency… Practically Historical attempts a nonpartisan analysis of the 44th President.


The Ugly

I'm not Bush

I’m not Bush

Arab sprung: Obama’s foreign policy was rudderless, and often alienated long-time allies.  The desperate attempt to sever ties to the Bush years was praised by the international community, but offered restored hope and strategic leniency to our enemies.  Hard withdrawal deadlines, reluctance to utilize force, and a willingness to support pell-mell regime change emboldened our enemies abroad and dangerously weakened our strategic position in the world.  The Iran nuclear deal could seriously destabilize the Middle East for years to come.


Underestimating the Junior Varsity: By 2009, few could argue that Bush’s surge of 2006 had pacified Iraq.  Obama’s stubborn adherence to a strategic recommendation(troop withdrawal by 2012)  by Bush officials may have won him political points, but it sacrificed the hard won peace in the Iraqi provinces.  ISIS emerged as a legitimate threat to peace in the region and US national security.  Obama’s half-hearted military response allowed once pacified regions of Iraq to fall under ISIS control.  His refusal to acknowledge the real threat these fanatics represent has allowed their influence to spread outside the region.  Miscalculations in Syria have prevented Obama from establishing a coherent policy for battling this very real threat to our security. 

Plan needed

Plan needed

Not my signature:  Every President wants to leave a lasting mark on domestic policy.  Obama’s legislative achievement was the Affordable Care Act- actual health insurance reform.  Every Democratic President since Truman wanted to reform the industry and cover more people.   The terribly complex and confounding legislation was heavy on regulation, passed on a party-line vote, and lacked public support nearly from its inception.  The law failed in many of its most basic goals and has wreaked havoc across the country with poorly conceived exchanges and ideologically driven mandates

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In A Dangerous World

“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.”


These are not the words of George W. Bush… Ronald Reagan, or even John Kennedy.  This is the essence of the Truman Doctrine- a clear outline for America’s strategic place in the world.  Though primarily written by Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s plain spoken manner made the intent abundantly clear.  Our security at home was directly tied to our vigilance abroad.

Carry the battle to them...

Carry the battle to them…

Would such decisive language be welcomed… by Democrats today? Politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to be embracing the self-destructive tenants of isolationism.  They are deluded as were our early leaders that neutrality was not only desired, but possible.

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Too Far Too Fast

The Warren Court had made a habit… out of rewriting Constitutional law.  Landmark civil rights cases such as Baker vs. Carr and Brown v. Board of Education drastically altered the segregated South, while Engel vs. Vitale and Griswold vs. Connecticut would fuel the culture wars for decades to come.  It was the criminal procedure mandates handed down by Earl Warren that have drawn his court’s legacy into question.  Brady vs. Maryland, Gideon vs. Wainwright, and  Escobedo vs. Illinois radically altered due process and police procedure, some argue to the detriment of law enforcement.  No other case symbolizes the Warren Court’s activism better than Miranda vs. Arizona, handed down on June 13, 1966.

Legislating from the bench

Few cases are as misunderstood…and detested as the ‘Miranda’ ruling.  The basic holding was that due process begins when a suspect is taken into custody, not when they enter legal proceedings.  Warren was not satisfied with a simple procedural question, taking the decision to the Constitutional level-

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.

“The Court is not a general haven for reform movements”.[

 It was now the responsibility of the state to inform the citizens of their 5th and 6th amendment protections The Warren Court was deeply divided in delivering a 5-4 decision.  Justice John Marshall Harlan did not approve of Warren’s reach, “nothing in the letter or the spirit of the Constitution or in the precedents squares with the heavy-handed and one-sided action that is so precipitously taken by the Court in the name of fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities….This Court is forever adding new stories to the temples of constitutional law, and the temples have a way of collapsing when one story too many is added.”    

Civil libertarians argue the technical risks of freeing criminals …is worth the protections the opinions offer, but Justice Byron White could not concur, “I have no desire whatsoever to share the responsibility for any such impact on the present criminal process. In some unknown number of cases, the Court’s rule will return a killer, a rapist or other criminal to the streets and to the environment which produced him, to repeat his crime whenever it pleases him. As a consequence, there will not be a gain, but a loss, in human dignity.”


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Simply Awful History Movies Part 2

Early in 2000, the Smithsonian Museum of American History announcedit would assist in the production of an epic film about the American Revolution starring Mel Gibson.  Historians, history buffs, and living historians were further enticed by the original script detailing the exploits of “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion.  Disappointment with “The Patriot” started early, as producers ordered a substantial rewrite of the script after researching the complex life of Marion.  Apparently, a slave-owning Indian fighter cannot be heroic in a major Hollywood production.  Gibson instead portrays an anachronism- a South Carolina plantation owner who allows free blacks to work his land; a rebel torn between his family and the American cause.

Cute kids mask bad movie

Cute kids mask bad movie

It’s as if a group of impressionable, idealistic college sophomores… sat down and scripted the American Revolution “as it should have been.”  Young women stand up and chastise their elders in town meetings, slaves struggle for freedom in the deepest parts of South Carolina, and the evil imperialist British forces commit mass murder similar to the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre of 1944.  There’s plenty of speechifying, Gibson’s slow boiling, hunky Heath Ledger, and adorable children- but the film is woefully short on history.  Couldn’t the Smithsonian have advised on more than just costuming?  Gibson’s rage is incapable of overwhelming such a careless script  (the same script that compares British soldiers to Nazis.)  The Hollywood community doesn’t have the courage to make a film about the complexities of American history.  We are either preached to with politically correct drivel like “Dances with Wolves,” or insulted with comic-book nonsense like this monstrosity.

1776 or 1944?

1776 or 1944?




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Facts in Five

Jefferson : Foreign Policy edition

  • First War on Terror-  Jefferson never supported large standing armies until he was forced to send a fleet to the Mediterranean and Marines to the shores of Tripoli  in 1801.  Jefferson signed the bill creating the US Military academy at West Point.
  • Deal for the ages-  Always a strict constructionist, Jefferson quickly altered his interpretation of the Constitution when the French government offered the Louisiana territory for three cents an acre.  No nation had ever purchased an empire. 
  • Getting a jump on things-  Before the ink was dry on the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson had commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The Corps of Discovery were to explore the Northwest Passage and lay claim to land on the Pacific coast.
  • Snake in the Grass-  Frustrated by his rejections in the political circles of Washington and New York, Vice-President Aaron Burr organized a private militia and openly spoke of organizing the Louisiana Territory into an independent state.  Jefferson called out the troops and had Burr arrested for treason. 
Commander-in-Chief when needs be

Commander-in-Chief when needs be

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Happy Birthday Uncle Billy

William T. Sherman was born on this day… in 1820.  Reviled by southerners to this day, nonetheless, Sherman stands as an American military icon.  His doctrine of total war has been tossed aside as an aberration, American military personnel have been paying the steep price for ‘partial war’ ever since.  Sherman realized that fighting a war in enemy territory meant not only facing the rival combatants, but also the hostile populace as well.  Sherman knew an army had to ‘Go Roman’ or go home, ” You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it”   

“My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us”


Sherman also hated politics and never blurred the line… between civilian and military authority,  “The carping and bickering of political factions in the nation’s capital reminds me of two pelicans quarreling over a dead fish.”   Several efforts were made to get Sherman onto a presidential ticket following the war, but he always resisted.  Unlike many of his peers, Sherman accepted his place as a soldier,  “I hereby state, and mean all that I say, that I never have been and never will be a candidate for President; that if nominated by either party, I should peremptorily decline; and even if unanimously elected I should decline to serve.”   

This proclamation has been quoted by politicians from Lyndon Johnson to Dick Cheney.


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