Home  »  Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men  »  Stephen Decatur

S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Stephen Decatur

  • [A distinguished American naval officer, born in Maryland, January, 1779; entered the navy, 1798; burned an American frigate which had been captured in the harbor of Tripoli, 1804; captured the British frigate “Macedonian,” 1812; commanded a squadron against the Algerines, May, 1815, and dictated a treaty of peace with the Dey in June of that year; killed in a duel, March, 1820.]
  • Our country, right or wrong.

  • Having been appointed a navy commissioner at Washington, on his return from his campaign against the Algerine pirates, Decatur received the compliment of a public dinner at Norfolk, Va., in April, 1816, where he offered a toast, which, from the proverbial character it acquired, his biographer calls not the least valuable of his legacies to his countrymen: “Our country! in her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.”—MACKENZIE: Life.
  • When the Mexican general Arista crossed the Rio Grande, May, 1846, and was defeated by Gen. Taylor at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, President Polk sent a special message to the United States Congress, calling for means to prosecute hostilities. The position of the Whig party, which sustained the administration, although originally opposed to war with Mexico, was expressed by John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, who said, “I hope to find my country in the right: however, I will stand by her, right or wrong.”
  • Another toast, which, in its shortened form, “Our country, however bounded,” obtained considerable celebrity in its day, as the sentiment of Northern Whigs upon the same subject, and which has often been confounded with the preceding, was offered by the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop, at the city dinner in Faneuil Hall, Boston, July 4, 1846, after Texas had been virtually annexed, and a disposition was shown in some quarters to resist annexation by force or secession: “Our country, whether bounded by the St. John’s and the Sabine, or however otherwise bounded or described, and be the measurements more or less,—still our country, to be cherished in all our hearts, to be defended by all our hands!”
  • One or two sayings during the Mexican war became historic, although the authenticity of the first has been disputed. At a critical moment of the battle of Buena Vista, Feb. 23, 1847, Bragg’s artillery was ordered to the support of the infantry, who were overwhelmed by numbers. A single discharge of his battery made the enemy waver. “A little more grape, Capt. Bragg!” shouted Gen. Taylor. Upon a second and third discharge, the Mexicans fled in disorder. Mr. Crittenden, having gone to Santa Anna’s headquarters, was told that if Gen. Taylor would surrender, he would be protected. “Gen. Taylor never surrenders,” was the reply. It became a watchword in the next political campaign, when Gen. Taylor was elected to the Presidency.