Planning for the First Negotiations, 1785


The Barbary Pirates

by Thomas Jefferson & John Adams

It had been customary for European nations to make payments to the Barbary states pirates to ensure peaceful passage of merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. The United States, of course, wanted to engage in commerce there but lack of knowledge of the Barbary states made necessary an enjoinder to the diplomats to gather basic information.

The paper shown here sets forth the questions John Adams and Thomas Jefferson wished answered by the U. S. council in Spain and treaty negotiator, John Lamb, from his observations and inquiries. This is Lamb's own copy.

It is inconceivable today, but the United States did negotiate treaties with the Barbary States; Algeria, Tripoli, Tunis, and Morocco, and paid the blackmail and ransoms demanded by the first three. In 1795, for example, the U.S. paid $1,000,000 to the Algerians. Then, in 1801, Tripoli demanded an increase in its payments. Thomas Jefferson, who by that time had become President of the U.S., refused to take the insult any more. He sent the Marines to the "Shores of Tripoli" (as the song relates). Unfortunately, the problem was not completely solved until Stephen Decater decimated the Barbary States in 1815. Algerian piracy against other countries continued until France attacked and conquered Algeria, forcing it to become a protectorate of France for the next 100 years.

1. Commerce. What are the articles of their export and import? What articles of American produce might find a market in Algiers & at what prices? whether rice, flour, tobacco, firs, ready built ships, fish, oil, tar, turpentine, ship timber &c. and whether any of these articles would hereafter be acceptable as presents? what duties are levied by them on exports and imports ... do they trade themselves to other countries or are they merely passive? what manufactures or productions of this Country would be convenient in America and at what prices?

2. Ports. What are their principal ports, what depth of water into them, what works of defence protect these ports?

3. Naval force. How many armed vessels have they ... what resources of increasing their navy? what number of seaman....

4. Prisoners. What is their conditions and treatment; at what price are they ordinarily redeemed & how? do they pay respect to the treaties they make? Land forces, their numbers, constitution & respectability.....

5. Language. What language is spoken.....

6. Government. What is their connection with the Ottoman Porte? is there any dependance or subordination to it acknowledged, and what degree of power or influence has it?

7. Religion. By what principal of their religion is it that they consider all Christian Powers as their enemies, until they become friends by treaties?

8. Captures. What captures have been made of ships or citizens of the United States, and any other nation? what nation are they now at war with