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The Barbary Pirates and Early American Foreign Policy

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 3 months, 1 week ago


Bombardment of Algiers by Thomas Luny, 1819 


Bombardment of Algiers by Thomas Luny, 1819


Event Summary for the Barbary Pirates and the Barbary Wars


Barbary Wars, 1801-1805 and 1815-1816, from Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State


  • The United States fought two wars that made up the Barbary Wars, against the Kingdom of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli- all North African states allied with the Ottoman Empire.


  • After losing protection from the British Navy, the United States under the Articles of Confederation faced piracy and forced tribute payments from the Barbary states. They often could not afford to pay tribute due to their inability to levy taxes.


  • After failed attempts to negotiate peace treaties, the U.S. went to war twice with these states, encouraging the development of the United States Navy.



The history of these wars shows the changing foreign policy through the Adams, Jefferson, and Madison Administrations, and the importance of the Constitution to allow the federal government to declare war, levy taxes, and develop and maintain a Navy. 



Foreign Policy and Trade Before the Civil War


Presidencies of George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson


The First Barbary War from Thomas Jefferson Foundation


Further Reading on the First Barbary War:

 Barbary War (1801-1805)

For background on the beginnings of American Foreign Policy, seeAmerica and the Barbary Pirates from the Library of Congress.


See also How Did the United States Defeat the Barbary Pirates?


A Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs

A Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs

external image 500px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngTimelines of the Barbary Wars (major events)


- 1784: U.S Merchant Ship Betsy is captured and its crew is sold into slavery in Morocco, peace treaty signed with Morocco the following year

- 1794: Congress raises one million dollars to purchase peace with Barbary states, begins construction on U.S naval force

- 1799: Multiple peace treaties signed in years leading up, though U.S agrees to pay Tripoli $18,00 per year to secure safety of American trade ships, similar agreements with Barbary states

- 1801: Tripoli declares war on the United States and seized multiple American Ships

- 1802: Congress declares war on Tripoli, Emperor of Morocco declares war against the U.S but negotiates peace two months later

- 1805: After four years of fighting, Treaty of Tripoli is officially signed as a treaty of peace, and declares U.S will not be required to pay tribute to Barbary Countries. 

- 1807: Barbary powers resume capturing of Merchant Ships

-1815: Congress, under Madison's administration, declares war on Algiers- sued for peace with Algiers and negotiates treaty that ends requirements to pay tribute, freeing American and European slaves in Algiers



Avast! How the U.S. Built a Navy, Sent in the Marines, and Faced Down the Barbary Pirates, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (Account Restrictions)


See this article in the New York Times for a view of the Barbary Pirates as an earlier form of state-sponsored terrorism.



Primary Sources

George Washington and Barbary Coast Pirates from the Papers of George Washington Project

The Barbary Pirates: Letter from Tripoli from Teaching American History.org


Barbary Captivity Narratives from William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan


 See also: Elizabeth March's experience as a captive of Barbary piracy



Multimedia Resources


The Barbary Pirates from PBS Rogue History



The Barbary Wars in 3 minutes


First Barbary War on YouTube                                                                                                                   



Learning Plans 

 In Barbary Wars, Did the U.S. Declare War on Islam? from Politifact


  • Historians have established that religion did not play a dominant role in the Barbary wars.
    • "Very little of this had to do with Islam," said Adrian Tinniswood, author of Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean. "It had much more to do with trading opportunities and economics."


Similar topics to "Did the U.S. Declare War on Islam? from Politifact": Islamophobia in the United States

What it's like to be a Muslim in America | Dalia Mogahed

Islamophobia in America 20 years after 9/11


Stephen Decatur


Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Stephen Decatur,1813

U.S. Postage Stamp, Navy Issue of 1937
U.S. Postage Stamp, Navy Issue of 1937


Commodore Stephen Decatur: An Early American Naval War Hero, from White House Historical Association

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