When Jefferson was inaugurated president in 1801, he ordered all tributes to stop. Without informing Congress, Jefferson dispatched the Navy to the Mediterranean. By August 1801, U.S. frigates were engaged in open-sea battles with the corsairs off the shores of Tripoli. The war was settled by 1805, but with the distractions of the War of 1812—and the United States’ reengagement in privateering along its own coast—American shipping was again plundered in the Mediterranean, and ransoms were again paid for prisoners. In 1815 the Navy returned, capturing the flagship of the Algerian navy. The U.S. formed a coalition with the British and Dutch, who ultimately bombarded Algiers into submission. The Second Barbary War ended in a treaty guaranteeing the U.S. freedom of shipping. The age of imperialism commenced, and within a century most of Africa had been carved up into colonies. The British and Italians would eventually split what today has become the violent, broken, non-state of Somalia. Which brings us to the present and raises the question: Are the values espoused by the Somali pirates so very different from those upon which America was founded? They work hard, they revere property, and they believe in the pursuit of happiness. They aren’t Islamists and bear no natural alliance with the would-be theocrats of the now ousted Islamic Courts Union. If they have kindred spirits today, they are more likely to be found in the boardrooms of Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. Theft has become so codified, our commerce so digitized, that it is small wonder the robbing of actual ships laden with actual goods seems so romantically anachronistic. But all the ransoms paid to the Somali pirates would amount to roughly 0.002 percent of the bailout paid to AIG.
more from Lapham’s Quarterly here.