|Barbary Corsair Dragut Reis|
By the end of the 17th century, England alone had dealt with the Barbary threat with any success. Peace treaties were signed with Barbary States, often after the Royal Navy bombarded them. This safe passage worked well for Colonial America, but with Independence that safeguard was gone. In 1784, the first act of piracy against the United States occurred as Moroccan pirates seized the brigantine Betsey. Thomas Jefferson, then US Minister to France, sent envoys who got the Moroccans to sign a treaty in 1786. Algeria was less cooperative. They captured the Maria and the Dauphin in 1785 and continued to take American ships. A full decade later, the United States acquiesced to paying $1 million to release American prisoners, a full sixth of the U.S. budget at that time. The Naval Act of 1794 created the United States Navy and ordered the building of six frigates expressly to safeguard American ships from the Corsairs.
|USS Philadelphia aground off Tripoli, 1803|
In 1801 Jefferson became President. Shortly after his inauguration, Tripoli demanded tribute from the new administration, and, when Jefferson refused, the flagpole in front of the U.S. Consulate in Tripoli was cut down, Tripoli's sign of declaring war. The "Jeffersonian" response was not strictly a return declaration of war but an instruction to American ships to directly engage Tripoli and its ships. The ensuing "First Barbary War" involved such legendary ships as the Constellation, the Constitution, and the Enterprise and made legends out of such mariners as Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge (for whom Bainbridge Island here in Washington is named). What Senator Kirk is most directly referring to is the successful blockade of Barbary ports throughout 1803 by Commodore Edward Preble. By 1805 Tripoli had been battered into submission and signed for peace. The problem was not really solved: The Corsairs were at again within a few years while the U.S. was busy with the War of 1812. A "Second Barbary War" occurred in 1815, once Napoleon had stopped distracting the world, but the treaty with Algiers that resulted from the veteran Commodore Decatur's combination of might and negotiation was quickly ignored. A year later, it took nine hours of bombardment by the British Navy to finally put an end to the pirate threat. The fate of the Corsairs and the Barbary Coast was sealed over the next few decades as Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli all became European colonies.
|Decatur's squadron off of Algiers, 1815|
Senator Kirk's "Jeffersonian past" points specifically to the blockading of the Barbary Corsairs. The first problem is that Jefferson's Naval response didn't really work. It took two "wars," the involvement of the British, and ultimately the inexorable force of colonialism to end the Barbary Corsair era. Furthermore, in modern context, Kirk's comment comes off as a glib patriotic reference to the grand old days of the U.S. Navy and a typically Republican call for military action. Then there's the problem that there are innumerable differences between the Somalis and the Corsairs. Finally, even putting history aside, the effectiveness of a blockade against the Somali pirates would be questionable at best. The Somalis are very mobile. As I have said before, it is not strictly a "Somali" problem. Yemen, where some of the pirates are already from, is in turmoil, and it is easy to imagine this becoming the new center of piracy just as Port Royal gave way to New Providence in the old Caribbean. Sorry, Senator, but your historical accuracy is as dubious as your proposal.