Tag Archives: Barbary Pirates

I have 30 years invested in that missing trunk!

On the subject of the trunk No 28. I am not without a hope [you] may yet discover it’s fate … containing principally writing paper of various qualities, but also some other articles of stationary, a pocket telescope with a brass case, a Dynamometer… a collection of vocabularies of the Indian languages … the value was probably about 150. Dollars exclusive of the Vocabularies, which had been the labour of 30 years in collection for publication.
To George Jefferson, May 18, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, things just go wrong despite your best efforts.
When Jefferson left Washington City to retire to Monticello, he carefully inventoried his possessions and packed them for shipment home. This is the 2nd or 3rd letter he had written on this subject. One of his trunks was missing! He wrote to his business agent and distant cousin for help. George Jefferson would have been the one to accept the trunks off the ship in Richmond, for transport by land to Monticello.

It would appear he was primarily interested in the dynamometer, explained in an earlier post. His real concern, however, may have been his “collection of vocabularies of the Indian languages.” He was always interested in languages in general and those of native Americans inparticular. It was a subject he wanted to study in depth but the time required to do so meant postponing the project until his retirement. To that end, he had collected material on that subject for three decades. Now it was missing.

He told his cousin to offer a reward of $20-30 for its return.

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Minor issues can showcase major principles.

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to mr Smith, has recieved his letter of the 3d. inst. and regrets that he could not have the pleasure of seeing him on his passage through the neighborhood … he congratulates mr Smith on the happy termination of our Tripoline war. tho a small war in fact, it is big in principle. it has shewn that when necessary we can be respectable at sea, & has taught to Europe a lesson of honor & of justice to the Barbarians …
To Larkin Smith, September 7, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Perceptive leaders know big results can flow from small actions.
An illness had prevented Smith from visiting Monticello when he was nearby. He wrote to express his regrets. Jefferson answered Smith’s letter, invited him to come another time, and congratulated him on America’s naval success against the Barbary pirates of North Africa.

It was “a small war,” Jefferson acknowledged, but “big in principle.”
1. It proved America could fight and win at sea.
2. The nations of Europe had paid tribute to the pirates for decades. America’s refusal to do so had taught them “a lesson of honor.”
3. The pirates (he called them “Barbarians”) had received a lesson about justice.

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The value of skill and bravery combined!

… you have shewn to your countrymen that that enemy cannot meet bravery & skill united. in proving to them that our past condescensions were from a love of peace, not a dread of them, you have deserved well of your country …
To Andrew Sterett, December 1, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know when skill alone or bravery alone won’t be enough.
Sterett (1778-1807) commanded the Enterprize in the Mediterranean and secured the first naval victory over the North African Barbary pirates. He had just returned to America after his successful mission, and his President expressed his profound appreciation.

The pirates had been plying their trade for decades and knew it well, capturing ships and holding their crews for ransom. Or demanding annual ransom from nations to leave their ships unharmed. Jefferson knew, despite his enemies’ past success, they could not stand when extraordinary skill and great bravery were combined.

Sterett’s victory accomplished another goal. He proved that America’s past acquiescence wasn’t out of fear of the pirates but out of a love of peace.

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Enough is enough!

I am an enemy to all these douceurs [bribes], tributes & humiliations. what the laws impose on us let us execute faithfully; but nothing more … Congress [should receive] a full statement of every expence which our transactions with the Barbary powers has occasioned, & of what we still owe, that they may be enabled to decide, on a full view of the subject, what course they will pursue. I know that nothing will stop the eternal increase of demand 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
To James Madison, August 28, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders stand up to bullies.
For decades, the city-states of North Africa had preyed upon shipping in the Mediterranean. They demanded annual payment from those ships’ home nations, or they would capture the vessels and hold sailors for ransom. Jefferson had first encountered this offense in the 1780s as America’s ambassador to France and again in the 1790s as Secretary of State and Vice-President. Now as President he was confronted with even more offense. One of the Barbary states commandeered an American ship and its crew to run errands for them.

As chief executive, he was bound by Congress’ will, and they had put the problem off year after year. He was tired of both Barbary offenses and Congressional inaction. He wanted the full cost of American acquiescence presented to Congress, hoping it would shock them into finally funding a strong military response.

Jefferson knew that was only effective way to end the piracy. It would cost more up front but less than bribes, ransoms and the resulting dishonor year after year. His administration took the first decisive and victorious action against the North African nations, but it would be 15 more years before the pirates were finally defeated.

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The pirates are in Congress’ court.

… being convinced it is money thrown away, that there is no end to the demands of these powers, nor any security in their promises. the real alternative before us is whether to abandon the Mediterranean, or to keep up a cruize in it, perhaps in rotation with other powers who would join us as soon as there is peace. but this, Congress must decide.
To Wilson Cary Nicholas, June 11, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise executives understand some decisions must be made by others.
Jefferson reported on the conflict with the Barbary states of north Africa. For decades they demanded tribute from nations shipping through the Mediterranean. Otherwise, they would capture ships and hold them for ransom. America, like all nations, had paid those annual assessments.

He thought tribute was a waste of money. The demands of the Barbary nations would never end, and they could not be trusted.

America had two options: Abandon shipping in the Mediterranean or team up with other nations to withstand the pirates. But it wasn’t his decision. It was Congress’.

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What will herding cats do to you? Part 3

They [the Algerines] have taken two of our vessels, and I fear will ask such a tribute for a forbearance of their piracies as the U.S. would be unwilling to pay. When this idea comes across my mind, my faculties are absolutely suspended between indignation and impotence.
To Nathanael Greene, Jan. 12, 1785

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Herding cats is hard on leaders.
Jefferson was trying both to promote American trade with European nations and recruit those nations to combat the Barbary pirates. Those city-states on the North Africa coast had preyed on other nations’ ships in the Mediterranean for centuries. The action of those pirates worked against his efforts to increase trade.
He had reached an accommodation with the Moroccans, who had seized an American ship. He feared he would not be as successful with the Algerians. The price they would demand for two ships and their crews would be more than the U.S. government would pay. What was he to do?
I’ve always loved the line he used to describe his impossible situation, that his mind was “absolutely suspended between indignation and impotence.”
That’s what herding cats can do to you. It  leaves you both frustrated and incapable of fixing the problem.

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How do you herd cats? Part 2

… nothing was now wanting to bring it into direct and formal consideration, but the assent of our government … I communicated to them the favorable prospect of protecting our commerce from the Barbary depredations … however it was expected they would contribute a frigate, and it’s expenses to be in constant cruise. But they were in no condition to make any such engagement. Their recommendatory powers for obtaining contributions were so openly neglected by the several states that they declined an engagement which they were conscious they could not fulfill with punctuality; and so it fell through.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Subduing terrorists is far more challenging than one might think.
The United States proved to be the hardest cat of all to herd!
Spain had already paid a $3 million bribe to the Algerines. They were not interested in Jefferson’s effort to create a united naval front against the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean. With France’s assurance that England would not oppose them, a number European city-states signed on. All that remained was to recruit his own nation’s support. It was not to be.
Jefferson painted a favorable picture of protected shipping, but there was a cost. The U.S. needed to contribute one of six larger ships needed and pay for its continual operation.
In the mid-1780s, the Confederation Congress was America’s “national” government. It had no taxing authority and no ability to require states to support its actions. The states were already negligent toward “contributions” for other needs and would treat this recommendation in the same way. Knowing they could not fulfill their obligation, Congress declined to participate.
It would be almost 20 years before President Jefferson would send a small American navy to confront the pirates. It would have some success but did not solve the problem. American payments for “peace” would continue until 1815. European payments until the 1830s.

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How do you herd cats? Part 1

Our commerce in the Mediterranean was placed under early alarm by the capture of two of our vessels and crews by the Barbary cruisers. I was very unwilling that we should acquiesce in the European humiliation of paying a tribute to those lawless pirates, and endeavored to form an association of the powers subject to habitual depredations from them. I accordingly prepared and proposed to their ministers at Paris, for consultation with their governments, articles of a special confederation in the following form.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
It is very hard to herd cats.
For centuries, pirate ships from the North Africa ports of Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers (the Barbary Coast) had preyed on other nations’ ships in the Mediterranean. The pirates demanded annual tribute from those nations, or they would seize their ships and hold their sailors for ransom. Most nations paid the bribes. Jefferson led by proposing a united front of 10 or more nation-states against the terrorists, in a way that maximized effectiveness and minimized potential for conflict :

  1. A union of two more nations acting together, beginning against Algeria.
  2. The union would remain open for other nations to join their effort.
  3. The object was a guaranteed “perpetual peace,” with no bribes.
  4. A continuous naval patrol of six mid-range ships and six smaller ones
  5. The effort or cost proportioned equitably among the nations
  6. Nation’s shares to be contributed in cash for outfitting the brigade
  7. Each nation’s ambassador to France a member of the governing council
  8. The council was to have no officers and pay no salaries.
  9. War between council members shall not interrupt its work.
  10. When Algiers was subdued, the effort would turn toward another city.
  11. Existing treaties with Barbary States took precedence over this agreement.
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Thanks for giving them a black eye!

… I do myself the pleasure … of expressing to you on behalf of your country, the high satisfaction inspired by your conduct in the late engagement with the Tripolitan cruiser captured by you. too long, for the honour of nations, have those barbarians been suffered to trample on the sacred faith of treaties, on the rights & laws of human nature. you have shewn to your countrymen that that enemy cannot meet bravery & skill united … proving to them that our past condescensions were from a love of peace, not a dread of them…
To Andrew Sterett, December 1, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Forceful leaders defend the honor of their organization.
The pasha (leader) of Tripoli declared war on the U.S. in May 1801, part of a years-long conflict with the pirate Barbary nations of North Africa. Three months later, 23 year old Navy Lieutenant Sterett commanded the American schooner Enterprize and defeated the pasha’s ship, Tripoli.
President Jefferson commended Sterett for these benefits:
1. Great satisfaction given to his countrymen
2. A rebuke to nations that trampled treaties, human rights and natural law
3. Proof that America’s enemies were no match for “bravery & skill united”
4. Affirmation that our previous restraint came “from a love of peace,” not fear

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