Mastering Leadership Reflexes: A Case Study of Captain Aubrey

The most fascinating aspect of Jack Aubrey’s character is the contradiction between his personality by land and by sea. On land he’s lost, unlucky in money and love, while at sea he’s utterly in command of himself and those around him. We’ve examined his leadership skills before (here and here) but the following is a much more in-depth examination of these skills and their relation to modern leadership theory (I didn’t even know that existed).

Mastering Leadership Reflexes: A Case Study of Captain Aubrey in Master and Commander, Utilizing Russell West’s Reflex Leadership Theory
by David M. Durst, Mark L. Russell, J. Michael Cuckler

Mastering Leadership Reflexes (PDF)

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The assumption of the present writers and of all leadership theory is that the future is neither predetermined, nor fully determinable. People can influence, but not control their environment and their future. Those who would lead must learn to dance to or act in response to environmental stimuli and the movement of fellow dancers. Using a popular film and a contemporary leadership development paradigm, we seek to illustrate that though events provoke responses from us, it is possible to develop the inner being so that a leader acts reflexively and wisely in the real world.

Russell West’s reflex leadership theory sees four elements at work in every leader-needy situation (West, 2004). The first two, context and episode, are externals which provoke a response. The second set, the person’s reflexes and habitus are the internal processes by which a person feels, thinks and acts, making the situation either better or worse. Drawing on his experience as an entrepreneurial leader, teacher and United States Marine drill instructor, West argues that both habitus and reflexes can be intentionally formed, empowering a leader to respond with wisdom and strength to presenting exigencies. He writes, “When encountered with a leader-needy situation, most people reach deep within and sometimes beyond themselves for adequate solutionary resources and forces. Habitus is that place to which they reach” (2004, pp. 190-191). West identifies eight traits and eight techniques that can raise leader effectiveness.

In Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Weir, 2003), audiences behold an English frigate being tossed by storms and fired upon by a superior French warship. The year is 1805, the age of Napoleon’s rise. The English vessel, the HMS Surprise, is an aging 28-gun warship, led by Captain Jack Aubrey (played by Russell Crowe). His orders are to sink, burn or take as prize the superior French privateer, Acheron, which is en route to the Pacific “intent on carrying the war into those waters.” The roles of prey and predator sometimes reverse, as Aubrey demonstrates well-honed leadership reflexes and mentors people in his context, and ours.

Traits that Increase Leadership Effectiveness

Let’s first consider the eight traits or interior qualities West says are key to leadership.

The Core-Keeping Reflex

A leader’s strength begins with fidelity to values. Through the film, it becomes increasingly clear that Aubrey’s men may not always like the decisions their chief announces, but they respect the source from which they spring. These include the traditions of the sea, the intrinsic worth of people, fidelity to command and protecting the homeland. The doctor’s call to rid the ship of alcohol is rejected based on hundreds of years of “privilege and tradition.” Aubrey demonstrates respect for human souls through the death rituals, which announce with pride the names and roles of officers and conscripts alike.

Without a doubt, however, the ultimate value lived out by the sea captain is his devotion to England. Aubrey repeatedly shocks his crew with his persistence in pursuing the enemy ship, beyond orders, beyond expectations and beyond reason. Yet, he repeatedly reminds them that they are a warship at war and must act accordingly regardless of risks. “Duty” is not ultimately to the chain of command, but to the grand purpose, which has propelled the leader into service.

Leaders such as Captain Aubrey often push their subordinates to their limits. But, while the moment by moment decisions and actions of such leaders are not always predictable, those who act and react from a firm core of values are followed because their motivations are trusted.

The Ethical Consideration Reflex

Choices can be made on the basis of fear, peer-pressure, immediate gratification, pragmatics or principle.

Two episodes within Master and Commander vividly portray the importance of ethical reflexes. In one, a storm has cast a man and a platform into the icy Atlantic. While the man is calling for help and attempting to draw himself closer to the ship, the sea threatens to engulf the ship, now tilted by the drag of the fallen rigging. Ultimately, the captain orders the ropes to be cut. The friend is lost; the ship is saved. Later, the Surprise has its prize in view and the positional advantage, but the doctor who is the captain’s confidant, has been shot and needs surgery. Aubrey calls off the chase and turns to land where surgery is safely and successfully performed.

Ethical considerations often strain the soul. Leaders who are able to make right choices in ethically muddied situations demonstrate an inner being worthy of respect.

Style Versatility Reflex

Some people are predictable to a fault. Those who find within themselves a freedom and ability to adjust their personal style are able to lead more people in more contexts.

Aubrey demonstrates situational leadership. We see him in full authoritarian mode when his position is communicated, by the positioning of his hat, a firm countenance and his dismissal of all objections. He halts his friend’s complaint of a broken promise: “We have no time for your hobbies, Sir!” End of discussion. At other times, the captain is the cheerleader of comrades who are repairing the ship. He is a compassionate visitor of the injured and the counselor of emerging leaders. Whatever Aubrey’s preferred role, he stretches to meet people where they are.

Negotiating Reflex

Leaders can be sure that they will be called upon to facilitate agreement between conflicting parties. When faced with conflict within the group or between competing organizations, something from within will either push a leader to fight, flight or fix. Each has its appropriate moment, but a healthy leader often strives for the third alternative.

In one instance, a crew member fails to salute an officer and, in fact, makes insubordinate contact. Aubrey knew why the crewman did not salute the officer and may have agreed that the officer was not worthy of respect. Aubrey’s fix is to have the crewman flogged and to forcefully, but separately, correct the young officer as well.

Although the ability to see things clearly is a leadership strength, it is a great advantage to attempt to view each side of a dispute and to bring a new reality into being through negotiation.

Orchestrative Judgment Reflex

Every concert attendant knows there is a difference between the warm-up and the performance. The first displays individuality, as each instrument is a world unto itself. The chaos ceases, however, when the conductor enters the context and goes to work.

During one of the opening scenes, the HMS Surprise suffers considerable damage. The crew and officers try to persuade Capt. Aubrey to return to England or even to a nearby jungle, to make repairs. However, Aubrey finds a way to make repairs to the ship without falling too far behind the pursuit of the enemy. Repairs are made “on the fly.” By garnishing available resources and motivating his crew, the Surprise is soon back on the trail of the French vessel. The reflex of sequencing diverse resources for a single use is an important leadership strength.

Solutionary Reflex

The solutionary reflex is the leader’s ability to generate innovations to address problems. On two occasions, the HMS Surprise is a victim of surprise, and is threatened with destruction. In the first event, the rudder is destroyed by the Acheron’s cannons. Aubrey’s solution was to have the lifeboats tug the ship into the fog where they could do repairs unseen. In a second escape, the captain gained significant capital in the eyes of his men, by returning to their previous course, but this time in the advantageous position. A weathered officer boasts to the men around him, “All my years I’ve never seen anything like it … that’s seamanship!” Near the end of the film, Aubrey leads his crew to morph their warship into a whaling ship, at least outwardly, and suddenly the predator becomes the prey.

People at every level of organizational leadership can boost their status by identifying a pressing problem and solving it. Somewhere deep inside, the leader believes that a solution exists and sets out to find it.

Political Awareness Reflex

Another leader capacity is that of perceiving competing agendas. It is naïve to believe that no one in an organization carries any personal or competing agendas.

Although a 19th century ship’s captain was largely shielded by coercive power, we do see Aubrey consulting with the doctor and asking what the men are thinking and saying. Clearly, it would take a great deal of opposing pressure to convince him to end the pursuit, but he demonstrates wisdom in tending to the pulse of various interests.

A true leader is unimpressed with robotic obedience, preferring that subordinates generate ideas, develop their strengths and operate from their core values and passions. It is not the elimination of political agendas, but the coordinating of them, that advances a cause.

Action Biased Reflex

This trait involves responding proactively to situations with energy for changes. The other traits are of little value if not accompanied by a tendency to translate thought into action.

The opening scene of Master and Commander provides an instructive contrast of the degree of action bias among leaders. An officer on watch glimpses threatening shadows through the fog, but is hesitant to act. A peer comes alongside and the two converse as follows:

Callamy: What is it?

Bonden: Um… Two points off the starboard bow, in the fog bank.

Callamy: What was it? A sail?

Bonden: I don’t know what it was.

Callamy: Should we beat to quarters?

Bonden: I can’t be certain.

Callamy: You’re officer of the watch. Bonden, you must make a decision… (Bonden hesitates) We shall beat to quarters!

The resulting summons is both late and timid, contributing to disaster. Bonden’s reflexes are biased for information, not action. Only with certainty would he dare to initiate action.

Certainty is a luxury in the real world. The action bias is not a call to business. It rather reflects a tendency to move into appropriate action as soon as possible.

Reflex Techniques to Increase Leadership Effectiveness

West’s eight valued leadership reflex techniques are also well demonstrated in Master and Commander. While there is some overlap with the previous list, these are measurable skills that should be continually nurtured in growing leaders.

Continuous Learning Reflex

Leaders learn continually and intentionally.

Aubrey, despite being “master” of a warship, finds creative ways to learn. He creates space for feedback and vulnerability. The ship’s surgeon, Dr. Stephen Maturin, regularly visits Aubrey in his quarters and, at times, vociferously debates his leadership decisions. Aubrey is also seen reading The Victories of Lord Nelson, the memoirs of the famous British admiral.

Late in the story, Aubrey listens to a thirteen-year-old describe a unique animal that disguises itself as a stick to hide from predators. His genuine interest in learning from the young man creates an opportunity to apply a chameleon approach in battle. He develops a strategy to take the Acheron by camouflaging his warship as a whaling vessel.

Engaged leaders do not listen simply to please or appease followers, but to gain valuable insights and information that advance the organization’s mission.

Mentoring Reflex

Aubrey mentors as he was mentored. He frequently mentions his former commander, Lord Nelson, and once muses, “With Nelson, you felt your heart glow.” He deliberately encourages the ship officers not to only revere Nelson, but also to emulate him as a human being.

The Surprise’s captain takes advantage of difficult work situations to mentor others in overcoming challenges. Following the insubordination scene, he explains that an officer’s job is to lead, not to be a friend. He mentors people informally in critical learning situations, rather than in formal classroom settings.

Leaders who did not have a mentor will not be as prepared as they could be for calls on their leadership ability. Similarly, leaders who are not mentoring others are not complete leaders. While for many being a leader means having followers, true leaders produce other leaders, largely through mentoring.

Collaborative Reflex

This represents a leader’s skill of collaborating with others to develop group-oriented success rather than simply individual accomplishment. Collaboration is not present if success is dependent only on the leader and if the rewards go to the leader alone.

Aubrey develops camaraderie with his executive team, frequently dining and conversing with them. He participates in song and exchanging jokes. These good times enable him to develop a personal connection with his key leaders and produce leadership capital, increasing his credibility during the more desperate portions of their journey.

The scenes in which the ship must be repaired are excellent displays of collaboration. Aubrey personally visits injured men on the ship. He inspects damage. He empowers the crew to handle their own repairs, recognizing that they were more knowledgeable than him regarding these details. In sum, he creates an environment in which they all work together using their individual strengths and abilities to accomplish a common goal.

Contemporary leaders succeed by creating environments in which people are able to give the best they can at the time it is most needed. This is not a trick, it is genuine empowerment.

Sense-Making Reflex

Sense-making is the leadership task of framing messages in such a way that people are able to understand past episodes, present reality and future plans.

Following a junior officer’s suicide, Aubrey creates space for people to move on. He recognizes some may feel responsible for this death and communicates that the slate is clean and no residue from this tragedy will tarnish the mission. He shows grace and provides redemption. Without attempting to give unknowable answers, Aubrey deflects a potentially divisive incident and creates unity and forward mobility for the organization.

In the midst of confusion, people need clarity and they look to leaders to provide it.

Diagnostic Reflex

This technique is based on the leader’s ability to read situations and unlock explanations. In changing contexts, leaders must see reality clearly to diagnose both causes and solutions.

Twice in the movie, the “ghost ship” surprisingly assaults the HMS Surprise. After both encounters, Aubrey is seen in deep thought, analyzing the situation. His reflex is not to rebuke those on whom blame might fall, but to diagnose and correct the process. Following each battle, an evaluation process takes place. Officers evaluate what led to the fight, how the fight went and the appropriate next steps. It is worth noting that almost all teams have their problem-focused people. They are good at diagnosing the problem, but not at developing solutions. Aubrey demonstrates the ability to give space to such people, but then move everyone into a solution-oriented process.

The leader does not need to have all the insights; however, the leader needs to be skilled in influencing the group to use its collective skills and talents to develop a clear analysis.

Capacity Development Reflex

Capacity development is the leader’s ability to multiply resources from assets on hand. Limited resources and funds are ubiquitous problems. While there is a time for aggressive strategies to increase resources and funds, a leader is often required to make the most of what is already present.

In the post-battle rebuilding projects and in the eventual metamorphosis of the Surprise into a whaling vessel, Aubrey led his crew to do what they would have previously considered impossible. A perfect scenario would have offered opportunity to gather new masts and to involve the English fleet, but success was achieved by stretching and innovation, finally enabling the weaker HMS Surprise to take control of the larger, stronger Acheron.

Ideal situations of surplus resources are rare. Multiplication of resources, rather than the accumulation of them, is the mark of leaders with the skill of capacity development.

Execution Reflex

Execution is the ability to translate theoretical plans into measurable results consistently.

During the diagnosis processes following their battles with the Acheron, Aubrey and his team spent much time laying out theoretical scenarios, which could result in victory. The entire crew participated in timed tactical and cannon firing drills. They anticipated various battle scenarios and rehearsed the steps necessary to execute effectively in battle.

Breaking down complex challenges into comprehensible constructs is the task of the leader. Execution does not take place “between the ears.” It is a learned technique flowing from reflection into practice.

Intercultural Advocacy Reflex

Wise leaders are aware of the various people groups affected by their decisions and are able to interact with competing interests and integrate them synergistically.

Though Aubrey’s crew is ethnically homogeneous and all male, it contains various classes of officers and crew. This is demonstrated in distinct duties and quality of quarters, food and drink. Though ostensibly the “master and commander,” Aubrey maintains awareness of the state of his crew through informants and observation and he honors the humanity of each.

In today’s globalized society, this intercultural advocacy technique is increasingly important for leaders. Leaders need to understand unique perceptions and needs of the various groups of people with whom they work, not only to keep peace, but to incorporate the valuable contributions offered by diverse people.


In the final scene of Master and Commander, Captain Aubrey discerns that their victory may not have been complete. Although Aubrey has captured the Acheron and put its sailors in chains bound for England, he realizes that the Acheron’s captain had not been killed, but had cleverly disguised himself as a doctor. Given the ending of Master and Commander, a perfect sequel has been set up for the viewing public. Perhaps this is also a fitting picture to conclude our study on reflex leadership theory. Given the reality of constantly changing contexts and the barrage of new exigencies facing leaders, every action conceives and gives birth to an unpredictable sequel. Through considering these traits and techniques, leaders can begin to discover their own reflexes in leader-needy situations and hone them for the next episode that is soon to follow. The dance between contexts and needs, leaders and followers continues.

About the Authors

David Durst is an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church and a doctoral candidate in Intercultural Studies, majoring in leadership, evangelism and church growth.

Mark Russell is director of spiritual integration for HOPE International and a doctoral candidate, researching the use of business in missions.

J. Michael Cuckler is an instructor in sociology and youth ministry at Asbury College, and a doctoral candidate, majoring in evangelism.

All three authors are completing their work at the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.


West, R. (2004). A reflex model of leadership development: A concept paper. Journal of Religious Leadership. 3(1&2), 173-220.

Weir, P. (Director).(2003). Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World [Motion Picture]. USA: Twentieth Century Fox.

Courtesy of David Durst, Mark L. Russell and J Michael Cuckler.

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

The Real Stephen Maturin?

It’s no secret that POB drew inspiration from history for many of the characters and plots that make our beloved series so amazing. Jack Aubrey, for example, is pretty clearly inspired by Thomas Cochrane, and that’s just the easiest one to spot. But Stephen Maturin is such a quirky character, it’s hard to imagine any historical analog ever existed. Marion Diamond of Historians Are Past Caring begs to differ.

Was This The Real Stephen Maturin?
By Marion Diamond

Some years ago, I belonged to a History of Medicine online discussion group. Every few months, a query would arrive from a newbie asking what was the disease once known as the marthambles – and the questioner would immediately be outed as a Patrick O’Brien tragic, for it is one of many ailments successfully treated by Stephen Maturin in O’Brian’s highly popular Aubrey/Maturin novels, set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic War. The problem is, marthambles doesn’t exist. Sometimes a historical novelist is allowed – whisper it quietly – to make things up!

I first encountered Patrick O’Brian’s novels in the late 1970s. I was working in the Public Record Office in London (now the National Archives) on naval records for my PhD, and the archivist who helped me mentioned O’Brian, who was working on the same records for his latest novel.

Thanks to my conversation with the PRO archivist, I know how well researched those books are. Real historical characters appear throughout. Robert Farquhar, for instance, who becomes Governor of Mauritius in The Mauritius Command (1977), is certainly a real person: he was the consul at Ambon when John Macarthur visited there in 1802, and I’ve been writing the biography of his cousin, Walter Stevenson Davidson, for too many years.

I’m not a great reader of historical fiction and I haven’t read the whole O’Brian series, but some of my nearest and dearest are fans, and you can pick up a lot through marital osmosis. So I know the rough outline of the characters and stories.

Stephen Maturin is a half Catalan revolutionary on the run from the authorities when he encounters Captain Jack Aubrey at the British naval base at Port Mahon, on Minorca. A skilled doctor, he becomes a ship’s surgeon in the Royal Navy. He performs many surgical miracles, but he is also a scientist, curious about the new discoveries in botany and physics, a linguist and a spy.

Stephen Maturin is no doubt a composite of many medical men who served in the Royal Navy, both during and after the Napoleonic Wars. Ships surgeons generally had a reputation for drunken incompetence, but many were caring, educated men – though not many fitted as many adventures into their careers as Maturin.

It’s tempting to look for possible models, so may I offer for consideration Exhibit A:

Augustus Bozzi was born in Milan in 1783. His father’s family was connected to the Bonapartes of Corsica, while his maternal grandmother was English. He studied medicine at the University of Pavia, and was briefly imprisoned for his republicanism. After he graduated, he travelled in a theatre troupe, singing and playing the guitar. In Corfu he met William R. Hamilton, an attaché to Lord Elgin, the British ambassador in Constantinople, and travelled with him in Greece, where together they oversaw the removal of the Elgin marbles from Athens.

Bozzi joined the medical service of the Turkish navy, before transferring to the Royal Navy. He worked on various ships in the Mediterranean, the West Indies and South America, where he met Simon Bolivar. In 1811 he carried documents from Bolivar to Sir Robert Peel in London. During this time he suffered from – and treated himself for – both malaria and yellow fever. He married an Englishwoman, and adopted his English grandmother’s name, Granville. Brought up Catholic, he converted to Anglicanism.

Bozzi Granville finally retired from the navy in 1813. His old friend William Hamilton’s brother was the brother-in-law of Robert Farquhar, the Governor of Mauritius, and Robert’s father, Sir Walter Farquhar, was the Prince Regent’s physician. With various letters of introduction, these connections gave him entrée into the medical establishment. On Sir Walter’s advice, he studied at La Maternité in Paris, before setting himself up as a specialist physician in women’s diseases in London.

Granville was a man of science. He was friendly with the chemist John Dalton, and for many years was the secretary to the Royal Institution. In 1825 he conducted the first autopsy on an Egyptian mummy, Irtyersenu, a woman of about 50. Like the good gynaecologist he was, he identified her cause of death as an ovarian tumour, though recently Irtyersenu has been re-examined, and she is now thought to have died of tuberculosis.

We will never know how Stephen Maturin’s life might have ended – but Augustus Bozzi Granville lived a long and fruitful life. He died in 1868, leaving a 2 volume autobiography which is the basis for almost everything we know about his life before he settled in England. It is a thoroughly entertaining book – and very likely, I suspect, a work of historical fiction as vividly creative as anything that Patrick O’Brian ever wrote.

Further reading:

A. B. Granville, Autobiography of A. B. Granville, ed. P. B. Granville, 2 vols. (1874)

W.B.Howell, ‘Augustus Bozzi Granville – Journeyman Physician’, in Canadian Medical Association Journal, December 19 1931, pp. 719-25.

Helen D. Donoghue, Oona Y.-C. Lee, David E. Minnikin, Gurdyal S. Besra, John H. Taylor, and Mark Spigelman, ‘Tuberculosis in Dr Granville’s mummy: a molecular re-examination of the earliest known Egyptian mummy to be scientifically examined and given a medical diagnosis’, in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, January 7 2010; 277(1678): 51–56.

Ornella Moscucci, ‘Granville, Augustus Bozzi (1783–1872)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 25 Nov 2011]

Courtesy of Historians Are Past Caring

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

  • Dr. Maturin has gone a-botanising and suggests you do the same!

Eyewitness Accounts of the Hamilton/Burr Duel

Throughout the course of our beloved series, Stephen fights several duels and almost fights several more. He is by no means abnormal for his time; gentlemen of his era often felt the only way to defend their honor was to shoot someone over it. One of the most famous historical duels was that between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

The relationship between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr was charged with political rivalry and personal animosity. Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, was the chief author of The Federalist papers advocating a strong central government. Burr represented the old Republican Party. His greatest accomplishment was achieved in 1800 when he was elected Vice President to Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton considered Burr an unprincipled rogue. The antagonism between the two came to a head in 1804 when Hamilton thwarted Burr’s attempt to gain re-nomination for Vice President as well as his bid to win the governorship of New York. Burr responded by challenging his antagonist to a duel, an invitation Hamilton felt compelled to accept.

The View of the Seconds

The day before the duel Alexander Hamilton wrote his will, setting his affairs in order. In the early morning of July 11, 1804 he boarded a barge and set sail from Manhattan to the New Jersey shore. Accompanying him were his second, Nathaniel Pendleton and Dr. David Hosack, a physician. The party reached their destination shortly before 7:00 to find Aaron Burr and his second, W. P. Van Ness, awaiting them. The two had already cleared away some underbrush to form a dueling field. After the duel the two seconds collaborated in writing a description of the event that was published shortly thereafter:

Colonel Burr arrived first on the ground, as had been previously agreed. When General Hamilton arrived, the parties exchanged salutations, and the seconds proceeded to make their arrangements. They measured the distance, ten full paces, and cast lots for the choice of position, as also to determine by whom the word should be given, both of which fell to the second of General Hamilton. They then proceeded to load the pistols in each other’s presence, after which the parties took their stations. The gentleman who was to give the word then explained to the parties the rules which were to govern them in firing, which were as follows:

The parties being placed at their stations, the second who gives the word shall ask them whether they are ready; being answered in the affirmative, he shall say- present! After this the parties shall present and fire when they please. If one fires before the other, the opposite second shall say one, two, three, fire, and he shall then fire or lose his fire.

He then asked if they were prepared; being answered in the affirmative, he gave the word present, as had been agreed on, and both parties presented and fired in succession. The intervening time is not expressed, as the seconds do not precisely agree on that point. The fire of Colonel Burr took effect, and General Hamilton almost instantly fell. Colonel Burr advanced toward General Hamilton with a manner and gesture that appeared to General Hamilton’s friend to be expressive of regret; but, without speaking, turned about and withdrew, being urged from the field by his friend, as has been subsequently stated, with a view to prevent his being recognized by the surgeon and bargemen who were then approaching. No further communication took place between the principals, and the barge that carried Colonel Burr immediately returned to the city. We conceive it proper to add, that the conduct of the parties in this interview was perfectly proper, as suited the occasion.

Aftermath – The View of the Physician

As Hamilton fell to the ground, Dr. Hosack rushed to his side. His observations were also published:

When called to him upon his receiving the fatal wound, I found him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr. Pendleton. His countenance of death I shall never forget. He had at that instant just strength to say, ‘This is a mortal wound, doctor;’ when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless. I immediately stripped up his clothes, and soon, alas I ascertained that the direction of the ball must have been through some vital part. His pulses were not to be felt, his respiration was entirely suspended, and, upon laying my hand on his heart and perceiving no motion there, I considered him as irrecoverably gone. I, however, observed to Mr. Pendleton, that the only chance for his reviving was immediately to get him upon the water. We therefore lifted him up, and carried him out of the wood to the margin of the bank, where the bargemen aided us in conveying him into the boat, which immediately put off. During all this time I could not discover the least symptom of returning life. I now rubbed his face, lips, and temples with spirits of hartshorn, applied it to his neck and breast, and to the wrists and palms of his hands, and endeavoured to pour some into his mouth.

When we had got, as I should judge, about fifty yards from the shore, some imperfect efforts to breathe were for the first time manifest; in a few minutes he sighed, and became sensible to the impression of the hartshorn or the fresh air of the water. He breathed; his eyes, hardly opened, wandered, without fixing upon any object; to our great joy, he at length spoke. ‘My vision is indistinct,’ were his first words. His pulse became more perceptible, his respiration more regular, his sight returned. I then examined the wound to know if there was any dangerous discharge of blood; upon slightly pressing his side it gave him pain, on which I desisted.

Soon after recovering his sight, he happened to cast his eye upon the case of pistols, and observing the one that he had had in his hand lying on the outside, he said, ‘Take care of that pistol; it is undischarged, and still cocked; it may go off and do harm. Pendleton knows’ (attempting to turn his head towards him) ‘that I did not intend to fire at him.’ ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Pendleton, understanding his wish, ‘I have already made Dr. Hosack acquainted with your determination as to that’ He then closed his eyes and remained calm, without any disposition to speak; nor did he say much afterward, except in reply to my questions. He asked me once or twice how I found his pulse; and he informed me that his lower extremities had lost all feeling, manifesting to me that he entertained no hopes that he should long survive.

Carried to his Manhattan home, Hamilton lingered in agony – the pistol’s ball lodged next to his spine. He died the following day.


Coleman, William (ed), A Collection of Facts and Documents, relating to the Death of … Alexander Hamilton (1804); Mitchell, Broadus, Alexander Hamilton, The National Adventure 1788-1804 (1962).

Courtesy of Eyewitness To History.

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

Education and Leadership in Cinema: Master and Commander

We have already discussed Jack Aubrey’s skills and characteristics as a leader as well as the potential educational value of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but the following guide takes those two concepts and combines them! It’s very exciting. The guide is meant to be used in training firefighters in the wildland fire service, and I can definitely see how leadership skills suitable to wartime would be suitable to that endeavor as well! I also think the guide could be easily adapted to work in any classroom where leadership skills are being taught, so I hope the teachers among you find it useful :)

Master and Commander illustrates an abundance of leadership values and principles—especially an emphasis on team cohesion and commander’s intent. Students should have few problems identifying those that correspond to the Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles. The objective is not to identify every leadership principle but to promote thought and discussion.

Students should be less concerned with how many principles they view within the film and more concerned with how the principles they do recognize can be used to develop themselves as a leader.

Leadership In Cinema: Master and Commander

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Courtesy of Pam McDonald and the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program. PDF courtesy of Collin C.
Image: Screencap from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (copyright Twentieth Century Fox 2003)

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

The 1778 Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen and its Present-Day Implications

This article is somewhat different from what is usually posted here. It’s a political piece discussing current events, but it definitely relates back to our era and our areas of focus. Full disclosure: I’m of a liberal bent, and I think the following article makes a lot of sense. But I’m not posting it to force my beliefs on anyone, or to stir up controversy. One of the things that makes our beloved series so great is PO’B’s understanding that people are the same, no matter what era they live in. Society is markedly different today than it was in 1778, but this article shows that not only are we dealing with the same problems, decisions that were made back then can have relevance now. I hope everyone enjoys the article on that level if nothing else :) I’m also including the act itself as an example of one way governments dealt with the overwhelming necessity of having a presence on the waves, whether martial or merchant.

01.17.11 Congress Passes Socialized Medicine and Mandates Health Insurance -In 1798

By Rick Ungar

The ink was barely dry on the PPACA when the first of many lawsuits to block the mandated health insurance provisions of the law was filed in a Florida District Court.

The pleadings, in part, read –

The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage. – State of Florida, et al. vs. HHS

It turns out, the Founding Fathers would beg to disagree.

In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed – “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.

Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.

And when the Bill came to the desk of President John Adams for signature, I think it’s safe to assume that the man in that chair had a pretty good grasp on what the framers had in mind.

Here’s how it happened.

During the early years of our union, the nation’s leaders realized that foreign trade would be essential to the young country’s ability to create a viable economy. To make it work, they relied on the nation’s private merchant ships – and the sailors that made them go – to be the instruments of this trade.

The problem was that a merchant mariner’s job was a difficult and dangerous undertaking in those days. Sailors were constantly hurting themselves, picking up weird tropical diseases, etc.

The troublesome reductions in manpower caused by back strains, twisted ankles and strange diseases often left a ship’s captain without enough sailors to get underway – a problem both bad for business and a strain on the nation’s economy.

But those were the days when members of Congress still used their collective heads to solve problems – not create them.

Realizing that a healthy maritime workforce was essential to the ability of our private merchant ships to engage in foreign trade, Congress and the President resolved to do something about it.

Enter “An Act for The Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen”.

I encourage you to read the law as, in those days, legislation was short, to the point and fairly easy to understand.

The law did a number of fascinating things.

First, it created the Marine Hospital Service, a series of hospitals built and operated by the federal government to treat injured and ailing privately employed sailors. This government provided healthcare service was to be paid for by a mandatory tax on the maritime sailors (a little more than 1% of a sailor’s wages), the same to be withheld from a sailor’s pay and turned over to the government by the ship’s owner. The payment of this tax for health care was not optional. If a sailor wanted to work, he had to pay up.

This is pretty much how it works today in the European nations that conduct socialized medical programs for its citizens – although 1% of wages doesn’t quite cut it any longer.

The law was not only the first time the United States created a socialized medical program (The Marine Hospital Service) but was also the first to mandate that privately employed citizens be legally required to make payments to pay for health care services. Upon passage of the law, ships were no longer permitted to sail in and out of our ports if the health care tax had not been collected by the ship owners and paid over to the government – thus the creation of the first payroll tax in our nation’s history.

When a sick or injured sailor needed medical assistance, the government would confirm that his payments had been collected and turned over by his employer and would then give the sailor a voucher entitling him to admission to the hospital where he would be treated for whatever ailed him.

While a few of the healthcare facilities accepting the government voucher were privately operated, the majority of the treatment was given out at the federal maritime hospitals that were built and operated by the government in the nation’s largest ports.

As the nation grew and expanded, the system was also expanded to cover sailors working the private vessels sailing the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

The program eventually became the Public Health Service, a government operated health service that exists to this day under the supervision of the Surgeon General.

So much for the claim that “The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty….”

As for Congress’ understanding of the limits of the Constitution at the time the Act was passed, it is worth noting that Thomas Jefferson was the President of the Senate during the 5th Congress while Jonathan Dayton, the youngest man to sign the United States Constitution, was the Speaker of the House.

While I’m sure a number of readers are scratching their heads in the effort to find the distinction between the circumstances of 1798 and today, I think you’ll find it difficult.

Yes, the law at that time required only merchant sailors to purchase health care coverage. Thus, one could argue that nobody was forcing anyone to become a merchant sailor and, therefore, they were not required to purchase health care coverage unless they chose to pursue a career at sea.

However, this is no different than what we are looking at today.

Each of us has the option to turn down employment that would require us to purchase private health insurance under the health care reform law.

Would that be practical? Of course not – just as it would have been impractical for a man seeking employment as a merchant sailor in 1798 to turn down a job on a ship because he would be required by law to purchase health care coverage.

What’s more, a constitutional challenge to the legality of mandated health care cannot exist based on the number of people who are required to purchase the coverage – it must necessarily be based on whether any American can be so required.

Clearly, the nation’s founders serving in the 5th Congress, and there were many of them, believed that mandated health insurance coverage was permitted within the limits established by our Constitution.

The moral to the story is that the political right-wing has to stop pretending they have the blessings of the Founding Fathers as their excuse to oppose whatever this president has to offer.

History makes it abundantly clear that they do not.

UPDATE: January 21- Given the conversation and controversy this piece has engendered, Greg Sargent over at The Washington Post put the piece to the test. You might be interested in what Greg discovered in his article, “Newsflash: Founders favored government run health care.”

An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen

July, 1798. CHAP. [94.]

1 § 1. Be it enacted, Sfc. That from and after the first day of September next, the master or owner of every ship or vessel of the United States, arriving from a foreign port into any port of the United States, shall, before such ship or vessel shall be admitted to an entry, render to the collector a true account of the number of seamen that shall have been employed on board such vessel since she was last entered at any port in the United States, and shall pay, to the said collector, at the rate of twenty cents per month for every seaman so employed ; which sum he is hereby authorized to retain out of the wages of such seamen.

§ 2. That from and after the first day of September next, no collector shall grant to any ship or vessel whose enrollment or license for carrying on the coasting trade has expired, a new enrollment or license, before the master of such ship or vessel shall first render a true account to the collector, of the number of seamen, and the time they have severally been employed on board such ship or vessel, during the continuance of the license which has so expired, and pay to such collector twenty cents per month for every month such seamen have been severally employed as aforesaid ; which sum the said master is hereby authorized to retain out of the wages of such seamen. And if any such master shall render a false account of the number of men, and the length of time they have severally been employed, as is herein required, he shall forfeit and pay one hundred dollars.

§ 3. That it shall be the duty of the several collectors to make a quarterly return of the sums collected by them, respectively, by virtue of this act, to the secretary of the treasury ; and the president of the United States is hereby authorized, out of the same, to provide for the temporary relief and maintenance of sick, or disabled seamen, in the hospitals or other proper institutions now established in the several ports of the United States, or in ports where no such institutions exist, then in such other manner as he shall direct: Provided, that the moneys collected in any one district, shall be expended within the same.

§4. That if any surplus shall remain of the moneys to be collected by virtue of this act, after defraying the expense of such temporary relief and support, that the same, together with such private donations as may be made for that purpose, (which the president is hereby authorized to receive,) shall be invested in the stock of the United States, under the direction of the president; and when, in his opinion, a sufficient fund shall be accumulated, he is hereby authorized to purchase or receive cessions or donations of ground or buildings, in the name of the United States, and to cause buildings, when necessary, to be erected as hospitals for the accommodation of sick and disabled seamen.

§ 5. That the president of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to nominate and appoint, in such ports of the United States as he may think proper, one or more persons, to be called directors of the marine hospital of the United States, whose duty it shall be to direct the expenditure of the fund assigned for their respective ports, according to the third section of this act; to provide for the accommodation of sick and disabled seamen, under such general instructions as shall be given by the president of the United States for that purpose, and also, subject to the like general instructions, to direct and govern such hospitals, as the president may direct to be built in the respective ports : and that the said directors shall hold their offices during the pleasure of the president, who is authorized to fill up all vacancies that may be occasioned by the death or removal of any of the persons so to be appointed. And the said directors shall render an account of the moneys received and expended by them, once in every quarter of a year, to the secretary of the treasury, or such other person as the president shall direct; but no other allowance or compensation shall be made to the said directors, except the payment of such expenses as they may incur in the actual discharge of the duties required by this act. [Approved, July 16, 1798.]

Article courtesy of Rick Unger and Forbes. Act text courtesy of Scribd.
Image: Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Clearly, Watson is going to need some serious health insurance once that shark is done with him!)

P.S. I wonder what Stephen would have thought of this?

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading