Since the onset of the War on Terrorists, I’ve seen analogies pop up here and there, comparing the Barbary Pirates to the Islamists of today. Prior, I had no idea that the Barbary Pirates were Muslims, nor that it was the decisive action of an earlier American president—Thomas Jefferson—that hastened their end. Get this: TJ attempted to build an international coalition to convince an unconventional adversary that their terrorism against American citizens was no longer worth the trouble. Sheesh, I’ve never heard of such a thing! /sarcasm
Ruthless, unconventional foes are not new to the United States of America. More than two hundred years ago the newly established United States made its first attempt to fight an overseas battle to protect its privatecitizens by building an international coalition against an unconventional enemy. Then the enemies were pirates and piracy. The focus of the United States and a proposed international coalition was the Barbary Pirates of North Africa.
Pirate ships and crews from the North African states of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers (the Barbary Coast) were the scourge of the Mediterranean. Capturing merchant ships and holding their crews for ransom provided the rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power. In fact, the Roman Catholic Religious Order of Mathurins had operated from France for centuries with the special mission of collecting and disbursing funds for the relief and ransom of prisoners of Mediterranean pirates.
The men who later became the second and third American presidents tried appeasement at first, as was the way of the European powers of the day. They soon learn the folly of that strategy.
After the United States won its independence in the treaty of 1783, it had to protect its own commerce against dangers such as the Barbary pirates. [Prior to that, ithe American colonies were protected by the British and, later, the French.] As early as 1784 Congress followed the tradition of the European shipping powers and appropriated $80,000 as tribute to the Barbary states, directing its ministers in Europe, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, to begin negotiations with them. Trouble began the next year, in July 1785, when Algerians captured two American ships and the dey of Algiers held their crews of twenty-one people for a ransom of nearly $60,000.[SNIP]
Paying the ransom would only lead to further demands, Jefferson argued in letters to future presidents John Adams, then America's minister to Great Britain, and James Monroe, then a member of Congress. As Jefferson wrote to Adams in a July 11, 1786 letter, "I acknolege [sic] I very early thought it would be best to effect a peace thro' the medium of war." Paying tribute will merely invite more demands, and even if a coalition proves workable, the only solution is a strong navy that can reach the pirates, Jefferson argued in an August 18, 1786 letter to James Monroe: "The states must see the rod; perhaps it must be felt by some one of them. . . . Every national citizen must wish to see an effective instrument of coercion, and should fear to see it on any other element than the water. A naval force can never endanger our liberties, nor occasion bloodshed; a land force would do both." "From what I learn from the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of their money," Jefferson added in a December 26, 1786 letter to the president of Yale CollegeEzra Stiles, "it will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them." [SNIP]
When Jefferson became president in 1801 he refused to accede to Tripoli's demands for an immediate payment of $225,000 and an annual payment of $25,000. The pasha of Tripoli then declared war on the United States. Although as secretary of state and vice president he had opposed developing an American navy capable of anything more than coastal defense, President Jefferson dispatched a squadron of naval vessels to the Mediterranean. As he declared in his first annual message to Congress: "To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to denounce war, on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. . . ."
(All emphasis mine.)
A big fat "bite me" from TJ, who learned from experience and changed his mind. Thus was born the United States Navy.
The back and forth continued to the year 1815, when the young US Navy’s victories over the pirates forced an end to the capture and enslavement of American ship-borne crews and the tribute payments. (Recall that the US fought a second war with England in the intervening time period; multi-tasking at its finest.)
European nations continued annual payments until the 1830s.
What Santayana said.