In the early 19th century, the Barbary States Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli controlled commerce in the Mediterranean and along the North Atlantic coast of Africa. The authorized piracy was a source of the state income and political influence. Pirate practices became a challenge for the United States that wanted to become a trading nation. In 1801, the tensions led to the First Barbary War between the USA and Tripoli. This essay will discuss the reasons, course, and the consequences of this war.
Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli thrived off piracy. The usual practice was capturing merchant ships and releasing them for a significant ransom. Moreover, these countries collected the annual tribute from the European states. After the American Revolution, Britain withdrew its patronage of the American vessels and informed the Barbary States about it. As the result, the U.S. merchants were at the mercy of the Berber corsairs. During the first years of the nations establishment, the USA could not collect enough funding for a navy or a high ransom (U.S. Department of State). Therefore, in 1784, the Moroccan corsairs seized the U.S. merchant brig Betsy (Turner 158). Soon, after the USA had paid the ransom, Algerian pirates captured the Maria and the Dauphin (Huff).
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Thomas Jefferson, who was the U.S. peace commissioner to France at that period, found the above-mentioned method of dealing with the Mediterranean piracy inappropriate. He tried to organize a coalition with the European powers to fight piracy, but the effort had failed because the States could not provide sufficient financing (Turner 161). Although Jefferson stressed the necessity of the naval force for the protection of sea trade, he recommended negotiating peace with the Barbary powers as a temporary solution. The United States bought a peace treaty with Morocco and used a Portuguese convoy in the Mediterranean (Huff). In 1795, the USA finally managed to reach a peace treaty with Algiers, in 1796 with Tripoli, and next year with Tunis (Huff).
The practice of annuities was faulty, and the peace based on tribute was unreliable. The U.S. consul in Tripoli reported of a war threat from Pasha Yusuf Qaramanli who felt neglected by Americans in comparison with other Barbary rulers. Pasha Yusuf declared a war on the USA on May 10, 1801, and four days later, during the assault at the U.S. consulate, the American flag was chopped to the ground (Turner 159).
Jefferson believed that only military strength could secure a lasting peace to the American nation. In 1785, in his letter to John Jay, he wrote, Weakness provokes insult and injury, while a condition to punish it often prevents it. This reasoning leads to the necessity of some naval force, that being the only weapon with which we can reach an enemy (qtd. in Turner 161). Moreover, he believed that a strong response to the first insult would discourage further attacks.
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Shortly after Jeffersons inauguration on March 4, 1801, the U.S. government dispatched 2/3 of the U.S. Navy under the command of Captain Richard Dale to Gibraltar with the authority to wage a war if necessary. The arrival of the U.S. fleet at the shores of Tripoli on July 24, 1801, made Pasha Yusuf anxious. Dales squadron blocked the Tripolitan corsairs, convoyed the U.S. merchant ships, delivered goods and mail, and blocked Tripoli harbor for a short period (Huff). On August 1, 1801, the U.S. schooner Enterprise under the command of Lieutenant Andrew Sterrett defeated a larger Tripolitan corsair ship off the coast of Malta (Huff; Turner 162). Unfortunately, in April 1802, Commodore Dale was replaced by indecisive Captain Richard Morris. His duty in Gibraltar was described as a two years sleep, and Jefferson had to fire him for negligence (Turner 163).
On the contrary, William Eaton, the U.S. consul in Tunis in 1798-1803, was an effective representative of the nation. He developed an outstanding cultural awareness and demanded to provide an adequate response to the pirates bullying. On August 1, 1802, he announced a blockade of Tripoli with a single ship, which proved to be efficient.
On June 7, 1803, during his talk with Captain Morris, Pasha Yusuf demanded US$250,000, the annual tribute of US$20,000, and reimbursement for all war expenses (Turner 163). However, Jefferson refused to satisfy the growing appetite of the corsair. In late 1803, he promoted Eaton to a naval agent for the United States on the Barbary Coast (Turner 165). The U.S. consul in Tripoli James Cathcart suggested how to use Pasha Yusufs brother against him, and Eaton implemented this plan. He bought the allegiance of a Tunisian minister, collected a band of Arab and Greek mercenaries, marched with them across the Western Desert to Tripoli, and captured Derne, the second largest city of the country (Turner 166-167). Meanwhile, Commodore Edward Pebble maintained a naval blockade of Tripoli to support the enterprise. Although in October 1803 the pirates had managed to capture the frigate Philadelphia, three months later, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur burned the ship, killing scores of pirates (Turner 166). Finally, on June 11, 1805, a messenger brought the news to Eaton about a peace treaty signed between the USA and Pasha Yusuf. The document stipulated no annual tribute, no payment, and presupposed the exchange of prisoners. The clauses also provided for a decent treatment of war prisoners in the future. The United States agreed to pay US$60,000 for the release of prisoners. On April 12, 1806, the Senate ratified the treaty (Turner 167).
The treaty of 1805 secured a trouble free sailing in the Mediterranean for the U.S. ships for several years, which facilitated the development of commerce. Furthermore, when Algiers attempted to start a war, a naval squadron led by Commodore Decatur was enough to stop it (Turner 168).
The success of diplomacy supported by the military strength defined the route of American foreign policy for the following centuries. Moreover, the USA became a significant naval force and a player in the European affairs. For the Barbary pirates, it meant the end of their power as the European nations followed the way of the USA.