May 20

Commodore Stephen Decatur and the War on Algiers

Thursday, May 20, 2010 12:01 AM

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195 years ago today, Commodore Stephen Decatur sailed his squadron of ten ships to the Mediterranean Sea to take part in the Second Barbary War, whose goal was to suppress a growing piracy industry. Decatur was dispatched to Algiers to secure the release of American sailors taken prisoner and held in slavery, to put an end to the payment of tribute (state-to-state extortion), and finally, to procure favorable prize agreements.

Capturing the Algerian fleet flagship MASHOUDA as well as the Algerian brig ESTEDIO in route to Algeria, Decatur secured an amount of levying power with which to bargain with the Dey of Algiers. Upon arrival, Decatur exhibited an early use of gunboat diplomacy on behalf of American interests. A new treaty was agreed to within 48 hours of his arrival, confirming the success of his objectives.

After resolving the disputes in Algiers, Decatur sailed his squadron to Tunis and Tripoli to demand reimbursement for proceeds withheld by those governments in the War of 1812. In a similar fashion, Decatur received all of the demands he asked of them, and promptly sailed home victorious.

For this campaign, he became known as “the Conqueror of the Barbary Pirates.”