The United States needs to return to Thomas Jefferson’s policy of “millions for defense, but not for tribute.”
Where have we seen this movie before? A Muslim country repeatedly attacks and hijacks ships in international waters to extract concessions. I can hear the same cry today as was proclaimed in the early 19th century.
Though the United States was enfeebled from years of war and tribulation, its great leader and president proclaimed, “Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute.”
What can we learn from our historical confrontation with Islamic attempts to “shake down” the Western world that would be just as relevant today, as Iran attempts similar behavior on the high seas?
The year 1801 was not an auspicious time for the U.S. to be confronted with an aggressive enemy thousands of miles away. It had just emerged victorious, but nearly bankrupt and exhausted, from the War of Independence.
Subscribe to The JNS Daily Syndicate by email and never miss our top stories
During the late 1700s, the Barbary states of Tripoli, Algiers, Morocco and Tunis demanded tribute from the U.S. to restrain them from attacking American commercial shipping. The capture and enslavement of the crew of the USS Philadelphia by Tripoli appalled most Americans. But this also had a religious overtone, as explained by Brian Kilmeade in his book, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History.
In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman. They asked him about the “the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury.”
He replied: “It was written in their Koran that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”
In other words, Christian sailors were plain and simple fair game. According to American historian Robert Davis, between 1 and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries.