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10-30-2007, 02:29 AM
This is a 7 page paper on Uriah P. Levy I did for my English class. I need it proofread for a final draft, so any help is welcomed. :wink:

Uriah P. Levy
by Jack Johnson

There were several internal problems with the United States Navy in the first half of the 1800s. Even though the newly formed Navy had defeated Britain in the War of 1812, several injustices were present; antisemitism being one of them, and unfair punishments such as flogging being another. It was nice to have someone like Uriah P. Levy, who was Jewish, become a Commodore of the Navy and fight very hard against flogging and antisemitism. His storied career stemming from when he was very young provided a valiant effort to Jewish officers who had been mistreated, and also set a course for fair regulations in several areas throughout the Navy. Basically, without Levy's actions for bettering the Navy, I don't think it would nearly be as just or powerful as it is today.

Uriah Phillips Levy, the third son of Michael and Rachel Levy, was born April 22, 1792 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a young boy, he was often known as being proud and egotistical (Pollack). His maternal grandfather, Jonas Phillips, influenced him greatly. Phillips gave the young Levy a sense of patriotism, which lasted basically all of his life. He was fascinated with the sea as well, even though he came from a long line of merchants. When he was ten years old, his infatuation with ships made him run away to become a cabin boy on the “New Jerusalem”. He didn't return home until 1812, to celebrate his bar mitzvah. He didn't stay long, however, as he departed again in 1814 on a merchant ship as an apprentice seaman. After progressing through two years of navigation school, in 1806 at the age of fifteen, he set sail as an apprentice on the “Polly and Betsy” and later, the “Five Sisters” (Pollack).

At the ripe young age of 20, his vast knowledge of the seas got him to be the commander and part owner of the schooner “George Washington”. His crew didn't like taking orders from him because of his youthful age, and they marooned him on a deserted island. He waited until a British ship picked him up. They offered him to join the British Navy, be he refused and escaped imprisonment by fleeing at the first port the British ship landed on (Scharfstein 1888). Soon after he incident with the British Navy, he joined the U.S. Navy, as “proof of love of my country” (Blech 234) As the War of 1812 started, Levy was assigned to the warship Argus. After running the British blockade in France and sink-ing more than 20 British merchant ships and capturing many more, the Argus was sunk in an uneven battle against the British frigate Pelican (Brody) . Levy was taken prisoner by the British for the second time in a year, and was kept as a prisoner of war in the Dartmoor prison in England for 16 months.

After the War of 1812 ended, Levy was sent home. What occurred afterwards might have been the start of what Levy became known for- a purveyor of justice. He was assigned as a sailing master on the “Franklin”. While on service, his Jewish heritage was made fun of by several crew members. Levy then provoked one of the men to ask him to duel, and after refusing, Levy fought and killed him. This not only showcased his amazing courage, but his no-nonsense approach to Antisemitism. Levy was even sometimes called the “American Captain Dreyfuss” because of all of the discrimination he faced throughout his life (Blech 234). He was court-martialed for in 1819 after getting in another fight with another lieutenant and removed from his services with the Navy, but later exonerated.

Another major contribution to the Navy he made was printing the first guide that detailed an officer's duties on a ship, “Manual of War” (Blech 234). After writing “Manual of War”, he was appointed second lieutenant of the “Cyane”. While in Brazil with the “Cyane”, the Brazilian Emperor, Dom Pedro, was so impressed with Levy's overall attitude he offered him to become a captain in the Brazilian Navy. Levy declined, saying, “I would rather serve as a cabin boy in the United States Navy than hold the rank of Admiral in any other service in the world (Pollack).” He also spent two years in Paris during his overseas voyages.

Immidiately following almost twenty years of serving in the Navy as a lieutenant, in 1837, he was appointed as a commander of the U.S.S. Vandalia. Upon receiving this promotion, he established a new, lighter set of rules for his vessel. Absent from the new regulations was barbaric forms of punish-ment such as starvation, and more importantly, flogging. Levy was a man of honor, and saw no need for them. His reforms were heavily argued against, and he was court-martialed in 1842 because of them. Upon appeal, a higher court deemed that he was a victim of prejudice and saw no reason to court-martial him. This is another case of antisemitism trying to derail him, but to no avail. People resented him so much that he would eventually get court-martialed a total of six times in his naval car-eer for various reasons, with every single one of them revoked upon appeal by a higher court (Scharfstein 1888).

Uriah P. Levy didn't only remove flogging from his crew. He also wrote several pamphlets and articles explaining why it was unnecessarily cruel. A senator from New Hampshire, John Hale, got on the “no flogging” bandwagon and got it partially removed, adding it to the Naval Appropriations Bill in 1850. It was officially outlawed in 1862 (Pollack).

In 1855, the Board of Naval Officers tried to remove him from service. Levy mainly thought that it was because the Navy didn't want a Jew to be one of its elite officers. He put up a really good fight, by getting a good lawyer, Benjamin Butler, and authoring a well-written petition. He was rein-stated in 1858, and was promoted to Commodore, the first Jew ever to receive the title, in 1860. He also became the commander of the Mediterranean fleet (Brody). Upon returning back because of the Civil War, he offered to take a leadership role in the Union's navy, but Lincoln integrated him, ironically, into the Court-Martial Board. He died on March 26, 1862 in New York. He received full military honors.

Aside from his naval career, his life was also very interesting. He was a very religious man, being elected president of the Hebrew Congregation and was a part of the Shearith Congregation in New York (Brody). Ever since he was little, he greatly admired Thomas Jefferson, whom he regarded as, “one of the greatest men in history, who did much to mold the Republic in a form in which man's religion does not make him ineligible for political or governmental life (Blech, 234).” So, upon finding that it was to be sold, Levy bought the entire estate and the 218 acres around it for about $2,700 in 1836. He then started a huge restoration project on Monticello, spending nearly all of his free time on it. When he was commissioned in Paris, he even had a famous French sculptor, Pierre-Jean David d'Angers, make a statue of Jefferson (http://www.monticello.org/about/levy.html). In 1853, after his sister's husband died, he married his eighteen-year-old niece,Virginia Lopez, mainly because his sister was in a bad situation and it was basically Jewish custom to marry her daughter in that time of need (Pollack).

As you can see, Uriah Phillips Levy led an amazing life spanning back to the time that he was ten years old. After all of the accolades he received during his life, you could also say he left a bigger mark on American society and the United States Navy after he died. He showed, through his staunch patriotism and courage, how to be a model citizen, not only to people of Jewish descent, but everybody in general. Even after getting court-martialed six times for antisemitic reasons, being kept as a British prisoner twice, getting insulted on every ship he was on early in his career, and provoking someone to duel him, he never even thought once about changing his personality to better fit the situation. He put up such a strong appeal whenever he was court-martialed that it was never passed by a higher court after the initial penalty. Whenever he put his mind to something, such as when he was young and wanted to be a cabin boy on a schooner or his numerous attempts to dispel antisemitism from the Navy, he could usually accomplish it. All of these efforts was obviously a good thing for all Jews, ones not even aspiring to become a military officer.

Probably even more important was his destruction of the common, incredibly excessive and unnecessary punishments for fairly minor offenses in the Navy, as it applied to all people, not just people of Jewish descent. Before, people would get whipped or even starved for minor offenses, but, just like Jefferson, Levy wanted the fairest, most just way of going about things. Without Levy's efforts, I doubt flogging would have gotten banned as early as it did. I mean, could you imagine people today getting forty lashes for serving in our military? Considering that they're taking a huge risk by signing up already, it clearly makes no sense, and Levy saw that. What I like best is the efficient way he did get people to think on his side, by writing articles and getting support from John Hale, amidst all of the antisemitism fecundating around him.

However, antisemitism was nothing new to Levy. It was also nothing new to Jews, since it had been going on for several hundreds of years. What is amazing is his ability to seemingly just shrug it off, which is a daunting task. Could you imagine getting insulted for your heritage, even though you were probably a better naval officer than the person insulting you? That is what Levy continually had to go through, including six court-martials that were based off of his genes. It did do some good however, as it forced him to work harder. It also inspired many Jewish people in America, which was important because the American Jewish population had jumped from 15,000 in 1840 to around 150,000 by 1860 (http://www.heritagevision.org/350/segments.htm). Some could even consider him being with the likes of other civil rights leaders, such as Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr., but I wouldn't go as far as to say that. While he did open several options for Jewish Americans by slightly destroying the foun-dation of antisemitism, he didn't openly hold rallies, protests, and start a movement like either of the two. I do, however, think that it did have a slight ripple effect on American's acceptance of the Jewish culture, because his acclaimed career showed how a Jewish person is as good as any other person. It also revealed how antisemitic and close-minded the Board of Naval Officers and other people employed by the Navy were to some people.

Overall, his story is classic. Running away at the age of ten, becoming a cabin boy, fighting in the war of 1812, being marooned on an island, getting imprisoned for almost a year and a half, becoming a naval captain, venturing in Paris, Brazil, and other exotic places, buying Thomas Jefferson's house, becoming a Jewish hero and the first Jewish Commodore of the United States Navy, almost single-handedly reforming the naval code of punishment, and paving the way for Jewish people to overcome the rampant antisemitism going around at the time, mainly because of all of the immigration from Germany and other European nations. To say that he was anything lower than a naval hero is preposterous; how many people do you know have a Jewish Chapel, the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Chapel, and a ship from World War II , the U.S.S. Levy, named after you?

All of his efforts helped the U.S. Navy along to what it is today. He gained the respect of the entire Jewish community and provided other Jewish naval officers with the confidence to overcome the antisemitism in the Navy at the time. When you add another culture to the mix, the Navy can only get better, and it is clearly evidenced, as the U.S. Navy is currently a worldwide power. Uriah Phillips Levy was truly an American hero, and without his efforts to end flogging and antisemitism, the U.S. Navy would not be what it is today.

Silent Scotty
12-12-2007, 10:54 PM
Wheres the rest of it?