In This Review

The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World
The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World
By Franklin Lambert
Hill and Wang, 2005, 240 pp

Since September 11, politicians and pundits looking for historical precedents have turned to the United States' first sustained encounter with Muslim states: the effort to stop piracy by North Africans. In this useful introduction, Lambert puts the Barbary wars into the broader context of U.S. efforts to reshape and participate in the Atlantic trading order in the years between the Treaty of Paris that recognized American independence in 1783 and the final failure of Napoleon's ambitions in 1815. Trade at the time was seen largely in terms of concessions and privileges rather than universal laws and natural rights. Independence from Britain exposed U.S. commerce to the full range of mercantilist restrictions on trade, as well as to the depredations of the North African raiders. The engagements with the Barbary pirates were part of the larger struggle to establish the United States' place in the international order of the day. For those in search of lessons for today, Lambert's crisp and readable narrative makes clear that it took a combination of patient diplomacy, military force, and good luck to make the Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds safe for U.S. commerce. One suspects that all three factors are needed again now.