In 1784, envoys were dispatched to secure peace and passage from the Barbary States. Treaties were made. Tributes and ransoms were paid. Our cargo and captives were freed. And our ships traveled safely. But over the next decade and a half, we gave millions of dollars to these radicals, including an estimated 20 percent of our federal budget in 1800! (Despite that, men such as Thomas Jefferson argued vehemently against paying ransoms and tribute; Jefferson believed the only road to resolution would be through the "medium of war.")
America's first four presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison) each dealt with this east-west conflict of powers to varying degrees. Though numerous negotiations and treaties were made, including the Treaty of Tripoli (1796-97), Tripoli (in present-day Libya) still declared war against the U.S. in 1801. It sometimes is called America's first official war. The Founders believed in a foreign policy of noninterventionism, but Jefferson realized that protecting America's borders also meant protecting American lives and property overseas.
He confessed to Congress in 1801 that he was "unauthorized by the Constitution, without the sanction of Congress, to go beyond the line of defense," but he still ordered a small fleet of warships to the Mediterranean to ward off attacks by the Barbary States. Marines and warships were deployed to the region. That eventually led to the 1805 surrender of Tripoli. It would take another decade, however, to defeat those pirates completely, or, should I say, cause them to retreat until a distant time when they would attack our country again.
America's victory back then over those sea radicals is commemorated today in "The Marines' Hymn," with the words "From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country's battles in the air, on land and sea."
The voices of our forefathers cry out from the Barbary Wars in the hopes of imparting some wisdom to us. As the adage goes, we either will learn from history's mistakes or be doomed to repeat them.
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