The Founders’ War on Terrorism

Here is a fascinating account of our nation’s first conflict with radical Islam: When the Founding Fathers Faced Islamists. When the Barbary states captured American ships and made slaves of American citizens, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson negotiated for their release. The pasha demanded a tribute of around $1 million, a tenth of the entire budget of the fledgling nation, but Adams and Jefferson continued to negotiate until the pasha informed them of this fact, described in Adams’ words:

“It was… written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged [the Muslims’] authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon wheoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

When the Americans heard this, it was war–Stephen Decatur, the Marines on the shores of Tripoli, and America’s first splash on the world stage.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jeffrey G

    So what happened? Did Adams stay in Tripoli a hundred years building democracy?

  • Jeffrey G

    So what happened? Did Adams stay in Tripoli a hundred years building democracy?

  • Joe

    Nope and now we are experiencing what happens when you don’t transform the society you have conquered into a stable peaceful society based on the rule of law. Do you think Japan would have become the modern peaceful country it is today if we had just left after we bombed it. Or what about Germany; what do you think would have happened if we just left it in ruins after WWII? Wait – we do know because that is what we did after WWI and that was one of the major causes of WWII. A little nation building at the end of WWI and we might have prevented WWII.

    But lets not worry about long term stability or establishing the rule of law in the hopes of preventing future violence – lets just bring the troops home because Bush lied and it is easier to chant at rallies. “Create a peaceful society based on the rule of law to prevent future violence” has no natural meter to it.

  • Joe

    Nope and now we are experiencing what happens when you don’t transform the society you have conquered into a stable peaceful society based on the rule of law. Do you think Japan would have become the modern peaceful country it is today if we had just left after we bombed it. Or what about Germany; what do you think would have happened if we just left it in ruins after WWII? Wait – we do know because that is what we did after WWI and that was one of the major causes of WWII. A little nation building at the end of WWI and we might have prevented WWII.

    But lets not worry about long term stability or establishing the rule of law in the hopes of preventing future violence – lets just bring the troops home because Bush lied and it is easier to chant at rallies. “Create a peaceful society based on the rule of law to prevent future violence” has no natural meter to it.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    You go Joe.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    You go Joe.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    where in the linked source do you get the conclusion that “when the Americans heard this, it was war”?

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    where in the linked source do you get the conclusion that “when the Americans heard this, it was war”?

  • Bror Erickson

    You are absolutely right Joe. And had we done a little more in Afghanistan we might have evaded 9/11. But nation building is bad.

  • Bror Erickson

    You are absolutely right Joe. And had we done a little more in Afghanistan we might have evaded 9/11. But nation building is bad.

  • Jeffrey G

    So are we blaming John Adams for 9/11 now?

    We did not just leave after WWI. If we did, Hitler probably would never have gotten a foothold on power. We left behind oppressive war reparations from the treaty of Versailles which bred resentment among the Germans which was exploited by the Nazis. We were not leaving Japan alone at the time either. There were oil embargos against Japan and other unneighborly policies.

  • Jeffrey G

    So are we blaming John Adams for 9/11 now?

    We did not just leave after WWI. If we did, Hitler probably would never have gotten a foothold on power. We left behind oppressive war reparations from the treaty of Versailles which bred resentment among the Germans which was exploited by the Nazis. We were not leaving Japan alone at the time either. There were oil embargos against Japan and other unneighborly policies.

  • S. Bauer

    “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute!”

  • S. Bauer

    “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute!”

  • Ryan

    I don’t think that the Barbary Pirates episode fits the definition of terrorism, nor particularly “pirates” (since they had government support they were more like “privateers”).

    In the end it was a protection racket on the order of the Mafia with policy on the south east side of the Atlantic justified with Koranic prejudice.

    Perhaps Jefferson or Adams may have thought the reasoning of those states was rooted in Islam, but the fight was about free commerce on the seas. Indeed the United States, from its inception, has had little tolerance for hi-jinx in the area of commerce and of the seas (War of 1812 – Impressment, Unrestricted U-Boot attacks leading to partly to US involvement in WWI, and even this month negotiations are beginning on the issues of the Arctic seas/sea floor mainly for oil drilling).

  • Ryan

    I don’t think that the Barbary Pirates episode fits the definition of terrorism, nor particularly “pirates” (since they had government support they were more like “privateers”).

    In the end it was a protection racket on the order of the Mafia with policy on the south east side of the Atlantic justified with Koranic prejudice.

    Perhaps Jefferson or Adams may have thought the reasoning of those states was rooted in Islam, but the fight was about free commerce on the seas. Indeed the United States, from its inception, has had little tolerance for hi-jinx in the area of commerce and of the seas (War of 1812 – Impressment, Unrestricted U-Boot attacks leading to partly to US involvement in WWI, and even this month negotiations are beginning on the issues of the Arctic seas/sea floor mainly for oil drilling).


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X