Tag Archives: North Africa

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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Conference Coordinator, Iowa League of Cities
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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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Jefferson’s “State of the Union” in 1805? Part 2

Turning from these unpleasant views of violence and wrong, I congratulate you on the liberation of our fellow-citizens who were stranded on the coast of Tripoli and made prisoners of war …
With Tunis some misunderstandings have arisen not yet sufficiently explained …
The law providing for a naval peace establishment … Congress will perhaps consider whether the best limitation on the Executive [President’s] discretion [is to limit the number of seamen or the number of vessels] …
Our Indian neighbors are advancing, many of them with spirit, and others beginning to engage in the pursuits of agriculture and household manufacture … from time to time to dispose of parts of their surplus and waste lands …
The receipts at the Treasury during the year … which , with [the surplus] … have enabled us after meeting other demands to pay nearly two millions of the debt contracted under the British treaty  … upward of four millions of principle of the public debt and four millions of interest. These payments, with those which had been made in three years and a half preceding, have extinguished of the funded debt nearly eighteen millions of principle.
Fifth Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1805

 Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders keep everyone informed.
These excerpts summarize the second half of Jefferson’s fifth “State of the Union” report, the one corresponding to President Obama’s address in January.
1. There’s good news to report from north Africa. Tripoli pirates have been dealt with, and those in Tunis appear to be moving toward settlement. (Terrorists in north Africa. Sound familiar?)
2. He asked clarification from Congress on his authority for ships vs. sailors. (The President is asking, rather than assuming or taking.)
3. Some Indians were actively oppositional while others were coming to an agricultural life and making portions of their lands available for settlement.
4. The government was continuing to run a surplus, reducing the national debt by $18 million in 3 ½ years. (Imagine that!)
He concluded by noting his re-election and pledging his best efforts for the nation and every possible cooperation with the Congress. (He enjoyed an enviable Presidential position of having his party control sizable majorities in both houses.)

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