The United States was barely a nation in 1785… but we were already feeling the pinch of international commerce. America’s commercial fleet was under attack in the Mediterranean by the Islamic Barbary states of North Africa. Between 1650-18oo near 2 million European and American sailors were sold into slavery by Muslims.
Negotiate from strength
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were part of our first… diplomatic delegation in London in 1785. They were instructed to seek out Tripoli’s ambassador, Abdra-Rahman, and seek a maritime agreement. The ambassador shocked the Americans with his exorbitant demands for ransom and tribute- even a fee for his personal attention. Jefferson protested the piracy by stating the facts: The US had no quarrel with the Muslim world, we had never been Crusaders, we took no part in the Spanish conquests of Muslim lands- what right did Tripoli have to exact such a toll?
War on Terror, phase 1
The response must have struck every reasoned bone… in Jefferson’s body- Abdra-Rahman claimed that the Koran gave Tripoli permission; The US and Europeans were infidels, and therefore subject to war and slavery by the Holy Ottoman Empire. Monarchy and theocracy combined to create terror and wickedness. Jefferson immediately responded to the US Congress that no such payment should be made to such an objectionable form of tyranny and banditry. He advised that a naval squadron be outfitted and sent to the Mediterranean to enforce our commercial rights.
Never negotiate with terrorists
John Adams was appalled by the Barbary terror… but felt the bribe was worth paying to maintain peace. This policy carried over to the new Federal government and the Washington administration. The negotiations would take place yearly, the tribute increased, yet the results were a travesty. Jefferson predicted that negotiations and payment would only embolden the terrorists and prompt more and bolder transgressions. When elected President in 1800, Jefferson made pacifying the Barbary states his #1 foreign policy initiative.
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America’s War on Terrorism enters its 16th year… our Commander-in-Chief continues to display a subtle contempt for the honored traditions of the Office- should we be surprised at his willingness to rattle the sabres and promote continued military actions?
The First Constitutional Scholar
In 1793, James Madison warned of the dangers in conducting long, expensive wars…
“War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.”
The assassination of William McKinley by an anarchist… was still fresh in the minds of the US Justice Dept. The triumph of the Bolsheviks in 1917 prompted radicals in America to step up their campaign of violence. Anarchists agitated through organized labor and started a campaign of violence not seen since the end of the Civil War.
Domestic enemies everywhere
April, May, and June of 1919 was a time of terror… from a foreign threat hiding among us. Eastern European radicals first sent 30 letter bombs to businessmen and law enforcement officers around the country, killing two people. In June, the anarchists struck again, placing packaged bombs at the homes of government officials, including Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer. Two more people were killed- flyers were distributed around the country declaring war on capitalism. The American people demanded action.
Palmer responded by setting into motion… the newly created investigative bureau, headed by 24 year old J. Edgar Hoover. The orders were simple- find the radicals, arrest and deport them. Hoover launched sweeping raids in 23 states. Over 3000 people were arrested, many without warrants or indictments. Communist organizers, Eastern Europeans, and union agitators were targeted. As the raids grew in intensity, critics emerged to challenge their constitutionality. By 1920, the public seemed to lose interest in combating the terror threat posed by the anarchists.
Palmer once was considered a Presidential hopeful… but the raids ultimately cost him his political career. American public opinion turned against the heavy handed tactics of Hoover’s FBI, despite the threat still posed by anarchists. This was clearly on display during the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1920- Two self-confessed anarchists tried for murder and robbery, and public opinion was decidedly against the government’s case. The violence continued with little public outcry….
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“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.”
These are not the words of George W. Bush… Ronald Reagan, or even John Kennedy. This is the essence of the Truman Doctrine- a clear outline for America’s strategic place in the world. Though primarily written by Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s plain spoken manner made the intent abundantly clear. Our security at home was directly tied to our vigilance abroad.
Carry the battle to them…
Would such decisive language be welcomed… by Democrats today? Politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to be embracing the self-destructive tenants of isolationism. They are deluded as were our early leaders that neutrality was not only desired, but possible.
America’s war on terrorism has deep roots… deeper than many care to remember. The President has the duty to protect the citizens from threats abroad and in our backyard. US Grant did just that during Reconstruction in the South. The terrorists were the Ku Klux Klan.
The Klan was terrorizing former slaves… and in many cases, killing with impunity during Reconstruction. Local law enforcement and state militias provided little relief. Grant speedily signed a third Enforcement Act, designed to bring law enforcement under Federal control. Klan atrocities had grown so prevalent, no accurate statistics can measure the true impact. The law gave Grant the power to:
- Suspend habeas corpus in counties deemed “detrimental to implementation of Federal law”
- Use US military forces in the execution of the law
- Try the offenders in Federal court.
Grant ordered sweeping raids across… Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia in 1871. Federal troops arrested hundreds and forced many hundreds more to flee. Federal courts, many with black jurors, handed down the stiffest of penalties. The power and influence of the Klan was broken.
In an all-too-common pattern… the extreme measures polarized the American people. Grant’s actions were necessary, but American voters were swayed by the perceived improprieties. Reconstruction came to a crashing halt in the election of 1876.
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