After 1805, the U.S. had a tenuous peace with the Barbary pirates. Troubles with England over impressment, trade restrictions, and the British army retaining forts along America’s western frontier took center stage in foreign affairs and ultimately led to the War of 1812. During this, Algiers (supported by England) resumed preying upon American ships, having rightly concluded that the U.S. navy could not respond while fighting Britain. However, following the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent in 1815 that ended the war, President James Madison dispatched twenty-seven warships to the Mediterranean. Seventeen were commanded by Bainbridge, ten by Decatur.
The American fleet was much stronger than during the Tripolitan War and had recently proved its abilities in a series of surprising victories against the powerful British navy. Indeed, many of the top officers were nicknamed “Preble’s Boys,” in tribute to the bold commander who led them during much of the Tripolitan War and oversaw the August 1804 naval battles.
While sailing to Algiers, Decatur’s squadron captured two Algerine ships and took nearly five hundred prisoners. After arriving, he freed the prisoners as a goodwill gesture and dictated the terms of a treaty in which the U.S. would no longer pay tribute.
Following this, Decatur went to Tunis, as the Tunisian navy featured two American ships that Britain had captured and given to Tunis. Decatur demanded $60,000 in reparations and a tribute-free peace. The Bey readily complied.
Finally, Decatur and Bainbridge sailed to Tripoli. The strength of the American fleet impressed Joseph Karamanli, who not only agreed to cease demanding tribute, but also paid $30,000 in compensation for allowing the British to keep captured American ships in Tripoli’s harbor during the War of 1812. Further, at Decatur’s request, the bashaw freed prisoners from various European countries.
Thus, a formidable navy permanently ended America’s troubles with the Barbary States. Within a couple decades, the Barbary pirates would no longer be a viable threat, as European powers began emulating the U.S. by threatening military retaliation unless they, too, received tribute-free peace agreements.
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