Thesis: War of Tripoli

Pages: 10 (3129 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … war of Tripoli

As a young republic, America fought a war with the Barbary pirates who plied the waters of the Mediterranean in early nineteenth century. The Tripolitan war which took place between 1801 and 1805 opposed American and North African forces. The African states were the Sultanate of Morocco, and the Regencies of Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli which, at the time, belonged to the Ottoman Empire. However, few American historians have dedicated lengthy studies to the First Barbary War. There are a few reasons which could account for this situation. First of all, the war was rather short-lived; secondly, it took place far from the North American continent. There is also another aspect to consider here, namely that the Tripolitan War was in fact the end of a rather degrading period in national history as America was forced to pay tribute to the despotic North African regimes. Nonetheless, the importance of this war cannot be denied. The Tripolitan war was the first war America fought on foreign soil; it marked the birth of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and last but not least, it produced several was heroes which are still remembered today. This paper strives to paint a comprehensive picture of the First Barbary War by looking at its causes, development, most prominent figures, and aftermath.

The Ottomans conquered North Africa in the seventh century. By 710, the Muslim religion had reached Gibraltar which separates the Iberian Peninsula from Africa. However, it is important to note here that although Islam remained deeply rooted in the Muslim religion, over time the relationship between the Barbary States and the sultan gradually weakened due to distance and primitive communication. This, in turn, generated local fights for power as control from the authorities in Constantinople was becoming weaker and weaker. In these states, regimes changes were sudden and often violent irrespective of the name the local leader assumed: dey (Algiers), bey (Tunis), emperor (Morocco), pasha (Tripoli). This atmosphere of political uncertainty was accentuated by scarce resources, and sizable populations in cities like Tunis, Algiers, Tripoli or Tangier where people depended on regular supplies of imported food. This factor, in fact, can account for North African piracy: the Barbary States were encouraged to practice piracy by the economic prosperity of Europe and the United States, coupled with the African need to purchase food.

The sea was extremely important to North African states which often preyed on poorly armed merchant vessels on the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and Spanish, Italian and Greek coastal towns. A significant change in their situation took place in the sixteenth century, when the Christian reconquest of Spain meant many Muslims living in Spain were forced to abandon their homes and flee to North Africa. This wave of emigration from Spain to North Africa increased the feeling of bitterness, and the desire for revenge as entire populations had lost their homes and wealth in the face of Christian persecution. Despite the fact that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, France, Britain, Spain and Sicily all sent troops to Africa in an attempt to confront the Barbary States, piracy continued. Moreover, small states were easy targets for pirates, particularly the small states of the Italian peninsula such as the Papal States, Tuscany, Venice and Sardinia.

In 1801 Tripoli declared war on the United States of America because they refused to pay tribute as they had been paying Tunis and Algiers. When the war started, the American navy had only existed for a generation. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Congress had sold off every vessel of the navy following the Revolutionary War. However, in 1798 Congress passed a bill enabling the navy to purchase 12 warships in order to face France. When the news of Tripoli's war declaration reached the United States, President Jefferson ceased some of his naval reductions as the country needed to increase its naval capabilities. Fortunately, American naval architects crafted the 44-gun Constitution, a 204ft long frigate. North African states were also forced to rely solely on their naval power which ironically, had been built using slaves. Despite its reduced proportions compared to its European counterpart, American navy troops were sent to Tripoli.

In July 1801, Commodore Dale, who had been ordered to lead the American squadron for the blockade of Tripoli, reached Gibraltar. To his surprise, upon his arrival he found Murad Rais, Tripoli's Admiral who was waiting for the American ships. Dale blockaded the corsairs but by September, Murad Rais successfully organized an escape by sending his men overland via Tetuan to Tripoli, while he himself went by a British ship to Malta, and then returned to Tripoli. In May 1802, three Tripolitanian vessels broke the American blockade and entered the open sea. In June they managed to capture an American ship, the Franklin; in addition, they held the ship members hostage, and the United States had to pay $5,000 for their ransom.

1803 was also a successful year for Tripoli. It continued to penetrate the American blockade which in turn, ensured regular supply of food and ammunition between Tripoli and the rest of North Africa. Moreover, in October 1803, Tripoli captured one of American's biggest ships, the Philadelphia, with a crew of over 300 men. During the following couple of months, American efforts were focused on regaining the Philadelphia. In December they took Tripoli's Mastico but this victory did not compensate for the loss of the Philadelphia. Because they realized regaining it was nearly impossible, the American troops set it afire in February 1804.

Following an unsuccessful attempt to bomb the city of Tripoli in the summer of 1804, Commodore Preble decided to withdraw on September 7, and only keep two American ships in order to keep up a semblance of blockade. The failure of the American navy to defeat Tripoli led some members of the American Government, as well as Navy superiors to turn to the serious consideration of a plan which had been put together by James L. Cathcart, American consul to Tripoli. It was now left to William Eaton, consul to Tunis, to put the plan into practice. The plan consisted of a political coup in Tripoli which would have led to the overthrow of Yusuf Pasha, and the establishment of a pro-American pasha in the person of Yusuf's brother, Ahmad Qaramanli. Ahmad had been deposed by his brother more than a decade before. Ahmad would be taken back to Tripoli where on his appearance the people would rise against Yusuf.

However, when Eaton returned to Tunis in March 1802 following his secret meeting with Cathcart, he realized his plan was highly unlikely to succeed because Yusuf had found out about it, and had offered his brother, Ahmad, the governorship of Derna as well as security for his family. Behind the brothers' arrangement was the Bey of Tunis. As Ahmad was getting ready to depart for Derna, Eaton used every means to persuade him not to leave. Although he appeared to have accepted not to go to Derna, Ahmad changed his mind again when the Bey of Tunis threatened to withdraw his protection if he did not accept the position promised by his brother. Eaton had to step in again. He told Ahmad he would be arrested and deported to America unless he went to Malta to wait for American troops and financial support. Eventually the prince agreed to wait in Malta.

Once in Derna, Ahmad was promised arms and ammunition for a coup which would represent the first step towards the capture of Tripoli. However. Ahmad's political influence in the province was very small; soon, the Americans had to acknowledge that Ahmad's arrival in Cyrenaica could not mobilize the province to support their cause in Tripoli. As his revolt failed miserably in Derna, Ahmad was forced to flee in 1804, and go to Egypt. Here Eaton and Ahmad signed a treaty which stipulated that in return for his accession to the throne of Qaramanli, the prince would ensure American influence in Tripoli. Eaton brought together forces from Europe, Asia, and a few Arabic countries which would support American naval troops. Their goal was to seize control of Derna, and then march along the whole coast of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, capturing each important town in its way, and then finally attacking Tripoli. The march took six weeks, and when they reached the surroundings of Derna, after a grim assault, the town was taken and the American flag planted on its port battery. However, vitory was short-lived because they were soon surrounded by reinforcements sent to protect Derna.

Since their attempts to force Tripoli to surrender had been inefficient, American authorities were now looking for the possibility of negotiation. Also, the crew of Philadelphia was still captive in Tripoli which increased the need to negotiate peace. In June 1804, Colonel Tobias Lear, then American Consul-General in Algiers, was sent in for that purpose. The initial negotiations between the Pasha and Lear fell through because the demands of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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