Letters and Replies, Spring 2010 - The Objective Standard

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing Paul Beard’s excellent article regarding the California Coastal Commission. Perhaps it was intended to be implied, but nowhere in the article was it stated that Pacific Legal Foundation, whose Coastal Land Rights Project Mr. Beard now heads, has represented the property owners in all of the cases he described.

But for the donors who support PLF and other public interest legal foundations concerned with individual rights, these and similar cases would not likely have been pursued, and neither the Coastal Commission nor equivalent governmental agencies in other states would face much challenge—owners of these properties simply could not afford, or would not risk, the litigation. One cannot change the culture through law, but as Mr. Beard notes, litigation is a vital means of raising issues and buying time for a broader intellectual movement to educate the public on the importance of property rights.

As both a former attorney with PLF and a colleague of Mr. Beard’s, I may have a bias, but I wanted to see explicit credit for their persistent advocacy where credit is due.

Larry Salzman

San Diego, California

Commodore Edward Preble

To the Editor:

After reading Doug Altner’s article “The Barbary Wars and Their Lesson for Combating Piracy Today” [TOS, Winter 2009–10], I came across the name Edward Preble in an encyclopedia and read that he was Stephen Decatur’s commanding officer. Might Mr. Altner know anything worthy of mention about this gentleman?

Norma Goudie

Victoria, British Columbia

Doug Altner replies:

Yes, Commodore Edward Preble was an interesting and heroic man. In September 1803, during the First Barbary War, the Jefferson administration selected him to take command of the ongoing seven-ship, one-thousand-man blockade of Tripoli’s harbor. (This blockade was the focus of the “awe and talk” strategy Jefferson employed in the early part of the war, whereby he hoped to pressure Tripoli into entering into a more favorable treaty with the United States.) One of Preble’s major successes in the war was his ordering and overseeing of Decatur’s burning of the captured USS Philadelphia in February 1804.

In August 1804, having sworn that he would compel the bashaw of Tripoli to beg “for peace in three days,” Preble led six gunboats into Tripoli’s harbor for the first in a series of assaults—capturing, sinking, or damaging all of the enemy’s vessels; killing fifty-two Tripolitans; taking another fifty-six prisoner; and battering the city of Tripoli for two hours. Preble estimated that the city “suffered very considerably” from his bombardment. Although Preble’s attacks had not yet been intense enough to scare the bashaw into submission, the bombardment was a considerable improvement over the previous strategy of merely maintaining a blockade.

In September, however, reinforcements arrived to bolster Preble’s fleet, and the supplementary forces were led by an officer of superior rank, who automatically superseded Preble’s command. There is some speculation that Preble was relieved of his command because the Philadelphia was captured on his watch. This capture was indeed a national humiliation, and, given the slowness of communication at that time, the Jefferson administration likely had not yet heard of Preble and Decatur’s triumphant burning of the Philadelphia. But because there were few officers who could lead the reinforcements, news of Preble’s success probably would not have made a difference in the Jefferson administration’s decision to send a new commander.

Unfortunately, Preble’s superior arrived with orders to cease the bombardment, to maintain the blockade, and to provide full support to William Eaton’s land campaign while Tobias Lear negotiated for peace. As I indicated in my article, there is good reason to believe that the United States could have forced a better outcome to the First Barbary War, one that entailed no payments to Tripoli. Had Preble been able to continue his assault on Tripoli’s harbor while Eaton continued his land campaign into Tripoli, the United States likely would have forced the bashaw to surrender unconditionally.

Preble, along with Decatur and Eaton, is rightly regarded as one of the three major heroes of the First Barbary War. Although his heroics were not as dramatic as theirs, he was a brave and competent commander who pushed the Jefferson administration to take a more self-assertive strategy against Tripoli. He deserves high praise.

Doug Altner

Annapolis, Maryland

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