Blog Post

The First Barbary War – Why We Should Have Avoided Conflict

Thomas Jefferson lightened the First Barbary War far longer than it needed to go on. The United States went to war against Tripoli which was the weakest of the Barbary States and only had one warship carrying about twenty cannons, but it still took the U.S. navy four years to defeat them. In addition to this, it was more expensive than just paying tribute to get our ships and crew back. It strained the government’s finances requiring it to impose a tax on imports. There was no need for a navy to be involved in this conflict.

We didn’t have enough ships due to the navy being disbanded with the last ship being sold in 1785. For example, when Jefferson sent a squadron of observation to blockade any Barbary port whose ships had attacked American shipping, but due to there not being enough ships the crew was captured and held for ransom. One inaccuracy in the podcast was that you stated that there were 5 ships, but there were only 4 ships sent by Jefferson in the squadron of observation. The ships being The President, The Philadelphia, The Essex, and The USS Enterprise. America lacked the infrastructure for a navy and instead was dependent on the help of allies which was the British at Gibraltar and Malta. In addition to this, individual captains and crews were sometimes highly skilled, but the navy was too inexperienced in fleet operations and very small.

It would have cost less money to just pay the tribute rather than send new squadrons every year. However, Jefferson had long advocated for using force that paying tribute and was too stubborn to cut his losses. If not for our allies helping the U.S. win the war we might not have won at all at worst or it would’ve taken a longer time to win in the best-case scenario. In all of history, the U.S. has relied on our allies in order to win wars or for trade during peacetime. Two examples of this are World War 1 and World War 2. The First World War occurred practically because everyone was required to protect their allies from an outside threat. The best known case of allies being used to win a war was during the Second World War when the U.S. joined the Allied Powers against the Axis Powers when we were bombed by Japan in Pearl Harbor. Both of these cases demonstrate the need for allies and dismiss the philosophy of isolationism and non-interventionism the United States temporarily engaged in.