This week we are reviewing Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. This book recounts the efforts of the early United States to combat high jacking and capture of American merchant ships passing through the Mediterranean.
This turned out to be a pretty exciting book about adventure on the high seas. The pages include naval battles, shipwrecks, lots of captures, enslavements, ransoms, tributes and there is even a sword fight scene that would have been fit for the silver screen.
The diplomatic chess game in the late 1700s and early 1800s was incredibly slow due to having to cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat. The exchange of information on the progress of negotiations was a crawl, while captured Americans waited in enslavement camps. Years went by before some were released.
The US Marine Corps has a special place in all of this. Their presence in North Africa was the first time they were deployed to foreign soil, memorialized in the Marines’ Hymn in the line “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.”
I draw issue with the title. While Jefferson was the commander in chief at the end who gave the order to precede with full military action against the Tripoli pirates, he was not the only president who had to deal with them. The book begins with Presidents George Washington and then John Adams having to negotiation tribute. Cheers to Washington and Adams for having the foresight to build up the navy while these negotiations were going on. By the time the book gets to Jefferson he is then hardly mentioned as the action in the Mediterranean heats up. Moreover, the pirates who were protected by the government in Tripoli were not the only group causing problems for us. We had to negotiate with the heads of Tangier, Algiers and Tunis. So the book could have been called The United States and the Barbary Coast Pirates.
This is a pretty exciting book and a fairly quick read. We recommend it to any fans of military history and/or fans of the Founding Fathers.