Uncle Sam in Barbary
A Diplomatic History

Richard B. Parker

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"Finally! Every American student of history, every American diplomat and member of Congress should read this important book. It uncovers a little-known but vitally important chapter in the long relationship between the United States and the Muslim world."--Robert J. Allison, Suffolk University

"A thorough and impressive study.… Its detailed 'case study’ of these diplomatic negotiations, important in itself, also offers useful insights into the evolution of early American relations with the outside world."--L. Carl Brown, Princeton University

This book tells the story of America’s first hostage crisis, which began in 1785 with the capture of two American ships off the coast of Portugal, and provides the intriguing details of the diplomacy mobilized to address the crisis. The incident constituted America’s first challenge from the Muslim world and led to the creation of the U.S. Navy and to an American naval presence in the Mediterranean, which has continued intermittently to the present.

The Algerine corsairs (also known as the Barbary pirates), who seized the American seamen, played by the strange set of rules that operated 200 years ago along the Barbary Coast. Interested in booty and ransom money, they routinely extorted "tribute" from merchant ships that were not protected by treaty or navies. With no navy of its own and no longer covered by British treaties after the Revolutionary War, the United States eventually had to buy its way to peace with the Barbary powers. By the time the episode was resolved in 1796, American seamen had spent eleven years as prisoners in Algiers and the U.S. had paid close to a million dollars in cash and kind to ransom 103 surviving captives from 13 ships. However, from 1801 to 1805, the U.S. was again at war with Tripoli over the tribute demanded--the struggle celebrated in the opening lines of the Marine Corps Hymn. Although the popular slogan at the time was "Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute," the U.S. eventually paid $60,000 for a treaty with Tripoli.

Uncle Sam in Barbary is based on dispatches, personal papers, and the official communications of those involved, including unpublished Italian and Tunisian documents. Richard Parker puts flesh on the bare bones of the standard narrative of this crisis, bringing to life the fate and identity of the American captives as well as the leaders in Algiers and clarifying for the first time the unhelpful roles played by the British and French.

This history offers insights for today about the roles of diplomacy and military force in international relations. A major episode in the foreign affairs of the early Republic, the events involved a roll call of American founding fathers--including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, James Monroe, and Alexander Hamilton.

Richard B. Parker, former ambassador to Algeria, Lebanon, and Morocco, has taught at the University of Virginia, Lawrence University, and Johns Hopkins University.

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Douglas Dillon Award (Amer Acad of Diplomacy) - 2005

"A model for its genre and will be recognized as the definitive study of its subject."
--Letter: Michael J. Crawford, head, Early History Branch, US Navy Naval Historical Ctr, DC

"Meticulously researched, well-written, and a delight to read." --Ronald Bruce St. John
--Middle East Journal

"Having once served as U.S. ambassador to Algeria and Morocco, Parker brings a good understanding of Maghreb history and culture and painstakingly reconstructs the activities and personalities of the earliest U.S. diplomats." "Those who point to U.S. activities in this period as a guide for contemporary events would do well to consult Parker's nuanced account."--Foreign Affairs
--Foreign Affairs

"Concise, scholarly, thoughtful, and well-written history." "History as it should be written, with new sources and fresh things to say, all wrapped in vivid prose."
--Naval History

"Parker has added greatly to our knowledge of our first contact with the Muslim world."
--The Journal of American History

"Deserves a wide readership, and belongs in every library with significant collections in US foreign relations and/or the Islamic world."
--International Journal of Maritime History

"An informative, insightful, and instructive book composed by an exceptional scholar and statesman. It is highly recommended for immediate inclusion in college and university collections."
--International Journal of African Historical Studies

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