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Stephen Decatur and the U. S. Flag

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Decatur, Stephen was an American naval officer, born on January 5, 1779, in Sinepuxent, Maryland, and educated at the University of Pennsylvania. During the war with Tripoli (1801-5) Decatur was one of the leading American naval commanders. His destruction of the U.S. frigate Philadelphia, which had become stranded on a sandbar in the harbor of Tripoli and captured by the enemy, was an unusually bold venture.


At the outbreak of the War of 1812 Decatur was the commanding officer of the frigate United States, on which he had first served as a midshipman. As master of that ship he defeated and captured the British frigate Macedonian in October 1812. The next year he became a commodore. In January 1815, while in command of the frigate President, he encountered a squadron of British ships. He defeated one of them, the Endymion, but after losing a large part of his crew was forced to surrender to the British commander of the squadron.


After the war, Decatur was sent on a mission to North Africa to end the depredations of the pirates infesting that region and to demand reparations of the rulers of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, who permitted or encouraged the piracy. He succeeded in this mission, and on his return to the U.S. in 1815 he was honored at a banquet, at which he proposed the famous toast: "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong!" Decatur was killed in a duel with a fellow officer on March 22, 1820.




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I believe the complete toast was something more like, "To our country. When she is right, keep her right. When she is wrong, make her right. But our country right or wrong." I could be wrong about this. Anybody know anything different?

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Correction: According to Bartlett's Quotations on line Old Grey Eagle had it right the first time.


Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.

Stephen Decatur (1779-1820): Toast given at Norfolk, April, 1816.




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