Uncle Sam in Barbary: A Diplomatic History

In This Review

Uncle Sam in Barbary: A Diplomatic History

By Richard B. Parker
University Press of Florida, 2004
320 pp. $59.95
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From the 1770s until 1815, the young American republic confronted the Barbary states, which were acting on the principle that warfare existed and ships would be seized in the absence of a treaty that entailed paying tribute. With independence, the Americans lost the treaty protection, backed up by naval power, that they had enjoyed as British subjects. What to do? Seek the support of Britain or some other European power? Line up a coalition of lesser maritime powers to confront the Barbary menace? Create a navy that could protect U.S. shipping? Or negotiate treaties with the Barbary states, paying tribute and ransoming prisoners? From the 1770s until 1815, all of the above were tried. Parker provides an overview of U.S. relations with the Barbary states, concentrating on the most important-Algiers-and giving lesser attention to Tunis and Tripoli. (Relations with Morocco, with which the United States signed a treaty of friendship by 1786, were smoother.) 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. Uncle Sam in Barbary is also copiously illustrated, offering a baker's dozen of well-chosen appended documents. 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.