Tommy and the pirates: Jefferson’s war vs. jihad
Although Thomas Jefferson (co-founder of the Democratic Party) was a slave owner, he professed to be opposed, in principle, to slavery. Jefferson said that he only kept slaves as a matter of financial necessity. Right before he died, Jefferson freed his five most-trusted slaves. On his death, his remaining slaves were sold to other slave owners to pay off Jefferson’s debts.
Jefferson was reputed to be one of the more enlightened slave owners of his time. But during the time that Jefferson was the American minister to France (1785-1789), he learned some disturbing facts about the origins of the slave trade. The circumstances by which his own slaves or their ancestors came to be slaves became of great concern to Jefferson. As a result, Jefferson developed an antipathy toward the Arab slave traders, in particular, and toward Muslims, in general.
While in Paris, Jefferson bought a copy of the Koran. Jefferson’s study of what professed to be a religion of peace left him perplexed. He could not reconcile some of the teachings of the Koran with the practices of the Arab slave traders who ranged the southern coast of the Mediterranean and both coasts of Africa, capturing black slaves or buying them from black warlords who had captured them during tribal warfare.
Only interested in healthy, black males, young females and young boys, the Arab pirates often killed off entire villages of older men and women. Strong backs were in demand to work the plantations of the Caribbean and the American South. Muslim law (allowing Muslim men to possess four wives and as many concubines as they can afford) provided a ready market for the females. To provide eunuchs to work inside the Hareems, black boys as young as 9 or 10 were castrated. Few of the boys survived “surgery” performed without anesthesia and antibiotics. Most suffered a slow and painful death.
The grisly work of the Arab pirates was either unknown or an abstraction to the plantation owners of the New World. In 1776, the American Revolution changed all that. That’s when American shipping lost the protection of the English Navy. American merchant shipping became easy prey for the Arab pirates who saw the ransom of Americans ships and their crews as another cash cow. With no blue-water navy to protect American shipping, the United States temporized by paying “tribute” to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli (Libya). By 1800, 20-percent of America’s annual revenues were being paid to ransom American citizens.
In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (our ambassador to England) met with the Algerian ambassador to England. Jefferson and Adams asked what had Americans ever done to provoke the Arabs to violence? The Algerian ambassador explained the Koran teaches that non-Muslims are sinners who can be enslaved, and any Muslim who is killed during that process is sure to enter Paradise.
During that meeting, Jefferson discovered the roots of Islamic Jihad. Indeed, what Jefferson learned would eventually cause Jefferson to be the leading proponent of war between the fledgling United States and the “Barbary States” of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli (Libya).
Elected President of the United States in 1801, Jefferson said of the Barbary Pirates: “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.” Jefferson dispatched the nascent U.S. Navy and our Marines to “the shores of Tripoli.” To protect their throats from slashing Arab scimitars, the Marines wore stiff leather collars. To this day, they are called: “Leathernecks.” They kicked some serious Arab butt.
And so it was that the third U.S. President launched the first American war against Islamic Jihad. If the 44th U.S. President (who happens to be black) prosecutes the war against Islamic Jihad with the vigor of a Thomas Jefferson (who was repulsed by what the Arab slavers were doing to blacks), history will have come full circle. But dont hold your breath.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, studied at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Dr. Hamilton is a former assistant professor of political science and history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
©2008. William Hamilton.