Jefferson's Navy

September 30, 1999

Say what you will about Pat Buchanan. You may like him or dislike him (I haven't found lots of people in the middle). But whatever you think of him, you've got to admit he writes and speaks with conviction, even on such relatively obscure things as Thomas Jefferson's naval policy. I don't know too many other presidential candidates that could wax eloquent on such issues.

But it isn't as obscure and inconsequential as you might think. In his recent book A Republic, Not an Empire, Pat Buchanan reminds his readers of the dangers of isolationism (a label often attached to him). President Jefferson did not believe in a strong navy. "During the Napoleonic Wars," writes Buchanan, "America endured repeated humiliations traceable to a fundamental failing. Jefferson had declared neutrality, but with his visceral dislike of industry and suspicion of a strong navy intact, he failed to maintain the power to guarantee the nation's rights as a neutral."

American merchant marines were conscripted by the British. American frigates became fodder for British men of war. Jefferson lacked the will and the military hardware to defend U.S. interests on the high seas. He ended up imposing a unilateral embargo against the trade of his own country and became an isolationist. In essence, he built a Fortress America, but he forgot to stock it with guns.

After a decade of military build down, we would be wise to revisit the lesson of Thomas Jefferson detailed in Pat Buchanan's book. Without a strong navy, President Jefferson was unable to even maintain an effective isolationist stance.

The current Republican front runner was asked the other day by journalist Tucker Carlson about the books he reads. His answer was that he doesn't read books on public policy. Well, he might at least borrow a copy of Pat Buchanan's latest book. If he becomes president, he might want to learn a lesson or two from history.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.