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Barbary Pirates

The north African states of Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, and Morocco harbored pirates in the early years of the United States, and demanded from all maritime nations an annual tribute to ensure safe passage through the Mediterranean waters. As the United States did not have a navy and did not offer tribute, American merchant ships suffered from the hands of the Barbary Pirates, as the pirates from these states were known, in the years after the War of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson chafed under the demands of the Barbary states and in a letter to John Adams on July 11, 1786, suggested the use of a strong naval force:

However if it is decided that we shall buy a peace, I know no reason for delaying the operation, but should rather think it ought to be hastened; but I should prefer the obtaining it by war. (1) Justice is in favor of this opinion. (2) Honor favors it. (3) It will procure us respect in Europe, and respect is a safeguard to interest. 4. It will arm the federal head with the safest of all the instruments of coercion over their delinquent members, and prevent it from using what would be less safe.

Despite Jefferson's urging, Congress did not appropriate the money immediately. The continued predations of the Barbary pirates, however, contributed to the launch of the first ship of the U.S. Navy, the United States, in 1797.

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