69 million page views

Tripoli Treaty

Reader comment on item: In 1796, U.S. Vowed Friendliness With Islam

Submitted by Paul Rinderle (United States), Nov 8, 2006 at 19:25


Your article was certainly of interest. Time magazine also did an article on Tripoli. See Below

Thomas Jefferson after he became President and with much forethought prior to his Presidency, and without Congress's consent, set the Marines to conquer the Muslim Pirates and stop their violence on the high seas. The article written by Christopher Hitchens led to including From the Shores of Tripoli into the Marine fight song.

We in fact have thus had a run in with Muslim Terror as far back as 1802.

Sincerely Paul Rinderle

Fairfax Va.

TIME Magazine: To The Shores of Tripoli

To The Shores of Tripoli

Muslim foes. Kidnappings. How the Barbary Wars
foreshadowed things to come


Posted Sunday, June 27, 2004
Within days of his March 1801 inauguration as the third
President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson ordered a
naval and military expedition to North Africa, without the
authorization of Congress, to put down regimes involved in
slavery and piracy. The war was the first in which the U.S.
flag was carried and planted overseas; it saw the baptism by
fire of the U.S. Marine Corps—whose anthem boasts of action on
"the shores of Tripoli"—and it prefigured later struggles with
both terrorism and jihad.
The Barbary States of North Africa—Algiers, Tunis, Morocco
and Tripoli (today's Libya)—had for centuries sustained
themselves by preying on the maritime commerce of others.
Income was raised by direct theft, the extortion of bribes or
"protection" and the capture of crews and passengers to be
used as slaves. The historian Robert Davis, in his book
Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the
Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800,
estimates that as many as 1.25 million Europeans and Americans
were enslaved. The Barbary raiders—so called because they were
partly of Berber origin—struck as far north as England and
Ireland. It appears, for example, that almost every inhabitant
of the Irish village of Baltimore was carried off in 1631.
Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe both mention the frightening
trade in their writings; at that time, pamphlets and speeches
by survivors and escaped slaves had a huge influence on the
popular imagination. James Thomson's famously rousing 1740
song Rule Britannia, with its chorus about how Britons "never
shall be slaves," was a direct allusion to the Barbary
Jefferson was appalled. . .

TIME Magazine: To The Shores of Trip

Jefferson was appalled by this practice from an early stage of
his career. In 1784 he wrote to James Madison about the
Barbary depredations, saying, "We ought to begin a naval
power, if we mean to carry on our commerce. Can we begin it on
a more honorable occasion or with a weaker foe?" He added that
John Paul Jones, the naval hero of the Revolutionary War,
"with half a dozen frigates" could subdue the slave kingdoms
of North Africa.
The year 1784 saw the American brig Betsey, with her crew of
10, captured by a Moroccan corsair while sailing with a cargo
of salt from Spain to Philadelphia. Soon after, Algerian
pirates grabbed the Dauphin and the Maria on the high seas of
the Atlantic and took their crews captive. The situation was
becoming worse because the British fleet had withdrawn
protection of American vessels after the former colony
declared its independence, and the U.S. had no navy of its
own. Secretary of State John Jay decided to do what the
European powers did and pay tribute to the Barbary sultans in
exchange for safe passage as well as for the return of
captured American slaves.
America's two main diplomats at the time were John Adams in
London and Jefferson in Paris. Together they called upon
Ambassador Abdrahaman, the envoy of Tripoli in London, in
March 1786. This dignitary mentioned a tariff of three
payments—for the ransom of slaves and hostages, for cheap
terms of temporary peace and for more costly terms of
"perpetual peace." He did not forget to add his own commission
as a percentage. Adams and Jefferson asked to know by what
right he was exacting these levies. The U.S. had never menaced
or quarreled with any of the Muslim powers. As Jefferson later
reported to the State Department and Congress, "The Ambassador
answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet,
that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who
should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners,
that it was their right and duty to make war upon them
wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they
could take as Prisoners."
Jefferson's recommendation was that the Administration refuse
any payment of tribute and prepare at once to outfit a naval
squadron to visit the Mediterranean in strength. Ultimately,
he proposed, America should arrange for an international
concert of powers composed of all those nations whose shipping
and citizens were preyed upon. "Justice and Honor favor this
course," he wrote, adding that it would also save money in the
long run.
Adams agreed with the sentiment but did not think the
recommendation was feasible. Congress at that time was in no
mood to spend money for a fleet. Jefferson, however, never let
the subject drop. In 1787 he approached Jones, who was down on
his luck in Paris, out of work and having woman troubles as
usual. Would Jones be interested in a job offer from Empress
Catherine the Great of Russia, who Jefferson happened to know
was looking for an admiral? That admiral's task would be to
clear out the Turkish fleet from the Black Sea, on Russia's
southern border.
Why would Jefferson want to act as recruiter for a European
monarch? First, because he wanted to keep Jones employed and
give him the type of combat experience that would befit the
potential chief naval commander of the United States. Second,
because three of the four Barbary States—Algiers, Tripoli and
Tunis—were part of the Turkish, or Ottoman, Empire. Britain,
which rather encouraged the Barbary powers to attack American
ships, used Turkey as a counterweight in its war against
Catholic powers on mainland Europe. Why shouldn't the U.S.
reply in kind by discreetly helping Russia make life hard for
the Turks?
Jones set off for St. Petersburg in May 1788, presented the
Empress with a copy of the new U.S. Constitution, took command
in the Black Sea and inflicted some hard blows on the Turkish
fleet. He proposed going to the source by leading a Russian
fleet into the Mediterranean, where it could interrupt Ottoman
shipping between Constantinople and Egypt. For all this
activity on the "infidel" side, Jones was rewarded by having a
price put on his head by the ruler of Algiers. Meanwhile,
however, he fell from favor at Empress Catherine's court and
began to lose his health. Jefferson did not know this and had
since become Secretary of State. In this capacity, he
persuaded President George Washington to commission Jones to
lead a delegation to Algiers, empowering him to give an
ultimatum to the ruler. The package containing the commission
and the instructions arrived in Paris only days after Jones
had died there, in July 1792, from jaundice, nephritis and
pneumonia. But Jefferson was still not discouraged.
The next year, 1793, saw Jefferson's retirement as Secretary
of State and his withdrawal to Monticello. Like many of his
temporary "resignations," this one was well timed. It meant
that he did not have to express an opinion in the
congressional debates on the military budget. Many of his
Republican colleagues opposed the expense, as well as the
principle, of having a permanent army and navy. The Federalist
supporters of Adams, furthermore, desired a larger military
budget in order to conduct hostilities against revolutionary
France, a regime for which Jefferson felt sympathy. But by
staying out of the political battle and biding his time,
Jefferson ensured that when the hour struck for his own
project, he could call on a fleet that Adams had built for
him. In 1794, partly moved by the letters from American
sailors held in Barbary dungeons and slave pens, Congress
authorized the building of six frigates, three of which—the
Constitution, the United States and the Constellation—were
already completed. In July 1798 funds were approved for a
Marine Corps as well.
Jefferson became President in early 1801, shortly after Yusuf
Karamanli, the ruler of Tripoli, unwisely issued an ultimatum
to the U.S.: If it did not pay him fresh tribute, he
threatened, he would declare war on America. The new Commander
in Chief coolly decided to let the ultimatum expire and take
the declaration of war at face value. He summoned his new
Cabinet, which approved the dispatch of a naval squadron and
decided not to bother Congress—which was then in recess—with
the information. He did not, in fact, tell the elected
representatives of his plans until the fleet was on the high
seas and too far away to be recalled.
Over the next four years, in what Jefferson laconically
described as a "cruise," the new American Navy bombarded the
harbors of Algiers, Morocco and Tunis—or threatened them with
bombardment—until the states gradually agreed to cease
cooperating with Karamanli. The Tripoli government, however,
remained defiant and even succeeded in boarding and capturing
the Philadelphia in 1803. That led directly to an episode
that, as Henry Adams records in his history of the two
Jefferson administrations, used to be known to every American
schoolboy. In February 1804, Captain Stephen Decatur Jr.
sailed straight into Tripoli harbor and set on fire the
captured Philadelphia. In August 1804 he helped rescue its
crew from a gruesome imprisonment, bombarded the fortified
town and boarded the pasha's own fleet where it lay at anchor.
In the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, Decatur is said by
legend—and by some eyewitnesses—to have slain the very officer
who, some hours before, had killed his brother, Lieut. James
This rescue was inspiring news for the folks back home and
other captives and slaves in North African hands, but the
event was almost eclipsed by another daring raid the following
year. In April 1805, Captain William Eaton put together a
mixed force of Arab rebels and mercenaries and American
Marines, and in a maneuver that has since been compared to
that of the charismatic T.E. Lawrence, led a desert march from
inland that took Tripoli's second city, Derna, by surprise.
Lieut. Presley O'Bannon of the Marine Corps hoisted the Stars
and Stripes over the captured town, and the Marine anthem
preserves his gesture to this day.
That did not bring the conflict to a complete close, but it
signaled the beginning of the end. Over the next few years,
all four of the Barbary States signed treaties with America
renouncing piracy, kidnapping and blackmail. Algiers had to be
bombarded a few more times, and there was an awkward moment
during negotiations in Washington when the Tunisian
representative, Sidi Soliman Melli Melli, made it clear that
he expected to be amused at public expense by some ladies of
the night. (Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison were able
to arrange an off-the-record State Department budget for that
purpose, thus demonstrating that they understood the facts of
life.) Taken together with some of Jefferson's other ambitious
and quasi-constitutional moves—the Louisiana Purchase and the
sending of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the West—the
Barbary war exposed him to some Federalist and newspaper
criticism for his secrecy, high-handedness and overly
"presidential" style. But there was no arguing with success,
and some historians believe that just as Jefferson was able to
make use of Adams' Navy, so Madison, when he became President,
was able to deploy Decatur's Navy, battle hardened and
skillful, in the sterner combat of the War of 1812. Those who
like to look for lessons for today might care to note that
Jefferson did not act unilaterally until he was satisfied that
European powers would not join his coalition and that he did
not seek to impose a regime change or an occupation of the
Barbary States. And those who ponder the ethics of history
might take a crumb of comfort from the fact that though he
could not bring himself to abolish slavery in the U.S. and
even supported its retention in Haiti, Thomas Jefferson at
least managed to destroy it somewhere.
Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of
Thomas Jefferson, which is forthcoming in the Eminent Lives
series from HarperCollins

1 | 2


27, 2004


Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

Comment on this item

Mark my comment as a response to Tripoli Treaty by Paul Rinderle

Email me if someone replies to my comment

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

See recent outstanding comments.

Follow Daniel Pipes

Facebook   Twitter   RSS   Join Mailing List

All materials by Daniel Pipes on this site: © 1968-2021 Daniel Pipes. daniel.pipes@gmail.com and @DanielPipes

Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum.Daniel J. Pipes

(The MEF is a publicly supported, nonprofit organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Contributions are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Tax-ID 23-774-9796, approved Apr. 27, 1998.

For more information, view our IRS letter of determination.)