26 January 2008

What we need…

During this campaign season for electing the next U.S. president, like many other people I find myself reflecting upon what I think we really need in a leader. I remember the slogan of Theodore Roosevelt that went “Speak softly but carry a big stick”. That sits pretty well with me and just recently I came across an example of how in the past it was applied by a U.S. Navy captain named Duncan N. Ingraham.

There was a guy named Martin Koszta, of Hungarian birth, who had taken part in the political movement of 1848-49 for freeing Hungary from the dominion of the Emperor of Austria, and who had fled to Turkey upon the failure of that cause. He then emigrated to the United States and in July, 1852, he made a declaration under oath of his intention to become a citizen of the United States. At this time he renounced all allegiance to any foreign power. After residing in the U.S for about two years he took a trip to visit Europe and while sailing up the Mediterranean in June of 1853 the ship stopped at the city of Smyrna in Turkey which was a neutral port. Mr. Koszta went ashore and immediately placed himself under the protection of the United States by the American consul Mr. Offley at Smyrna. Since Smyrna was a neutral port he considered himself quite safe which in fact he actually was under international law. Unfortunately, however, he was recognized by someone in Austrian government who also happened to be there at the time and he was arrested by Austrian naval personnel and taken aboard the Austrian ship “Hussar” where he was placed in chains. No doubt the plan was to take him to Austria or Hungary and have him executed.

U.S. Captain Duncan N. Ingraham heard about the arrest of Koszta and he went alongside the Austrian ship and asked if Martin Koszta was on board. He was told that there was no one by that name on board. Captain Ingraham then went ashore and learned from others that Koszta was definitely on the Hussar and that the ship had been observed since Koszta was taken aboard and he had not left. Ingraham then went back alongside the Austrian ship and asked for Martin Koszta and again the Austrians denied that he was on board. Captain Ingraham returned to shore where he met the Admiral of the Austrian fleet and he said to him “I have been credibly informed that an American citizen by the name of Martin Koszta has been arrested upon these streets and taken aboard your flagship and is now being held as a prisoner. I have been to your ship twice, and twice the commander of your ship has lied to my face and denied that there was any such person aboard.”

Captain Ingraham immediately went aboard the Austrian ship. When Martin Koszta was brought before him in irons, Koszta was asked if he was an American citizen. He said that although he was not a full citizen, he had taken out his first papers after a residence in the United States of two years, and when the prescribed time had expired would take out final papers. He was asked if he demanded the protection of the American government. He said that he did. He was then informed by Ingraham that he should have that protection. Captain Ingraham demanded the immediate release of Koszta but the Austrians refused to comply. Captain Ingraham then gave them twenty-four hours to release Koszta and if he was not released by the end of that time then we would fire his guns upon the Austrian ships. The Austrians thought he was joking because they had three powerful naval ships with many men and guns and Captain Ingraham had only one small ship named the “St. Louis”. When the next day came everyone waited with much curiosity to see what would happen. The governor of Smyrna went to Captain Ingraham and thanked him for his willingness to protect the neutrality of the port but he was afraid that if Captain Ingraham carried out his demands the big Austrian guns would sink his ship. Captain Ingraham told him, “I know my duty and I shall do it. Unless the prisoner is released I will fire my guns upon them at the time specified.”

Captain Ingraham then placed his ship in better position where his guns could fire directly upon the flagship of the Austrians. The signals went up, the commands were given, the guns were loaded, and every man was at his post. Captain Ingraham was on the quarterdeck with his watch in hand waiting to give the order to fire just as soon as the time was up. Just a few minutes before the time expired a boat was let down from the Austrian ship and the prisoner was surrendered. For the first time the monarchs of Europe had learned that the United States was strong enough and brave enough to protect her people everywhere and would do so despite the danger, even though such citizens might be of foreign birth. In short…they learned that an American is an American no matter what!

So what happened after that? Well, I do know that Martin Koszta returned to the United States. He wrote a letter to the New York times thanking the American people which was published on Wednesday, December 14, 1853. After that he seems to have disappeared. Captain Duncan Ingraham on the other hand received the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor on August 4th, 1854 for his actions in the Koszta affair and went on to a long distinguished naval career, first in the U.S. Navy and after the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Confederate Navy where he played an important role as a commodore. He married Harriet Horry Laurens and together they had 11 children. He died in 1891. He had been born in 1802 in Charleston, South Carolina and entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman at the tender age of 10. He was navy through and through.

He is pictured below. There have been four U.S. naval ships named after him. The latest USS Ingraham is numbered FFG-61.

To paraphrase old Archie Bunker…“Mister we could use a man (or woman) like Duncan Ingraham again”. He would definitely have my vote.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.