Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shores of Tripoli

Before the military coup in 1969 that established Muammar al-Gaddafi as leader of Libya, he had risen the rank of Colonel in the army, not generalisimo or field marshall or even commander of the elephants. Now he shoots his own citizens, who have watched their neighbors in Tunis and Egypt successfully overthow tyrants. Gaddafi is not the first thug in Tripoli.

In the early days of the United States, as the country sought commerce with Europe and elsewhere, the Barbary states of Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco ruled the Mediterranean. Their pirates captured U.S. shipping, crews, and cargo, held for ransom.

It fell to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Ambassadors to Great Britain and France, respectively, to attempt diplomacy between the United States and the Barbary States.

Ambassador Adams wrote to Ambassador Jefferson Feb. 17, 1786:

I was sometime in doubt, whether any notice should be taken of the Tripoline Ambassador (Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja); but receiving information that he made enquiries about me, and expressed a surprise that when the other foreign ministers had visited him, the American had not, and finding that he was a universal and perpetual ambassador, it was thought best to call upon him. Last evening, in making a tour of other visits, I stopped at his door, intending only to leave a card, but the ambassador was announced at home and ready to receive me. I was in a state.

Two great chairs before the fire, one of which was destined for me, the other for His Excellency. Two secretaries of legation, men of no small consequence, standing upright in the middle of the room, without daring to sit, during the whole time I was there, and whether they are not yet upright upon their legs I know not.

“We make tobacco in Tripoli,” said His Excellency, “but it is too strong. Your American tobacco is better.” By this time, one of his secretaries or “upper servants” brought two pipes ready filled and lighted. The longest was offered to me; the other to His Excellency. It is long since I took a pipe but as it would be unpardonable to be wanting in politeness in so ceremonious an interview, I took the pipe with great complacency, placed the bowl upon the carpet, for the stem was fit for a walking cane, and I believe more than two yards in length, and smoked in awful pomp, reciprocating whiff for whiff, with His Excellency, until coffee was brought in. His Excellency took a cup, after I had taken one, and alternately sipped at his coffee and whiffed at his tobacco, and I wished he would take a pinch in turn from his snuff box for variety; and I followed the example with such exactness and solemnity that the two secretaries appeared in raptures and the superior of them who speaks a few words of French cried out in ecstasy, “Monsieur, vous etes un Turk.”

The necessary civilities being thus completed, His Excellency began upon business; asked many questions about America: The soil climate heat cold, etc., and said it was a very great country. But “Tripoli is at war with it.” I was “Sorry to hear that." “Had not heard of any war with Tripoli.” “America had done no injury to Tripoli, committed no hostility; nor had Tripoli done America any injury or committed any hostility against her, that I had heard of.” True said His Excellency “but there must be a treaty of peace. There could be no peace without a treaty. The Turks and Africans were the sovereigns of the Mediterranean, and there could be no navigation there nor peace without treaties of peace.”

The King (of England) told one of the foreign ministers... that the Tripoline ambassador refused to treat with his ministers and insisted upon an audience. But that all he had to say was that Tripoli was at peace with England and desired to continue so. The King added all he wants is a present, and his expenses born to Vienna or Denmark.

The relation of my visit is to be sure inconsistent with the dignity of your character and mine, but the ridicule of it was real and the drollery inevitable. How can we preserve our dignity in negotiating with such nations? And who but a petit maitre would think of gravity upon such an occasion?


Jefferson was not long amused. Adams succeeded George Washington as President of the United States. President Adams championed creation of the U.S. Navy. Jefferson succeeded Adams. President Jefferson dispatched the U.S. Navy , along with U.S. Marines, to the shores of Tripoli, as sung proudly still in the Marine Corps Hymn.

3 comments:

Lorraine said...

Thank you for the history lesson! In the words of the band, The Talking Heads, "...same as it ever was...same as it ever was...".

Paw Paw Bill said...

I did not know The Talking Heads were students of history. Good for them.

Paw Paw Bill said...

Thinking about the Barbary States and Barbary Wars, I wondered about the connection between the words "Barbary" and "barbarians." I went to my big, heavy, unabridged dictionary and had to sit down just to hold it. After reading about the Barbary apes of Gibraltar, I came to the explanation of the Greek word "barbar," which was employed in the Greco-Roman world to duplicate the sound of spoken language on the other side of the Mediterranean. Thus "barbar" meant foreign, not like us.

Without any heavy lifting, my computer reported:

In March 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to negotiate with Tripoli's envoy in London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (or Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). Upon inquiring "concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury", the ambassador replied:
It was written in their Qu'ran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every Muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.

 

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