By Charles Faddis
In 1801 the Barbary pirates, a collection of Muslim city-states along the North African coast of the Mediterranean Sea, were making life miserable for American ship captains and their crews. The pirates drew significant income by seizing American merchant vessels and then holding the ships and crews for ransom. The United States, a newly independent nation with no significant armed forces of any kind, seemed doomed to continue to bow and scrape and pay off the brigands.
President Thomas Jefferson, known more for the power of his pen than his sword, thought differently. He pushed Congress to increase the size of the Navy. He dispatched the United States Marine Corps, which would enshrine the subsequent conflict in the reference to the “shores of Tripoli” in its battle hymn. The United States then responded to demands for payment with shot and shell and the pirates sued for peace.