The stamp of approval. U.S. Postal Service recognizes the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest floating commissioned naval vessel.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. For this article no other song would do besides the jaunty, rousing fight song of the United States Naval Academy, “Anchors Aweigh.” Strongly associated, too, with the United States Navy, it was composed in 1906 by Charles A. Zimmerman with lyrics by Alfred Hart Miles. Zimmerman was at the time a Lieutenant, and had been bandmaster of the United States Naval Academy Band since 1887. Miles was Midshipman First Class at the Academy, in the class of 1907. The song was originally written for the class of ’07 to be used as a football march. It takes great fortitude and control not to jump and march when you hear its unmistakable sound. I own up to having neither when the band in full swing goes by playing this. Go now to any search engine and find the rendition you like best. Then play it loud and clear to get yourself into the mood for this tale of “Old Ironsides.”

“Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!”

Perhaps the most perilous battle she faced, literally a matter of life and death occurred in September, 1830 when the pettifogging bureaucrats in the naval department, eager to pinch pennies, ordered the greatest ship of the young Republic, now past her prime, to be broken up, just so much salvage.

A young Boston Brahmin named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. learned of this intended act of short-sighted barbarism while at breakfast reading the “Boston Daily Advertiser.” At one he decided to take action to save the ship which could no longer fight to save herself. He titled his fast-penned poem “Old Ironsides” and it ran September 16, 1830.

“Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! Long has it waved on high, And many an eye has danced to see That banner in the sky; Beneath it rung the battle shout, And burst the cannon’s roar; The meteor of the ocean air Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood, Where knelt the vanquished foe, When winds were hurrying o’er the flood, And waves were white below, No more shall feel the victor’s tread, Or know the conquered knee; The harpies of the shore shall pluck The eagle of the sea.

Oh, better that her shattered bulk Should sink beneath the wave; Her thunders shook the mighty deep, And there should be her grave; Nail to her mast her holy flag, Set every threadbare sail, And give her to the god of storms, The lighting and the gale!”

By the evening of the 16th, author Holmes was famous… and his fervent verses, overwrought, overdone, overfraught, were making even the most committed pennypinchers abashed and ashamed. “Old Ironsides” was saved… but it was a very close run thing. One shudders to think what would have happened had young Mr. Holmes not been of a poetical disposition.

The great warship is born, 1797.

Now that the former American colonies had become the new American nation, the powerful British fleet, which had always protected them and cost them nothing, became the new nation’s prime antagonist. Thus, this nation found itself in the unenviable position of having virtually no ships to protect them and their crucial maritime commerce. Constructing a navy became a priority, at least for the mercantile East and New England. It was their ships and cargoes, after all, their British antagonists aimed to capture and disrupt.

And so, the USS Constitution, named by President George Washington, was authorized as one of 6 original frigates by the Naval Act of 1794. These ships were larger and more heavily armed and built than standard frigates of the period, a fact which was very important for all six ships, but particularly Constitution, which used this advantage to earn the most glorious battle record of them all.

Right from the first, she was needed and served in the Quasi-War with France (1798) and in the war against the Barbary pirates, practiced thieves of North Africa who had hitherto preyed with impunity on American vessels and crews. Constitution helped win the First Barbary War (1801). But these useful services were just a preface to her greatest service in the otherwise lackluster and regrettable War of 1812, a conflict both Americans and British wanted, but brought neither laurels, treasure, territory or satisfaction.

In this conflict, only the Constitution and its string of oceanic victories stood out, so much so that the British Admiralty ruled that warships combating Constitution and her sisters should never fight alone, only in packs. It was testament to just how good these vessels were, especially Constitution. She defeated one of His Majesty’s ships after another… each victory thrilled a nation irritated, frustrated, exasperated by what the American army couldn’t seem to do… and by a similar lack of results by other ships of the brand new navy.

But Constitution caused Americans to rush to the harbor and shout “Huzzah” as news arrived about victory… first, over the Guerriere. This was the engagement which gave Constitution its celebrated sobriquet. For cannon balls shot from the doomed British warship seemed to bounce off Constitution without effect. An unknown sailor shouted, “Her sides are made of iron!”… and the nickname stuck, to thrill the proud nation which looked for any hopeful news to cheer at in this entirely unhappy war.

HMS Java was next… then HMS Cyane… and HMS Levant… and HMS Lord Nelson, bearing the most famous name in British naval history… captured as a prize along with everything needed to celebrate Christmas, a meal they so enjoyed… with one toast after another heartily drunk from the defeated captain’s fine liquors. How sweet that was… and sweeter still the cheers, plaudits, and resounding thanks of the nation when on 15 May, 1815 she came home, full of honors and renown.

Now what?

As navy men will tell you, each new ship embodies the best of current technology; as these ships are launched they push previous vessels to obsolescence and the scrap heap, for there is nothing so useless as a vessel, costing money everyday, without the ability to fulfill its bellicose purpose. No ship, not even ones covered with glory like Constitution, can avoid this sad fate. Thus as she aged, the vultures and scrap metal merchants circled… and for all her victories, she also would have been broken up, no more to sail, protect the nation, and make every citizen proud. Sic transit gloria mundi. But providence intervened in the person of Mr. Holmes and his facile pen.

The subsequent history of Constitution and how she continued to serve is mundane compared to her maritime glories. No matter. She survived, though there were always those ready to sacrifice the legendary vessel to save a few pence. Her luck held… not least because of the many who worked mightily to save her and give her the honorable place in the Navy as the world’s oldest floating commissioned warship along with a museum which opened in 1976, the same year H.M. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip trod her decks when they visited Boston as part of the nation’s Bicentennial observations. Her ancestor George III, owner of the ships humbled by Constitution, no doubt spun in his imperial grave.

Now, just in time for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, the U.S. Postal Service has released the design for an “Old Ironsides” stamp. The beleaguered postal service, in the process of closing 3,700 post offices throughout the United States, hopes to use Constitution to sell commemoratives for needed funds. And because closing post offices means losing such sales… they have launched this new stamp on Facebook, thereby hoping to reach millions of folks of philatelic bent. And so her good uses continue… her future now, we hope, secured. Next time you visit Boston, do visit, for she has always been one of the glories of the nation and so she remains.

Book now for the bi-centennial of America’s least necessary war,The War of 1812. The scenery will be unbeatable!

Book now for the bi-centennial of America’s least necessary war,The War of 1812. The scenery will be unbeatable!

Smart Tips For Your Personal And Business Success Today……….Book now for the bi-centennial of America’s least necessary war,The War of 1812. The scenery will be unbeatable!

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Most Americans don’t know we had a dust-up in 1812 with our not-so-distant British colonial masters. Well, we did and from June 30-July 6,  2012 we’ll be celebrating it in high style in Boston, Massachusetts, then in 11 other East Coast American cities that had a role in the war. The festivities will run from 2012-2015, with millions expected to come see.No doubt the most popular and easily the most photogenic part of this commemoration will be the parade of the world’s tall ships, with more ofthese graceful relicts of days gone by assembled in one place than ever before.How many tall-ships will there be? William Armstrong, a spokesman for Operation Sail, the sponsor of this event along with the U.S. Navy, could not say exactly. Buthe did say that 120 nations have been invited to participate, and no doubt most of them will. As such it will draw visitors from around the globe to this living reminderof maritime majesty.Two extra special features make a trip to Boston de riguer when the tall-ships come.First, this is the home port of the USS Constitution, launched in 1797. It is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. Dubbed “Old Ironsides” in sea battle where enemy cannonballs were seen to bounce harmlessly off her timbers, she defeated 4superior British vessels, uniquely earning each of her captains a Congressional gold medal, perhaps in part because the Constitution’s victories were one of the very few aspects of the war in general to go well.The second reason why Boston was selected to lead off the festivities hasabsolutely nothing to do with commemorating the war and absolutely everything to do with creating a truly whiz-bang of a program. While the tall-ships grace the harbor and capture every eye, the city of Boston (and all true believers in America’snational past-time) will be celebrating the centennial of Fenway Park, a theme which will inspire every sportswriter to wax poetic, nostalgic, with nary a dry eye in the(uncomfortable, over-priced) bleachers.Not worth remembering.Sadly all this hard work and the unbeatable thrill of seeing a large percentage of the most graceful and interesting sailing vessels still extant celebrates an entirely forgettable war that should never have occurred and which showed that Yankeerhetoric (always soaring and bombastic) far outpaced Yankee management, efficiency,and organization. In short, the Yanks, having pulled off the biggest victory of the18th century, eviscerating British North American power and gaining independence,took the wrong moral from the tale and assumed their old nemesis was a paper tiger,always and forever to be defeated by the vainglorious sons of America. It was anarrogant point of view that was soon shown to be wistful thinking, and nothing more.Family quarrels are always the most pernicious and hurtful.From the very moment the British accepted the loss of her American coloniesevery patriotic Briton ached for a rematch with her now liberated and bumptious former colonies. Because this was a family quarrel, each side (and particularly the British) took the greatest possible pleasure in irritating Americans, outraging Americans, belittling Americans and humiliating Americans. The colonies might belost, well then, let the regime of insult, condescension, and mutual irritants commence.And because both sides were Britons, who knew each other as well as the back of their own hand, they knew exactly what to do to cause maximum pain and umbrage…and they did it with relish and unbridled joy, “Take this, serves you right!”For such antagonists another conflict was, and everyone knew it,  inevitable.It was simply a matter of when… thus both nations bided their time; Britain bit by inevitable bit undoing Napoleon and his evanescent imperium, anxious to face againthe unlikely winners who had humbled them with the gall and wormwood of 1776 and all that. It was a truly memorable antagonism, entirely personal, no holds barred, each and every encounter seen as an insult by the other.  As I said, it was a very nasty familymatter, casus belli unnecessary.Historians will tell you the War of 1812 had many causes and no doubt they are right.But all those who have fought for victory in their homes and offices will know the messy battles in operation “Top Dog” in which the opponents battle for ultimate supremacy.In such a situation, with the need for overall power and control paternal, primal, withmutual good will and correct relations impossible until the fundamental matter iswell and truly settled. They fought because each existed and that each found affronting and profoundly irksome.The British goal in the War of 1812, a war which commenced as Napoleon (thenretreating from Russia after his fate-tipping disaster, thereby liberating British power,money and focus to upend the Yanks, was to continue her near absolute command of the world’s seaways. “Rule Britannia” was not a song; it was profound national policy.By contrast, the Yanks, now controlling the most valuable real estate on earth, were anxious to get the rest… and this meant seizing Canada, every Yank  believing that Canadians were anxious to be liberated. They weren’t, but that made absolutely no difference. Liberated and Americanized they would be, like it (and they surely would),or not.The War of 1812 shaped up accordingly.The British, the world’s greatest sea power, aimed to cripple the new American Navy while making it quite clear that it would continue to impress seamen (particularlyAmerican seamen) into her vessels, whatever howls of outrage that might engender.Ships might be built… but able seamen were, as always, in short supply and thusEngland, whose very existence was predicated on maximum sea power, seized Americans wherever they could be had… without a shred of remorse.The goal of the Americans was to justify their (to them) hefty allocations of limited national resources in a navy. Thomas Jefferson and friends (one of whom, James Madison, was President in 1812), profoundly provincial, regarded a navy as an expensive luxury, hoped to hobble it. The navy needed victories to prove how essential it was. And, of course, there was the great prize, Canada. Voltaire may have regarded the Canadas as a patch of snow… but the War Hawks in Washington, D.C. did not.They craved Canada the worst way, and they went about wooing her showed thatit was indeed the very worst way.The ins and out of this struggle go beyond the confines of this article and may be found in “The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict” by Donald R. Hickey. Sufficeit to say the Yanks made a dog’s dinner of their Canadian incursions and not a single Canadian was sorry. Thus, they kept their snow to themselves. The British burnt Washington, D.C. including the White House, to avenge a similar barbarity bythe Yanks when they invaded Canada. And the greatest victory of the war by eitherside was the Battle of New Orleans, which in due course made General AndrewJackson, president of the  United States.No doubt some of  this history will be told next summer, but the futile inconsequenceof the war will mentioned,  if at all, sotto voce.You, however, now know and  will astonish all who pontificate in front of you. For youhave heard the story here… so do book your reservations now with Operation Sail the better to see the key places in this forgettable conflict about to be commemorated.

About the Author:
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also the author of 18 best-selling business books. Republished with author’s permission by Howard Martell
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