Issues of foreign relations intruded on Thomas Jefferson early in his term, when events in the Mediterranean quickly gave him second thoughts about the need for a navy. On the Barbary Coast of North Africa the rulers of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli had for years practiced piracy and extortion. After the Revolution, American shipping in the Mediterranean became fair game, no longer protected by British payments of tribute. The new American government yielded up protection money too, first to Morocco in 1786, then to the others in the 1790s. In 1801, however, the pasha of Tripoli upped his demands and declared war on the United States by the symbolic gesture of chopping down the flagpole at the United States consulate. Rather than give in to this, Jefferson sent warships to blockade Tripoli.

A wearisome war dragged on until 1805, punctuacted in 1804 by the notable exploit of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, who slipped into Tripoli Harbor by night and set fire to the frigate Philadelphia, which had been captured (along with its crew) after it ran aground. The pasha finally settled for $60,000 ransom and released the Philadelphia's crew, whom he had held hostage for more than a year. It was still tribute, but less than the $300,000 the pasha had demanded at first, and much less than the cost of war.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.