John Adams and the US Navy

Earlier this month, Mary Beth and I attended the Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City, Michigan. This festival of sailing ships is a periodic event, but this was our first time going. We attended on the opening Thursday and, instead of going to the docks along the Saginaw river, we thought we would travel closer to Saginaw Bay and try to see the ships coming in under sail. Pride of Baltimore 3Now, I’m not a sailor, or even really a boater, but there is something about seeing sailing ships, especially ships of some size, coming in under the power of the wind that is thrilling to me. Our vantage point in a riverside park in Essexville, Michigan wasn’t far enough out to sea to actually see the ships coming in solely by wind power, but many of them had their sails unfurled, giving the illusion of natural propulsion. Some members of a local boating club saluted each of the eleven ships (one from as far away as Denmark) with a mock cannon blast. Each ship answered the salute, either with mock cannons of its own, or by blowing the ship’s horn. Pride of Baltimore 2The sky was bright blue, the temperature not too hot; all in all a great day.
This experience got me thinking about the US Navy. The Tall Ships Celebration website told me that some of the ships I was seeing would be participating in a mock lake battle on Labor Day, recreating a naval battle in Lake Erie during the War of 1812. I already knew how important the French fleet had been to the struggling 13 colonies during the Revolutionary War, and that without the protection of those ships, the war with Great Britain might well have been lost.
That same idea resonated with John Adams, too. “It was John Adams who drafted the first set of rules and regulations for the new navy — a point of pride for him as long as he lived. Indeed, in the 25 years that John Adams served his country, and especially as President, in his advocacy of a strong navy he stood second to none.” (David McCullough) Adams called the Navy “the wooden walls of America,” and fought tirelessly to create and strengthen it. No early test of the American Navy was greater than that faced during the War of 1812. In the ocean, and on the Great Lakes, the ships authorized by Adams during his Presidency performed brilliantly, far better, actually, than our land-based troops, which suffered defeat after defeat until Andrew Jackson’s post-peace victory in New Orleans (where he was aided by the ships of pirates). One-time friend turned political enemy Thomas Jefferson wrote Adams: “I sincerely congratulate you on the success of our little navy, which must be more gratifying to you than to most men, as having been the early and constant advocate of wooden walls.” Today, John Adams is known as the “Father of the Navy.”
I was also reminded, watching the ships enter the harbor in Bay City, of our trip to Massachusetts over the July 4th Holiday two years’ ago, when Mary Beth and I had the chance to tour the USS Constitution. 20110702_0297Authorized by President Washington, built in Boston, and boasting 44 guns, this oldest of all surviving US naval vessels was launched on October 21, 1797, during the first year in office of John Adams and just nine days before his 62nd birthday. Whether through superior building materials or fantastic luck, the Constitution withstood every assault aimed at her, earning her the nickname “Old Ironsides.” Much as Francis Scott Key’s ode to the “Star-Spangled Banner” sustaining over Fort McHenry, the survival and victories of the Constitution bucked up a nation desperately in need of positive news. Indeed, the victories of the Navy are thought by some historians to have played a large part in the wearing down process that finally brought Britain to the treaty table. Adams must have been very proud.
These topics, and many others, are touched on in GEM Theatrics’ production of Mary G. Kron’s “My Dearest Friend” available for booking at your venue right now. We’re thrilled to announce that the One-Act version of “My Dearest Friend” will be produced at Davenport University in September, 2013, as part of the Constitution Week commemoration. The full Two-Act version will be produced as part of the Lake Effect Fringe Festival at Grand Rapids’ Dog Story Theater February 28 – March 2, 2014. More details will soon appear on our website: http://www.gemtheatrics.com
We hope to see all of you at one of our performances!!
(All photos (c) Gary E. Mitchell; all rights reserved)

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