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"Stephen Decatur was the most conspicuous figure in the naval history of the United States for the hundred years between Paul Jones and Farragut. While the fame of most of the early naval captains, who shed such imperishable lustre upon American arms by their exploits on the sea, rests upon a single battle, Decatur, in at least three of our early wars, was the hero of a half-dozen adventurous undertakings, any one of which would have given a fair claim to immortality. More than any other captain of his time, his name is cherished by his countrymen; for he represented to a greater degree than any of his contemporaries those fine qualities which a pardonable national vanity inclines us to consider peculiarly American. His unfortunate taking off at a comparatively early age, under circumstances painful, but dramatic, has added to the interest which his name excites.
An accurate presentation of his life should not only show the man as he appeared to his contemporaries but should exhibit in some measure the national life and habit of thought and action during the time in which he lived. To do this, so far as possible in so brief a compass, has been my aim in this attempt to hold the mirror up to nature.
I have, therefore, freely drawn upon all available sources of information, including many manuscripts, letters, and other interesting matter in the possession of his descendants and in the library of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to Mrs. Edward Shippen and Mrs. F. C. Getchell, of Philadelphia, grand-nieces of the great commodore and to Mr. Edward Shippen, for much valuable information (hitherto unpublished) concerning the genealogy and early history of the Decatur family."