Jefferson vs. Muslim Pirates

Thomas Jefferson vs. Muslim Pirates-Truth!

Summary of eRumor:

A viral email alleges that Thomas Jefferson led America to war against state-sponsored Muslim pirates from North Africa’s Barbary Coast in the early 1800s.

The Truth:

The U.S. fought in two separate wars over state-sponsored Muslim pirates along Africa’s Barbary Coast in the early 1800s.

The eRumor’s claims about the lead up to the Barbary Wars are also accurate. After the U.S won its independence, France stopped protecting U.S. ships in the Mediterranean, according to papers collected by the Library of Congress. Thomas Jefferson, then United States Minister to France, grew increasingly frustrated with paying ransom to the Barbary pirates after French protection ended. Jefferson tried to negotiate an accord with France and Great Britain, but that fell through.Jefferson later wrote in a letter, “From what I learn from the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of their money, it will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them.”

The eRumor’s recounting of an interaction between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and an ambassador to Tripoli about the motives for the pirate attacks is also accurate, according to a book of diplomatic correspondences

Jefferson and Adams wrote: “The Ambassador answered us, that (the aggression) was founded on the laws of their Prophet; that it was written in their Koran, that all nationals who should not have acknowledged their authority, were sinners; that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Mussulman who was slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”  

George Washington attempted to forge treaties with Barbary Coast states, as the eRumor claimed, and he expressed frustration about France’s role in a letter he penned in 1796. Just after Algiers pirates had released American hostages in accordance with a treaty, Washington received news that pirates from Tunis had taken more American hostages. “’Tis difficult to understand precisely what the French government design relative to this country,” Washington replied.

As it turned out, France and Great Britain benefited from the Barbary pirates, and they may have even supported them. The State Department’s Office of the Historian said, “The practice of state-sponsored piracy and ransoming of captives was not wholly unusual for its time. Many European states commissioned privateers to attack each others’ shipping and also participated in the transatlantic slave trade. The two major European powers, Great Britain and France, found it expedient to encourage the Barbary States’ policy and pay tribute to them, as it allowed their merchant shipping an increased share of the Mediterranean trade, and Barbary leaders chose not to challenge the superior British or French navies.”

After Jefferson was elected president, Tripoli declared war on America in 1801. 

War followed with Algiers in 1815, but the U.S. had bulked up its naval fleet for the War of 1812, and the war ended 

quickly, according to Library of Congress documents.

Posted 10/16/14