Academic journal article Military Review

JEFFERSON'S WAR: America's First War on Terror 1801-1805

Academic journal article Military Review

JEFFERSON'S WAR: America's First War on Terror 1801-1805

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON'S WAR: America's First War on Terror 1801-1805, Joseph Whelan, Carroll & Graf, Publishers, New York, 2003, $15.00.

When, and against whom, did the United States fight its first war, and who was president at the time? I suspect many well-educated adults would readily respond, "the War of 1812 when James Madison was president." They would be wrong. In fact, the first war the United States fought occurred in 1801, the first year of Thomas Jefferson's presidency, when the Nation had existed barely 25 years.

A few modern historians have tried to portray Jefferson as sort of a hippie, born 200 years before his time, peace-loving, and impractical. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jefferson was a tough, hardboiled president who did not scruple to use either intrigue or brute force if he felt the national interest required it. But, what was this war in 1801? Who was the enemy? The answer is the same as today-rogue Muslims.

In 1800, the Mediterranean coast of North Africa was occupied by Islamic states-Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Egypt-that were quasi-independent but, formally, part of the Turkish Empire, which was centered in Istanbul (Constantinople). The various beys and pashas who ruled these states paid substantial sums annually to the Sultan. If they did not, they were removed, frequently by strangulation.

None of the regions produced much on their own, so the Muslim potentates readily turned to piracy in the Mediterranean as a source of income, but with a new twist; any nation could buy immunity for its ships. The price was stiff, but it was cheaper than losing the ships outright. The practice was also humane. Usually, captured Christian sailors were either sold into slavery in North Africa or allowed to rot in the pashas' dungeons on a starvation diet. After all, they were infidels, and Allah would not have wanted his faithful servants wasting perfectly good provisions on them. …

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