American Minute with Bill Federer
“Old Ironsides” is the nickname of the three-masted frigate USS Constitution.
Muslim Barbary Pirates of North Africa had captured the American ships Polly, Betsey, Maria, Dauphin, and Philadelphia.
The USS Constitution was sent to fight the Muslim pirates in:
– First Barbary War, 1803,
– Battle of Tripoli Harbor, 1804, and
– Battle of Derne, 1805.
When the USS Constitution returned, Francis Scott Key wrote the poem “When the Warrior Returns from the Battle Afar,” published in Boston’s Independent Chronicle, December 30, 1805.
Key wrote it to the same tune which nine years later he used for the Star-Spangled Banner:
In conflict resistless each toil they endur’d
Till their foes shrunk dismay’d from the war’s desolation:
And pale beamed the Crescent, its splendor obscur’d
By the light of the Star-Bangled Flag of our nation.
Where each flaming star gleamed a meteor of war,
And the turban’d head bowed to the terrible glare.
Then mixt with the olive the laurel shall wave
And form a bright wreath for the brow of the brave.
The USS Constitution sailed against the British in the War of 1812 and caught slave traders off the coast of Africa in the 1850’s.
The USS Constitution was about to be decommissioned and broken into scrap when it was saved by a poem titled “Old Ironsides,” written by poet, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.:
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye 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!
Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee;—
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
O, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every thread-bare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,—
The lightning and the gale!
The poem stirred the nation to save the USS Constitution and as a result, it is the oldest commissioned ship in the world still afloat.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 29, 1809, just north of Harvard Yard in the house where patriots planned the Battle of Bunker Hill.
His father was Abiel Holmes, minister of the First Congregational Church n Cambridge.
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., was dean of Harvard Medical School, where he taught Anatomy, Pathology, and Physiology for 35 years.
He introduced the use of the microscope in medical education.
Before the discovery of “germs,” Holmes was ridiculed by academia for promoting the novel practice of doctors washing their hands and surgical instruments to prevent the spread of diseases, a conclusion which Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis also reached in Vienna, Austria.
Dr. Holmes caused a controversy by trying to admit the first woman and the first African-Americans to Harvard Medical School.
He invented the “American stereoscope,” which was a 19th century hand held device to view 3-D pictures.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., was one of the popular America’s Fireside Poets, along with
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
– William Cullen Bryant,
– John Greenleaf Whittier,
– James Russell Lowell, and
– Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The Fireside Poets were described by Horace Scudder wrote in Literature in School, 1888:
“They were born on American soil; they have breathed American air; they were nurtured on American ideas. They are Americans of Americans.
They are as truly the issue of our national life as are the common schools in which we glory.
During the fifty years in which our common-school system has been growing to maturity, these six have lived and sung; and I dare to say that the lives and songs of Bryant, Emerson, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, and Lowell have an imperishable value regarded as exponents of national life.”
“Where we love is home. Home that our feet may leave but not our hearts.”
“The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.”
“The Amen of nature is always a flower.”
“Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”
“Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer.”
“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of Heaven, we much sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., wrote a poem about Pilgrim pastor John Robinson of Leyden, published in “The Professor at the Breakfast Table,” 1860:
“Before the Speedwell’s anchor swung,
Ere yet the Mayflower’s sail was spread,
While round his feet the Pilgrims clung,
The pastor spake, and thus he said:–
‘Ye go to bear the saving Word
To tribes unnamed and shores untrod:
Heed well the lessons ye have heard
From those old teachers taught of God.'”
In the Spring of 1861, at the start of the Civil War, the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Massachusetts militia composed the words of the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body.”
Later that year, to the same tune, Julia Ward Howe wrote the words to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
At the same time, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., wrote a poem titled “To Canaan-A Puritan War Song” (published April 12, 1862, in Boston’s Evening Transcript):
Where are you going, soldiers,
With banner, gun, and sword?
We’re marching South to Canaan
To battle for the Lord!
What Captain leads your armies
Along the rebel coasts?
The Mighty One of Israel,
His name is Lord of Hosts!
To Canaan, to Canaan
The Lord has led us forth,
To blow before the heathen walls
The trumpets of the North! …
What song is this you’re singing?
The same that Israel sung
When Moses led the mighty choir,
And Miriam’s timbrel rung!
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., stated:
“One flag, one land, one heart, one hand, one nation forevermore!.”
(Get the DVD series Miracles in American History www.AmericanMinute.com)
Dr. Holmes’ son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was born MARCH 8, 1841.
Holmes, Jr., graduated from Harvard and enlisted in the Army against his father’s wishes.
He was injured in the Civil War three times, including a gunshot wound to the chest at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, October 1861.
Holmes, Jr., edited the American Law Review, was a Harvard Law professor, and Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt appointed Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., to the U.S. Supreme Court, but almost immediately regretted it, remarking:
“Out of a banana I could carve a firmer backbone.”
Holmes’ unpredictable decisions utilizing fatalistic, tortured logic earned him the moniker of being “The Great Dissenter.”
Unfortunately, like the Old Testament accounts that the sons of High Priest Eli did not follow in his steps, or that the sons of Prophet Samuel did not follow in his steps, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., did not follow in the steps of his patriotic father.
One of Justice Holmes’ worst decisions was upholding Virginia’s mandatory sterilization of a woman in the case of Buck v. Bell, 1927, writing “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Ross Pomeroy wrote in “One of the Supreme Court’s Worst Decisions Was About Science” (Real Clear Science, April 10, 2017):
“The majority opinion, penned by the legendary justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, seems like it originated from a dystopian work of science fiction …
Unfortunately, Holmes’ opinion was very real and far-reaching. Not only did it result in the sterilization of Buck, it also led to the sterilization of as many as 70,000 people over the next fifty years …
The decision’s warped sense of justice came during the Nuremburg Trials after World War II, when Nazi war criminals utilized it for their defense.”
Instead of maintaining the original intent of the Constitution, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was influenced by Social Darwinism and Progressivism to evolve the Constitution through a process he called “legal realism.”
His biographer described in The Justice from Beacon Hill: The Life and Times of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1991), that Holmes’ theory of “legal realism”:
“… shook the little world of lawyers and judges who had been raised on Blackstone’s theory that the law, given by God Himself, was immutable and eternal and judges had only to discover its contents.
It took some years for them to come around to the view that the law was flexible, responsive to changing social and economic climates …
Holmes had … broken new intellectual trails … demonstrating that the corpus of the law was neither ukase (an edict) from God nor derived from Nature, but … was a constantly evolving thing, a response to the continually developing social and economic environment.”
Serving on the bench for over 30 years, Holmes, Jr., contributed to the development of two distinct views held by Supreme Court Justices:
– the first view generally attempts to hold to the intent of the founders; and
– the second view cares little for the founders, opting to evolve the law so as to advance a political agenda.
Bradley C.S. Watson wrote in the article “The Curious Constitution of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.” (National Review, December 17, 2009):
“Following in Holmes’s footsteps, a long line of progressive jurists have broken with the founders’ Constitution — and with it, the very notion that human beings are creatures … with transcendent purposes that do not change over time.
In his rejection of natural law and natural rights — and thus of a classical liberal constitutionalism with limited state power — Holmes laid the groundwork for the contemporary era of jurisprudence, in which judges look to their visions of the future more than to the documents and doctrines of the past, and take on a new and far more active role in the constitutional order.”
After decades of issuing opinions which usurped the authority of God, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., gave the self-incriminating reply to a reporter on his 90th birthday, MARCH 8, 1931:
“Young man, the secret of my success is that at an early age I discovered I was not God.”
Alger Hiss clerked for Justice Holmes before he worked at the State Department and helped establish the United Nations, after which he was convicted on charges related to being a Soviet Russian spy.
Justice Holmes’ father, wrote a poem on the eve of the Civil War, when President James Buchanan declared a National Day of Fasting.
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., wrote “A Voice of the Loyal North,” National Fast, January 4, 1861:
WE sing “Our Country’s” song to-night
With saddened voice and eye;
Her banner droops in clouded light
Beneath the wintry sky …
‘T were vain to sigh o’er errors past,
The fault of sires or sons;
Our soldier heard the threatening blast,
And spiked his useless guns …
Enough of speech! the trumpet rings;
Be silent, patient, calm,-
God help them if the tempest swings
The pine against the palm! …
Our toilsome years have made us tame;
Our strength has slept unfelt;
The furnace-fire is slow to flame
That bids our ploughshares melt …
But harder still for those who learn
The truth forgot so long;
When once their slumbering passions burn,
The peaceful are the strong! …
The Lord have mercy on the weak,
And calm their frenzied ire,
And save our brothers ere they shriek,
“We played with Northern fire!”
The eagle hold his mountain height,—
The tiger pace his den!
Give all their country, each his right!
God keep us all! Amen!
(Get William J. Federer’s book American Minute: Notable Events of American Significance Remembered on the Date They Occurred www.AmericanMinute.com)
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.