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Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute

The second instalment, from the same source, of historical events relevant to current affairs, as it often seems with history. This is due to the comments on the previous posting about slave trade by Muslim corsairs, correctly identifying who took them on.

More effective were the exploits of the Americans, who put the British government on its mettle. The activities of the corsairs, who did not scruple to kidnap Yankee sailors, led to the new republic’s first experiment in geopolitics. It was principally on their account that Congress decided to establish a navy in 1794, and America consistently refused to ransom captives in the European way by handing over money, powder, shot and arms to the Muslims. As President Jefferson put it: “Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute.” From 1803 Washington, in effect, made war against the beys. In one episode in 1805 American marines marched across the dessert from Egypt into Tripolitania, forcing Tripoli to make peace and surrender all American slaves, and giving rise to the famous line in the U.S. Marine Corps anthem “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shore of Tripoli”. Immediately after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, when the cruising season of 1815 opened, Washington sent out a squadron under Stephen Decatur to punish the Barbary towns for violations of previous agreements. He forced the Bey of Tunis to pay $46,000 in compensation, and in Tripoli he also exacted a fine and secured the release of some Danish and Neapolitan slaves. His squadron was relived by five of the new ‘big’ frigates under Commodore William Bainbridge who, in June 1815, achieved a remarkable moral victory over the Bey of Algiers, who was given exactly three hours to comply with an American ultimatum to hand over all U.S. captives plus a cash compensation; the Bey capitulated on time. There is some doubt about the permanent effectiveness of this American intervention, since all the pirate rulers repudiated their treaties once American ships were below the horizon. But news of it created a sensation in Britain and led to irresistible pressure on the government to order a similar display of British naval power.

Could we, please, have the history repeat itself again now?!

15 comments to Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute

  • Neil Eden

    I like how Johnson ends the paragraph. It doesn’t matter that American’s intervention was meaningless, seeing as the Bey’s “repudiated their treaties once American ships were below the horizon”. What’s important is that we impressed the rest of the world with a showy flash of military muscle. That’s the real test of over-seas invention, not that you actually make the world any better, but that you impress the foreigners. Finally Samizdata takes a anti-war, libertarian stand… right?

  • Well perhaps that’s all that could be managed by asmaller US Navy then, and an effort in earnest by Britain’s Royal Navy was the real goal?

  • Neil Eden: I do hope you are joking!

    In case you are not: The ‘anti-force’ attitude had been displayed by the wet British ‘liberal parliamentarians’ to the chagrin of those Europeans who were enslaved by the muslims along Barbary coast. The whole point of the U.S. navy intervention was to show that force works! The US example made it impossible for the British politicians to ignore the problem and so it paved the path to ending slave trade in the area.

    Samizdata.net mentions this historical event as an example of pro-war position that, in the true libertarian spirit, opposes violence by defending the rights of individuals enslaved by slave traders.

    Nowhere does Paul Johnson say that the American intervention was meaningles. You are confusing two statements he makes about the whole issue. One is that there may be doubts about the effectiveness of the US navy intervention in achieving total eradication of the slave trade, despite achieving a very significant victory both practical and moral in subduing the Bey of Algiers and Tripoli.

    The second statement is about the profound effect such display had on the British and the subsequent resolve to use the immense British naval force to carry on what the Yanks started.

  • Interesting: this is the second time in 12 hours I have heard Jefferson’s 1803 operations cited in support of American military operations overseas. The first was by a dissembling Senator John McCain in answer to an audience question during an ABC news Nightline “Town Hall” discussion on war preparations. Whenever this incident is cited, everybody seems to forget that the Constitution specifically authorizes Congress to address piracy, and to grant letters of Marque and Reprisal: the powers used by Jefferson and his Congress to go after the Barbary Pirates after a simple congressional resolution. Piracy and war are considered to be separate and distinct by the Constitution. In order for a Piracy approach to stick, Iraq and Saddam would have to be operating as — and seen to be — pirates, either on sea or in the air. Is that the situation? From where I sit, it looks more like we are gearing up to prosecute a straight-up, aggressive war — overwhelmingly on lad — against a soverign (albeit, in our opinion, a thoroughly disreputable and misbehaved) nation. That would seem to fall under the War powers provisions of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. So where is the Congressional Declaration of War? Where are the House and Senate debates on whether this action is truly necessary? Where is the floor vote on whether to go to war?

  • “Could we, please, have the history repeat itself again now?!”

    That would be nice. Piracy is indeed a significant problem today, especially in the Straits of Malacca. Unfortunately, the US Navy has no interest in fighting pirates–they’re too busy preparing to bombard a desert country with no navy.

    In fact the US today engages in acts of piracy itself. I don’t know how often it happens, but every few months I read a story about the Navy (or Coast Guard) seizing a vessel in international waters because it was carrying agricultural products the US government doesn’t like.

  • Sandy P.

    James, the vote was last year. The dems demanded W come to them for approval, he did. They gave it to him

    Now some of those dems who voted for it want to revote.

    They also gave him all the authorization he needed in 2001. By any means necessary. If they want to stop it, then they don’t fund it in 2004.

    Our Constitution is a such a visionary document. My admiration for their vision grows daily.

  • James Merritt: You seem to care a great deal about what the US Constitution allows… I could not give two hoots to be honest. I regard most of what states allow themselves to do, sanctified via great piles of legal documents, as illegitimate anyway and will lose no sleep at all if half the lawyers in all of Christendom have apoplexy. If the result of military action is the overthrow of a tyrant, I will be content the correct thing has been done.

  • I blame those greedy Yankee sailors. If they had not been interfering in the region then there would have been no reason for the corsairs to attack them.

    The pirates were provoked!!

  • To Sandy P.: I belive you are mistaken. Resolutions passed by congress, such as those you cite, aren’t enough to authorize war. Read Article I Section 8 of the Constitution. If we go to war without a formal declaration, our own government is in material breach of its contract with the people. In past operations, since WWII, the government has been able to twist words in order to convince the slack-jawed that a war wasn’t a war, in order to justify it via other constitutional powers. McCain just last night tried to equate a real war, involving hundreds of thousands of combatants on dry land, with a piracy situation, for instance. What a buffoon, and all the more buffoons we, if we buy the snake oil he is selling. If anything we have done since WWII qualifies as a straight-up war, with no wiggle-room whatsoever, this is it.

    Perry: I am not surprised to read that someone on a libertarian board denies the legitimacy of the state. For the most part, I do too, or at least the legitimacy of most of the things that modern states do. But the key to the American experiment in self-government is, in large part, the written nature of its fundamental laws. The PEOPLE must understand, uphold, and enforce the constitution, which was deliberately written briefly, in plain language, to promote their necessary participation. Let me ask you, Perry: if the people can’t recognize a violation of the fundamental compact between them and their governmental representatives, if they can’t bring themselves to hold those violators accountable, peacefully, with the several tools available to us as citizens, what makes you think that a stateless society will be anything more or less than a man-made jungle, a real-life version of the nightmare that comes to most minds whenever someone utters the term “anarchy”? If anything, it seems that people would need MORE clarity of vision and MORE discipline, not less, to maintain civilization without the threat of force from formal authority. If we can achieve that one day, wonderful. But the jury is still out on whether we can even keep control of our own constitutional republic. Maybe we can’t keep control; maybe we never had it to lose. Still, if we-the-people can get it together to use the Constitution as the yardstick, the clear line in the sand, the tool it was intended to be, we may still be in the game. That’s what I believe, anyway, which is why I care about and keep reminding people of the content of the Constitution.

  • By the way, for another take on why the proposed Iraq war requires a congressional declaration of war, as required by the US Constitution (and for some good arguments about the importance of following Constitutional procedure), see the TruthAboutWar website.

  • David

    Just out of curiousity, I was wondering how much the pro-war libs think it is worth paying to depose S.H. in order to bring liberty to Iraq?

    The anti-war libs put the figure at between 17 billion and 80 billion U.S.D for the deployment/combat costs alone. To that, you have to add billions more for death and property damage, cost of occupation, etc etc.

    And all that coming out of taxes!


  • In an ideal world, I would love to see alternatives to nation-states going to war with plundered tax monies… but the fact is, in THIS world of kleptocratic nation-states, I am left with confronting tyrants like Saddam Hussain with either grimaces and harsh language… or by demanding the nifty weapons and military infrastructure built up my stolen money be used to blow up sundry people who need blowing up.

    When I see some private libertarian militia showing off its B-2 bombers and soliticing for my subscription money, I will change my tune pronto…

    Until that time, I am going to be a tactical and rather selective cheerleader for the ghastly Donald Rumsfeld. Unfortunate but that is the way it is.

  • “Why is Donald Rumsfeld ‘ghastly’? On the, admittedly, few occasions I have heard him he has struck me as considerably less ghastly than just about any other member of the political classes either here or in the US.”

    Damn. Why isn’t there a facility for editing comments?

  • Sandy P.

    Ok, Jim, but I just googled 2002 declaration of war on Iraq and got this via CNN:

    In a major victory for the White House, the Senate early Friday voted 77-23 to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq if Saddam Hussein refuses to give up weapons of mass destruction as required by U.N. resolutions.

    Hours earlier, the House approved an identical resolution, 296-133.

    The president praised the congressional action, declaring “America speaks with one voice.”

    “The Congress has spoken clearly to the international community and the United Nations Security Council,” Bush said in a statement. “Saddam Hussein and his outlaw regime pose a grave threat to the region, the world and the United States. Inaction is not an option, disarmament is a must.”

    —-There’s more there.

    So, what did Congress pass then that some dems want to revoke?

  • Sandy P.

    Oh, I forgot the most important, the headline:

    Senate approves Iraq war resolution
    Administration applauds vote

    Like I said, passed in October of 2002.

    Don’t you remember all the brouhaha before the election about this, Jim?