Stopping the Barbary Pirates

By | April 27, 2021

[April 27, 2021]  “To the shores of Tripoli …”  I’ve sung the words to the Marines’ Hymn more times than I can remember.  I know much of their history, as I learned their past for the heroic battles fought.  The era of the Barbary Pirates was on my list of readings for a long time because that is where the U.S. Marines rallied to their duty.1

More than one million Europeans were captured and enslaved by Muslim raiders between the 16th and 18th centuries. One village in Ireland, Baltimore, was famously sacked and entirely depopulated by slavers.2

The Barbary Pirates had been raiding merchant vessels for some time and demanding ransom for their return.  All countries paid them off, that is until Thomas Jefferson became President.  He declared war on the Barbary Pirates on this date, April 27, 1801.

While the Muslim pirates kidnapped and killed innocent people around the globe, much as they do today, President Jefferson knew how to end their reign of terror.  With a classic American take-no-prisoners approach, he struck at the heart of their sovereignty.  Jefferson did not just refuse to pay ransom money; he sent in the U.S. Marines.

The war had dragged on for several more years.  The problem was a Tripolitan pasha, Yusuf Karamanli.  U. S. Agent William Eaton led a group of United States Marines under the command of Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and Berber mercenaries against Karamanli.3

Lieutenant O’Bannon had fought so heroically that the newly installed pasha presented him with a highly decorated sword.  That sword became the pattern for Marine Officer’s sword and is still used today.  The Marine Hymn, “To the shores of Tripoli,” came from this same battle.

The Barbary Pirates went into retirement at least as far as attacking United States ships.  Once again, leaders learned that appeasement is a doctrine of failure.  Aggressive, direct action solves problems.


  1. Before I joined the U.S. Army, I memorized all the words to the hymn in the hope the Marine recruiters would take me on as one of the few, the proud, the marines. Fate would find me raising my right hand and sworn in the Army; my destiny would have been different, indeed.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Stopping the Barbary Pirates

  1. Dale Paul Fox

    Great article today on an important part of US history. Learn from history or be prepared to repeat it.

  2. Dead Pool Guy

    If only leaders understood that being lax on crime only invites more crime. And, you cannot control crime to only those areas and victims of your choosing. Only Democrat cities are having this problem. So, you have to ask yourself why. Answer, as Forrest Gump says, stupid is as stupid does.

  3. Max Foster

    Good job on the mini-history of the Barbary Pirates. I have been reading lately more about how their reign of terror on the high seas eventually stopped. It took a long long time but after nations saw that America under a strong president stepped up to stop them, other countries starting doing the same. That is why nations need a strong leader, weakness only invites destruction.

    1. Georgie B.

      And resident Joe Biden is a classic example of a weak leader. Even his VP is weak; will not even visit the border where a humanitarian crises is underway of their own making.

      1. Eric Coda

        Thanks Georgie for saying the obvious. True compliment to you. Yes, when politicians make a problem out of a deficient ideology, like the Biden-Harris team have done, they simply blame others for the problem and move on. Those that vote for them are too stupid to realize they got took to the cleaners.

        1. Billy Kenningston

          You said it Eric. Too many schmucks walking around looking for a handout.

  4. Willie Shrumburger

    The Barbary Pirates had force used against them (giving them their own medicine). They eventually stopped but only when govts stepped up and stopped pandering to them. Our current politicians should take a lesson from this.

    1. Nick Lighthouse

      Right, Willie, that is Gen. Satterfield’s point. He welcomes comments that support his themes and encourages us, as well, to provide additional documentation.

  5. Rev. Michael Cain

    I suggest using force to stop the destruction of property and life. That is why places like Portland Ore are in such bad shape. When the city thinks that looting, burning, violence is just another legit form of protest, things do not turn out well for the inhabitants.

    1. Jeremy M. Jones

      Pray for those caught up in the violence in “blue” cities and states.

    2. Tom Bushmaster

      Right, it is indeed sad to see such a terrible outcome to such a beautiful and wonderful city. Now, we can see for ourselves what becomes of a place that has such terrible leadership; leadership that does not care about those who live there but only about the power to be in charge and get paid for it. That is why folks like Nancy Pelosi are so evil. Her only wish is more and more power over us all.

        1. Jonathan B.

          Yep, so sad that we just stand by and watch things burn.


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