Shores of Tripoli

Various Arab rulers on the Barbary Coast of North Africa would regularly declare war against European countries and then begin seizing their ships and men using fast, cheap warships. The captured crews would be held for ransom or sold in the market as slaves. This practice had been going on for centuries. As many as a million and a quarter Europeans had been enslaved by Muslims operating out of North Africa by the eighteenth century.

When Thomas Jefferson served as America’s minister to France in the mid-1780s, he once confronted an Arab diplomat, demanding to know by what right his country attacked Americans in the Mediterranean. The Ambassador answered “that it was founded on the laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran that all nations who should not have answered to 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.”

In spite of Jefferson’s appeals to other American leaders, the kidnapping and ransoming of American merchantmen continued for another twenty years. President Adams said, “We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.” By the time Jefferson became president, the United States had paid out almost $2 million, nearly one fifth of the federal government’s yearly income, in ransom to various Muslim rulers. After Thomas Jefferson became president, he sent in the Marines (“to the shores of Tripoli”), and by 1805 they had won this nation’s first war on terror in the Middle East.

Warren Vanhetloo - Cogitations. July 30th, 2007

Comment: Warren Vanhetloo is a retired Pastor and Seminary professor. Image is from Ship Store Galleries

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