Barbary Wars, 1801–1805 and 1815–1816
The Barbary States were a collection of North African states, many of which practiced state-supported piracy in order to exact tribute from weaker Atlantic powers. Morocco was an independent kingdom, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli owed a loose allegiance to the Ottoman Empire. The United States fought two separate wars with Tripoli (1801–1805) and Algiers (1815–1816), although at other times it preferred to pay tribute to obtain the release of captives held in the Barbary States.
The Barbary Wars
The practice of state-supported piracy and ransoming of captives was not wholly unusual for its time. Many European states commissioned privateers to attack each others’ shipping and also participated in the transatlantic slave trade. The two major European powers, Great Britain and France, found it expedient to encourage the Barbary States’ policy and pay tribute to them, as it allowed their merchant shipping an increased share of the Mediterranean trade, and Barbary leaders chose not to challenge the superior British or French navies.
Prior to independence, American colonists had enjoyed the protection of the British Navy. However, once the United States declared independence, British diplomats were quick to inform the Barbary States that U.S. ships were open to attack. In 1785, Dey Muhammad of Algiers declared war on the United States and captured several American ships. The financially troubled Confederation Government of the United States was unable to raise a navy or the tribute that would protect U.S. ships.
In contrast to the dispute with Algiers, U.S. negotiations with Morocco went well. Moroccan Sultan Sidi Muhammad had seized a U.S. merchant ship in 1784 after the United States had ignored diplomatic overtures. However, Muhammad ultimately followed a policy of peaceful trade, and the United States successfully concluded a treaty with Morocco in 1786. However, Congress was still unable to raise enough funds to satisfy the Dey of Algiers.
In an attempt to address the challenge posed by the Dey of Algiers, Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. Minister to France, attempted to build a coalition of weaker naval powers to defeat Algiers, but was unsuccessful. However, the Kingdom of Portugal was also at war with Algiers, and blocked Algerian ships from sailing past the Straits of Gibraltar. As a result, U.S. merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean remained safe for a time and temporarily relieved the U.S. Government from the challenges posed by the Barbary States.
In 1793 a brief Portuguese-Algerian truce exposed American merchant ships to capture, forcing the United States, which had thus far only managed to conclude a treaty with Morocco, to engage in negotiations with the other Barbary States. In 1795, The U.S. Government dispatched diplomats Joel Barlow, Joseph Donaldson, and Richard O’Brien to North Africa and successfully concluded treaties with the states of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Under the terms of these treaties, the United States agreed to pay tribute to these states. The treaty with Algiers freed 83 American sailors.
The adoption of the Constitution in 1789 gave the U.S. Government the power to levy taxes and to raise and maintain armed forces, powers which had been lacking under the Articles of Confederation. In 1794, in response to Algerian seizures of American ships, Congress authorized construction of the first 6 ships of the U.S. Navy. In 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Qaramanli, citing late payments of tribute, demanded additional tribute and declared war on the United States. The United States successfully defeated Qaramanli’s forces with a combined naval and land assault by the United States Marine Corps. The U.S. treaty with Tripoli concluded in 1805 included a ransom for American prisoners in Tripoli, but no provisions for tribute.
In 1812, the new Dey of Algiers, Hajji Ali, rejected the American tribute negotiated in the 1795 treaty as insufficient and declared war on the United States. Algerian corsairs captured an American ship several weeks later. In accordance with an agreement between the Dey and British diplomats, the Algerian declaration was timed to coincide with the start of the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States. The war with Britain prevented the U.S. Government from either confronting Algerian forces or ransoming U.S. captives in Algiers. Once the Treaty of Ghent ended war with Britain, President James Madison was able to request that Congress declare an authorization of force on Algiers, which it did on March 3, 1815. The U.S. Navy, greatly increased in size after the War of 1812, was able send an entire squadron, led by Commodore Stephen Decatur, to the Mediterranean.
When the U.S. naval expedition arrived in Algiers, a new ruler, Dey Omar, was in power. Omar wished to restore order after several years of political instability and was acutely aware that he could no longer count on British support against the Americans. Decatur had already defeated two Algerian warships and captured hundreds of prisoners of war, and was in a favorable position for negotiation. Dey Omar reluctantly accepted the treaty proposed by Decatur that called for an exchange of U.S. and Algerian prisoners and an end to the practices of tribute and ransom. Having defeated the most powerful of the Barbary States, Decatur sailed to Tunis and Tripoli and obtained similar treaties. In Tripoli, Decatur also secured from Pasha Qaramanli the release of all European captives. The U.S. Senate ratified Decatur’s Algerian treaty on December 5, 1815. Dey Omar repudiated the treaty, but another U.S. squadron arrived after a combined Anglo-Dutch bombardment of Algiers, and U.S. commissioner William Shaler dictated terms of a new treaty which contained essentially the same provisions as the old one. Shaler concluded his negotiations on December 23, 1815, but the Senate, owing to an accidental oversight, did not ratify the treaty until February 11, 1822.
The Barbary States, although they did not capture any more U.S. ships, began to resume raids in the Mediterranean, and despite punitive British bombardments did not end their practices until the French conquest of Algeria in 1830.
The Failure of America's Foreign Wars
A Sharp Moral Condemnation of Twentieth-Century U.S. Foreign Policy
NOVEMBER 01, 1996 by HANS HOPPE
Dr. Hoppe is professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and co-editor of the Review of Austrian Economics and the Journal of Libertarian Studies.
History is invariably written by its victors. Because the twentieth century is uniquely the American century, with the United States emerging victorious from both world wars and ultimately rising to the rank of the world’s only military superpower, official twentieth-century world history today is above all history as seen from the perspective of the U.S. government and its intellectual bodyguards. Thus, it is in particular U.S. foreign policy, and especially the policies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt and of U.S. allies such as Churchill and Stalin, which come under closer scrutiny and are subject to critical re-evaluation and revision in The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars.
The articles in this book survey critical episodes in U.S. foreign policy over the last hundred years, beginning with the Spanish-American War, centering on World War I and World War II, and continuing to the Panama Invasion and the Gulf War. The editors wish to illustrate the thesis that the replacement of the isolationist U.S. foreign policy by a globalist-interventionist foreign policy has been an utter failure. As a result of the great moral crusade to make the world safe for democracy, the twentieth century has been one of the most murderous centuries in all of history and the century par excellenceof socialism: of communism, fascism, national socialism, and social democracy.
Several times in the book the question is raised: what would have happened if Wilson, in accordance with America’s isolationist foreign policy tradition and his own election campaign promise, had kept the United States out of World War I? By virtue of its counterfactual nature, the answer to a question such as this can never be empirically confirmed or falsified. This does not make the question meaningless or the answer arbitrary, however. To the contrary. Based on an understanding of the actual historical events and personalities involved, the question concerning the most likely alternative course of history can be answered in detail and with considerable confidence.
If the United States had followed a strict non-interventionist foreign policy, the intra-European conflict likely would have ended in late 1916 or early 1917 instead of late 1918. Moreover, it would have been concluded with a mutually acceptable (face-saving) compromise peace rather than the one-sided terms actually dictated. Consequently, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia would have remained traditional monarchies instead of being turned into short-lived democratic republics. With a Russian Czar and a German and Austrian Kaiser in place, it would have been practically impossible for the Bolsheviks to seize power in Russia, and in reaction to a growing communist threat in Western Europe, for the fascists and the national Socialists to come to power in Italy and Germany. The victims of communism, national socialism, and World War II—some 100 million European lives—would have been saved. The extent of government interference with and control of the private economy in the United States and Western Europe would have never reached the heights seen today. And rather than Eastern Europe (and consequently half of the globe) falling into communist hands and for more than 40 years being plundered, devastated, and forcibly insulated from Western markets, all of Europe (and the entire globe) would have remained integrated economically (as in the nineteenth century) in a world-wide system of division of labor and cooperation. Accordingly world living standards would have grown immensely higher than they actually did. In helping its reader recognize this realistically possible alternative course of history, The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars contains a sharp moral condemnation of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy and a vigorous plea for a return to a non-interventionist-isolationist foreign policy.
While the facts and the conclusions reached are largely correct and reasonable, the book is not without shortcomings. Even a professed revisionist such as Ebeling cannot free himself entirely from orthodox-leftist historical myths when he appears to liken and classify as on a par the evils of Stalin and Hitler and the socio-economic character of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. From 1929 to 1939, in peace time, Stalin and the Bolsheviks killed about 20 million Soviet citizens, for no predictable reason. Hitler and the National Socialists ruined the businesses and careers of hundreds of thousands of German citizens, but the number of people killed by them before the outbreak of the war was only a few hundred, most of them fellow Nazis and all of them for a predictable reason. Even immediately after the onset of the war, when it became known that the Nazis had begun to engage in mercy killings of the incurably insane (euthanasia), the Catholic bishops, led by Bernhard von Galen, openly protested, and German public opinion compelled the Nazis to halt the program. Bishop (later: Cardinal) von Galen survived the Nazi regime. Under Stalin and the Bolsheviks, any such opposition was impossible and Bishop von Galen would have been quickly disposed of. Also irritating is Hornberger’s inclination toward psychobabble, according to which Hitler and national socialism are somehow the outgrowth of parent alcoholism and child abuse.
More serious is a structural defect. In collecting in their book almost exclusively articles previously published in the Freedom Daily, and mostly (29 of 47) written by themselves, Ebeling and Hornberger missed the opportunity of assembling a far superior product. The quality of the articles is rather uneven, and there is quite a bit of repetitiveness. Many articles qualify as hardly more than journalistic exercises; and with only two professional historians (Ralph Raico and Robert Higgs) among the authors, the book has a somewhat amateurish flavor. Despite these shortcomings, however, the book contains a vitally important message and makes for genuinely refreshing reading. The two marvelously insightful articles contributed by Ralph Raico alone—on “The Case for an America First Foreign Policy” and “The Turning Point in American Foreign Policy”—are well worth the price of admission.
￼Most Americans remain utterly ignorant of this nation’s first foreign war but that exotic, long-ago struggle set the pattern for nearly all the many distant conflicts that followed. Refusal to confront the lessons of the First Barbary War (1801-1805) has led to some of the silliest arguments concerning Iraq and Afghanistan, and any effort to apply traditional American values to our future foreign policy requires an understanding of this all-but-forgotten episode from our past.
The war against the Barbary States of North Africa (Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli—today’s Libya) involved commitment and sacrifice far from home and in no way involved a defense of our native soil. For centuries, the Islamic states at the southern rim of the Mediterranean relied upon piracy to feed the coffers of their corrupt rulers. The state sponsored terrorists of that era (who claimed the romantic designation, “corsairs”) seized western shipping and sold their crews into unimaginably brutal slavery.
By the mid-eighteenth century, European powers learned to save themselves a great deal of trouble and wealth by bribing the local authorities with “tribute,” in return for which the pirates left their shipping alone. Until independence, British bribes protected American merchant ships in the Mediterranean since they traveled under His Majesty’s flag; after 1783, the new government faced a series of crises as Barbary pirates seized scores of civilian craft (with eleven captured in 1793 alone). Intermittently, the United States government paid tribute to escape these depredations: eventually providing a bribe worth more than $1,000,000—a staggering one-sixth of the total federal budget of the time – to the Dey of Algiers alone.
￼When Jefferson became president in 1801, he resolved to take a hard line against the terrorists and their sponsors. “I know that nothing will stop the eternal increase of demands from these pirates but the presence of an armed force, and it will be more economical & more honorable to use the same means at once for suppressing their insolencies,” he wrote.
The president dispatched nearly all ships of the fledgling American navy to sail thousands of miles across the Atlantic and through the straits of Gibraltar to do battle with the North African thugs. After a few initial reverses, daring raids on sea and land (by the new Marine Corps, earning the phrase in their hymn “….to the shores of Tripoli”) won sweeping victory. A decade later, with the U.S. distracted by the frustrating and inconclusive War of 1812 against Great Britain, the Barbary states again challenged American power, and President Madison sent ten new ships to restore order with another decisive campaign (known as “The Second Barbary War, 1815).
The records of these dramatic, all-but-forgotten conflicts convey several important messages for the present day:
The U.S. often goes to war when it is not directly attacked. One of the dumbest lines about the Iraq War claims that “this was the first time we ever attacked a nation that hadn’t attacked us.” Obviously, Barbary raids against private shipping hardly constituted a direct invasion of the American homeland, but founding fathers Jefferson and Madison nonetheless felt the need to strike back. Of more than 140 conflicts in which American troops have fought on foreign soil, only one (World War II, obviously) represented a response to an unambiguous attack on America itself. Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a long-standing tradition of fighting for U.S. interests, and not just to defend the homeland.Most conflicts unfold without a Declaration of War. Jefferson informed Congress of his determination to hit back against the North African sponsors of terrorism (piracy), but during four years of fighting never sought a declaration of war. In fact, only five times in American history did Congress actually declare war – the War of 1812, the Mexican War, The Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. None of the 135 other struggles in which U.S. troops fought in the far corners of the earth saw Congress formally declare war—and these undeclared conflicts (including Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and many more) involved a total of millions of troops and more than a hundred thousand total battlefield deaths.Islamic enmity toward the US is rooted in the Muslim religion, not recent American policy. In 1786, America’s Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson, joined our Ambassador in London, John Adams, to negotiate with the Ambassador from Tripoli, Sidi Haji Abdrahaman. The Americans asked their counterpart why the North African nations made war against the United States, a power “who had done them no injury”, and according the report filed by Jefferson and Adams the Tripolitan diplomat replied: “It was 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; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”Cruel Treatment of enemies by Muslim extremists is a long-standing tradition. In 1793, Algerian pirates captured the merchant brig Polly and paraded the enslaved crewmen through jeering crowds in the streets of Algiers. Dey Hassan Pasha, the local ruler, bellowed triumphantly: “Now I have got you, you Christian dogs, you shall eat stones.” American slaves indeed spent their years of captivity breaking rocks. According to Max Boot in his fine book The Savage Wars of Peace: “A slave who spoke disrespectfully to a Muslim could be roasted alive, crucified, or impaled (a stake was driven through the arms until it came out at the back of the neck). A special agony was reserved for a slave who killed a Muslim – he would be cast over the city walls and left to dangle on giant iron hooks for days before expiring of his wounds.”There’s nothing new in far-flung American wars to defend U.S. economic interests.Every war in American history involved an economic motivation – at least in part, and nearly all of our great leaders saw nothing disgraceful in going to battle to defend the commercial vitality of the country. Jefferson and Madison felt no shame in mobilizing – and sacrificing – ships and ground forces to protect the integrity of commercial shipping interests in the distant Mediterranean. Fortunately for them, they never had to contend with demonstrators who shouted “No blood for shipping!”Even leaders who have worried about the growth of the U.S. military establishment came to see the necessity of robust and formidable armed forces. Jefferson and Madison both wanted to shrink and restrain the standing army and initially opposed the determination by President Adams to build an expensive new American Navy. When Jefferson succeeded Adams as president, however, he quickly and gratefully used the ships his predecessor built. The Barbary Wars taught the nation that there is no real substitute for military power, and professional forces that stand ready for anything.America has always played “the cop of the world.” In part, Jefferson and Madison justified the sacrifices of the Barbary Wars as a defense of civilization, not just the protection of U.S. interests – and the European powers granted new respect to the upstart nation that finally tamed the North African pirates. Jefferson and Madison may not have fought for a New World Order but they most certainly sought a more orderly world. Many American conflicts over the last 200 years have involved an effort to enfort to enforce international rules and norms as much as to advance national interests. Wide-ranging and occasionally bloody expeditions throughout Central America, China, the Philippines, Africa and even Russia after the Revolution used American forces to prevent internal and international chaos.
The Barbary Wars cost limited casualties for the United States (only 35 sailors and marines killed in action) but required the expenditure of many millions of dollars – a significant burden for the young and struggling Republic. Most importantly, these difficult battles established a long, honorable tradition of American power projected many thousands of miles beyond our shores.Those who claim that our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan represent some shameful, radical departure from an old tradition of pacifism and isolation should look closely at the reality of our very first foreign war—and all the other conflicts in the intervening 200 years.
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