on August 24, 2008
The setting of this book is the United States of America has recently become a sovereign nation. However, unlike the major colonialist powers of Europe (e.g., Britain, France, Spain, etc.), the U.S. lacks a formidable navy and a respected presence in the high seas. At this time, the Mediterranean sea is overrun by ruthless pirates whose activities are endorsed, if not outright ordered by the quasi-independent ruling heads of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, which are collectively known as the Barbary states. As a result, U.S. merchant ships are plundered, U.S. gun ships are commandeered, the U.S. itself is extorted to paying an annual tribute and U.S. citizens are routinely either held for ransom or sold into slavery.
If you want an informative, engaging and concise book on the U.S.' wars with the Barbary pirates, look no further than this. In this book, you will learn about:
* All of the major tariff laws which led up to the Declaration of Independence (i.e., Navigation Acts, Revenue (Sugar) Act, Stamp Act, Townshed Duties and the Tea Act).
* The two major wars with the Barbary states. The first, which is known as the Tripolitian War (1801-1805) and the second, which is known as the Algerine War (1815).
* The Tripolitan capture of the U.S. 36 gun frigate, a top-of-the-line gunship that would have been devastating under pirate control. To counter this deadly advantage, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur lead a daring and successful incursion into the Tripolitan harbor to burn the the USS Philadelphia, so that it can never be used by the pirates against the U.S. In particularly, you will learn about how Decatur surreptitiously disguised his vessel as a distressed, anchorless merchant ship that needs to be docked on shore.
* William Eaton's courageous 500-mile march through Libyan desert to launch a surprise attack on Derne, a coastal fortress which was not prepared for a land attack. This was the decisive victory in the Tripolitan War.
* The overt contrast between the treaty of the Tripolitan war and the Algerine War. The first treaty was the result of negotiation (with the soon-to-be-infamous Tobias Lear representing the U.S.). For example, it declared that the Tripolitans reduce the amount of the tribute that they demanded by 90% (Thus, conceding that forcing the U.S. to pay tribute, in principle, was still acceptable.) Even though Jefferson evidently approved of such limited terms, this was an outrage to the U.S. domestically as well as to the war heroes such as Eaton and Decatur.
In contrast, the terms of second treaty were dictated by the U.S. In particular, Decatur demanded that the pirates:
- disavow all demands of tribute and ransom.
- return all American prisoners and property captured through piracy.
- allow all ships with a U.S. flag pass unmolested in the Mediterranean.
Interestingly enough, the Dey of Algiers wanted to deliberate on the treaty overnight. Decatur famously replied that he would allow "not a minute; if your squadron appears in sight before the treaty is actually signed [...] ours will capture them." The terms that Decatur obtained in the treaties were unimaginable before the war, considering the decades of harassment that the U.S. faced at the hand of the Barbary pirates.
This is an amazing book.
Lambert is a well known scholar who has written very good scholarly monographs on religion in colonial America and politics in the Revolution. Recently, he has been producing well written and well grounded books on historical topics of current relevance aimed at a wider readership. He wrote a very good book on religion in the Colonial, Revolutionary, and early Republican periods. He has now produced a solid book on the Barbary Wars. These episodes from the early history of our Republic have been the subject of some recent books and journalism because of our abrupt and somewhat involuntary close involvement with the Muslim world. Lambert points out that most of these publications suffer from anachronistic perspectives, saying more about the present than the past. I've read one of the books he references, Joseph Wheelan's misleading Jefferson's War, and I agree with his polite but negative assessment of this recent literature.
Lambert provides a well written and documented analysis of the background of the Barbary Wars. He provides a good overview of the nature of piracy in the Barbary States, its role in the international system of the time, and the nature of the particular challenge it presented to the young USA. Lambert does equally well in covering the relevant political and cultural history of American responses to the Barbary States, including a good view of the relevant party politics. There is a good discussion of the major American actors, like Jefferson, and a nice concise narrative of the wars themselves. For Lambert, the Barbary Wars were partly wars of economic necessity for the fledgling USA and partly driven by ideology. The nature of the ideological conflict was not religous, however, but instead driven by the American republican ideology that emphasized free trade and American independence.
on January 31, 2012
Frank Lambert's The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World presents a brief analysis of the post-revolutionary conflict between the United States and the Barbary States, which include Tripoli, Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis. A prominent theme in the historiography of this topic is the idea that the Barbary Wars were religious conflicts. One historian even goes as far as to describe the "Barbary Wars as `a holy war of Muslims against the infidel invaders,'" but Lambert vehemently rejects this interpretation (Lambert 7). Instead, Lambert argues that this conflict was primarily economic. He also advocates the idea that the Barbary Wars were an "extension of America's War of Independence" (Lambert 8).
Lambert organizes this monograph chronologically and includes thirteen illustrations, two maps, a short index, and endnotes. The author begins by explaining how mercantilism, the prevailing economic system in the Atlantic world, impacted American trade before and after the American Revolution. Based upon the theory of mercantilism, which views the world economy as a zero-sum system, the British attempted to create a closed economy that benefitted England at the expense of its colonies prior to the American Revolution. The Navigation Acts of 1650-1651, the Revenue Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townsend duties, and the Tea Act 1773 are all examples of Parliament's attempts to create this one-sided economic system. The colonists saw these acts as increasingly intolerable due to their belief in free trade, and the after the American Revolution they expected to enjoy unfettered trade in the Atlantic. However, as Lambert argues, "By demanding the full measure of independence at home, the American states undermined the independence of America in the Atlantic world" (Lambert 27). Specifically, because American ships were no longer protected by the British Navy and America had no Navy of its own, American ships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean were fair game for Barbary pirates.
Lambert also argues that European mercantilism put economic pressure on the Barbary States, which led to their increased dependence on piracy. A prime example of this is demonstrated by the United States relations with Morocco. Shortly after the outbreak of the American Revolution, the emperor of Morocco recognized the United States as an independent nation and made overtures to sign a peace treaty. The task of fighting the British, however, completely occupied Congress, and this gesture was largely ignored. After the end of the war, the United States finally turned its attention to making peace with Morocco. Yet, this victory was short lived, because Algerine corsairs began piratical operations against United States shipping in 1785, and the dey of Algiers refused to make peace. The author persuasively argues that this conflict exposed the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation in a way that the conflict with Morocco did not. Then, despite the adoption of the Constitution, which gave the federal government the necessary power to deal with the Barbary pirates, indecision persisted. As a result, for the next several years, the United States' diplomatic proposals only secured an intermittent and tenuous peace with the Barbary States.
At this point in the text, Lambert turns to examining how Americans understood the Barbary Wars. He argues that rather than conceptualizing the conflict in religious terms, Americans saw the Barbary Wars as "a struggle of liberty versus tyranny and good versus evil" (Lambert 106). To put this another way, Americans saw the Barbary pirates as lawless criminals supported by rogue states. For instance, a poem published in 1797, titled An American in Algiers, recounts the tail of a prisoner who chose enslavement over renouncing Christianity. Even the Pirates themselves relied upon the Koran to explain their piratical actions, declaring "The Koran regarded non-Muslims as `sinners' and that Muslims had a `right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found'" (Lambert 116). Europeans, on the other hand, saw the Barbary pirates as legitimate government sponsored privateers. Nonetheless, Lamberts points out that Americans who dealt directly with the Barbary pirates "understood that they did not consider themselves bound by [the Koran's] teachings" (117).
Lambert concludes this text by examining the two significant conflicts between the United States and the Barbary States: the Tripolitan War (1801-1805) and the Algerine War (1815). According to the author, the cause of both of these conflicts was economics. The United States wanted access to the Mediterranean and the lucrative profits that come with it, while the Barbary States wanted to find an economic niche in the region, dominated by powerful European nations. A prime example of this can be seen in Tripoli's declaration of war on the United States, after America failed to pay tribute to the bashaw. Lambert argues that peace was only won in 1805 after the bashaw grew anxious about the United States Navy's continued presence near his harbor and the affect that it would have politically and economically. A similar situation played out in Algerine War, and according to Lambert, the conclusion of this conflict "ended America's thirty-year effort to rid itself of Barbary pirate depredations and establish free navigation in the Mediterranean" (199). As such, Lambert buttresses his argument that the Barbary Wars represent a continuation of the American War for Independence, because through this conflict America extended freedom abroad.
The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World, by Frank Lambert, is an important part of the historiography of this topic for several reasons. Most notably, Lambert successfully supports his central thesis that the Barbary Wars were economically motivated and had little to do with a conflict between Christianity and Islam. He also convincingly argues that this conflict was a continuation of America's War of Independence abroad. On this point, Lambert seems to take this topic in a different direction than Gordon Wood in Empire of Liberty. As such this text furthers not only a historical understanding of the Barbary Wars, but also the history of the Early Republic. The only apparent weakness of this text is the organization. For example, Lambert's chapter discussing the cultural construction of the Barbary pirates in America, significantly interrupts the flow of his argument. Regardless, this monograph is an important text for any historian of the Early Republic, the Barbary Wars, or American history.
Lambert, Frank. The Barbary wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.