Thomas Jefferson and Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli

 

Here are some points to ponder on this sacred day, September 11.

In 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams traveled to London to meet with Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, the “Ambassador” from Tripoli, in the hopes of making a $100,000 payoff to prevent the “Pirates of the Mediterranean” from kidnapping more American Seamen. 

Attacks on American shipping and shanghaiing of sailors for ransom had become common place. As we had no navy at the time, it was felt that the best way to deal with the intolerable situation was to pay the ransoms.

Our two future Presidents asked Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, this question:

“What is the justification of why Tripoli is capturing American ships and holding sailors for ransom while turning them into slaves. ” The ambassador replied:

 “It is written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.” He added “that every Muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”

As we had no navy to speak of, for 16 years the United States paid ransoms while the pirates continually kidnapped American sailors, enslaving some of them for as long as 10 years.

Countless others died in captivity.

The Barbary Coast Pirates did not invent this game. Capturing, enslaving, and ransoming human beings had been going on in the Mediterranean and the rest of the world from the beginning of time.

It matters not whether one is talking about the early Assyrians under Erishum I; Egypt in the time of Menes; Persians under Cyrus; Greece in the time of Thucydides; or Rome when Caesar was up in Gaul chasing Vercingetorix and his merry band of men: tribal societies and early city states routinely conquered weaker states, cities or tribes.

Whenever captives were ransomed, their families, clans, home towns or nations had to pay the ransom in order to free their relatives and neighbors from enslavement—or they likely died in captivity. 

 “It’s the way the ancients rolled.”

On Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801, Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 from the new administration. (In 1800, Federal revenues totaled a little over $10 million.)

Jefferson refused the demand. (Fortunately, just before his inauguration, Congress had passed legislation that provided for six frigates (which) “shall be officered and manned as the President of the United States may direct…”)

On May 10, 1801, the Pasha declared war on the U.S., by cutting down the flagstaff in front of the U.S. Consulate. (Does that sound familiar?)

Sea battles raged on and off until 1805 when a contingent of U.S. Marines (backed by mercenaries) captured the city of Derna (on the way to Tripoli).

“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…..”

Yusuf Karamanli signed a treaty ending hostilities on June 10, 1805.

(Algeria then got back into the business of ransoming U.S. sailors and hostilities in the Mediterranean didn’t end until after the 2nd Barbary War. Decisive naval victories led to treaties ending all tribute payments by the U.S in 1815).

In short, it took force to bring the peace—and to secure it.

Herodotus reported one of the reasons why force is necessary against these tribal societies.

In 545 B.C. emissaries from Sparta traveled to Sardis (modern Turkey) to implore Cyrus the Great not to attack Sparta and attempt to conquer her people.

Cyrus replied: “I have never feared any men who have a place in the center of the city set aside for meeting together, swearing false oaths, and cheating one another….”

His disdain for democracy is matched only by Basaar Assad’s (and perhaps Putin’s).

With the birth of Muhammad this view didn’t change. With the Shia—Sunni schism, the utter contempt for Western liberal democracy has just accelerated.

Maybe they’re right. Perhaps might should make right and we should discard Western liberal democracy and our thirst for the rule of law.

But if they are not right, and personal freedom, equality and the rule of law are worth preserving, (to say nothing of the lives of innocent children and civilians) then there is no negotiating “the removal of chemical weapons from Syria.”

Tribal societies are different. It’s not about ethnicity or religion. Tribes, War Lords, Gangs, call it what you will, it is in their DNA. They will lie, obfuscate, delay, and work any angle that gives them an advantage because Sidi Haji Abdrahaman words were prescient.

“…all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.”

Jefferson got it right. 

We don’t have to “bomb them back to the stone age.” But we must deal with them in the currency that they understand and respect. 

Maybe you think we’ve progressed—that we are more civilized today than we were 2,700 years ago (or even 200 years ago)—that the world has evolved and that we are not the savages that Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and the Pasha of Tripoli et al. were.

Two words refute that argument: Bashar Assad.

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There are 20 comments.

  1. Profile Photo Member

    How about 1785? Jefferson was minister to France and Adams minister to the Court of St. James’s.

    • #1
    • September 12, 2013, at 1:02 AM PDT
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  2. Kay of MT Member

    Are you aware how many college kids are unaware of these facts? They don’t teach it in high school any more. Excellent post.

    • #2
    • September 12, 2013, at 1:22 AM PDT
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  3. Skyler Coolidge

    Yeah, 1785 sounds better. I seriously doubt Jefferson and Adams were in London during the Revolutionary War.

    I think this version of the story is lacking in a few points.

    You’re missing the story about the Naval captain, Captain Bainbridge, that surrendered his ship because he ran aground on a sand bar, despite the protests of his crew, and that after he surrendered the Berbers simply waited for the tide to float the ship again. This was the second ship he surrendered. Somehow he was later given command of the USS Constitution.

    The battles of Derna, etc., helped bring the Bashaw to the negotiating table where he agreed to a ransom of $60,000 to release the Americans. We still paid a lot of money to him. By 1807 he resumed capturing seaman from American ships.

    I believe the lesson is we didn’t use enough force, it’s a bit wrong to say that we won through the use of force.

    • #3
    • September 12, 2013, at 1:25 AM PDT
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  4. MLH Inactive
    MLH

    The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 by Richard Zacks

    May be of interest.

    • #4
    • September 12, 2013, at 1:35 AM PDT
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  5. Israel P. Inactive

    Getting rid of Bashar Assad is one thing. Empowering Obama to do so is quite another.

    • #5
    • September 12, 2013, at 3:04 AM PDT
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  6. BrentB67 Inactive

    Always good to refresh that story.

    Not sure what Bashar Assad has to do with it. I don’t think he has captured any Americans for ransom or killed any in captivity. 

    The jihadists in Libya, different story. We should remind them what a naval superpower still looks like more than 200 years later.

    It is interesting that Obama is interested in attacking the one that hasn’t killed any Americans and pretends those that did kill Americans don’t exist.

    • #6
    • September 12, 2013, at 3:05 AM PDT
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  7. Skyler Coolidge

    Libertarianism does not require isolationism or pacifism. That the libertarian party does is to their shame and is why I couldn’t remain a member after their atrocious statements twelve years ago blaming us for 9/11.

    • #7
    • September 12, 2013, at 3:48 AM PDT
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  8. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author
    Paul Wilson: How about 1785? Jefferson was minister to France and Adams minister to the Court of St. James’s. · 2 hours ago

    two typos in a row. Minor Dyslexia. Mea Culpa!

    • #8
    • September 12, 2013, at 4:00 AM PDT
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  9. Matty Van Member

    “I believe the lesson is we didn’t use enough force, it’s a bit wrong to say that we won through the use of force.”

    I agree. It takes a fair bit of spinning to make the first Barbary war an American victory. And why didn’t we use enough force? Basically, because it was our first presidential war (or second, if you count Adams’s Quasi-War with the French). Jefferson, despite being Jefferson, went to war without first getting a declaration of war. Therefore, Congress was rightfully reluctant to support him. Ultimately, the first Barbary war was too long, too costly, and ended unsatisfactorily simply because Jefferson himself wouldn’t follow the Constitution.

    In terms of comparing it to our current situation, Brent nails it. Assad is holding no Americans for ransom nor is he disrupting American shipping like Tripoli (in unofficial alliance with England) had been doing before and after 1800.

    • #9
    • September 12, 2013, at 4:36 AM PDT
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  10. Skyler Coolidge

    MLH, that’s a great book. I really enjoyed it.

    • #10
    • September 12, 2013, at 5:22 AM PDT
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  11. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author
    Skyler: Yeah, 1785 sounds better. I seriously doubt Jefferson and Adams were in London during the Revolutionary War.

    I think this version of the story is lacking in a few points.

    You’re missing the story about the Naval captain, Captain Bainbridge, that surrendered his ship because he ran aground on a sand bar, despite the protests of his crew, and that after he surrendered the Berbers simply waited for the tide to float the ship again. This was the second ship he surrendered. Somehow he was later given command of the USS Constitution.

    I believe the lesson is we didn’t use enough force, it’s a bit wrong to say that we won through the use of force. · 3 hours ago

    You are correct. I was aware of Bainbridge’s screw up, but it isn’t germane to the point. We didn’t end it until 1815 (the second Barbary War) and I thought I had made that clear. Brevity and clarity was why I didn’t want to get bogged down in the details. And the $60,000 was much less than we had been paying on a regular bsis. Thanks, though for the additions.

    • #11
    • September 12, 2013, at 5:27 AM PDT
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  12. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    Nicely done.

    • #12
    • September 12, 2013, at 5:54 AM PDT
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  13. Albert Arthur Coolidge

    My understanding is that John Adams had been advocating for a navy several decades by the time he was president. If Ricochet had been around back then there would no doubt have been a chorus of libertarians asking him what our national interest in a navy was. I’m joking, but there were in fact many people calling Adams a war-monger during his term.

    • #13
    • September 12, 2013, at 6:29 AM PDT
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  14. Matty Van Member

     

    Albert Arthur: My understanding is that John Adams had been advocating for a navy several decades by the time he was president. If Ricochet had been around back then there would no doubt have been a chorus of libertarians asking him what our national interest in a navy was. I’m joking, but there were in fact many people calling Adams a war-monger during his term. · 51 minutes ago

    Hey, that’s no “joke.” Even without Ricochet, there certainly was a chorus of libertarians asking him what our national interst in a navy was! John, actually, was a bit suspect. Sedition Acts and all. But it was Jefferson, ironically, who ignored the Constitution to wage a presidential war.

    • #14
    • September 12, 2013, at 7:27 AM PDT
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  15. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author
    Matty Van:

    In terms of comparing it to our current situation, Brent nails it. Assad is holding no Americans for ransom nor is he disrupting American shipping like Tripoli (in unofficial alliance with England) had been doing before and after 1800. · 19 hours ago

    Edited 16 hours ago

    The comparrison is not about who is holding captives who who is disrupting commerce. It was an attempt to point out that various tribal societies have been using “Might makes Right” from the beginning of time. Tribalism has a few basic tenents. One is they want to survive. Two is that they will ally with anyone who will help their agenda, regardless of ideology (The enemy of my enemy is my friend). It is pointless to try to “negotiate” with Assad–as he will only do what is in his self interest, not what is morally right. Historically, however, tribes have reacted when force has been used. Remember Alexander: The Thebans revolted to test him and he destroyed the city. After that ambassadors came from far and wide to pay him tribute. They didn’t want what happened to Thebes to happen to them. Alas, force works.

    • #15
    • September 12, 2013, at 11:43 AM PDT
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  16. Britanicus Inactive

    Excellent post. Very well written and easy on the eyes–to say nothing of the high quality content!

    By chance, are you a copywriter?

    Anyhow, I agree completely. Especially with your final paragraph.

    Edit: Just read your bio. The style now makes sense!

    • #16
    • September 12, 2013, at 12:53 PM PDT
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  17. Brian Clendinen Member

    You mean 1775? They were dead by 1875.

    • #17
    • September 12, 2013, at 12:53 PM PDT
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  18. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author
    Brian Clendinen: You mean 1775? They were dead by 1875. · 2 minutes ago

    Picked it up quickly. Thanks for pointing it out. Mea Culpa!

    • #18
    • September 12, 2013, at 12:56 PM PDT
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  19. Skyler Coolidge

    And that, Jeff, is why we should have melted Afghanistan and left it devoid of all human life in October of 2001. That would have been a lot cheaper and more effective.

    • #19
    • September 13, 2013, at 2:59 AM PDT
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  20. Matty Van Member
    Jeffrey Earl Warren
     

    It was an attempt to point out that various tribal societies have been using “Might makes Right” from the beginning of time… Alas, force works.

    I dunno, Jeffrey, I just reread and you seem to be going quite a bit beyond a mere pointing out. You seem to be making a case for our involvement in the ancient blood feuds of people we know nothing about. All that can do is turn twisted minds in our direction when normally they would be too involved in their own tribalism and games of revenge to pay us any attention.

    Skyler, you may not like the implication that America shares any blame for 9/11. But in reality it was a kind of joint project between stupidity (the American government) and evil (al Qaeda/Taliban). The fact that the moral culpability lies with them does not negate that fact that involving ourselves militarily in their savage pre-Englightenment blood feuds is stupidity.

    • #20
    • September 13, 2013, at 4:37 AM PDT
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