The American-Barbary Wars


Figure 1.--

America while still a part of the British Empire developed one of the largest merchant fleets in the world. And as British colonies, they saided under the Union Jack and the protection of the Royal Navy. The British had treaties with the four Barbary states (Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli). Thus they were protected by the Barbary corsairs. Morocco was the nation to publicly recognize the United States, perhaps with ulterior motive (1777). Brbary corsairs began seeing American shipping in the Mediterannean after America had achieved its independence (1783). Morocco was the first Barbary state to seize an American vessel (1784). Algiers subsequently sized were the Maria and Dauphin (1785). The men aboard were cast into a dank prison and reduced to slavery. The Dey of Algiers demanded a huge payment to ransome the captives and for for a peace treaty to protect other American ships. This incident occurred at a time when the United States was still governed by the Articles of Confederation. There was no American Navy at the time. Ironically the American diplomats first involved were John Adams in London and Thomas Jefferson in Paris. There was little they could do. As the Barbary corsairs had noted, there was no Amrican Navy to protect the merchant ships. Only after the Constitution was signed was a Federal Gocernment created which could build a Navy. President Adams was the father of the U.S. Navy. The Navy was the most controversial issue in the early years of the Republic. Adams and the Federalists insisted on building six costly frigates. Jefferson's Republicans oppsed both construction and the use of the frigates in the Quasi War with France, But it would be the U.S. Navy that he and the Republicans had opposed that President Jefferson would used to fight the Barbary pirates. It would be America and not the Europeans that they preyed on for several centuries that would take on he Barbary pirates.

Colonial Merchant Marine

America while still a part of the British Empire developed one of the largest merchant fleets in the world. And as British colonies, they saided under the Union Jack and the protection of the Royal Navy. Most of the American trade was with the British Caribbean islands where the local economies used slave labor to produce sugar and other ecport commodities. Thus they needed large quantities of food and other raw materials. This the Colonies provided in abundance. The British had treaties with the four Barbary states (Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli). Thus they were protected by the Barbary corsairs. The British placed substantial restrictions on colonial trade and commerce. The patriots who promoted independence offered the alure of commerce without the British restrictions.

Revolutionary War (1776-83)

The Revolutionary War was primarily a land war. George Washington as commander-in-chief somehow managed to stave off defeat in the first year of the War. And gradually he built up a proffessional Continental Army which managed to defeat tiw British Field Armies. After the first defeat (Burgoibne at Saratoga, 1777), the French entered the War, providing critical assistance. While the Continental Army was an amazing suucess. The Continent Navy was a disaster despite considerable appropriations from the Continental Congress. . The problem was that there was mo secure base from which the Navy could operate. American privateers proved more successful, ironically motly the ones in Europe which could ooperate from secure French ports. It was here John Paul Jones made his name. While primary a land war, the fate of Lord Corwallis' army and the British cause was settled by a French fleet in the Battle of the Capes (1781).

American Mediterranean Shipping

Brotain recognized Ameruican independence in the Treaty of Psaris (1783). American merchants and shippers had their hopes of expanded commercial opportunities dashed. The British issued Orders in Council which resticted trade between the new American republic and its colonies in the Caribbean. This had been the core of America's pre-independence colonial sea trade. American shippers responded by seeking new markets. And one of those new markets was Mediterranean ports.

The Barbary Pirates

The Barbary pirates or Ottoman corsairs, were pirates who operated under the cover of privateer operations authorized by the Barbary states. The Barbary pirates operated from western portion of the north Africa from Tripoli west to Moroccan ports. This became known as the Barbary coast. The Muslim Barbary pirates preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea beginning with the Crusades, but more importantly inthe 16th century after the fall of Granada to the Christians (1492). The attacks continued into the early 19th century.

Barbary Corsair Attacks (1784-85)

Morocco was the nation to publicly recognize the United States, perhaps with ulterior motive (1777). Brbary corsairs began seeing American shipping in the Mediterannean after America had achieved its independence (1783). Morocco was the first Barbary state to seize an American vessel (1784). Algiers subsequently sized were the Maria and Dauphin (1785). The men aboard were cast into a dank prisoin and reduced to slavery. The Dey of Algiers demanded a huge payment to ransome the captives and for for a peace treaty to protect other American ships. This incident occurred at a time when the United States was still governed by the Articles of Confederation. There was no American Navy at the time to protect the new country's merchant marine and no national govcernment capable of building a navy. The Americans wre at first mistified by the attacks. The suffering crew wrote letters to Ambassador Thomass Jefferson in Paris, pleading for assistance. At the sane time, John Adams, who was the American ambassador in Britain met with with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Tripoltanian ambassador to Britain. His descriptions of his meetings make for amusing reaing today. Jefferson came over from Paris and with Adams met with Adja. Both Americans had difficulty contemplating both Adja and his presentation. They innocently asked why his government was so hostile to Americans. Apparently they were totally unaware of three century of Barbary piracy. They duly reported Adja's explanation to the Continental Congress, "That it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Qur'an, 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, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise."

Diplomatic Efforts

Ironically the American diplomats first involved were John Adams in London and Thomas Jefferson in Paris. There was little they could do. As the Barbary corsairs had noted, there was no Amrican Navy to protect the merchant ships. Only after the Constitution was signed was a Federal Gocernment created which could build a Navy. President Adams was the father of the U.S. Navy. The Navy was the most controversial issue in the early years of the Republic. Adams and the Federalists insisted on building six costly frigates. Jefferson's Republicans oppsed both construction and the use of the frigates in the Quasi War with France, But it would be the U.S. Navy that he and the Republicans had opposed that President Jefferson would used to fight the Barbary pirates. It would be America and not the Europeans that they preyed on for several centuries that would take on he Barbary pirates. But this was several years in the future. And the captive Americans languished in prisons and endured slavery and beatings for several years.

Morocco (1784-86)

It was Thomas Barclay, American consul in France, who finally managed to negotiate a treaty with Morocco (1786). There was no Navy that Barclay could threaten the Mooccans with. His primary assett was the Moroccans and other Barbary Corssairs had no inkling of the size of the American merchant marine and the value of their commerce. Barclay negotiated a one-time paymnent of $60,000 and the resulting treaty required no future payments. [Roberts and Roberts, pp. 189-223.]

Algiers (1785-96)

Algiers proved a more difficult problem. They were the strongest of the four Barbary states and seized two two American ships and crews (1785). Neotiations to secure the release of the captives began a a difficult and protacted diplomatic exercise. Algeirs demanded $60,000 dollars, the Americans offered $4,000. Jefferson said a million dollars would buy them off. Congress would appropriate a mere $80,000. The diplomatic staff-off would last 11 years. The Americans captives became Algerian slaves and subjected to brutal treatment and hard labor. The onerous demands of the Algerians would becone a factor in the birth of the United States Navy. President Washington agreed to the terms only because diplomats convinced him that Algiers as the strongest Barbary states could help influence the other smakler Barbary states.

Tripoli (1786)

The United States agreed to pay the Bashaw of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli, $25,000 for perpetual peace. Future annual tributes were expressely rejected.

Tunis


American Mediterranean Trade

The Barbary attacks significantly reduced the number of American merchants willing to take the risks of entering the Mrditerranean. This was a serious contraint on American merchants as the British were enforcing trade rules cutting American ships off from their traditional markets in the Caribbean. American ships chosing to sail in the Mediterranean attemoted to travel as close as possible to convoys of European countries who had treaties with the Barbary states, meaning they had chosen to pay tribute to the pirates.

Atlantic Attacks (1793)

Portuguese naval patrols at the Straits of Gibraltar for many years prevented Barbary corsairs from attacking ships in the Atlantic. Algiers and Portugal signed a truce involving a cash payment (1793). American Ambassador David Humphreys, sent out a warning that as a result of the truce, an Algerian fleet had passed through the Straits. This meant that American shipping was not only in danger in the Mediterranean, but now also in the Atlantic as well. Again Jefferson was involved. He was serving in Philadelphia as Secretary of State. Soon a diplomat in Algiers reoported that 10 American ships had been brought into port. The goods were confiscated and the crews enslaved. And soon pitiful letters arrived home from some of the captives. A reader writes, "Over the weekend I learned that one of my ancestral grandfathers had a brother named John McShane who was the captain of a ship, known as the SS Minerva. It is said that John was a merchant and importer. In November of 1793, He was sailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to the Mediterranean Sea. Around one of the Algerian ports the Minerva and another ship were captured by pirates. The cargo was valued at $150,000. The pirates held Captain McShane for a $100,000 ransom. The other captain was also being held for ransom. But both were killed before a ransom could be paid. It is said that Captain John McShane was tortured by holes being bored into his shoulders." [Ellis] Americans suspected that the British were behind the Algerian operation. They had mediated the truce between Algiers and Portugal (a traditional British ally). The Algerian attacks was a good way of discouraging American competition. And America still had no navy to protect its shipping. The Algerian attacks had a major impact on American politics. Congress at the time was debating a bill to create a navy. There was no clear consenus. News of the seizures in one stroke created a consensus to build a navy. President Washington was furious, and swore,"would to Heaven we had a navy to reform those enemies to mankind, or crush them into non-existence." [Oren]

United States Navy (1794)

The founding of the United States Navy occurred when President George Washington signed the Act to Provide Naval Armament (March 27, 1794). Te justification was attacks in American shipping by the Barbary Pirates. Even so it was perhaps the most contentious issue considered by Congress during the Washington Administration and was an early issue upon which the emerging Federalist and Republican Partoesxsplit. The Federalists wanted a Navy to protect American merchant shipping, much of it operated from New England and to protect affonts to the hnor of the new nation. The Republicans saw a standing military as a threat to the Republic ahd were opposed to the very substantial outlays which they saw farmers havung to pat to finance the investments of wealthy merchants. Later after the signing of the Jay Treatty reduced incidents with the British, French drepedtions on American shipping emerged as the major threat to American commerce. This further heightened the Federalist/Republican split because of ideological differences in the French Revolution. After an extended debate, Congress authorized nearly $0.7 million to build or purchase six frigates. This was an enormous sum at the time for the new American Republic. Building and outfitting the shis was an enormous undertaking and it would be 4 years before the first of the frigates were ready for service. t the time America was at peace, although being provoked at sea by both the French and British. The frigates were enormous tourist attractions in the United States with guards even charging admission which they apparently used to buy liquor. [Toll] A Treaty with Algiers temprarily reduced the immediate needs for the frigates. The Republicans pressed to cancel the frigate project. President Adams championed the cause of the frigates and is thus seen as the father of the U.S. Navy. An compormise was reached to finish the first three. The incendiary XYZ Affair (1798) eventually convinced Congress to finish the remining three and outfit a number of smaller ships. These six frigates would go on to play an important role in the early history of the Republic. The ininital impetus was to deal with the Barbary Pirates, but they were first employed in the Quasi War with France. Ironically although Republican leaders Jefferesin and Madison led the fight against the frigates, as president they would make the greatest use of them.

Algerian Treaty (1796)

The Americans eventually decided to offer much more to Algiers than they had to Morocco to settle the matter and to free the captives. The Algerians demanded not only a substantial payment, but annual tribute. This was arguabbly the most expensive treaty ever negotiated by the United States. The cost was a million dollars in bribes, ransome, and tribute. The United States had to build a 32-gun frigate as a gift to the Dey. While a million dollars does not sound like aot of money today, it was in 1796. In fact it was 13 percent of Federal expenditures in 1796. In addition there were ongoing annual tribute to be paid. The Americans aggreed to the these demands, but managed to get the Algerians to keep the terms secret so that the other Barbary states would not learn just how much could be extorted from the Americans. The Republicans had been unable to stop the bill authorizing the Federal Government to build a navy consisting of six frigates, but managing to tie in an amendment that construction would be suspended if the dispute with Algiers was settled. President Washington when he submitted the Algerian Treaty to Congress asked that construction be continued on the frigates. Congress decided to compromise. The three frigates that were nearing completion would be completed--the United States, Constellation, and Constitution.

Quasi War (1798-1800)

Saving the three frigates proved fortuitous for the United states with the out break of the Quasi War (1798). A break in relations with rance resulted in an undeclared naval war. French privateers seized large numbers of American ships, some right iff the American coast. The Federalists demanded a declaration of war. This would have split the country as the Republicans opposed war with France. President Adams pursued a policy of diplomacy combined with a vigorous naval response. The remaining three frigates were rushed to completion--the President, Congress, and Chesapeake. A number of other vessels were built. As a result, by the end of the War the United States had a small, but effective navy. THE Navy's frigates performed brilliantly and were a factor in France's decession to seek peace. The Navy continued, however, to be a highly controversial partisan issue

American Election (1800)

The election of 1800 is arguably the most critical in American history. The country knew they could trust Washington. The abilities nd judhement of those who followed him were an open question. While political parties played no role in the 1792 election, they certainly did in the 1800 election. The election was notable because of the extemely partisan nature of the election and the vitriolic attacks on former Revolution War friends and colleagues. It was particularly important as it resulted in the first transfer of power from one party to the other and despite the contentious nature of the election, it occured peacefully with President Adams quietly leaving Washington quietly by stage coah before President Jefferson's innaguration. This was a momentous event, the peaceful transfer of power to an oposition power. One reason that monarchy had endured so long in human history is thatit provided for a peaceful sucession from one monarch to another. The transfer of power in a republican government is much less asured. Setting this precent in the Ameican Republic was a critical step. The election also involved a major realignment in Americamn politics. The Democratic-Republican victories in the Congressional elections essentially destroyed the Federalists as a national party. President Adams packed the Federal Courts with Federalists which essentially meant that they could continue to exert influence through the Federal courts led by the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall. One of the major issues in the election was the Navy that President Adams and the Federalists had built. The Republicans thought that it was to costly and feared the Navy just as they did a standing army. With the end of the Quasi War (1798-1800) and Jefferson's victory in the election, the Federalists feared that the Navy was doomed.

Foreign Policy Crisis

President Jefferson's first concern with the United States Navy was how best to lay it up. His primary concern was to reduce Federak spending and the Navy as a major expense. Within days of his iaguration, the first crisis he was to face began. The President was made of aware of diplomativc dispatches from the Mediterranean. The Bashaw of Tripoli had summoned American Consul James Cathcart to his palace. He threatened war and attacks on Alerican ships if the United States did not make an immediate cash gift of $225,000 and $25,00 in future annual tribute. This was clear violation of the 1786 treaty with the Bashaw. Apparently the other Barbary states were beginning to realize that the United states was a much richer country than they had expected. They had begun to see lsrge numbers of American merchant vessels. And rumors had begun to spread about the details of the 1796 American Algerian Treaty. There was concern that Tunis and Morocco might also demand large payments.

First Barbary War (1801-05)

The First Barbary War was America's first foreign war. It was a naval campaign against Tripolitarian corsairs. Tripoli and the other Barbary stateswre no longer major military powers, but there fast ships were nore than capable of taking heavily laden and undefended merchant vessels. And their fearsome reputation still influenced European thinking. The Bashaw when the United States refused to meet his demands, declared war (May 1801). The United States sent naval squadrons into the Mediterranean to engage the Tripolitarians and blockade Tunis. The American slogan became "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!". The first American squadron was commanded by Commodores Richard Dale. Sale showed little desire to engage the Bashaw's forces. He showed more interest in remaining in port, especially as his wife was pregnant and he had insisted on bringing her along. Blockading Tripoli proved difficult because of the weather, the size of the American frigates and the linited number of vessels. The next squadron was commanded by William Bradshaw, but ended in disaster when the Philadelphia went aground and was captured by the Bashaw's forces. Edward Preble aggressively pressed the attack on Tripoli. Lt. Stephen Decatur ommanded 4 volunteers into Tripoli harbor and succeeded in destroying the captured Philadelphia (February 16, 1804). Preble blockaded the port, bombarded the town and Bashaw's palace. He secured gunboats from the the Kingdom of Napels which had suffered from Barbary attacks. There was close, ferocious gunboat actions. Prebel to press the attack, approved an overland campaign. Former Consul William Eaton organized a force to replacen Yusuf with his ousted brother. A small force of Hamat's supporters, mercenaries and marines stormed Derna (February 16, 1804). The final Americn squadron was commanded by John Rogers. The American attacks, arrival of more frigates, the overland attack, and the inability to make money with his corsairs bottled up in Tripli convinced the Bashaw to compromise. Tobias Lear finally negotiated a peace settlement (June 3, 1805).

Second Barbary War (1815)

The United States after the War of 1812 with Britain prepared two naval squadrons under Commodores Decatur and Bainbridge to the Mediterranean (1815). The Barbary states, especially Algiers, had taken advantage of the war with Britain to prey upon merican shipping in the Mediterranean. They assumed that the Royal Navy would destroy the fledgling American Navy and they thus need not fear American naval action. America they assumed with have to pay substantial tribute again. They proceeded to seize American ships and hold Americans for ransome. They had, however, not improved their naval forces they were simply relying on the Royal Navy to destroy the American Navy. It seemed a save bet at the time. Even President Madison at first expected this to happen. The small American Navy against all expectations performed brilliantly in the war with Britain. The United States Navy proved to be the only navy to challenge the Royal Navy until World War I. This gained considerable respect for the new American Republic in Europe. Both American commanders were will acquainted with conditions in the area as a result of their service in the First Barbary War. The American show of force in the Second Barbary War finally ended tribute payments. Actually only Decater's squadron reached the Mediterranean. Unlike the First War, there was very little actual fighting. Decater's squadron was much more powerful than the squadrons the Barbary states had faced in the Firt War. They prudently decided to mke peace with the americans. Diplomacy backed by force soon brought the rulers of the Barbary states to accept new treaties. Decatur obtained treaties which eliminated the United States paying tribute. In the years immediately after the Napoleonic wars, which ended in 1815, the European powers finally forced an end to piracy and the payment of tribute in the Barbary states.

Sources

Ellis, Connie. E-mail message (November 27, 2012).

Oren, Michael B. Power, Faith, and Fantasy (2007).

Roberts, Priscilla H. and Richard S. Roberts. Thomas Barclay (1728-1793): Consul in France, Diplomat in Barbary (Lehigh University Press, 2008).

Toll, Ian W. Si Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy (W.S. Norton & Co.: New York, 2006), 560p.







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Created: 11:29 PM 4/10/2009
Last updated: 11:23 PM 11/27/2012