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Lear and Comodore Barron, the commander of the American fleet in the Mediterranean agreed in 1805 that Ahmad was no longer useful to the American cause. As a result, Lear met with Muhammad D'Ghies, Tripoli's Minister for foreign affairs, and eventually reached an agreement. War prisoners would be mutually exchanged, and America had to pay a sum of $60, 000 to Tripoli. However, this sum was considerably smaller than what the Pasha had asked for in 1804. Legendary Commodore Charles Morris wrote, "On the 3rd of June, a peace was concluded with Tripoli by Colonel Lear, who had been authorized by the President to negotiate."
One of the most important consequences of the war was its power to produce some of the earliest American war heroes. In the absence of news correspondents, and the far-reaching means the press has today, the accounts of the war were given by the people directly involved in it. Letters and dispatches were sent to American newspapers who often published them in their entirety. It is hard to imagine that there were no photographs, no video footage of the war. This was, in fact, the only connection between the American public, and the war going on in Northern Africa. However, Americans romanticized the war and its most prominent figures would become real American heroes whose stories even influenced contemporary popular culture.
Despite the fact that America had been humiliated by being force to pay tribute, the Federalists were opposing the war. Any analysis of the domestic response to a war, in this case, the First Barbary War, must include the points-of-view of both sides. On the one hand, Republicans supported Jefferson's decision to go to war, and praised the skills and might of the American navy. On the other hand, the Federalists criticized Jefferson's decision to go to war, and even his choice of words in the case of public addresses.
Republican editor James J. Wilson's article, a New Year's Report, published in the New Jersey newspaper, the True American, in January 1805 is clearly very supportive of President Jefferson's actions. Wilson openly declares his support, and praises America's progress in the war. He argues that the war is justified because America had been threatened and humiliated by Tripoli. He invokes strong values such as patriotism, and a sense of national duty. Also, he argues that "the skill and bravery" of the American navy had "given an idea of what they can and will do, when necessity commands their employment in such enterprises."
On the other hand, Federalist editors Young and Minns criticize Jefferson for his choice of words on the occasion of an address which also included references to the success of the American Navy. Jefferson had stated that Tripoli was facing the strong energies of America which aimed at multiplying the human species. In this sense, the editors compare America's "energies to multiply the human species by ships' guns" with "giving the French liberty by the guillotine;" comparison which can be explained by the fact that the Federalists regarded the French as America's enemies, and not the British as did Republicans.
National heroes were one of the most important gains of the First Barbary War. Following the war, several naval commanders were celebrated at home thanks to their courage and dedication: "... while Decatur was building the Argus in Boston, Charles Stewart was in Philadelphia building the Siren, John Smith was building the Vixen in Baltimore, and Richard Somers in Norfolk was refitting the Nautilus as a schooner. This new force and new commander marked a revised strategy for the war."
Charles Morris was a prominent figure of American naval history. He was at Stephen Decatur's side during the burning of the Philadelphia in 1804 during the Tripoli War, and the second in command to Isaac Hull when Constitution defeated Guerriere in 1812. Although a very important commander, it is interesting to note that there is no biography of his life. The only writing on his life is his autobiography, first published in 1880, approximately two decades after his death.
The war of Tripoli benefits from extensive coverage in his autobiography. He writes, "The arrangements for the destructions of the Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli were soon after determined upon and the officers selected for the enterprise. It was my fortune to be among the number, which probably would not have been the case had I remained on shore duties."
Morris himself realized the fact that the significance of the war extended far beyond the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Tripoli war produced great heroic figures, and represented the true birth of American naval might: "The general arrangements and success of his expedition have become matters of naval history, but, as it was among the earliest of the operations in the Mediterranean which gave reputation to the Navy, and was the means of introducing me to the favorable notice of my brother officers, a statement from me may have sufficient interest to justify the repetition."
However, the greatest hero of the Barbary Wars was, without a doubt, Stephen Decatur. He was the first man to become a national military hero who had not taken part in the American Revolution. He was also the commander of seven frigates who took part in the Barbary Wars, and the War of 1812, and the youngest man to reach the title of captain in American naval history. In the First Barbary War, Decatur was given the command of the brig Argus which he took to the Mediterranean Sea. It was Decatur who captured the enemy ketch, Mastico in December 1803. Moreover, he took the vessel into the U.S. Navy and named it Intrepid; this particular vessel would be used in combat in February 1804 to undertake a night raid into Tripoli harbor, and destroy the former U.S. frigate, Philadelphia, which had been captured by the enemy troops four months prior. Decatur received the status of national hero, and was even praised by British vice admiral, Lord Nelson.
In his biography of Decatur, S. Putnam Waldo captured the essence of the young captain, and added editorial adornments, writing, "few gallant Americans with countless numbers of barbarians met with one common and undistinguished destruction." Waldo added, "Captain Somers's memory has sometimes been assailed by those whose timid and scrupulous system of morals evinces a zeal without knowledge..." Waldo never named these critics. Yet Waldo did remind readers in his 1821 edition of "The Life of Stephen Decatur" that naval men faced the prospect of death; their sacrifice of life "redounds to their glory and their country's weal."
To conclude, several questions might arise when discussing this particular episode of American history. However, there is one particular question which stands out, i.e., what means of defense did Tripoli employ in order to resist the American offensive? In order to provide a valid answer to this question one must assess the situation from Tripoli's perspective, instead of America's.
Historians have tried to identify the main causes which contributed to Tripoli's resistance. First, one must consider the fact that Tripoli's navy was numerous and well-equipped. However, that was not the main reason for their ability to withstand American pressure for such a long period of time. It was perhaps the solidarity among the so-called Barbary States that aided the cause of Tripoli. The other powers in North Africa - Morocco, Algiers and Tunis immediately expressed their support for Tripoli. The Bey of Tunis, like the Pasha, resented the American view of the Algerian Dey as the ruler of the region. In addition, Tunis had been faced with pressure from Algiers who wanted to expand its territory beyond the western border with Tunis. Furthermore, these countries agreed that America was doing too little to respect its international obligations, such as, for example, its failure to supply consular presents as stipulated in the treaty of 1796. However, it was commercial relations in North Africa that represented the strongest link among these states which felt they needed to stand together in front of America.
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Morris, Charles. Ed. Frederick C. Leiner. The Autobiography of Commodore Charles Morris. (Naval Institute Press, 2002)
Allison, Robert J. Stephen Decatur: American Naval Hero, 1779-1820. (University of Massachusetts Press, 2007)
Cray Jr., Robert E. "Remembering Richard Somers: Naval Martyrdom in the Tripolitan War."
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Folayan, Kola. "Tripoli and the War with the U.S.A., 1801-5." The Journal of African History 13, No. 2 (1972): 261-270.
Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. The Wars of the Barbary Pirates: To the Shores of Tripoli: the Rise of the U.S. Navy and Marines. (Osprey Publishing, 2006)
Gregory Fremont-Barnes. The Wars of the Barbary Pirates: To the Shores of Tripoli: the Rise of the U.S. Navy and Marines. (Osprey Publishing, 2006): 24.
Gregory Fremont-Barnes. The Wars of the Barbary Pirates: To the Shores…[continue]
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