One of my favorite subjects to study about is history, particularly the pasts wars our country has been involved in. I always have deep emotional feelings that begin to come up in my mind about all of the countless number of our fellow American’s, the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, so that myself as well as every other American can enjoy the freedom that we so richly possess. A very high price has been paid for us to remain free.
All of us can relate to a foreign war that occurred in our generation. For me, it is the Vietnam War. For the generation before me, it is World War II. But, when did it all begin? What was the very first foreign war that America became involved in? Well, there is no one alive to relate to this particular foreign war, because to answer this question, you have to go back all the way to our third president, Thomas Jefferson, for the answer.
The date was March 23rd, 1801, on the 20th day of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. What happened on this day was without consulting his Cabinet, Congress, or even the American people, president Jefferson decided to order the Navy to prepare a squadron to send to the western Mediterranean. Now, the president, just three weeks ago in his inaugural address had pledged „peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations,“ yet, was about to send America into its first foreign war, which was in Tripoli, more than 3,000 miles away.
A man named Yusuf Karamanli had become the ruler of Tripoli in the year of 1795 after killing his oldest brother Hassan, in the presence of their mother and then expelling his second brother Hamet from the country. Karamanli’s main ambition was to be greater than the country of Algiers as the leading naval power among the Barbary States of the North African coast. Also, he had already tripled his naval warships.
So, when did the trouble begin? In 1800, Yusuf flexed his new naval power by seizing the U.S. merchant ship called the Catherine in the western Mediterranean and then letting the vessel go, with an ultimatum. And what was this so called ultimatum? Tripoli would declare war on America if we didn’t start paying a tribute! Well, president Jefferson decided to send warships to Tripoli with the attitude that the new American republic had not defeated one tyrant, England, to only fall prey to a lesser one.
Therefore, in May of 1801, when there were four warships just about ready to set sail, Jefferson then asked his Cabinet, „Shall the squadron now at Norfolk be ordered to cruise in the Mediterranean?“ The navy, which was greatly enlarged during the recent Quasi-War against France, was at this time time being cut to just six active frigates under the administration of president Adams Naval Reduction Act of 1801. The one concept in this time period was the philosophy of keeping government small and paying down the Revolutionary War debt that was hanging over their heads.
But, president Jefferson and his Cabinet did not know that on May 14, Tripoli’s military had cut down the U.S. consulate’s flagpole. Tripoli had declared war on America. This resulted in our president sending our ships out to sea on June 2, 1801. This conflict with Tripoli, which is now in Libya, was started because America refused to continue paying a tribute to the rulers of the North African Barbary States of Algiers, Tunis, Morocco, and Tripoli.
Several years past by, and American warships engaged in battle in the waters around Tripoli. In 1803, Commodore Edward Preble became the commander of the entire Mediterranean squadron, and was very successful against Tripoli. The intrepid Preble sailed to Tangiers on a rescue mission to free a number of American pow’s, and on Feb. 16, 1804, he gave orders to a young lieutenant, named Stephen Decatur, to command the raid in which the captured U.S. frigate Philadelphia was completely destroyed in the harbour of Tripoli.
The end result, because of a combination of a very strong American naval blockade and an overland army from Egypt eventually brought the war to an end. A peace treaty was signed on June 4, 1805 in favor of the United States of America!