First Barbary War

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The burning of the frigate Philadelphia

The First Barbary War took place from 1801 to 1805, between American forces and the Barbary States.

Negotiations before 1789

Before the American Revolution the flag of England protected the Mediterranean commerce of her American colonies. In the treaty of 1778 with France the United States endeavored to introduce an article securing the protection of that country. This failed but the French King agreed to assist by his good offices. These were asked in 1785 by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who had been authorized by act of Congress of the preceding year to treat with the Barbary States. The Tripoline ambassador in London, speaking also for Tunis, had approached Adams declaring that his humanitarian instincts led him to seek peace. His communications read more like opira bouffe than diplomacy. Jefferson, from Paris, was induced to join Adams in London. The presents demanded in return for peace were so exorbitant that negotiations were suspended. Jefferson wished to go to war; Adams thought it better and cheaper to buy peace as other nations did.

Morocco was the first of these powers to make peace, concluding a treaty in 1786 through Thomas Barclay, who was subdelegated to conduct the negotiations. It provided for neither tribute nor presents; but a payment of little less than $10,000 was made on its conclusion. The Emperor with whom it was concluded having died, $20,000 additional was sent in 1795 to induce the new Emperor to recognize the treaty.

Negotiations After 1789

It was nearly a decade after the Moroccan treaty before one was concluded with Algiers. John Lamb had been sent there when Barclay went to Morocco but accomplished nothing because of his incompetence and the extravagant demands, (about $60,000) for the ransom of seamen. To secure their release Jefferson, in Paris, engaged the services of the Mathurians or Society of the Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives; but the French Revolution put an end to their services by terminating the existence of the order. In 1792, on the initiative of President Washington, the Senate recommended paying $40,000 to Algiers in ransom, and $25,000 annually. Before negotiations were begun Portugal, in 1793, concluded a truce with Algiers which allowed to the piratical fleet exit into the Atlantic. Numerous captures followed, increasing the number of captives and the cost of ransom. When, in 1795, the treaty was finally concluded it cost more than $900,000. It was the only treaty with the Barbary States which stipulated the payment of tribute. The annuity in naval stores was valued at a little more than $21,000, besides presents on various occasions. Tripoli made a similar treaty in 1796 except that the original payment of about $56,000 was accepted in lieu of all obligations and no tribute or further payment was to be made. In 1797 Tunis accepted $107,000, for a treaty. Although these two treaties did not provide for tribute the numerous presents and payments amounted to almost the same.

Naval War

The Peace Establishment Act of March 3, 1801, authorized the President to sell all the vessels of the navy except thirteen frigates, of which only six were to be kept in commission; and the number of naval officers was reduced from five hundred to two hundred. "I shall really be chagrined," wrote Jefferson, "if the water in the Eastern Branch will not admit our laying up the whole seven there in time of peace, because they would be under the immediate eye of the department, and would require but one set of plunderers to take care of them."

Events were too much for Jefferson's genial intention. Ever since the Middle Ages the petty Moorish powers on the north coast of Africa had made piracy on the Mediterranean trade their profession. In accordance with the custom of European nations, in 1787 the United States had bought a treaty of immunity with Morocco, and later with Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis. Every payment to one of these nests of pirates incited the others to make increased demands. In May, 1800, the Pasha of Tripoli wrote to the President of the United States: "We could wish that these your expressions were followed by deeds, and not by empty words. . . . If only flattering words are meant, without performance, every one will act as he finds convenient." Receiving no satisfaction, he declared war upon the United States.[1]

One of the first acts of Jefferson's administration was, therefore, to despatch a squadron to blockade Tripoli, and in 1802 he was obliged to consent to a declaration of war by the United States. The frigates were unsuitable, and in 1803 Congress resumed the hated Federalist policy of building a navy. Four new vessels, of a small and handy type, were constructed, and under Commodore Preble, Tripoli was compelled in 1805 to make peace and to cease her depredations.

Effects and legacy

By 1802 more than $2,000,000 had actually been paid to these powers. For much less than this a fleet could have been created which would have secured peace and the release of captives and guaranteed security for the future. Many, including Jefferson, wished to try this method. Others feared the creation of a navy, thinking it too powerful a weapon in the hand of the central Government and likely to involve foreign complications. In spite of this opposition the Algerine negotiations were the occasion for the beginning of an active navy. In the absence of force the treaties proved a protection only so long as the piratical states wished to observe them.

A breach of the Moroccan treaty in 1803 occasioned a hostile demonstration by the United States which restored peace. The Bashaw of Tripoli grew restless because the presents were not as frequent or substantial as he wished. This led to the Tripoline War which, after numerous engagements, ended in the peace of 1805. During the war of 1812 with Great Britain Algiers opened hostilities. In 1815 a naval force under Decatur was sent and after a demonstration and a refusal to allow delay for consideration of the terms submitted by the American officer peace was concluded. No presents were given and tribute of any kind in the future was abolished, and prisoners were no more to be made slaves. Decatur afterward visited Tunis and Tripoli and collected indemnity for seizures made in violation of treaties. This ended a disgraceful chapter in American history. Even after tribute ceased, however, appropriations were made annually of several thousand dollars for presents, continuing until the middle of the century.[2]

References