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Home > History > Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates

Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates

This article discusses the causes of the First Barbary War
Barbary Pirates

A War Against Pirates?

Most people know that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and was America's third president. Some people know that he was responsible for America doubling its size through the Louisiana Purchase. Very few people know, however, that Thomas Jefferson sent America into its first overseas war - against pirates!

Trouble in the Mediterranean

In 1801, the United States joined with several European countries in a war against the Barbary Pirates. The Barbary Pirates operated in the Mediterranean Sea, from ports in the north African countries of Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria. The pirates demanded a payment called a tribute from foreign governments in exchange for the safe passage of its ships in the Mediterranean Sea. If no tribute was paid, the pirates would attack and capture the crews of foreign ships and sell them for a ransom or force them into slavery.

Jefferson Declares War

When Thomas Jefferson became president, the pirates increased the cost of the tribute and Jefferson refused to pay it. Instead, he sent United States warships to the Mediterranean Sea, which eventually began bombarding the pirate bases. The pirates surrendered in 1805 in what came to be known as the First Barbary War. Although the pirates were finished for the time being, they'd start capturing American ships again in 1807. This led to the Second Barbary War where the pirates were defeated for a second time.

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