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The Second Barbary War (1815, also known as the Algerine or Algerian War) was the second of two wars fought between the United States of America and the Ottoman Empire’s North African regencies of Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, known collectively as the Barbary States. It brought to a conclusive end the American practice of paying tribute to the pirate states.
After its victory in the First Barbary War (1801–1805), the attention of the United States had been diverted to its worsening relationship with France and the United Kingdom, culminating in the War of 1812. The Barbary pirate states took this opportunity to return to their practice of attacking American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea and holding their crews and officers for ransom. Unable to devote military resources and political will to the situation, the United States quietly recommenced paying ransom for return of the prisoners.
Declaration of War
The expulsion of American vessels from the Mediterranean during the War of 1812 by the British navy further emboldened the pirate nations. Umar ben Muhammad, the “Omar Bashaw” of the 1815 treaty, Dey of Algiers, expelled the US consul general Tobias Lear and declared war on the United States for failing to pay its required tribute. Since there were no American vessels in the region at this time, the challenge went unanswered.
United States’ response
At the conclusion of the War of 1812, however, America could once again turn its sights on North Africa. On March 3, 1815, the US Congress authorized deployment of naval power against Algiers, and a force of ten ships was dispatched under the command of Commodores Stephen Decatur, Jr. and William Bainbridge, both veterans of the First Barbary War. Decatur’s squadron departed for the Mediterranean on May 20, 1815. Bainbridge’s command was still assembling, and did not depart until July 1, thereby missing the military and diplomatic initiatives which Decatur swiftly and decisively handled.
Shortly after departing Gibraltar en route to Algiers, Decatur’s squadron encountered the Algerian flagship Meshuda, and, after a sharp action, captured it. Not long afterward, the American squadron likewise captured the Algerian brig Estedio. By the final week of June, the squadron had reached Algiers and had initiated negotiations with the Dey. After persistent demands for recompensation mingled with threats of destruction, the Dey capitulated. By terms of the treaty signed aboard the Guerriere in the bay of Algier, 3 July 1815 Decatur agreed to return the captured Meshuda and Estedio while the Algerians returned all American captives, estimated to be about ten, and a significant proportion of European captives were exchanged for about five hundred subjects of the Dey along with $10,000 in payment for seized shipping. The treaty guaranteed no further tributes and granted the United States full shipping rights.
Defeat of the Dey
Shortly after Decatur set off for Tunis to negotiate a similar agreement with the Bey of Tunis and enforce prior agreements with the Pasha of Tripoli, the Dey repudiated the treaty. The next year an Anglo-Dutch fleet, under the command of British admiral Viscount Exmouth, delivered a punishing nine-hour bombardment of Algiers. The attack immobilized many of the Dey’s corsairs and coerced from him a second treaty which reaffirmed the conditions imposed by Decatur. In addition, the Dey agreed to end the practice of enslaving Christians.
Unlike after the First Barbary war, in which the European nations were engaged in warfare with one another (and with the US to a British extent) there was no general European war after the Second Barbary War. Consequently the age of colonization allowed the Europeans to build up their resources and challenge Barbary power in the mediterranean without distraction.
The Barbary states declined in power after the Second Barbary war. Algiers and Tunis became colonies of France in 1830 and 1881 respectively, while Tripoli returned to the control of the Ottoman Empire in 1835, becoming a colony of Italy in 1911. Europeans remained in control of the government there until the mid-twentieth century. By then the Iron-clads of the late 19th century and destroyers of the early 20th century ensured European and American dominance of the Mediterranean sea.
- Military history of the United States
- Barbary treaties
- Decatur’s Squadron in the Second Barbary War
- ^ “the United States according to the usages of civilized nations requiring no ransom for the excess of prisoners in their favor.” Article3.
- ^ “It is distinctly understood between the Contracting parties, that no tribute either as biennial presents, or under any other form or name whatever, shall ever be required by the Dey and Regency of Algiers from the United States of America on any pretext whatever.” Article 2.
- Adams, Henry. History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson. Originally published 1891; Library of America edition 1986. ISBN 0-940450-34-8.
- Lambert, Frank The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.
- London, Joshua E.Victory in Tripoli: How America’s War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005.
- Treaties with The Barbary Powers: 1786-1836
- Text of the treaty signed in Algiers June 30 And July 3, 1815, between the United States of America and his Highness Omar Bashaw Dey of Algiers.