America’s First Terrorist Entanglement


Too many headlines these days – in fact, just one is too many – trumpet the deeds of ISIS around the globe. We are assaulted visually, with their graphic videos. Hard not to be aware of this terrorist group. Yet, I suspect that many, though aware, don’t grasp the seriousness of their intent. It is just my suspicion, but I think that, let’s say, certain ones in my own sphere of life are missing that. It may be as it was in the days of Noah – people were so involved in the daily issues & struggles of their lives, they did not heed Noah’s warning.


Terrorism against the United States is not new. It is not a phenomenon specific to our times only. The hand of jihad moved against the original thirteen colonies also. Barely had independence been declared & won, than Muslim extremists of that day began launching attacks at sea on American vessels, engaging in kidnappings, imprisonment, enslavement, & ransom demands, as well as requiring yearly tributes from all who would attempt to sail in ‘their’ waters. These marauders from the North African states of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers, known as the Barbary Pirates, obtained wealth and power through their lawless plundering, (not only of American ships, but those of Portugal, Italy, Malta, Denmark and Sweden, as well as France & England.)

“As early as 1784 Congress followed the tradition of the European shipping powers and appropriated $80,000 as tribute to the Barbary states…”  (America and the Barbary Pirates:  An International Battle Against an Unconventional FoeThe following year, in July 1785, Algerians captured two American ships and their crews of twenty-one people. They were held for a ransom of nearly $60,000. And so it began…and by 1795, The United States was still paying ransoms & tributes to the these piratical states. In that year alone, nearly a million dollars was expended in hostage ransoms, as well as naval stores and a frigate.

As ambassador to France & then Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson opposed paying ransoms & tributes. In a July, 1786, letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote “I acknolege [sic] I very early thought it would be best to effect a peace thro’ the medium of war.” He believed that paying tribute would merely invite more demands of the same. The general consensus at that time, however, did not align with Jefferson’s belief. Paying was easier (and cheaper) than fighting. As a result, an attempted international coalition fell through, and extortion on the high seas continued.

However, once elected President, Thomas Jefferson refused to continue making these payments. So Tripoli declared war. Jefferson “…admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. . . .” Booyah. His bold & decisive move shocked and fractured the Barbary states, with Tunis & Algiers breaking away from Tripoli. The lion was out of his cage, and they were gettin’ out of the way! Runnin’ for cover!

There were more battles, more ransom negotiations and more American losses, but President Jefferson was not deterred from his chosen course of action. We fought back. Eventually, Morocco was forced out of the fight. Tripoli was bombarded five times. Order began to be restored to the Mediterranean. In 1805, naval and land forces (boots on the ground?) deployed to Tripoli resulted in cessation of hostilities. The treaty of 1805, however, still required the United States to pay a ransom of $60,000 for each of the sailors still held hostage. It was not officially approved by the Senate until April 1806. But by year’s end, Jefferson was able to declare, “The states on the coast of Barbary seem generally disposed at present to respect our peace and friendship.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it….but neither the piracy, nor the paying of tributes, actually ended there.


It could have, though.

The conflict leading up to this 1805 treaty contained almost bizarre, way outside-the-box elements that actually, unbelievably, succeeded. “In an historic and unconventional move, Jefferson also sent an odd, obsessed, and self-destructive man to the Mediterranean to lead what amounted to the nation’s first covert operation.(source)  William Eaton, a Revolutionary War veteran and Indian fighter, managed to assemble a ragtag army of roughly 400 mercenaries and disaffected Arab fighters. Along with a small detachment of US Marines, Eaton & his ‘men’ marched about 500 miles across the desert, towards Derna, Tripoli, and the Pasha’s throne. Bloodshed & mutiny abounded en route. Eaton’s scheme has been called ridiculous. But with the support of US Navy gunboats offshore, when a victorious Eaton & his Marines flew the Stars and Stripes at Derna, “it was the first time a U.S. flag had been raised in conquest in a foreign land.”


This action, and the valor and conduct of the Marines, is forever memorialized in the opening lines of the Marine Corps hymn: “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.”


So, what went wrong?

President Jefferson, in what looks to me like a betrayal of Eaton & his men, in order to assure victory one way or another, authorized U.S. diplomat Tobias Lear to negotiate a peace treaty with the pasha of Tripoli, while Eaton was fighting the good fight. So, though William Eaton & his forces actually took Derna, intending to replace the pasha with his pro-America brother Ahmad, it mattered not. The terms of the treaty negated much of Eaton’s victory. There could have possibly been maritime peace, with safe, tribute free travel. So close!  Instead, the piracy continued.


Ten years later, President James Madison secured a declaration of war from Congress.  American victory, “dictated at the mouths of our cannon” inspired British & Dutch, then later French action against the Barbary pirates. By the spring of 1830, piracy was quashed.

But it took war.

“…to be free and uninsulted [i.e., unattacked], we must let these nations see that we have an energy [willingness to use force], which at present they disbelieve. The low opinion they entertain of our powers cannot fail to involve us soon in a … war.” – George Washington,  (What George Washington Said About ISIS)

No amount of negotiating, diplomacy or funds paid, without physical combat, gained the victory over piracy & terrorism.

It took war.




…lest anyone say, But they were pirates, not radical Muslim extremists…

Jefferson & Adams questioned the Tripolitan ambassador as to why his government was so hostile to the new American republic. The ambassador’s answer:

“…that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged 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, and that every Musselman [Muslim] who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

Hmmm…where have we heard this before?


The final conclusion drawn in the article from which I’ve gathered most of this information, is this – just as the Barbary pirates did what they said they would, as long as they could get away with it, so will the terrorists of today. It behooves our security & defense forces, our military leaders & our administration in Washington to expect that. And respond accordingly.

And ‘We, the People’ need to realize this, as well.



“Be not intimidated…nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice.” – John Adams  (Liberty Tree)

On a final note, I can’t help but catch a glimpse of the Spirit in the above quote from John Adams –

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5: 2)

You may not think there is any connection here of the one to the other. But things have roots. They spring from somewhere or something. Now you see it, but it was once invisible.

“Then said Jesus…if ye continue in my word…ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8: 31, 32)








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