By Larry Teren
Mention two words- “Maritime” and “Jones” and most of us immediately think of John Paul Jones. You know, the sailor who helped us win the Revolutionary War. Yeah, that guy. The one who said, “I have not begun to fight.” There was another Jones associated with protecting America’s seas. But first—-
John Paul had a reputation for being short tempered. There were two incidents that dogged his reputation. While captaining a British ship, he severely whipped a sailor who died a few days later and in the West Indies he killed by sword a mutineer.
His surname at birth in Scotland was not Jones. He added it when he escaped to Virginia from the fallout after killing the mutineer. His actions on the seas was more of a pirate than a military leader. He believed his mission was to disrupt British commerce until they decided to leave the recently formed United States of America alone. It helped that he became good friends with Ben Franklin, who along with John Adams were hanging out in France. Some wondered if they were laying low until things cooled in the Colonies or just doing the good diplomatic work with European nations that had a grudge against Merry, Old England.
In fact, Jones left the US for good after the war and settled in France hoping to gain commission in either the French or Russian Navy. He is more fondly remembered for coining that public relations phrase than he deserves- just as General George S. Patton for saying, “nuts!” to the German Commander during a famous World War Two skirmish in North Africa.
Wesley Livsey Jones was a Republican United States Senator from the State of Washington. In 1920 he sponsored and pushed through Congress the Jones Merchant Marine Act. The law stipulated that only US owned and operated ships may carry cargo from one American port to another. All workers on the ships had to be American citizens. This was put in as a protection for American commerce. Ironically, today the Republican legislators are trying to get rid of it while the Democrats, backed by Labor Unions, staunchly defend it.
How does the law affect the average American? Let’s say a ship carrying goods from South Korea is destined to the West Coast. If it flying a foreign flag, it cannot stop in Hawaii and unload goods if it will also stop at Seattle or San Francisco. Once it makes a US destination, it cannot again deliver to any other American port. So, goods that need to eventually be delivered to Hawaii must be re-loaded onto an American freighter and taken back to the Islands. This obviously jacks up the prices in Hawaii.
It also affects the delivery of oil from one part of the US to another. With a significant increase in US continental production of oil since 2008, prices have not dropped as they should. Much oil is being forced to go by piggyback rail.
It is a no-win battle by free-trade proponents to strike down the Jones Act. To those dedicated to eradicating it, John Paul Jones slogan has a hollow ring.