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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

John Paul Jones and Political Correctness

At Annapolis, the corporal remains of John Paul Jones are in a crypt that compares with that of Napoleon in Paris and Ulysses S. Grant in New York:


According to the Naval Academy website, "John Paul Jones has been lauded since 1775 as the Father of the US Navy.  His influence and leadership were foundational in the establishment of our Navy and in many ways the success of our War of Independence." On the other hand, some argue that Commodore John Barry was the real "father" of the American Navy.  (These two schools of thought ignore the role of Benedict Arnold at Valcour Island, and his naval heroics, but that is for another day).  For a discussion of the relative merits of the claim between Barry and Jones, see http://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2013-07/two-captains-breakfast.

By today's standards, Jones's reputation in retrospect might be subject to question.  He served on two slave ships, for a couple of years, finally leaving it--but he did voluntarily participate as an officer on those ships.  Evan Thomas, in John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, wrote that "John Paul sailed the infamous 'middle passage' between Africa and the slave plantations of the Caribbean," worked on slave ships for about three years.  Apart from that, he was charged with murder, but acquitted.  He killed another man while in command of a commercial ship in the West Indies.  His heralded victory while in command of the Bonhomme Richard against the Serapis nonetheless cost half his crew dead or wounded.  A summary of his life is on the website for the John Paul Jones Museum in Scotland, see http://www.jpj.demon.co.uk/.  Among the better biographies is Samuel Eliot Morrison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography.

Should Jones be de-heroicized? Did he redeem by leaving the trade? Was three years too much to forgive? He made money as a slaver, even if he did purportedly leave the trade due to developing a distaste for it.  There is a memorial to Confederate soldiers in Bolton Hill in Baltimore that has a sign on it asking for comment as to whether it should be taken down.  Is the crypt at Annapolis next?



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