Monday, September 22, 2008

Saving Old Ironsides

U. S. S. Constitution

The U.S.S. Constitution was launched in 1797, one of six U.S. frigates ordered built in 1794 by Congress. These frigates would be the start of a new American Navy - at the conclusion of the American War for Independence, the Navy had been dissolved. Facing threats from both French privateers and Barbary Pirates the U. S. government realized it needed a Navy to protect its vital merchant fleet and its national interests.

The U.S.S. Constitution was a heavy frigate, carrying more guns than was usual for a frigate of the time. The ability to fire heavier broadsides, along with its strong construction, were instrumental in its great success as a fighting ship. Old Ironsides, as it affectionately came to be known, was never defeated in battle.

Old Ironsides greatest victories came in the The War of 1812. By defeating the British ships H.M.S. Guerriere and H.M.S. Java, the U.S.S. Constitution won everlasting fame.

In September of 1830 the Navy announced that the Constitution, now some thirty-three years old and needing extensive repair, would be scrapped. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes of Boston wasted no time in writing and having published this poem to lodge his personal complaint. A nation-wide protest led to the decision by Congress to fund the needed repairs.

In 1924 Old Ironsides was again on the chopping block. The frigate was in very poor condition and required a complete overhaul that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A publicity campaign by the Elks Club enlisted the help of the nations schoolchildren, who contributed thousands of dollars by literally pitching in their pennies. Congress responded to popular pressure and provided the remainder of the funds.

Today the U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest commissioned war ship still afloat in the world. It has an a complement of active duty U.S. Navy personnel and is berthed in the old Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. It is currently undergoing renovations, but it is open to the public for tours.

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