Nearly 150 years ago, Americans dedicated a cemetery at Gettysburg, just as we dedicate this monument to Richard Somers and his crew of the Intrepid today.??? They gathered?to honor the heroes of that battle, as we gather?to honor Richard Somers and the crew of the “Intrepid” for the battles they?fought more than 200 years ago.
Lincoln said?at that ceremony in Gettysburg that, “It is altogether ?fitting and proper? that we should do this”.? But he also reminded Americans not to forget the main purpose of these ceremonies.
Lincoln we must remember that?our words at these ceremonies do not honor the dead, for they have already earned their honor with their deeds.?? Lincoln said we gather at these ceremonies?to instead dedicate ourselves? the living,?? to the unfinished work they fought and died for.
Lincoln said that from these honored dead, we the living must “take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.??. . ? And that?government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”.
What exactly was the unfinished work of Richard Somers, and the crew of the Intrepid, and the several thousand young men who sailed with them more than 200 years ago?
What was so important about that? forgotten little war, against some forgotten “Barbary Pirates”, ?in an insignificant part of the world, many years ago?
Today, America is? big and powerful.?? And what were once the four Barbary Kingdoms, Morrocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Tripoli (now Libya),? are today weak,? and have?little impact on the rest of the world.??? Why was our war against them so important?
Two hundred?years ago, these “Barbary Pirate”?were very powerful and very important.?? Back then,?the United States?was weak and insignificant.
And by the way, those Barbary Pirates were not pirates at all.? Pirates are criminals under international law.? But the ships of the Barbara Kingdoms were all legal corsairs, or privateers, licensed by the Barbary governments when they legally declared war on non-Muslim nations.??? They were fully recognized and protected by European International Law.
Two hundred years ago, only five million people lived in ?the United States.??Our western border ended at the Mississippi River, and our farmers there struggled to ship?their goods to market down that river?because the Spanish and the French controlled it.?? The British never respected us or accepted our independence.?? They gave the French, not us, credit for winning our war against them.?????? America struggled to survive, in a dangerous world, with enemies all around us.?? We did not have a standing army, or a navy.
Meanwhile, the the four Barbary Kingdoms were rich and powerful and had very strong navies.??? They were? allies of the Turkish Empire, which still controlled a big chunk of Europe and the whole Middle East.?? Their warships were the fastest in the world because they were powered by the oars of slaves.??? They were extremely wealthy from their slave trade, and used their wealth to buy?the most modern weapons and equipment and hire some of the best sea captains from all over the world.
Last week, we honored?Christopher Columbus, an Italian sea captain who explored the Atlantic Ocean and discovered America for Spain.??? At that time, Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian who explored the Atlantic for Portugal.??? Giovanni Verrazzano left Italy to explore the Atlantic?for France.?? And Giovanni Caboti changed his Italian name to John Cabot and explored the Atlantic?for England.
Why did all of the best Italian sea captains leave Italy and the familiar Mediterranean sea to do this dangerous work far away in the uncharted ?Atlantic?
Because the Mediterranean Sea was far? too dangerous for European Christians.?? The Muslim Turks had just wiped out the Christian, Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire.? The largest church in the world, St. Sophia?s, which was even bigger than the Vatican, ?became the world?s largest mosque.?? And the four sea powers of North Africa, Barbary Kingdoms of? Morrocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli were allies of the Turks who attacked every Christian ship and coastal village in the Mediterranean.
That went on for? the ?next 300 years.? During that time, more than a million European Christians were captured from ships and coastal villages as far away as Iceland and Ireland, and sold into slavery in North Africa.? (Blond, blue eyed women brought the highest prices in the North African slave markets).
Even the powerful British, French, and Spanish navies could not stop them and protect their people.? So they?paid bribes or tribute to avoid attacks?and ransom to buy freedom for some of their people who were captured and sold as slaves.
When America became independent, our ships and people were also attacked, because we were no longer covered by the British bribes and tribute.
Because we had no navy, we too paid bribes, tribute, and ransoms to? protect our people.?? But the more we paid, the more we were attacked.??? In 1798,?French pirates attacked our ships? in the Caribbean.?? And when we asked?French government officials??to stop it, they?demanded bribes–just like the Barbary kings!
At that point,?Americans had enough.? We shouted ?Millions for defense.? Not one cent for tribute?.?? Congress spent millions of dollars to build a navy.
Ironically, the money Congress spent to build our navy was?money that was originally put in the budget to pay bribes, tribute, and ransoms to the Barbary Kingdoms.
One of the first to join our new navy was 20 year old Richard Somers of Somers Point.? He grew up in a small house on Shore Road at the corner of Bethel Road, just a few blocks from here.
This was ironic, because the family of Richard Somers, like most people who settled around here were Quakers.??? They were pacifists who did not believe in war, and who came to America to get away from the endless wars in Europe.
But slowly, even those Quakers understood that there was certain things worth fighting for.?? And that sometimes men had to fight and die in war, so that everyone else could live in freedom.
Three years after? America had a navy, President Thomas Jefferson asked Congress to send that navy to North Africa to fight the Barbary Kingdoms.?? Richard Somers, like most American ship commanders, was only 23 years old.
Today, we see the hypocrisy of Americans fighting and dying to stop North Africans from putting Americans into slavery,when Americans were bringing black Africans to this country as slaves.
But? many Americans at that time were also bothered by this.?? A few years before, Benjamin Franklin had written a remarkable satire where fictional Barbary Muslim Kings complained how freeing Christian slaves would hurt the North African economy?using the exact same arguments used by Southern politicians to defend slavery.
In fact, the movement to end slavery in America, which ended with the Civil War 60 years later, started right after Americans went to war against the slave trade of the Barbary Kingdoms.
When the small American fleet sailed to North Africa to fight the powerful Barbary Kingdoms,? most Europeans laughed at us.
They said, if the English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italians could not stop? the Barbary Kingdoms after 300 years, what could a handful of Americans do from 5,000 miles away???? They laughed at our inexperienced ship commanders who were in their twenties.?? They said even their Commodore Preble complained that he was fighting an? experienced and determined enemy with ?a pack of boys?.
The Europeans also doubted that? ?Yankee Doodles?,? backward farmers and shopkeepers from America were a match for fanatic Muslims who believed they would enjoy eternal life in paradise if they died fighting Christians.? Or that sailing ships built by the unsophisticated Americans could match the fast slave-powered galleys that the Barbary Kingdoms bought from the finest shipyards of Europe.
But? in just four years, those young Americans won battle after battle.? They astounded the world, ended the European slave trade, and made the Mediterranean safe again.
How did these young Americans do it?
Was it their own fanatic devotion to liberty and their nation of liberty.?? Something that few Europeans had, and a fighting spirit that was even more intense that that of the Muslims.
Was it because these new Americans chose better leaders, because a culture of liberty rewarded talent and performance, rather than accident of birth or political connections?
Was sit because these young Americans had been prepared since childhood to be independent and think for themselves???? Yes, Richard Somers was only 23 years old when he was put in command of a warship.?? But he completed an excellent basic education at age 16.? He mastered a useful trade?sailing and navigation by age 17, and by age 18 he skippered sailing ships from New York to Philadelphia.
When most European captains waited for orders to act, Americans acted on their own when they saw opportunities.
And Americans were so well fed and so accustomed to physical work and exercise that they were a few inches taller and much stronger than most Europeans, Turks, or North Africans of the day.
It was probably all of these things.??? Whatever it was, there was something exceptional and wonderful about these Americans.?? Those Americans inspired and changed the world.
Thanks to Richard Somers and those other young heroes, the whole world respected and admired our new nation of liberty.??? We fought for what was right, regardless of the consequences.?? We succeeded where others had failed.?? We fought to end slavery.??? We were a nation of ordinary people who did extraordinary things when blessed with liberty and prosperity.
How many of you learned the story I just told you in school??? Did you learn of this on the History Channel on TV??? Did you ever see this story in any Hollywood movie?
Or is the story of Richard Somers an inconvenient truth to those who blame America and Americans for every evil in the world.
That is something we should all know and be proud of.?? But too many of the people we trust to teach our nation?s history, are ashamed of our country, and don?t want to teach these good things about it.
But this story is true.?? And the more you read about it, the more you will learn details that prove beyond any doubt how true it is.
And that is why we are here today.???? As we dedicate this monument, let us also dedicate ourselves.??? To be like Richard Somers and his crew, and to teach our children and grandchildren to be like them.??? And to do whatever it takes to make our country again like this song, which was once our national anthem, and which I believe was inspired by Richard Somers and the others young Americans who sailed to that long forgotten war in the waters of North Africa.
Columbia the gem of the ocean.
The home of the brave and the free
The shrine of each patriots? devotion
The world pays homage to thee
They mandates make heroes assemble
When liberty?s form stands in view
They banners make tyranny tremble
When borne by the red white and blue