Guide The End of Barbary Terror: Americas 1815 War against the Pirates of North Africa

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By paying tribute, the Powers not only rid themselves of Barbary's gadfly, but also redirected against their weaker competitors -- Portugal, Denmark, Spain and, after July , the United States of America. America was indeed on its own. The British naval juggernaut the once protected America's merchant fleet was now its mortal enemy.

With virtually no navy to speak of, the United States could barely protect its own coast, much less its overseas trade. American merchants were vulnerable from the moment they left their moorings, and helpless on the high seas. Nevertheless, with the help of intrepid captains like John Paul Jones and the assistance of the French navy, the United States managed to muddle through the War of Independence.

The End of Barbary Terror: America's 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa

Still, by the time the fighting ended in , all of the Continental Navy's gunboats had either been captured, sunk or sold. America had not one warship, but Algiers, alone, had more than fifty. Lord Sheffield was right. In a single six-month period between and , the Barbary states sacked three American vessels.

The crewmen were paraded down the streets of Fez and Algiers, pelted with rotten vegetables and offal, and thrown before the emperor or the pasha who reportedly told them, "I'll make you eat stones, Christian dogs," and then sold them to the highest bidders. The Middle East or the Orient, as it was then called, had long been known to Americans as hostile area.

Anti-Islamic tracts with names like "The Nature of the Impostor Mohamat" were widely circulated throughout the colonies. But, in addition posing challenges to America's faith, the Middle East also played to its fantasies. Many of these originated in the second most popular volume, after the Bible, found on the colonial bookshelf, that collection of medieval Persian tales known as A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, with its images of minaret orbiting carpets and veiled but available odalisques.

The Barbary issue was not about faith, however, or fantasy, but simply about power. The pirate attacks drove up insurance rates and deterred foreign merchants from shipping on American bottoms. The country's economy, already fragile, reeled.


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Returning from peace talks with Britain, Benjamin Franklin's ship was nearly seized by Algerians-- in the Atlantic. And when Foreign Secretary John Jay left to continue those talks, the government purposely sent him on a European ship. Panicking, American leaders appealed to their erstwhile allies, the French.

The treaty with France specifically committed the French to aid America in the event that its ships were attacked by Barbary, but remembering suddenly France's own mercantile interests in the Mediterranean, Paris simply ignored America's request. America was once again on its own, facing a fundamental threat not only to its economy and international standing, but to its very existence as a state. For the United States not only lacked gunboats, it lacked the legal means for creating one.

It lacked a basic constitutional framework for defending itself. Loosely linked under the Articles of Confederation, the thirteen states were incapable of raising taxes, much less a standing navy. Many Americans, moreover, didn't want a navy. They had had bad experience with one navy — Britain's -- and didn't like the idea of a warships sailing so close to their still-delicate democratic institutions.

Navies, moreover, were fantastically expensive to build, and groaning under a terrible war debt, the United States was in little position to finance one. Under the circumstances, many Founding Fathers agreed with John Adams that America was better off paying off the pirates than trying to fight them -- or, as Adams said, it was better to give "one Gift of two hundred Thousand Pounds" than to risk "a Million [in trade] annually.

Adams, in fact, grossly underestimated the cost.

End of Barbary Terror: America's War against Pirates of North Africa PIRACY | eBay

The Barbary crisis would not be last in which American leaders would have to grapple with the issue of piracy and hostage-taking in the Middle East. But uniquely, this first crisis raised fundamental questions about the nature, identity, and viability of the United States. Would the states survive if they tried to address the danger individually or could they join in an effective defense? Would Americans imitate Europe and bribe the pirates, or would they create a revolutionary precedent and fight them?

The answers to those questions may seem obvious today, but two and a quarter centuries ago they must definitely were not. One figure among the Founding Fathers, more than any other, strove to resolve those questions, and his name was Thomas Jefferson.


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  • Jefferson has not fared well this past decade. He has provided a target for both conservative and radical historians -- castigated for his support for democracy and equal rights, on the one hand, and for his slave-owning on the other; for his love of the bloody French revolution but his apparent faintheartedness in battle, for the lip-service he paid to the common man and his irrepressible snobbery.

    The Journal of Military History

    Jefferson, clearly, was a man of contradictions, and on few issues were those contradictions more pronounced than on Barbary. The same Jefferson who supported the plundering of British merchant ships by Americans during the Revolution, deplored the North Africans for committing similar aggression against American vessels. The owner of African-American slaves, one of whom, Sally Hemmings, he likely exploited sexually, he could not abide the thought of Africans possessing white people and selling American women to harems.

    The same Jefferson who warned against constructing warships liable "to sink us under them," could, in another breath, say "we ought to begin a naval power, if we mean to carry our own commerce. On one subject, though, Jefferson was thoroughly consistent. He believed that the "temper," as he called it, of the American people, made them physically resistant to blackmail -- that they would rather "raise ships and men to fight the pirates into reason than money to bribe them.

    To avoid that danger, Jefferson sought to instill what he termed "an erect and independent attitude" into American foreign policy -- an attitude that was inconsistent with paying tribute. In , Jefferson was serving as America's minister to France, and in that capacity, he came up with the idea of forming an international coalition, together with the European Powers, to combat Barbary. He even got his old friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, to place the proposal before the various European courts.

    The Europeans, though, while roundly applauding the idea, just went on paying tribute. The French rejected the very notion of coalition.

    America's first "war on terror" Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates

    Jefferson concluded that, if were to attain peace, the United States had to act unilaterally. Congress, though, thought differently, and in the summer of , it instructed Jefferson to join Adams in London for one more try at negotiating with Tripoli's envoy, 'Abd al-Rahman. On the basis of these remarks, Adams concluded that there was no use in negotiating with the North Africans, but neither could the United States resist them.

    This though, I fear, is too rugged for our people to bear. But not Jefferson -- he still insisted that the American people would fight, if only given the option. But they would not. Congress again ordered Adams and Jefferson to negotiate, this time with Morocco. The sultan, Sidi Muhammad bin 'Abdallah, claimed to have been the first monarch to recognize American independence in December , but he also claimed that American had insulted him by not paying him tribute and so he joined the other Barbary States in attacking American ships.

    Indeed, the U.


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    • The treaty signed by Jefferson and Adams with Morocco is America's second oldest, and the only to bear signatures in Arabic and the Muslim date. Yet, if Congress thought that the treaty with Morocco would bring them peace with North Africa, it was sorely mistaken. The other Barbary states quickly concluded that the best way to get America to pay up was to waylay its ships and only then negotiate.

      The result was that, in alone, eleven American vessels were plundered and American sailors taken hostage by Algiers alone. The question of whether the United States would ever have a navy, whether it could ever attain the unity necessary to defend itself, compelled delegates from twelve of the thirteen states to convene in Philadelphia in the spring of They came to discuss the possibility of replacing the Articles of Confederation with a more binding and effective national charter -- a debate that would take place against the backdrop of captured American cargoes and crews.

      Washington, though, the honorary chairman of this Constitutional Convention, feared that the Barbary issue would prove too devise and asked that all discussion of it be delayed until after the constitution was drafted. Consequently, the question of creating a navy scarcely appears in James Madison's record of the proceedings.

      Within 48 hours of arriving on the shore of the most powerful Barbary state, Decatur was able to force peace on American terms 'dictated at the mouths of our cannon,' as he later said. The U. Leiner's dramatic history of Stephen Decatur's mission to Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli in is not only a vivid narrative of America's largest and most successful overseas expedition during the Age of Sail, it is also an illuminating micro-history of the culture, politics, and personalities of America's first war against state-sponsored terror.

      Symonds, author of Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History "Frederick Leiner's The End of Barbary Terror is not only an exciting and well-told sea story, but a well-researched reminder that with regard to transnational terrorism, the only thing new in the world is the history that you don't know. John F. There are heroes and villains galore, mysterious secret agents and conniving heads of state; there are wars and other international crises, numerous historical set pieces and acts of derring-do.

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      All told, there's enough spectacle and drama to satisfy any reader. Leiner is a lawyer and historian who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Jefferson took this defensive military action without seeking a declaration of war from Congress. He believed that a more decisive response would be needed, and so he asked Congress for formal action.

      Madison eventually declared victory against the pirates in his Seventh Annual Message to Congress. Narrative It was the end of the eighteenth century, and for hundreds of years, pirates from the Islamic countries on the coast of North Africa had controlled the Mediterranean Sea. Questions Who were the Barbary Pirates? How did Presidents Washington and Adams deal with them? Why did Jefferson not wish to continue with that response?

      Why do you think Presidents Washington and Adams paid off the pirates?