Fix Bayonets! by Mustang
The opening line of the Marine Corps Hymn is, “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli…” Whoever wrote the hymn has these events out of sequence, but I’ve tried it the other way around and it simply doesn’t work —so we will have to acknowledge some poetic license and I vote we keep the hymn the way it is now.
The brevity of the refrain leads people to think that at some point, Marines stormed ashore at some place called Tripoli. My guess is that most high school graduates, along with 85% of all college graduates, have no idea where Tripoli is—or even what happened there. It is more complex than most think.
The practice of state-supported piracy was a common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries. One may recall that the fledgling United States went to war for a second time with Great Britain because the British navy accosted US flagged ships and impressed their crew to serve involuntarily aboard British ships of the line. Additionally, European maritime states hired privateers to attack each other’s shipping. The decision of Great Britain and France to pay tribute to the Barbary pirates encouraged the scallywags to increase their piracy —which benefitted England and France through less competition in the Mediterranean. And, of course, the navies of England or France were not the huckleberries a pirate vessel would want to challenge.
Before American independence, extortion along the North African coast was not an American problem. We were then a colony of Great Britain; the problem was theirs. After independence, American shipping enjoyed no protection whatsoever from either England or France. After independence from Great Britain, our English cousins were quick to inform the Barbary Pirates that they could avail themselves of American shipping at their leisure. It didn’t take long; in 1785, Dey Mohammed of Algiers declared war on the United States and captured several of our maritime vessels. The financially troubled confederation was hardly in a position to pay exorbitant ransoms for the return of ships or ship’s company. Nor could the Americans raise a navy —or pay tribute. The United States attempted to negotiate with the pirates.
The Barbary States consisted of several North African states. Morocco, an independent kingdom, seized a US merchant vessel in 1784 after the Americans ignored their diplomatic overtures, but once the US acknowledged Morocco’s strategic position, negotiations progressed smoothly and productively; by 1786, a trade agreement did exist between the US and Morocco. Algiers, on the other hand, assumed a belligerent, condescending tone in demanding tributes that the United States simply could not afford. In an effort to circumvent Algiers, the US Minister to France attempted to establish a coalition of weaker naval powers to defeat Algiers. In this, our minister was unsuccessful; his name was Thomas Jefferson. However, Portugal was also at war with Algiers. It’s navy was strong enough to block Algerian ships from sailing past the Straits of Gibraltar an so for a time, American merchantmen had safe passage.
A brief Portuguese-Algerian peace once again exposed American merchant ships to extortion in 1793. The efforts of diplomats sent to North Africa in 1795 concluded treaties with Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. The treaties agreed to pay tribute to these states, and the treaty with Algiers resulted in the release of about 80 sailors.
It wasn’t until after ratification of the US Constitution in 1789 that the federal government had the authority to levy taxes and raise and maintain an armed force. When Algiers seized American ships in 1794, Congress authorized the construction of six ships for the U. S. Navy[…]