A. Roger Ekirch's American Sanctuary begins in 1797 with the bloodiest mutiny ever suffered by the Royal Navy--on the British frigate HMS Hermione, four thousand miles from England's shores, off the western coast of Puerto Rico. Read more...
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A. Roger Ekirch's American Sanctuary begins in 1797 with the bloodiest mutiny ever suffered by the Royal Navy--on the British frigate HMS Hermione, four thousand miles from England's shores, off the western coast of Puerto Rico. In the midst of the most storied epoch in British seafaring history, the mutiny struck at the very heart of military authority and at Britain's hierarchical social order. Revolution was in the air: America had won its War of Independence, the French Revolution was still unfolding, and a ferocious rebellion loomed in Ireland, with countless dissidents already arrested.
Most of the Hermione mutineers had scattered throughout the North Atlantic; one of them, Jonathan Robbins, had made his way to American shores, and the British were asking for his extradition. Robbins let it be known that he was an American citizen from Danbury, Connecticut, and that he had been impressed into service by the British.
John Adams, the Federalist successor to Washington as president, in one of the most catastrophic blunders of his administration, sanctioned Robbins's extradition, according to the terms of the Jay Treaty of 1794. Convicted of murder and piracy by a court-martial in Jamaica, Robbins was sentenced by the British to death, hauled up on the fore yardarm of the frigate Acasta, blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back, and hanged.
Adams's miscalculation ignited a political firestorm, only to be fanned by news of Robbins's execution without his constitutional rights of due process and trial by jury. Thomas Jefferson, then vice president and leader of the emergent Republican Party, said, "No one circumstance since the establishment of our government has affected the popular mind more." Congressional Republicans tried to censure Adams, and the Federalist majority, in a bitter blow to the president, were unable to muster a vote of confidence condoning Robbins's surrender.
American Sanctuary brilliantly lays out in full detail the story of how the Robbins affair and the presidential campaign of 1800 inflamed the new nation and set in motion a constitutional crisis, resulting in Adams's defeat and Jefferson's election as the third president of the United States.
Ekirch writes that the aftershocks of Robbins's martyrdom helped to shape the infant republic's identity in the way Americans envisioned themselves. We see how the Hermione crisis led directly to the country's historic decision to grant political asylum to refugees from foreign governments--a major achievement in fulfilling the resonant promise of American independence, as voiced by Tom Paine, to provide "an asylum for mankind
- ISBN-13: 9780307379900
- ISBN-10: 0307379906
- Publisher: Pantheon Books
- Publish Date: February 2017
- Page Count: 320
- Dimensions: 10.1 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-12-05
- Reviewer: Staff
Ekirch (Birthright), professor of history at Virginia Tech, delves into the far-reaching ramifications of a violent 18th-century mutiny on the HMS Hermione, a British frigate. He persuasively argues that the fallout of the mutinyspecifically the extradition of Jonathan Robbins (aka Thomas Nash), a key mutineer, from the fledgling U.S. to Great Britain and his subsequent hangingwas pivotal in the bitterly fought battle for the American presidency between incumbent John Adams and challenger Thomas Jefferson. Ekirch also builds a strong case that the politics informing the controversy were instrumental in the historical refusal of the U.S. to extradite aliens charged solely with political crimes. Ekirch, a meticulous historian who writes with flair, brings the political theatre of the 1800 election into full view. He explains in detail how Jeffersons Republican Party turned Robbins into a martyr and cause célèbre, which helped bring an end to the Adams administration. Modern readers will recognize several elements of the campaign to discredit Adams: a vitriolic press, high-profile Congressional hearings, and threats of censure. The story of how a mutiny on a British frigate became a major influence in U.S. politics and spawned bedrock U.S. policy is a complex and instructive tale. (Mar.)