Captain John Barry: An American-Irish Naval Hero and “Father of the American Navy”

Captain John Barry: An American-Irish Naval Hero and “Father of the American Navy” – By Daniel Sheridan

On June 27, 1963, President John F. Kennedy laid a wreath at the memorial to the Revolutionary War hero, John Barry, of Wexford, on the first full day of his visit to Ireland. Who is John Barry?

The British Navy dominated the seas in the 1770s. During the Revolutionary War, the American Navy was no match for them. But private ship owners bravely filled the gap. Congress granted them the authority to “distress the enemies of the United States by sea or land.” Their pay consisted of war spoils. These patriots sailed up and down the Atlantic, destroying hundreds of enemy ships. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania alone employed about five hundred ships in this service.

Historians have singled out John Paul Jones as the “Father of the American Navy.” However, thousands of other seamen fighting for American Independence were just as patriotic and accomplished as Jones, but Jones got the most press. One man’s story demands our admiration.

Outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia stands the statue of John Barry. Captain Barry, a native of Ireland, was born in Wexford in 1745. When the war for Independence broke out, he willingly offered his services to his adopted country – the new United States. Barry’s exploits were terrific. He cruised up and down both sides of the Atlantic, engaging the British in fierce battles. He lost a few ships and was wounded in action more than once, but he continued to fight and captured many prizes.

The British, unable to beat Barry, tried to seduce their former citizen to switch sides with an offer that most men wouldn’t have the virtue to refuse. They offered Barry $100,000 cash and the command of a frigate in exchange for his loyalty. Think about how much money that was in the 1770s. What would you have done? Here’s what Barry did. He replied without hesitation and indignantly:

“Not the value and command of the whole British fleet can seduce me from the cause of my country!”

Barry was a faithful and virtuous Patriot from the outbreak of the war till its glorious end; he even fought in the last naval battle. His service extended beyond the war, too. Barry helped establish the newly formed government under the Constitution when President George Washington appointed him Captain in the freshly reorganized Navy. He oversaw the construction of the famous frigate “United States” and took command of it when put to sea. Additionally, the Captain defended his country in the naval war with France from 1798 to 1801. He continued to assist his country in other capacities until he was too ill to serve, an illness that took his life.

Captain Barry died on September 13, 1803, in Philadelphia. People said, “Barry was noble in spirit, humane in discipline, discreet and fearless in battle, urbane in his manners, a splendid officer, a good citizen, a devoted Christian, and a true Patriot.”

Recurrence to Fundamental Principles, Love, and Charity: The Foundations of a Free Society

#OTD, June 12, 1776, the Virginia Constitutional Convention approves George Mason’s Bill of Rights. Why should we care?

Recurrence to Fundamental Principles, Love, and Charity: The Foundations of a Free Society – By Daniel Sheridan

1776 was the year of the Declaration of Independence and constitution-making in the new states. One question Americans couldn’t answer yet: Who had the right to declare what the law shall be?

Historian Forrest McDonald describes the problem facing the Patriots:“Of the eight constitutions established in 1776, six were drafted by bodies especially elected for the purpose, but they were never submitted to anyone for ratification…Proclamation of a constitution by a legislative order was scarcely a satisfactory procedure, for what one legislative body could enact another could repeal. To cope with this problem, some early constitution makers appended to their constitution a list of principles that, they declared, no government could properly violate.”

George Mason of Virginia wrote the first of these lists of principles. On this day, June 12, 1776, the “Virginia Declaration of Rights,” or “Bill of Rights,” was approved by the Virginia Constitutional Convention. This Bill of Rights became the preamble to the Virginia Constitution. Other states followed Virginia’s example, using Mason’s work as a template while making revisions of their own, yet all with one voice proclaiming their shared beliefs about the role of government and man’s natural rights. They guaranteed, for instance, freedom of speech, of the press, and religious worship. Individual liberty was the fundamental law. “A freeman’s remedy against a restraint of his liberty ought not to be denied or delayed,” declared the North Carolina Constitution. They also called for representative government, trial by jury, protection against unreasonable searches of people and papers, eliminating cruel and unusual punishment, and securing other fundamental liberties. Thomas Jefferson’s wording in the Declaration of Independence and the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution reflects Mason’s work.

The Virginia Bill of Rights contains 16 declarations. George Mason wrote the first 15; Patrick Henry wrote the 16th declaration concerning religious liberty.

Declaration 15: “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

The word “recurrence” means “to resort to,” “to return to,” and “to think about.” Mason is reminding us that a government based on freedom principles won’t last long unless the people are continually thinking about and applying correct principles to every area of life. Principles guide us in making the right decisions personally and politically. When Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, these universal principles were well known, believed, and applied. I’m not saying they employed them perfectly, especially with slavery still in existence. Still, they got to know and acknowledged these principles and dared to proclaim them as our country’s foundation publicly. Unfortunately, our practice doesn’t always match our beliefs, but if we keep the faith in our hearts, we will eventually train our feet to follow – whatever the cost. Part of the American experience is living up to our principles. Before we point fingers at those in the past who lived in different times and circumstances, let’s ask ourselves: Are WE living up to these principles today?

Patrick Henry concludes the Virginia Bill of Rights with Declaration 16: “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other.”

The lesson is clear. America won’t remain free unless “We the People” practice these two things:

1. Think about, resort to, and return to fundamental principles.

2. Practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

On June 12, 1776, the Virginia Constitutional Convention approved George Mason’s Bill of Rights.