VIET NAM: NEGLECTED
(An unpublished manuscript from about 1969)
By Ira Bodry
CONTENTS: Background Introduction Letter From A Dead Man page 1, 2 Chapter I Stubborn and patient National Resistance page 10 Chapter II Modern Viet Nam: Product of or Reaction to the Spanish Inquisition page 16 Chapter III "Mad Jack" Disguised as Uncle Sam Draws First Blood page 44 ------------ Letters to and from Captain John Percival, Captain, USS Constitution page 58 Chapter IV The American Revolution and War of Independence page 90 Chapter V Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God page 95
Chapter III - "Mad Jack" Disguised as Uncle Sam Draws First Blood
In Viet Nam, the first mortal aggressors from the West flew the Stars and Stripes. The most famous ship in the history of the U.S. Navy, "Old Ironsides" herself, bombarded the Empire's chief port and sailed off, leaving a few dozen Vietnamese dead. Innocent victims of a quarrel they knew nothing about, this modest mass murder did alter the whole pattern of relations between Viet Nam and the West. The villain here was a penitent and senile ruffian, so much the man of his time hew was held up long after as the gruff, but lovable model of a Yankee sea captain.* Disavowal of his assault by the United States government was not followed by the kind of punishment which the American public would have demanded if some foreign vessel had fatally bombarded Boston and seized a few of its magistrates as hostages.
Known in the service as "Mad Jack" **, John Percival was born * during the American Revolution, son of a Massachusetts sea captain. Another Percival, great-grandfather of "Mad Jack," had come from France, a fact of later pertinence, to settle in Barnstable in 1685.
* Biographical dictionaries give as a principal reference for details on Captain Percival the book by Harry Gringo, Tales for the Marines. Phillips, Samson & Co. Boston. 1855. Harry Gringo was the nom de plume of Henry Augustus Wise. Wise was an American naval officer who entered the service before Captain Percival sailed on this adventure. He undoubtedly knew some of Percival's intimate contemporaries. The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, J.T. Whit & Co., N.Y. 1920. Vol. XX has an article on Percival, p. 437. Unfortunately, this contains several inaccuracies including the following: (An obvious paraphrase of Gringo, p. 26) "Although a strict disciplinarian, he was idolized by his crew." The passage in Gringo: "Notwithstanding his very severe and often harsh conduct towards his crew, they fairly worshipped him." That is debatable. The reader should be warned that flogging was still legal in the Navy, and used freely by Percival. ** Wise, op. cit. p. 26.
(Handwritten note: N.B. Additional Documents confirming the thesis of this chapter are clipped on. cf. Also Geo. The???? vol. 1(?) of La Geste Frararge (sp) cn Indochine pp. 368-369 for letter Msgr. Lefevre on Thieu Tri TERRIFIED APPREHENSION OF A REPETITION OF MAD JACK'S AGGRESSION.)
At thirteen, Jack, perhaps not yet mad, wet to sea. Four years later, he was kidnapped in Lisbon, and impressed into the navy of George III. That was the year the red flag of revolution went up at every English naval base. * In 1797, aggressively touching an officer of the Royal Navy, disobeying his repeated command, or flinching in battle, were all equally punishable by, and often punished by, hanging. ** Sometime during his second year as a Jack Tar, Percival slipped away at Madeira, and made for America. He got his revenge on the British during the War of 1812. Concealing thirty two volunteers under the hatches of a fishing smack off New York, he lured H.M.S. Eagle *** into an ambush. After killing her two British officers with relish, he towed the prize past the Battery, while thousands cheered. The Congress voted him a sword for this and other wartime services.
In 1826, Lieutenant Percival commanded the schooner Dolphin, first American warship to visit the Hawaiian Islands. This "visit" revealed another side of the Lieutenant's character. In the U.S. Navy, it was an age "when oaths and flogging were the approved means of enforcing obedience." ****
* James Dugan, The Great Mutiny. G.P. Putnam's Sons. N.Y. 1965. p. 81,459.
** Ibid. p. 375. Homosexual acts were also capital offenses.
*** Not the H.M.S. Eagle defeated by Macdonough on Lake Champlain.
**** Captain Earle, J.S.N. & C.S. Alden, Makers of Naval Tradition. Ginn & Co. Boston. 1925. p. 63.
The whisky ration was still a half pint daily as sailors simply refused either wine or beer. * Although Spherical Trigonometry was an enigma even to Boards of Examiners, midshipmen required to learn Spanish. ** Ten thousand miles from the nearest American territory lay the islands then called Sandwich. American missionaries had been, for seven years, exerting "efforts to raise that people (the Hawaiian) from their degradation and barbarism, convert them from their idols, their cruel superstitions and their unbridled lusts... the union of a brother and a sister in the highest ranks became fashionable and continued to till the revealed will of God was made known to them by our mission...polygamy, fornication, adultery, incest, infant murder,...,sorcery,... prevailed and seem hardly to have been forbidden or rebuked by their religion." *** Thus Hiram Bingham, "late missionary of the American Board," explains the dire need for his presence on heathen strand in mid-Pacific. He continues, **** "In the first month of 1826, while the Christian chiefs and missionaries were pressing on, with brightening prospects, and many thousands were, from week to week, receiving instructions
* C.O. Paullin, Naval Administration 1842-1861, Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute. Vol. XXXIII, no. 4. Paullin discusses the period prior to 1842 in some detail.
** Earle, op. cit. p. 112, 113. The requirement for Spanish was not only due to a concentration of interest in the Western Hemisphere. The only U.S. base in European waters throughout the Nineteenth Century was that leased at Port Mahon in the Baleares. A pedagogue might note that even thought there was no Naval Academy then, monolingual midshipmen were not allowed to pass, as one instructor at Annapolis recently asserted they many nowadays.
*** Hiram Bingham, A Residence of Twenty One Years in the Sandwich Islands. Hartford. Hezekiah Huntington. 1849. Introduction, p. 18, 20.
**** Ibid. pp. 283 et seq.
"While other thousands remained in their stupid and degraded state, the anti-tabu party * on shore and in the whaling and merchant service were strengthened by the arrival of a vessel of war. The crew of the whale ship Globe, Captain Worth, of our acquaintance, having mutinied in the Pacific, and with unprovoked madness, killed their captain... the U.S. schooner Dolphin, Lt. John Percival, was dispatched to look after them... Hawaiians had heard of the power and greatness of the United States. Although Russia, France and great Britain had sent their naval vessels to these islands, yet the inhabitants knew little or nothing of American ships of war, or of the urbanity, intelligence and elevated character of U.S. naval officers. How exceedingly desirable that a naval commander from the United States, arriving so soon after Lord Byron's agreeable visit, and especially at a time when hostility was showing itself among both English and Americans against the efforts of the best rulers of the Islands to restrain crime, ** should exert a high moral influence for good, or at least not interfere with the municipal or civil regulations of the place, or counteract our mission... Returning to Honolulu, he (Percival) soon mad known his views of the restraint on vile women, and asked and audience with the chief rulers on that subject
* The tabu referred to was against prostitution. In the fall of 1825, "chiefs were induced to forbid traffic in lewdness;" in October, the Daniel, a British whaler came to Mauai. With their Captain's consent, the crew attacked missionary Richards' house. James Jackson Jarvis, History of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands. London. Moxon. 1843. p. 240 etc.
** See footnote above. A paramount chief had been converted in December, 1825, barely two months before the showdown. Bingham, op. cit. p. 277.
" of grievance, which his crew, by a committee, had presented
to him. Kaahumanu*, and Kalanimoku proposed to him to write to them. (She)
prepared a...conciliatory statement to meet the strange pretence that an embargo
on lewd women... was an insult to the American flag. In this statement she
maintained, "She had a right to control her own subjects in this matter,
that in enforcing this tabu she had not sought for money, that in apprehending
and punishing the offending subjects, she had done no injustice to other nations...".
Boki, the Hawaiian governor, being charged to deliver this...(reported) : 'The
man-of -war chief (Percival)
says he will not write, but will come and have a talk, and if Mr. Bingham comes, he will shoot him. That he was ready to fight for though his vessel was small, she was just like fire.' Seeing Boki wavering, Kaahumanu said: ' Let us be firm on the side of the Lord, and follow the word of God.' Then Boki answered: 'If we meet the man-of -war chief and then yield not to his demands, what will be the consequence ?'.
Kaahumanu: 'You are a servant of God and must maintain his cause.' Both wept. On 22 February, Lieutenant Percival obtained an audience at the house of Kaahumanu. She called the royal pupil from his studies under my instruction...as Lt. P had previously requested me not to be present ...Kaahumanu' s narrative follows:
* She was regent while the King was still underage. ""In the days of her heathenism she had been haughtiest, the most imperious, the most cruel of her sex...no subject...dared face her frown." Manley Hopkins, Hawaii. Longmans Green & Co. London. 1866. p. 213.
'Percival came to the council and asked, " Who is the King of the country?" I
pointed to the boy. "Who is the guardian?".
K.: "I and my brother, he being under me."
P.: "You are the King. I also am a Chief... by whom are the women tabu? Is it by you?
K. "It is by me."
P.: "Who is your teacher that has told you that the women must be tabu?"
K.: "It is God." He (Percival) laughed with contempt.
P.: "It was not by you; it was by Bingham."
K.: "It was by me. By Bingham the Word of God is made known to us."
P.: "Why tabu the women? Take heed my people will come; if the women are not forthcoming, they "my men) ...will come to get women. If they do not get them they will fight, my vessel is just like fire...
K.: "Why make war upon us without a fault of ours...? We love the Word of God, and therefore hold back our women."
P.: "Formerly, with Kamehameha, you attended properly to ships, both American and English."
K.: "In former times before the Word of God had arrived here, we were dark minded, lewd and murderous; at the present time we are seeking a better way."
P.: "It's not good. It's not so in America. Why did you give women to Lord Byron's ship, and deny them to mine? Kamehameha didn't show such partiality between English and American vessels."*
*Percival, with his Anglophobia, could hardly bear the thought that the British had gotten anything denied to Americans. His crew felt much the same. Religious conviction as a motive for the sudden change was not credible to the likes of Percival.
Later on P.: "Send and liberate the women, if you still hold them.If not,
I will myself liberate them...why do you do evil to the women?"
K.: "It is for us to give directions respecting our women-it is for us to establish tabus -it is for us to bind, to liberate,..."
P.: " The missionaries are not good. They are a company of liars.The women are not tabu in America." (He sapped his fingers in rage and clenched his fist). "Tomorrow I will give my men rum. Watch out! They will come for women. If they do not get them, they will fight."...My vessel is just like fire. Tell me the man who told you that women must be tabu, and after that my men will pull down his house... If the women are not released tomorrow, my people will come and pull down the houses of the missionaries."
(That is the end of Kaahumanu's narrative). Bingham continues,
" As we were assembling for warship*,... several seamen rushed in and with menacing gesture and tone made their demands and threats.
'Where are the women?'/...'Take off this tabu and let us have women on board our vessels, or we will pull down your houses. There are a hundred and fifty of us... the tabu must come off.'
Thus commenced a riot which occupied the time and place of the expected divine service,,, I fell into their hands. One seized me by the shoulder and exclaimed, 'What does this tabu mean? Here he is; I've got him. Come on!' One said: 'We are sent here by our Captain.' ( At this point Mr. Bingham observes in a note that Lieutenant Paulding, being called and sworn at the request of the Percival at the latter's Court Martial in Charlestown, S.C., testified, 'that he heard Lt. Percival say in the cabin of the Dolphin THAT sailors would serve the missionaries right if they should pull down their houses.**
*It was 26 February, 1826, and the 'Dolphin' men had gotten together with crews from other ships.
**Bingham, p. 286.
" I called out to the natives for help...followed by one (sailor) who pressed
me on my retreat, and asked to speak with me. Putting my hand into his club,
I said, 'Put down your club if you wish to have me talk with you.'* One of
the 'Dolfin' men, who appeared like an Irishman, brandishing his knife near
my face, said with malignant emphasis, 'You are the man every day'...Finally,
I said (to the Hawaiians), 'Do you not take care of me?' (They) 'We do...
Suddenly one of the 'Dolfin' men struck a spiteful blow with a club at my head, warded off partly by the arm of Lydia Namahana, and partly by my umbrella. It was the signal for resistance ...I entreated the natives not to kill the foreigners. ( Mr. Bingham's family was rather upset as) a company of sailors approached my premises, broke my gate and rushed through... one broke in a window...Lt. Percival, who...came upon the spot about an hour after the riot commenced, used his cane on...that evening Governor Boki yielded...Percival put in irons the two men who had assailed me with knife and club...After a visit of three months**,
' Dolphin' sailed...Those citizens and subjects of other countries, and leading natives, who had been looking for something not less friendly, vise and honorable in a naval "chief" from the U.S. than...Lord Byron were disappointed."
*Lest any reader think of comparing the missionary's refusal to parley while a club was swinging around close to his head with DRVN ( Ho Chi Minh's) refusal to negotiate with the Johnson administration while bombs were falling in Hanoi, he should try to recall that these rough sailors, unlike Mr. Johnson, had failed to reassure their target, Mr. Bingham, that they meant only to chastise not to bradin him.
**His vessel remained at Honolulu ten weeks in full enjoyment of the immorality for which he had so successfully intervened. " Jarvis, op.cit. p. 240. Thus, until the May heat, the crew kept assorted favorite prostitutes on board Dolphin.
The only outward effect of Percival's court martial was a long wait promotion.
Captain at sixty two, he was also chosen same year to supervise refitting of
the U.S.S. CONSTITUTION.* Little more than a decade had passed since the stanzas
Ay! pull her tattered ensign down
Long has it waved on high,
And many a heart has danced to see
That banner in the sky,
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
had saved 'Old Ironsides', the "eagle of the sea" from the "harpies of the shore" and transformed their author form an unknown Bostonian law clerk into a famous young American.** Percival insisted the job on the frigate could be done for "10,000, even though official estimates ran up toward $70,000. He managed to finish all repair by 1844, and at a cost snug by that he had promised.***CONSTITUTION was about to take a cruise around the world, and Percival would be her skipper. As she was refitting at Norfolk, Daniel Webster was appointed Secretary of State, mainly because both Henry Clay and the 'solid men of Boston'
*Decatur was Captain at twenty five, Matthew C. Perry Commodore at fifty. Oliver Wendell Holmes changed 'pull' to 'tear' in 1836. He was studying law with Judge Story at the new Harvard Law School until this poetic fame made him realize his distaste for that profession. See C.D. Bowen Yankee form Olympus. Little Brown & Co. Boston. 1945. pp.55-58.
**Oliver Wendell Holmes changed 'pull' to 'tear' in 1836. He was studying law with Judge Story at the new Harvard Law School until this poetic fame made him realize his distaste for that profession. See C.D. Bowen Yankee from Olympus. Little Brown & Co. Boston. 1945. pp. 55-58.
***The Norfolk Navy Yard got the contract through the patronage of Henry A. Wise of Virginia, later President Tyler's favorite advisor. Wise was chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs and a gentleman as ready for a duel as for a toast.
were seriously worried avoiding a war with Great Britain.* The British Empire had just added Hong Kong, a yet to ripen fruit, to the imperial domain. The Tartar dynasty in Peking would never regenerate its cracked sceptre of prestige and authority. "China was not opened; but five gates were set ajar against her will."** Americans, however, had long been enjoying much profitable trade under the old restrictions. From the first cargo of Ginseng in 1784 until Russell &Co., a half century later, gor a clipper specially designed to smuggle in opium***, American trade had become big business. Now that the treaty of Nanking restored peace and enforced commerce, Aamericans expected to derive all of its benefits without incurring the handicap of Empire. As Percivalcharted a route to East Asia by way of the Indian Ocean, Caleb Cushing awaited final instructions from Webster before setting out as the first American Commissioner to China. One of the American merchants! in the orientak trade answered the Secretary of State's request for suggesstions by affirming, "Our countryman have now all the privieleges granted to the British."**** Commodore Lawrence Kearny had seen to that year before (1842).
*Ben. Perley Poore, Perley's Reminiscences...Hubbard Bross. Philadelphia, 1886. Vol. I, p. 224.
**Martin, op. cit. p. 155. Dr. Martin, well acquainted with the Anglo-American principals, insists the real cause of the war was not the opium trade, but a pin: "The Chinese tossed back a letter form Lord Napier because it was not headed with the character pin (or ping) meaning 'humble petition'. ...John Quincy Adams...declared its cause was not opium but a pin i.e. an insolent assumtion of the superiority on the part of China ." p.152-153.
***Daniel Henderson. Yankee Ships in China Seas. N.Y. 1946. p. 18,140. Ginseng was the first American import; it was considered an aphrodisiac by Chines!e who could afford concubines.
****Te-kong Tong, U.S. Diplomacy in China, 1840-1860. Univer. of Washington Press. Seattle, 1964. p. 21,23.
Calling himself “Commander-in-Chief of a squadron of United States ships” (only the flagship, U.S.S. Constellation, was really available)< he informed the Chinese they would have to* treat Americans no worse than subjects of the “nation most favored”. This assertion, by threat of cannon in the wake of cannonading by the nation most favored, of ‘rights’ incompatible with Chinese sovereignty, is relevant to Percival’s expedition and also to current Chinese problems.
Parts of a speech which China’s representative at the United Nations debate on Korea was never allowed to give during his brief stay in N.Y. toward the of 1950 follow: **
“Posing as a kind-hearted gentleman, Mr. Dulles started his speech*** with a discussion of the friendship between the people of China and the people of the United States…. According to Mr. Dulles, this friendship was not based primarily upon American commercial interests in China, but was based on cultural and humanitarian motives. It is claimed this has always been the case in the relationship between the U.S. imperialists and China****
* Earle, op. cit. p. 94,95.
** Important Documents concerning the Question of Taiwan. Peking. 1955.pp. 73-75.
*** John Foster Dulles was then U.S. representative on the General Assembly’s First (Political and Security) Committee as well as chief architect of the Japanese Peace Treaty.
**** F.D.R retained this flowery vision until the end, and, had lived long enough might have made it a reality. In December, 1943, at Teheran, he told a genuine China ‘expert’, General Joseph P. Stilwell: Well now, we’ve been friends with China for a g-r-e-a-t many years. I ascribe a large part of this feeling to the missionaries. You know, I have a China history. My grandfather went out… to Canton in 1829, and even up to Hankow. He did what every American’s ambition was in those days--- he made a million dollars, and when he came back to put it into western railroads…” The Stillwell Papers. Arranged and edited by Theo H. White. Wm. Sloane.N.Y. 1948. P 252. F.D.R.’s grandfather, Edward Delano, joined the firm of Russal & Co the same year Percival started round the world.
“for the past 150 years… What is this so-called historic friendship of the U.S. imperialists towards Chinese people? Who are really the friends of China.
Like the British, the American imperialists* were traffickers in opium to China from the earliest years.** A considerable portion of the opium seized in Canton in 1829 was found in the hands of Americans opium dealers. In the opium war, the U.S. naval commander, Commodore Kearny, commanded a fleet which came to Chinese waters to Chinese waters to support the Manchu government into signing the Treaty of Wanghsia. America was the first nation to devise provisions concerning ‘extraterritoriality’… The Treat of Wanghsia was one of the earliest unequal treaties…”
This is the speech Wu Chuan was not allowed to give at the U.N. on 16 December 1950. Aside from the two errors discussed in the footnotes, it is all too accurate historically, and Wu’s choice of the Opium War as starting point shows the pregnancy of that period over a century later.
*It is surely a misnomer to refer to merchants and smugglers such as Russell and Co. as ‘imperialists’ before 1842. Prior to that date, their interference with orderly government was through bribery and fraud, methods not favored by the strong.
**By 1824, New York and New England shippers had a monopoly on Turkish opium shipping. Even though Chinese preferred the Indian variety, there was a still a market for the inferior cut in time of scarcity. Henderson, p. 137 etc. The only legal importer was the East India Company, so that all the Turkish opium smuggled in before the Opium War, an amount with a value of millions, was brought in by Americans. See Roberts, op. cit., p. 144.
***Kearny never intervened on behalf of the British, but only to protest Americans. Far from working together, when Capitan Elliott, British agent, asked Americans to join the British retreating in protest 66 ??Macao, in May 1839, Russell & Co. remained at Canton, and took over the British market. Henderson, p. 160.
**** The year F.D.R.’s grandfather joined Russell & Co. See footnote on page 55
Some American mercantile opinion was opposed to any treaty at all. Since the Treaty of Nanking*, and Kearny’s so much milder address, they had enjoyed all the advantages extracted by the British with gunpowder , along with the image of non-violent benevolence worth its weight in opium. “He (Cushing) cannot make us better off, and a very few of his important airs will make us hates by the Chinese. Then we’ll lose all the advantages we now have over the English.”**
As CONSTITUTION cleared Sandy Hook and stood to sea off N.Y. down in Baltimore the Democratic Convention was deliberating. The main issue was the Republic of Texas. Should the Convention override the Senate, and give the people a chance to decide if Texas was worth a war with Mexico. President Tyler, who had missed violent death only three months earlier solely because he could not get on deck in time to join the doomed Secretaries of State and Navy,*** was maneuvering the delegates to “raise the banner of Texas and convoke my friends to sustain it.”**** The old navy, epitomized by Percival, was disappearing into an unfamiliar future. Even flogging was under attack in Congress. Two years back, the whiskey ration had been cut in half, with those under twenty one compelled
*Signed in August, 1842 aboard H.M.S. Cornwallis, as the guns of her squadron menaced the southern capital of the Empire.
**Niles National Register, 21 Sept. 1844, quoted by Te-kong. P. 23.
***A mew shell gun of the U.S.S. Princeton exploded fatally on the next to last day of February, 1844. Webster was no longer Secretary of State, having been forced out by the President whom he declined to follow toward war over Texas.
****Poore, op. cit. p. 319. The war President, James K. Polk, was elected by a minority of those voting. The Mexican conflict intensified sectional strife Rebellion and Civil War which followed.
by the new law to totally abstain. Only the Marines still got their half pint every day.* Like CONSTITUTION, most ships still sailed, ten, in fact, for every steamer.** ‘Old Ironsides” made her way round the southern tip of Africa, touching at Zanzibar before crossing the Indian Ocean. Pirates were duly set upon and eviscerated from Muscat to Java. Almost a year had passed since the voyage started at the Battery. CONSTITUTION was about to enter another harbor, the picture book bay of Da Nang, then called Turon. It was Monday, 12 May, 1845. At 10 A.M. six guns saluted the ‘Cochin-Chinese’ flag, the greeting returned by the Vietnamese fort commanding the harbor.*** Percival, sixty seven, and in a nasty mood as ‘from the time we left Singapore (that was February) until our arrival at Touron [sic], owing to my extreme ill health, navigation… devolved upon Lt. Amasa Paine who merits…”**** “On 14 May,…I received a visit from the authorities of the city (of Da Nang) of Turon. They displayed some little pomp, usually affected by these people on such occasions, and were
* Paullin, op. cit.
*** All references in this section, unless otherwise indicated, are either from the Log or from the Journal of the USS Constitution for the month of May, 1845, or from the Letters and Annexed Documents from Captain Percival to the Secretary of the Navy. All of these documents are in the National Archives, Washington, D.C., the former in the original bound volumes in the handwriting and so forth of the principals, the last named in microfilm. Log, Journal and Letters will be abbreviated as L., J., and Let.
**** Let. Macao, 9 June 1845.
“received with courtesy*… After remaining some time in the cabin, they expressed a desire to examine the amenagements[sic] of the ship, and an officer was directed to attend them. A few minutes having elapsed, one of them returned, and with much anxiety handed me an open letter, making signs that is discovered he would lose his head… the letter was translated (it being in French), and was found to be directed to the French Admiral.” Here is the letter which the Vietnamese mandarin delivered to Captain Percival at such great personal risk to himself.
I have already had the honor to address a letter to you… I add some words today in order to better explain what I hope you will do for me, to obtain the peace for which we have signed so many a year. As I stated to you in my first letter, I believe you should exact from the King of Cochin-China two things: First, my liberation, with permission to remain in the kingdom. Second, that no missionary shall be disturbed or arrested in this country.
*Let. Whampoa, 21 June, 1845. Percival’s contemptuous prejudice against the Vietnamese was in harmony with officially sanctioned statements. Edmund Roberts had written less than a decade earlier: “…for the present Emperor of Cochin-China is an ignorant, bloodthirsty savage…, … his crazy, disjointed, and puny government would probably crumble into atoms, the moment a large force should quit the kingdom.” Roberts, pp. 282-3. In the Introduction Roberts observes: “If, in the attainment of these benefits some sacrifice of personal feeling was at times made for the advantage of American commerce the dignity of my country was never lost sight of, nor her honour jeoparded[sic] by humiliating and degrading concessions to eastern etiquette. The insulting formalities required as preliminaries to the treaty by the ministers from the capital of Cochin-China, left me no alternative, save that of terminating a protracted correspondence, marked… by duplicity and prevarication in the emperor’s servants. “p. 6.
(Continuation of letter to Captain Percival).
I request further that you will require the second article be communicated to governors of each province in the whole kingdom by Royal Decree.
It would also be well to demand the release from confinement of the natives arrested at the time the Europeans were seized, and who have been groaning in irons since …
I have heard that you are stationed at Macao, and that y9ou have expressed a wish some of us should make representations to you to enable you to give the Cochin Chinese a lesson*, and I trust you will do what I have asked and more.
I am, Admiral, your devoted servant, Dom. Lefevre, Bishop of ** Isauropolis and Vicar Apostilic for Western Cochin-China.
May 10, 1845
P.S. May 11. I am condemned to death without delay. Hasten or all of finished. Above are the demands I desire you would make of the King. You will obtain all you ask for. He is a timid and cowardly man to an extreme degree. ***
* It was the Opium War and the British who whetted French interest in expansion. The cautious Guizot gave up his plan for a base north of Borneo when Spain objected that the Island of Basilan was too close to the Philippines; it was the same British expansion earlier (Burma and Singapore) which had induced the Vietnamese to keep the French out for fear of bringing in their traditional enemies, the English. of. the footnote of page 39. Also Thomazi, p.25, and Ennis, French Policy and Developments in Indochina. U. of Chicago de France. P. 122.
** Isauropolis was well inside the infidel Ottoman Empire, so that Msgr. Lefevre’s diocese was merely nominal.
*** The Emperor was Thieu Tri, ruler of Viet Nam since 1841.
Percival replied at once:
Mr. Dominic Lefevre, Bishop of Cochin-China,
I have just received your letter of the tenth announcing your imprisonment and sentence death by the authorities of the Cochin-Chinese government. As you have not stated the name of the place where you are confined, I am at a loss to know whether you are far from, or near to, this place. I will immediately land, however, with a strong force and, in the event of not finding you, have a dispatch forwarded to the King at Hue demanding your immediate liberation and surrender, for the present, into my hands… There is no French vessel of war here. We are Americans, but Christian and civilized, and will do all in our power to rescue you from there barbarians.*
I am, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Percival explains his view of the situation **: “I was convinced that if aught could be done to prevent the catastrophe awaiting the Bishop, it should be done promptly. Great excitement prevailed throughout the ship, created by the postscript of the letter, which was the only part on which I acted. What caused
*Cf. the section on Percivals’s conduct in Hawaii two decades earlier.
**Let. Annexed doc.
***Let. To …, Whampoa Island, 21 June, 1845.
me the greatest anxiety was to decide how far I might procede, and not overstep the limits of obligation in the cause of suffering humanity towards the subject of a nation united to us by the bonds of treaty stipulations and bygone, though not forgotten acts of kindness in the days of our national infancy.*”
Percival then dashed off a note to the Emperor of Viet Nam: To H.M. the King Cochin-China: It has come to my knowledge that a French missionary, Bishop Dominique Lefevre, with some others, is at present under sentence of death at or near this place. As these persons are our national friends, the duty falls upon me to demand their immediate surrender into my hands. I shall await your answer at this place. I have the honor to be your Majesty’s friend, J. Percival, Captain, U.S.S. Constitution. Turon Bay May 14, 1845.
Nothing like a few hostages to make people take your demands seriously. Midshipman Jones records: At 1:30P.M. the Captain with four armed boats left the ship, and proceded to town. At 2, Captain Percival returned to the ship bringing with him five mandarins as hostages. This was
*Percival’s notions of relations between the U.S. and France are thoroughly muddled by this own predilections. His anti-British and pro-French feelings bulge. Ignoring the quasi-war of 1798 which sundered any bonds left by Lafayette, he thinks perhaps of his ancestors’ nationality, rather than their religion. Jean Percival, the Massachusetts Hugenot, arrived the same year the Edict of Nantes was revoked. “Mad Jack” was taking the bilges of H.M.S. Victory when French and American frigates sought battle. The alliance of the U.S. and France, going back to 1778, was considered invalid by the former long before 1845. Cf. W.E. Curtis, The United States and Foreign Powers. 1891. Section on France.
“done in consequence of the inhabitants having imprisoned and condemned to death “Monsieur Lefevre”, a French Catholic priest whom we are endeavoring to liberate.”* Two days later further was applied:** “8 to noon watch (meridian). Inspected crew at quarters and got the battery ready for instant service. At 11A.M. stood in for the town. Sent launch, first and second cutters armed under Lt. Alden to take possession of three junks believed to be property of the King of Cochin-China.*** at 3 boats boarded the junks. (signed) Amasa Paine”
Another day passed. Hostages and armed menaces notwithstanding, there was still no sign of compliance from the Vietnamese at Da Nang. “Mad Jack” escalated: To his Majesty the King of Cochin-China: I addressed your Majesty a few days since, demanding the Bishop Dominique Lefevre should be delivered up to me to be carried from the country. I now inform you that I have placed my ship in a situation to destroy the city of Turon.
*It seems everyone on the ship accepted without question the version of the Msgr. Lefevre. The reliability of missionaries’ forecasts of Vietnamese reactions during this period was comparable to the accuracy of Mr. McNamara’s prognostications on the same subject. At the time of the actual invasion over a decade later, its commander, Admiral Rigault de Genouilly observed: “The government has been deceived on this campaign in Cochin-China; it has been represented as a small thing, it is hardly that… it has been told that the natives’ opinion was one thing, while in fact it is quite another. It has been told the mandarins’ power is feeble and worn out, while this power is strong and vigorous; that there was no army, while the regular army is numerous and the militia includes all able-bodied men. The supposedly healthy climate is actually just the opposite.” Thomazi, p 32.
**L. for Friday, 16 May 1845. The previous passage was from J. for 14 May, 1845 written up by Midshipman M. Patterson Jones.
***Admiral Stockton observes: “…capture of vessels… to be help as pledges are practically hostile operations difficult to reconcile with the existence of peace or as simple reprisals… the more forcible reprisals cannot be used without war except against a weak nationality. Int. Law, p. 288. 1913
(Continuation of Captain Percival’s ultimatum)
“and fortresses therein, that I have on board three of the authorities are hostages,* and have detained three junks until hear from you. I further inform you that there are three ships of war here belonging to your Majesty which are at my mercy, and if there is a particle of harm done to Bishop Lefevre, I shall destroy them, as well as the fort at the entrance to the harbor.
The French and American people are friends by treaty and a reciprocation of kindred sentiments for upward of seventy years, and a wrong done to a Frenchman is the same as if done to an American.** I have a quantity of articles on board my ship as a present from the President of the United States to your Majesty, which I shall not deliver until Bishop Lefevre is brought to this place, or until I have written answer from you, at which time your
*Two of the five originally brought on board on Wednesday had been released.
**An opinion closer to that of Andy Jackson and a large body of the public which idolized him was expressed in 1843 by Jarvis: “…Information has reached (it was 1843) this country, verifying some of the conjectures advanced in regard to the movements of France in the Pacific. It affords additional weight to the argument for the prompt and efficient interference of England and the U.S. to arrest their “conquests”. The Society Island (Tahiti) have been obligated to succumb to the arts and power of Admiral de Petit Thouars. If this system of mingled priestly and political aggrandization which, in defiance of the moral sense of the age, the rights of nations and the dictates of the moral sense of the age, the rights of nations and the dictates of justice and humanity, is not speedily arrested, the flag of France will wave over all the groups of the Pacific, and what is now neutral ground, both in religion and commerce to the world, become the nursery of a bigoted creed and exclusive mercantile regulations. When the artillery of France and the spiritual decrees of the Pope shall have rendered their shores impregnable to the Protestant influence or enterprise, the nations now so intimately interested will awake too late to repair the effects of their indifference to the desire and claims of those whom they have been instrumental in redeeming from paganism, and awakening to a sense of their political rights and importance.” Postscript to James Jackson Jarvis, History of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands. London. Edw. Moxon, 1843. The cry against “exclusive mercantile regulations” colors all American critiques of French Indochina for a century and more thereafter. Cf. Ennis, op. cit. pp. 3-6, and R. McClintock, The Meaning of Limited War. Houghton Mifflin Boston, 1967. Pp. 141-142
(Conclusion of Captain Percival’s ultimatum)
Majesty must send a mandarin of distinction to receive them. This is the 17th of May. I will wait until 12 o’clock of the 21st of the month, and if all I demand is not granted before that time, I will commence operations. Let no time be lost if you wish to preserve your ships and city. * I have the honor to be """ J. Percival Captain, U.S.S. Constitution.
Percival had been assured by the authorities at Da Nang that his ultimatum “ would be promptly forward to Hue.” ** The next day was a Sunday. The captain of the captive Vietnamese junks were allowed to return to their own vessels after spending the night under several days, freedom during daylight and close confinement on CONSTITUTION each night. The waters of Da Nang’s bay were almost as torrid as the heavy air above. It was almost 90 in the shade. Finally, on Monday, 19 May, “after a detention of the hostages for five days, I received a letter from an officer on shore, stating that Mandarin had arrived from the King to settle the matter at issue on the following day, requesting me to come to shore and bring the hostages… which I did. On landing, I found no Mandarin from the King, neither anyone from whom I could obtain
*The part of the ultimatum about “Presents from the President which I will not deliver” is the almost ludicrous first running of the carrot and stick as applied to the Vietnamese donkey. This was replayed at Johns Hopkins in April, 1965, (text missing) by Mr. Johnson. He did not acknowledge the original author, undoubtedly, only because he was unaware of ‘Mad Jacks’s priority as he was of his existence.
**Let. to French Admiral. Macao. 6 June, 1845.
***J. 18 May.
satisfactory information/……”.* Percival had gone on shore with four armed boats to tow the frigate nearer into the city. The starboard guns bore on the town.** That evening, “finding that the hostages had no influence while in a mandarin is not held in great estimation by the King unless he be of the first rank, having also their assurance that if I allowed them to depart they would proceed directly to the King at Hue, and use every exertion to procure the release of the Bishop, and as one of them was his follower, and had been entrusted to deliver his letter, I consented to let them go. One of the officers of the ship volunteered to accompany them to Hue,…, but such a course was declared impossible, as it was more than their lives were worth (they said) to introduce a stranger into the Imperial City without first obtaining the permission of the King…” *** Next day came the climax, a bloody affair it was too. Midshipman Jones: Tuesday, 20 May, 1845. Laying with starboard broadsides bearing on the town, with every gun clear for action, keeping a look out on the boat stationed at the mouth of the river, to make signal of ‘danger’ in case of attack on boats that had proceded to town… At 8 A.M. two of
*Let. To French Admiral, Macao. 6 June, 1845.
**J. 19 May.
*** Same as* /Percival’s ready acceptance of the assurances given by the Mandarin’s he had kidnapped and was about to release is reminiscent of the most naïve kind of common extortionist keeping an appointment to return later in the day to meet the victim who had promised to present himself at the hour ‘agreed’ upon with the objects sought by the former.
“the junks got under way; sent 2nd cutter to bring them to. At 8:20 a squall coming up, all the junks weighed and made all sail for the river. Fired several shots over them, to bring them to, but without success. Sent launch and four cutters in charge of Lts. Alden and Dale to retake and bring them out of the river, in which they succeeded at 12 M. ((noon))”* Why had the junks fled? The previous afternoon, between 4 and 5, fired two experimental shots to the east of the town…” (signed) G.W. Grant**
The shots were fired from the same Paixhans guns which were labor tried out on a Vietnamese island out in the China Sea off Da Nang.*** Lieutenant Wise, in a very jocular mood, not only conceded the loss of life, but made light of it, confusing, unintentionally****, Thailand (Siam) with Viet Nam (Cochin-China): “…During this little ball practice, some stray shot ricocheted over the water upon the beach, and so on into the town, where they played the very mischief with about 40 Siamese ((Lt. Wise means Vietnamese)), leaving them, it was said, only a pound of brains, half a leg, a couple tails, ((the meaning here is to compare them to monkeys, a practice still followed by a good many of the French Expeditionary Crops less than twenty years back*****)), and an arm among each half dozen of the wounded.
*J. 20 May, 1845.
**L. 20 May, 1845.
***L. 26 May, 1845.
****Lt. John White reports: “Manillans[sic] confound Siam and Cochin-China, and suppose them to be one kingdom.” White, op. cit. p. 155.
*****Jean-Henri Roy: “If you cite actual instances of atrocities, some veterans say, ‘A du-kich is not a man, but a kind of monkey’.” L’affaire Henri martin, p. 128 L’ffaire… was edited by Sartre, publ. 1953 by Callimard.
“Although the fellows killed and maimed on shore were not actually under arms or in a hostile attitude, it was generally known that they were, nevertheless, as great villains and pirates as those on board the junks of war, and consequently had been properly punished... The affair, indeed, had been almost forgotten, when, all at once, there sprang up a gentleman, who called himself a Native American*, in virtue of having lied thirty years in China, and took it into his head, on the score of philanthropy, I believe, to investigate the business… Well, old Jack being at home in the bosom of his family, and leading a quiet sort of life,…, was absolutely unconscious that the crusader, whose name was Buster,** was poking about among the bed bugs, and that he , Jack, came within an ace of being turned out, neck-heels, of the navy.
Fortunately, however, for Percy, a friend who happened to be on good terms with a trump card of the political pack, put in a word, and his commission was saved…”***
Old Jack apologetically concludes this letter to his French colleague explaining why he did not live up to his own ultimatum: “Having waited eight days after their departure, and my duties… I was constrained, through with great reluctance to leave on 27 ult. Without having accomplished release of the Bishop. But I feel an
*Lt. Wise was writing in the mid 50’s, the height of the anti-Irish agitation. It is ironic that an anti-Catholic Know Nothing should be defending the attempted rescue of an overseer of the Scarlet Woman.
**A contemptuous term applied to the lowest ruffians.
***Gringo, op. cit. pp. 338-339.
Encouragement by such information as I was able to obtain, that I may have been the instrument of postponing or perhaps deferring altogether the execution of the sentence of death upon the Reverend Divine. I could not proceed to hostilities without violating the instructions of my government, unless an offense had been committed against a citizen of the United States, or an insult offered to its flag.
The force of a frigate is entirely adequate to take possession of the town of Turon and its fortress, and that perhaps without the loss of a man. I would respectfully observe, without a desire to intrude my opinion, that if relief of Bishop Lefevre is intended, the sooner it is attempted the better…”*
To the Secretary of the Navy, the famous historian George Bancroft, Percival should have known better than to address the following: “This was a case to which I knew no parallel, but believing that a generous sympathy was a prominent characteristic of our government and that exerting its influence through its agents in the cause of humanity was typographical of its moral energy and usages since the adoption of the Federal Constitution, I proceded[sic] to use my endeavor to effect the release of Bishop…, a distinguished subject of France. My impression is that every nation has the right
*Let. to French Admiral. Macao. 6 June, 1845. A French Captain, Lapierre, was to follow Percival’s advice less than two years when he arrived at Da Nang to demand the release of … Msgr. Lefevre, who had sneaked back into the country after his deportation in June of 1845.
“to regulate its own intercourse with others… In respect to foreigners, particularly those who have been invited to reside within its domains, and instruct its people in the arts and sciences and religion, every nation, it seems to me, is under an obligation, a moral obligation, to treat them with respect, kindness and humanity… Any interference with the ordinary pursuits of these persons thus invited, on the part of a nation, appears to me a harsh exercise of power, and to condemn them to death unheard and undefended, by an arbitrary tribunal, is inconsistent with the moral law, by which every nation should be governed.
If a nation invites and allows foreigners to enter into its territory, it is bound to respect the rights of such, so long as they conduct peaceably; if in breach of good faith, it proceeds to punish them vindictively when no offence has been committed, such nation is justly responsible for its conduct, more particularly if it is one semi-barbarous and that refuses to have treaties or social intercourse with the other nations of the earth…”*
Here the influence of the disagreeable and unsuccessful Roberts mission is apparent. Roberts had come away thoroughly disgusted with the high-handed insolence of Minh Mang’s mandarins. Percival believed he was in harmony with the commercial interest by acting in accord with that furious critic of Viet Nam. Two things contributed to his failure; first, as a historian, George Bancroft was well aware of
*Let. Whampoa, Island. 21 June 1845.
‘Mad Jack’s grubby record with American missionaries. Second, there was the matter of the China trade which depended on keeping up the non-violent image so advantageous in competition with the British. Bancroft noted in the margin of Percival’s repost: Answer at once. The Department disapproves the conduct of Captain Percival as not warranted either by the demands of the Bishop or the Law of Nations. His conduct is not defensible by any point of view.
The incident was not closed. “On 13 March, 1847, the Governor of Singapore, Butterworth, reported to the Government of India that trading vessels coming from Cochin-China had brought notice of new stringent regulations against foreigners there, and that he told the Mandarin in charge of them that ‘the English sovereign would be displeased’, if they were put in force against British subjects. The Mandarin at once gave me to understand that the regulations had originated in the visit to Turon Bay of the American ship ‘Constitution’, when that vessel fired upon the town and destroyed several of the inhabitants, because the demand of her commanding officer to have a French missionary Bishop, then in prison, given up to him, was not compiled with. The restrictions in question must be viewed as a bit of policy on the part of the King, who was anxious to show his subjects that the insult offered to him had had not been passed over in impunity. In proof of this he gave me a letter from Minh Mang… who wished to hand over to me
*Butterworth had not bothered to find out that The Tri was now sovereign..
the very Bishop above referred to, who had again made his way to Cochin-China, ((after once being released, of. Footnote on page 68)) The captain of the junk which brought the Bishop back had had his head chopped off… The Bishop had called on Butterworth who forbade him any movement,… remarking the Jesuits are little scrupulous.”*
The question arises, first, how did this effect subsequent Vietnamese relations with the West? Second, was Percival behaving that way merely because he was a ‘Mad Jack’, unlike the typical American commander of that, or any other period?
All the evidence presented here leaves no doubt that the Vietnamese were not going to allow anybody to repeat the piratical incursion of ‘Mad Jack’ even if it meant attacking first. There is some controversy as to what happened in Da Nang in March and April, 1847, as to who started the fracas. Whoever did, ‘Mad Jack’, by his violent and murderous raid, had set the pattern of mutual viciousness. It is worthwhile mentioning here, if only because Mr. Buttinger may have been one of the shapers of the current American abortion in Viet Nam, that in his highly cited “History of Viet Nam” nearly all the facts as given by the author of that volume with regard to the circumstances of the visit of the U.S.S. Constitution to Da Nang in 1845 are incorrect.**
*David George Edward Hall. History of Southeast Asia. U. of London. 1964. P. 609.
**Joseph Buttinger, The Smaller Dragon. Praeger. N.Y. 1958. P. 332, pp. 391-392. Pooh-poohing the assertion of a French writer that is was an American ship which committed the first ‘act of armed intervention’, Buttinger remarks, “ To classify the temporary retention of some mandarins as an ‘act of armed intervention’ is rather an overstatement.” Apparently Mr. Buttinger was able to conscientiously fill a closely printed page with authoritative looking footnotes (p. 391) about this incident, but never took the trouble to check the records available by going to the National Archives in Washington while waiting for the next meeting of American Friends of Viet Nam, read, American Friends of Diem.
If Percival’s action was a manifestation of pathologically hasty violence, it was not entirely out of fashion. As ‘Mad Jack’ cut overreacting contractors down to equity at Norfolk, another officer was demonstrating elsewhere how little was the risk in striking at random.* Relations between Mexico and the United States were still diplomatic rather than military, although the bone of Texas stuck unpicked. **The frigate UNITED STATES, which under Decatur had taken H.M.S. Macedonian off the Canaries in 1912, was now flagship of Commodore Thomas Ap Catesby Jones. When not sailing up from the west coast of Central America, Jones read the same newspapers which Dickens had found so pernicious that year. Besides, hadn’t the American consul himself informed him on California’s shore that war was “highly probably”?*** Deduction then was that tales of war in public print were black and white irrefutable. Believing war had begun between Mexico and the U.S., and that the former “had turned upper California over to England,… he sailed for Monterey.” His plan was to seize that seat of Mexican authority so near San Francisco’s Bay before the British could get there.****
*Dickens traveling that year as far south as Richmond, and as far west as Cincinnatti, found “Universal Distrust” a “great blemish on the popular mind of America”. This, combining with a “licentious Press”, with its “evil eye” in every house, its “black hand in every appointment”, “the standard literature of an enormous class, who must find their reading in a newspaper or not at all.”, created a public even quicker to draw conclusions than its heroes were to draw the sword. Dickens, American Notes, pp. 213-220.
**William Ellery Channing , D.D., of whom Coleridge said: “He has the love of wisdom and the wisdom of love”, died that year. He had written to Henry Clay on Toxes: “By this act, slavery will be spread…I repeat it, this is but the first step of aggression. I trust, indeed, that Providence will beat back and humble our cupidity and ambition.”
***Justin H. Smith, The War with Mexico. 1919 (1963 reprint). Vol. I,p. 69.
****O.P. Chitwood, John Tyler. 1964 reprint by Russell & Russell. N.Y. p. 337
Besides UNITED STATES, Jones had a sloop. It was 19 October, 1848. The flag of Mexico came down without a fight. And Thomas Jones became the first American to see the Stars and Stripes waving over California. This was the first scene of the Mexican War, although not a shot had been fired. On discovering that the war had been going on only in his own mind, the Commodore expressed his regrets and departed. At San Diego, his subordinates did likewise after cheerfully informing their unamused [sic] hosts that the cannon spiked by American sailors could be cleaned in no time with small diligence.
Mexico, already outraged* by the easy passage both ways of citizens of the American Republic during the Revolution in Texas, demanded through her minister in Washington, Sr. Almonte, “that an example should be made of Jones, but he was merely recalled, ... indeed our government commended his zeal”.** An episode worthy of emulation, pondered ‘Mad Jack’, as he learned by early 1843 that Anglo-Saxon sea power had triumphed at both ends of the Pacific. And it had not yet faded from Mexican awareness. A popular work gives the following account:***
*Smith, loc. Cit. For those avid for detail, the American Consul who told Jones war was highly probably was at Mazatlan not far from the Tropic of Cancer.
**Smith, op. cit. p. 423. Professor Smith, a cool New Englander, describes Jones as a “a rather self-sufficient and hasty person”.
***Alberto Maria Carreno, Mexico y los Estados Unidos de America. Editorial Jus. Mexico. 1962. (First Edition, 1922). Pp. 78-79.
“A note from Bocanegra, the Mexican Foreign Secretary, to Waddy Thompson, U.S. Minister at Mexico, 19 December, 1842: “Never could the undersigned (Bocanegra) believe he would ever have the highly disagreeable and painful need to address the Honorable Envoy of the United States in a matter like this, since he could never have gotten himself to believe, and he still can not, that a high officer of the Navy of your nation would go so far in violating international law, as happened on 19 October, this year, in the invasion and occupation of Monterey in Upper California.* The greatest insult which can be given a sovereign and independent nation, that is what she (Mexico) has received.** It hurts to see escapades of the 16th Century repeated… ports seized invoking the authority of a foreign sovereign, all of it based on “might makes right”, and nothing else. Her flag struck down by the numerical superiority of the invading force, humiliated,… the greatest abuse on its glory… honor, dignity, propriety all offended…, Thompson excusing it by claiming Jones believed a state of war existed… and, as if that wasn’t enough, Thompson, in passing
*Upper California included all of what is today the State of that name. Monterey is a little over a hundred and fifty males from the mouth of the Bay of San Francisco.
**Rudyard Kipling, a most sensitive expert on interference with sovereignty, describes a scene in which a vigorous, young talent paws menacingly at a foolish and feeble employer, “There are few things more poignantly humiliating than being handled by a man who does not intend to strike…”.
***Kipling, the Light that Failed. End of Chapter III.
‘on Jones’ explanation and asking the Mexican government to bear in mind “the crude epithets applied to my countrymen and the rude, boastful tone used by General Michiltorena, chief of the port”…”
‘Mad Jack’ had company. The “acrimonious and bitter”* atmosphere at the Capitol set the tone. A week after Dickens had passed through, shocked to learn that right on the floor of the House one member had threatened to cut another’s throat from ear to ear, John Quincy Adams, and not the slasher [sic], was censured by that body. Mr. Wise of Virginia, friend to both the Norfolk Navy Yard, and ‘Mad Jack’, led the pack in branding, figuratively for the time being, the ex-President, “as his father before him”, a vicious enemy, in league with Great Britain to overthrow the innocent South.** Mr. Adams’ shrill voice then rant through the House: “Four5 or five years ago there came to this House a man with his hands and face dripping with the blood of murder, the blotches of which are yet hanging upon him, and when it was proposed that he should be tried by this House for that crime, I opposed it.”***
Opposition to the war begun by Commodore Jones triumphed only long after its fruits had been safely absorbed. So much that in New England, a conscientious contemporary of Henry Adams and Admiral Dewey, found it worthwhile as late as 1908 “to acquit the United States as a nation of the most serious, if not the only charge ever laid against her honor, and to remove the cloud from the just
*Poore, op. cit. p. 294
*** The reference by the ex-President is to the duel in which Rep. Graves of Kentucky used a riffle to shoot Rep. Cilley of Maine. Mr. Wise was generally blamed for instigating the affair. It left Mrs. Chilley with three small children to feed before the days of social security and aid to dependent children. Ibid. pp. 207-208.
Title to her largest possession… It is, or ought to be, a very dear wish of the historian to make apparent, if true, the right of the American citizen to say to his boy:
‘Your country never fought an unjust nor an inglorious war.’…”* Counsellor [sic] Owen goes on to note, ”When, there4fore, General Grant,**** or President John Quincy Adams,…, or C.T. Brady, LL.D.,** the latest historian to develop the topic , expresses the opinion that the war waged by the United States with Mexico was un justifiable, or that exorbitant terms of peace were exacted… (but) historians should not rant nor talk of ‘harpies of the United States’, or ‘Polk’s ferocious war message with its howling catalogue of grievances’, or the ‘sin against the political Holy Spirit’…”***
Dr. Brady’s “no truly patriotic citizen can think of it without a sense of shame”, or his judgment it was “the one serious blot on out national history” arouse a Connecticut Yankee such Mr. Owen to righteous fury. The painful conflict to Owen’s testimony is one omission: nowhere in the index, or in the text is there a mention of one A. Lincoln, an embarrassing absence since the author goes to the trouble of introducing himself not only as M.A. (Yale), and LL. B. (Harvard), but more impressively as “formerly staff, 4th Division, II Corps, Arm of Potomac”.. Or is he merely applying
*Charles H. Owen, The Justice of the Mexican War. C.P. Putnam’s Sons. N.Y. 1908. Preface and p.2.
**Cyrus Townsend Brady graduated from Annapolis in 1883, but went into the ministry. During the Spanish-American War he was chaplain of the First Pennsylvania Volunteers.
***Owen, loc. c it.
****Please turn to back of the page.
a courtroom maxim of the President whom he knew enjoyed an almost reverential respect among readers to whom the phrase “Army of Potomac” meant anything: “In law it is good policy to never plead WHAT you need not, lest you oblige yourself to prove what you can not.”* Lincoln’s views on the origin of the Mexican War not only would have demolished the efforts of Mr. Owen; they bear rather plainly on a similar situation today. We shall give them in full, immediately after treating a final aspect of the tale of ‘Mad Jack’.
William Graham Sumner, a painstaking anti-extremist, the first holder of the chair of Political and Social Science at Yale (1872), offers evidence to support a theory that ‘Mad Jack’ partook of the ‘Jacksonian [sic] Style’ which culminated in the Mexican War. Andrew Jackson set a precedent for Commodore Jones by his incursion into Spanish Florida in 1818, an invasion quite different from the one he commanded during the War of 1812. This time, his country was at peace with Spain, and the rest of the world for that matter. An innocent old gentleman form Scotland, Mr. Arbuthnot, was hung by Gen. Jackson’s order.** The year before General Winfield Scott found himself obliged to declined Jackson’s challenge after the victor of New Orleans learned that Scott had said something about him. That something was a comment of Jackson’s order forbidding his subordinates on the borders of Florida to follow any command from
*Letter from A. Lincoln to Usher P. Linder, Washington, 20 Feb. 1848. The collected ? of Abraham Lincoln. Edited by Roy D. ? … Rutgoro University Press. Now Brunswick , New Jersey, 1953. Vol .p. 453
**William Graham Summer, Andrew Jackson. Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 1882. P. 75.
Washington unless the directive had first passed the proconsular [sic]* hand of the general. “Jackson showed evidence of an ungovernable temper and a willingness to profit by every opportunity for a quarrel…”** His frame of mind was the antithesis of the judicious, the empirical, the scientific: “Jackson ‘knew’ how the matter stood by the current prejudices and assumptions, not by evidence and information. This was the tone of his mind.”*** In the matter of “no sanctuary for injunsion [sic] Florida” and the doctrine of “hot pursuit”, Jackson may have been well ahead of his time. He was also very much with his time. The publisher of Niles’ Register put it this way: “The fact is that ninety nine in a hundred of the people believe that General Jackson acted on every occasion for the good of his country, and success universally crowned his efforts…”.**** Sumner’s comments: “With this dictum the case was dismissed and the matter stood so that General Jackson… could not be called to account although he had hung four persons without warrant of law… his popularity shielded him. He had become a privileged person, like a great French nobleman of the last century. To offend him was to expose one’s self to assaults which could not be resented as they would be if they came from another man. All this he had won from and by his military success.”*****
*Sumner, op. cit. p. 63-64.
**ibid. p. 61
***ibid. p. 76
****ibid. p. 79. Jaskson needed almost 99 popular support since the President, Mr. Monroe, and the entire cabinet, John Quincy Adams excepted, were against his unauthorized invasion of Florida, in which he had deposed the Spanish governor, etc…
*****ibid. p. 79 and p. 86.
In order to follow Lincoln’s statements and irreducible background including those of his adversary, the President, is given. James Knox Polk miscalculated. As early as 1843, the Mexican Minister at Washington had made it plain that war would follow on Texas joining the United States, 1845: “He (the “confidential agent of the United States in Mexico”) gives it as his opinion that there will be no declaration of war against the United States and no invasion of Texas; that the government will be kept employed in keeping down another revolution… He is also of opinion that the government is desirous of re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States, and that a Minister from the U.S. would be received.”* The American consuls at Mexico and Vera Cruz both concurred in this totally erroneous estimate of Mexican attitudes.** This takes on more meaning if we recall that scarcely two weeks earlier, Polk had ordered General Taylor that the President would regard it as war if the Mexicans crossed the Rio Grande in force.*** The next day, the envoy which only the “confidential agent” and the consuls had believed would be received hinted at war as the only proper solution; Polk agreed.**** Eight months later came the War Message. In it Polk reviewed his “strong desire to establish peace with Mexico in liberal and honorable terms… (but) the Mexican
*Polk’s Journal for 16 Sept. 1845.
***Owen, op. cit. p. 256.
****Polk’s Journal. 17 Sept. 1845
Government not only refused to receive him (Slidedl [sic] the envoy), but after a long series of continued menaces have invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow citizens on our own soil”.* Polk noted that we were “determined to leave no effort untried to effect an amicable adjustment with Mexico, (but) the Mexican government refused all negotiation and have made no proposition of any kind. (After asking the Congress to “recognized the existence of war”) Polk affirms “I shall be prepared to renew negotiations whenever Mexico shall be ready”.** To round out the picture, and illustrate the deep split in the country, here is a resolution of the legislature of Massachusetts a fortnight earlier:
Resolved, That the present war with Mexico has its primary origins in the unconstitutional annexation to the United States of the foreign state of Texas… that is mush be regarded as a war against freedom, against Humanity, against justice, against the Union, against the Constitution, against the free states, that a regard for the fair name of our country, for the principles of morals,… requires all constitutional efforts for the destruction of the unjust influence of the Slave Power, and the abolition…*** This resolve “also called upon the country to retire from the position of aggression… towards the sister republic, Mexico.”****
*Polk’s War Message. 11 May, 1846. The message had been prepared by Polk with major assistance from George Baneroft, ‘Mad Jack’s’ superior; the President worked it up all day Sunday, 10 May, taking time out only to attend church.
***George Lunt, The Origin of the Lato Bar. N.Y. Appleton. 1856. P. 151
James Russell Lowell’s “Biglow Papers” were nowise contrary to the Resolve of his Commonwealth’s lawmakers. Lowell has his rustic Birdefredom Sawin tell of his was enlistment:*
Afore I come away from hum I had a strong persuasion Thet Mexicans worn’t human beans, -an ourang outing nation, A sort o’ folks a chap could kill an never dream on’t arter,** No more’n a feller’d dream o’pigs thet he hed hed to slarter; I’d an idee thet they were build arter the darkie fashion all, an’ kicking’ colored folks about, you know, ‘s kind o’ national; But wen I jined I worn’t so wise ez thet air queen o’ Sheby, Ger, come to look at ‘em, they aint much diff’rent from wut we be, An’ here we air ascrougin’ ‘em, ez Caleb sez, under our eagle pinions,
He sez they’d ough’ to stan’ right up an’ let us pop ‘em farily, (Guess wen he ketches ‘em at thet he’ll hev to git up airly)***, Thet our nation’s bigger’n theirn an’ so its rights air bigger, An’ thet it’s all to make ‘em free thet we air pullin’ trigger, Thet Anglo Saxondon’s idee’s abreakin’ ‘em to pieces, An’ thet idee’s thet every man doos jest wat he pleases (damn pleases); Ef I don’t make his meanin’ clear, perhaps in some respex I can, I know thet “every man” don’t mean a nigger or a Mexican;…
Lowell comments on this epic verse “(Those have not been wanting, as indeed when hath Satan been to seek for attorneys?, who have maintained that our late inroad upon Mexico was undertaken not so much to avenge any national quarrel as for the spreading of free institutions and of Protestantism.****… Verily I admire that no pious sergeant among these new Crusaders beheld Martin Luther riding at the front of the host upon a tamed pontifical bull… If ever the country is seized with another such mania pro propaganda fide, I think it would be wise… to wrap every one of our cannon-balls in a leaf of the New Testament, the reading of which is denied to those who sit in the darkness of Popery…
*The Writings of James Russell Lowell, Volume VIII, Riverside Edition. Boston and New York. Houghton Mifflin and Co. 1895.pp. 58-59. The Biglow Papers date from 1848, the year the Mexican War came to an end.
**Cf. footnote on page 66.
***A constant complaint for over five years in Viet Nam.
****Stephen F. Austin, one of the founders of Texas, in late 1835: “Freedom of conscience and rational liberty will take root in that distant and by nature much favored land where for ages past the upas [sic] ((Poisonous)) banner of the Inquisition, of intolerance and of despotirm [sic], has paralyzed and sickened or deadened every effort in favor of civil and religious liberty.” Owen, op. cit. p. 104. The appeal was made in Louisville, perhaps in the hope that it might emulate the city of Cincinnati which sent two cannon to the Texas.
(Conclusion of excerpt from ‘Biglow Papers’)
“I do much fear that we shall be seized now and then with a Protestant fervor, as long as we have neighbor Naboths whose wallowings [sic] in Papistical [sic] mire excite our horror in exact proportion to the size of and desirableness of their vineyards. Yet I rejoice that some earnest Protestants have been made by this war, - I mean those who protested against. Fewer they were than I could wish,* for one might imagine America to have been colonized by a tribe of those nondescript African animals the Aye-Aye so difficult a word is no to us all… I gave a stab to that pestilential fallacy, -‘Our country, right or wrong’……”**
Lincoln reached Washington on 3 December, 1847. He was taking his seat in the Thirtieth Congress as the only Whig from Illinois, while Winfield Scott sat the capitol of Mexico not quite through “conquering a peace”. Less than three weeks later, he fired off the ‘spot’ Resolutions in a speech which is worth pondering: “Whereas the President of the United States, in his message of 11 May, 1846, has declared that “The Mexican Government not only refused to receive him’ (the U.S. envoy) ‘or listen to his propositions, but, after…, have at least invaded our territory, and shed the blood of our fellow citizens on our own soil’.
…And whereas this house desires to obtain a full knowledge of all the facts which go to establish whether the particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed, was, or was not, our own soil, at that time; therefore Resolved by the House of Representatives, that the President of the United States be respectfully requested to inform this House---
*Most of the opposition frittered away once the shooting started. As Ben. Perley Poore put it: “To the more intelligent portion of the Northern Whigs the contest was repulsive, and the manner in which it was used for the advancement of Democratic politicians was revolting. But few forgot their allegiance to this country in the face of the enemy… “ Poore, p.33
**Lowallia Workd. Op. cit., p. 61, 63-64
First: Whether the spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was shed as in his messages declared, was, or was not, within the territories of Spain, at least from the treaty of 1819 until the Mexican revolution.*
Second: Weather that spot is, or is not within the territory which was wrested from Spain, by the Mexican revolution.
Third: Whether that spot is, or is not, a settlement of people, which settlement existed ever since long before the Texas revolution, until its inhabitants fled from the approach of the U.S. Army.
Fifth: Whether the People of that settlement, or a majority of the , or any of them, had ever, previous to the bloodshed, mentioned in the messages, submitted themselves to the government or laws of Texas,
Sixth: Whether the People of that settlement, did, or did not, flee from the approach of the United States Army, leaving unprotected their homes and their growing crops,** before the blood so shed, as in his messages stated; and whether the first blood so shed, was, or was not shed, within the enclosure of the People,…, who had thus fled…
Seventh: Whether our citizens, whose blood was shed, as in his messages, were, or were not, at that time, armed officers and soldiers, sent into THAT settlement, by the military order of the President…and
*The revolution was accomplished by 1823, although not recognized by Spain until 1831.
**Lincoln the frontier farmer speaking to an audience make up of many like himself would have sympathized for more than the urbanized helot of today the treasure of growing crops to the Vietnamese peasant, and the corresponding grief at their destruction. Lincoln never heard of a refugee camp, at most ? would have considered it an invention of the Devil.
Eighth: Whether the military force of the United States, including those citizens. Was. Or was not, more than once, intimated to the War Department that, in his opinion, no such movement was necessary to the defense or protection of Texas.*
Lincoln paid for his preference for morality over servility. On 2 March, 1848, about two months after the ‘Spot Resolutions’, A meeting in Clark County adopted the following declaration:** “Resolved that Abe Lincoln, the author of the ‘spotty’ resolutions in Congress, against his own country, may they long be remembered by his constitutions, but may they cease to remember him, except in rebuke…:. The self-entitled “Patriotic Whigs and Democrats’ had not finished. The Illinois State Register, a newspaper Lincoln never cared for, reported public meetings and other journals of opinion proclaiming ‘A second Benedict Arnold’ was loose in Congress.*** Lincoln didn’t intend to run again anyway. He spoke before this, and on the War with Mexico: “Mr. Chairman: 12 Jan. 1848 //… the vote a week or ten days ago, declaring that the war with Mexico was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President… When the was began, it was my opinion that all those who, because of knowing too little, or because of knowing too much, could not conscientiously approve the conduct of the president, should, nevertheless, as good citizens and patriots, remain silent
*Remarks of Lincoln. Op. cit. pp. 420-422
**? Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln. The Prairie Years. Vol. I. Marcourt Erace, .y. 1926. P. 372.
“on that point, at least till the war should be ended… besides all this, one of my colleagues*… brought in a set of resolutions, expressly endorsing the justice of the war on thepart of the President. Upon these resolutions,…, I shall be compelled to vote; sp that I cannot be silent, if I would … The result of this examination was to make the impression, that taking for true, all the President states as facts, he falls short of proving his justification; and that the President would have gone farther with his proof, if it had not been for the small matter, that the truth would not permit him… The President, in his first war message of May 1846, declares that the soil was ours** on which hostilities were commenced by Mexico; and he repeats that declaration, almost in the same language, in each successive annual message,… Now I propose to try to show, that the whole of this- issue and evidence is, from beginning to end, the sheerest deception. The issue, as he presents it, is in these words, But there are those who, conceding all this to be true, assume the ground that the true western boundary of Texas is the Nueces***, instead of the Rio Grande; and that, therefore, in marching our army to the east bank of the latter river, we passed the Texan line, and invaded the territory of Mexico.
*Wm. A. Richardson, Democrat, who had been elected to fill the vacancy die to the resignation of Stephen A. Douglas.
**The implicit defense of the aggression from the North theory of the administration is that either the Gulf or Tonkin, or the air base at Pleiku were in August, 1964 and February, 1965, somehow ‘our soil’, a place where we had every night to be without incurring any attack. The absurdity of this claim became evident to a student of history enrichging the result of a British insistence on immunity in the event the Royal Navy had established a base on Confederate soil, or sent cruisers close to New York after escorting a Southern raid on Nantucket. The Nueces is roughly parallel to and a hundred miles north of Rio Grande.
“Now this issue is made up of two affirmatives and no negative. The main deception of it is, that it assumes as true, that one river of the other is necessarily the boundary; and cheats the superficial thinker entirely out of the idea, that possibly the boundary is somewhere between the two, AND not actually at either… I now proceed to examine the President’s evidence… His first item is, that the Rio Grande was the Western boundary of Louisiana as we purchased it from France in 1803; and seeming to expect this to be disputed, he argues over the amount of nearly a page, to prove it true; at the end of which lets us know, that by the treaty of 1819, we sold to Spain the whole county from the Rio Grande eastward to the Sabine. Now, admitting for the present, that the Rio Grande, was the boundary of Louisiana, what, under heaven, had that to do with the present boundary between us and Mexico? How, Mr. Chaseman, the kind, that once divided your land from mine, can still be the boundary between us, after I have sold my land to you, to me beyond all comprehension… The outrage upon Common right, of seizing as our own what we have once sold, merely because it was our before we sold it, is only equaled by the outrage on common sense of any attempt to justify it…* … His next piece of evidence is that ‘The Republic of Texas always claimed that river as her western boundary’.. Now all of this is but
*The campaign slogan of 1844 was ‘reoccupation of Oregon and reannexation of Texas, as it was folk, who shines here as am illogician, did not get a majority of the votes cast, and was only 33,000 or so ahead of Henry Clay.
naked claim… If I should claim your land, by word of mouth, that certainly would not make it mine; and if I were to claim it be a deed which I had made myself, and with which, you had had nothing to do, the claim would be quite the same in substance or rather nothingness… I am now through the whole of the President’s evidence; and it is a singular fact, that if anyone should declare the President sent the army into the midst of a settlement of Mexican people, who had never submitted, by consent or by force, to the authority of Texas or the United States and that there and thereby, the first blood of the war was shed, there is not one word in all the President has said, which would either admit or deny the declaration. This strange emission, it does seem to me, could severely have occurred but by design, and therein lies the chief deception…* If, as is probably true, Texas was exercising jurisdiction along the western bank of the Rio Grande, then neither river was the boundary; but the uninhibited country in between the two was. The extent of our territory in that region depended, not on any treat-fixed boundary (for no treaty had attempted it) but one revolution. Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the
*This is too reminiscent of the vital omission in the incumbent’s description of the current fighting in the Viet Nam began, and where, and why. The shameful skeleton is the American relation to an attempt at colonial re-conquest which four people defended in France today, fewer in fact than that very small minority there which sees anything in America policy other than a cracked and fore ? record. If the reader has had the endurance to get through the incomplete presentation of point by point refutation of Presidential war messages over a century old, the only consolation that awaiting him is point by point dissection of the messages of the current successor. Polk much later on in this study.
“existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, - a most sacred right –a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.* Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority,** intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movement. Such minority, was precisely the case, of the stories of our own revolution… After this, all Mexico, including Texas, revolutionized against Mexico. In my view, just so far as she carried her revolution, by obtaining the actual, willing or unwilling, submission of the people, so far, the country was hers, and no father… Let the President answer the interrogatories I proposed… But if he can not, or will not do this – if on any pretense, or no pretense…. Then I shall be fully convinced, of what I more than suspect already, that he is deeply conscious of being in the wrong – that he feels the blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to Heaven against him, that he ordered General Taylor into the midst
*Last the reader imagine Abe Lincoln was the Ma Tse Tung of the Nineteenth Century, we have the assurance of Dean Rusk that “it has nothing in common with the great American revolutionary tradition. It being the ? of course Prince Nettemich, who has about a month of power left when Lincoln spoke, might not have been any distinction between the uncouth Illinois lawyer and disheveled prophet of the spectra that was haunting Europe .
**In a real sense, the Civil War was a revolution overthrowing the dominance of the Southerners by a coalition of Westerners and New Englanders it really a minority.
“of a peaceful Mexican settlement, purposely to bring on war,… he plunged into it, and has swept on and on , till disappointed in his calculation of the case with which Mexico might be subdued*, he now finds himself he knows not where. How like the half insane mumbling of a fever-dream, is the whole war part of his late message! … At one time, urging the national honor, the security of the future, the prevention of foreign interference, and even the good of Mexico herself, as among the objects of the war;… As I have said before, he knows not where he is. He is bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show, there is not something about his conscience, more painful than all his mental perplexity!**
In another speech in the House about six months later Lincoln made some important distinctions: “But the distinction between the cause of the President in beginning the war, and the cause of the country after if was begun, is a distinction which you (the Democrats) cannot perceive. To you, the President and the country seems to be alone. You are interested to see no distinction between them; and I venture to suggest that possibly your interest blinds you….”***
*Mexico, in 1846, had no ally, and not even a friend for that matter. Viet Nam in this decade has two powerful allies, and many cordial supporters unable to send men or weapons. Mexico, in 1846 had no unifying leader or party to rally the ? to a prolonged guerrilla war. Viet Nam today has the most experienced and the most refined guerrilla cadre anywhere: just because they are on their own soil. It seems possible American policy makers have just begun to realize how Viet Nam differs from a banana republic.
**Lincoln’s Works. op. cit. pp. 432-442.
***Ibid. Speech of 25 July, 1848. P. 515
End of Chapter III
Letters to and from Captain John Percival, Captain, USS Constitution
Go to Chapter IV
CONTENTS: Background Introduction Letter From A Dead Man page 1, 2 Chapter I Stubborn and patient National Resistance page 10 Chapter II Modern Viet Nam: Product of or Reaction to the Spanish Inquisition page 16 Chapter III "Mad Jack" Disguised as Uncle Sam Draws First Blood page 44 ------------ Letters to and from Captain John Percival, Captain, USS Constitution page 58 Chapter IV The American Revolution and War of Independence page 90 Chapter V Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God page 95
Editors notes: This unpublished manuscript by Ira Bodry, was written and typed sometime between 1968 and given for publication to Walter Teague in 1970. Unfortunately some of the citations are unreadable and a few may be missing. Where possible such items are indicated. The preparation of this text for the the web and a scanned and notated version were prepared by Walter Teague and other volunteers from 1999 through 2013. This publication is copywrited by Walter Teague, Adelphi, Maryland. (C).
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