Exactly 195 years ago this month, Stephen Decatur raised a glass in a Norfolk, Va., parlor room and delivered a now famous toast that's commonly distilled to, "My country, right or wrong."
His original words were even less ambivalent and more patriotic than that: "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong."
He meant that we should always want America to be on the moral high ground; however, even in error, her intentions are good. An early leader of the American Navy, he was the undisputed hero of two Barbary Coast Wars, served in the War of 1812 and was navy commissioner from 1816 to 1820, when he died. When he said those words about America, he was speaking from experience, having given so much to what was then still a nascent country.
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