The third president of the United States was the first to expand into the American West, combat religious fundamentalism and terrorists abroad, and think about the future of naval warfare: using submarines and surface ships to provide defense of the States and forward-deploying forces for maritime security. He foresaw peace through global commerce between nations – globalization.
In "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" Jon Meacham explores the complicated way Jefferson combined pure reason with muddy politics as Governor of Virginia, congressman, Secretary of State, President, diplomat in France, and as statesman and philosopher, always trying to achieve "the Founders' dream of a nation beyond partisanship."
|Battle of Tripoli Harbor, Aug. 3, 1804|
Jefferson wrote, "Would it not be better to offer them an equal treaty? If they refuse, why not go to war with them? ... We ought to begin a naval power, if we mean to carry on our own commerce. Can we begin it on a more honorable occasion or with a weaker foe?"
According to Meacham:
"On Saturday, August 1, 1801, Andrew Sterett of the Enterprize (Enterprise), who was serving under [Commodore Richard] Dale, defeated the Tripolitan vessel Tripoli near Malta. 'Too long ... have those barbarians been suffered to trample on the sacred faith of treaties, on the rights and laws of human nature,' Jefferson told Sterett. 'You have shown your countrymen that that enemy cannot meet bravery and skill united.'"Meacham judges Jefferson as "more of a chess player than a traditional warrior."
"The Art of Power" is carefully researched and backed up with good source material on both sides of the Atlantic, including unpublished papers. Unfortunately there's not much more discussion about Jefferson's complicated views about developing a Navy. Meacham piques our interest in other writings by Jefferson.
In a letter published in a collection by the Library of America, "Writings: Autobiography, Notes on the State of Virginia, Public and Private Papers, Addresses, Letters," and written in 1807, President Jefferson communicates his views about naval strategy with Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine. Jefferson discusses use and limitations of torpedoes (mines), which would be used extensively a few years later in the War of 1812, and half a century later in the Civil War by Cmdre. David Farragut in the Battle of New Orleans.
In his letter to Fulton, Jefferson calls for more commitment to developing and employing submarines. And he floats the idea of creating a corps of submariners.
"I consider your torpedoes as very valuable means of defence of harbors, & have no doubt that we should adopt them to a considerable degree. Not that I go the whole length (as I believe you do) of considering them as solely to be relied on ... But I have ever looked to the submarine boat as most to be depended on for attaching them [torpedoes], & tho' I see no mention of it in your letter, or your publications, I am in hopes it is not abandoned as impracticable. I should wish to see a corps of young men trained to this service. It would belong to the engineers if at land, but being nautical, I suppose we must have a corps of naval engineers, to practise & use them. I do not know whether we have authority to put any part of our existing naval establishment in a course of training, but it shall be the subject of a consultation with the Secretary of the Navy. Genl Dearborne has informed you of the urgency of our want of you at N Orleans for the locks there. I salute you with great respect & esteem."Jefferson's views of the Navy seem to have evolved over time. Earlier writings in the 1780s questioned the need for a naval force to compete with European powers. (Eventually, though, especially in response to the Barbary threats, Jefferson understood the need for a strong means to back up peaceful intentions.)
In Query XXII of his "Notes on the State of Virginia" written in 1781-1782, Jefferson offers predictions that have been realized centuries later after wars against Britain, Japan and Germany – cooperative interaction with other nations:
"It should be our endeavour to cultivate the peace and friendship of every nation, even of that which has injured us most, when we shall have carried our point against her. Our interest will be to throw open the doors of commerce, and to knock off all its shackles, giving perfect freedom to all persons for the vent of whatever they may chuse to bring into our ports, and asking the same in theirs."Jefferson's own words, found in separate collections, help expand revelations in Meacham's biography, which in words and impressive artwork shows many of the key people in Jefferson's life.
The dustcover of Meacham's book proclaims:
"The father of the ideal of individual liberty, of the Louisiana Purchase, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the settling of the West, Jefferson recognized that the genius of humanity – and the genius of the new nation – lay in the possibility of progress, of discovering the undiscovered and seeking the unknown. From the Declaration of Independence to elegant dinners in Paris; from politics in Philadelphia and New York to the capital on the Potomac; from his complicated life at Monticello, his breathtaking house and plantation in Virginia, to the creation of the University of Virginia, Jefferson was central to the age."Jefferson's passion and courage gave us the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Some could say Jefferson's foresight and commitment to progressive development gave us the birth of maritime strategy. And one could even say his expansion of the American West – eventually through Colorado to Washington State – led directly to this weekend's NFL rematch between Peyton Manning of Denver and Russell Wilson of Seattle.