How Thomas Jefferson Responded to Islam in 1801

The radical Islamic jihadists that make up the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are engaged in a war to reestablish the former Islamic Caliphate and spread their version of fundamentalist Islam around the world.

This is really nothing new, as radical Islamists have been waging jihad against “infidel” unbelievers since their inception in 800 AD.

Here is a short history lesson about how Thomas Jefferson responded to radical Islamic kidnappings, beheadings, and extortion, long before oil or American imperialism were concerns for our fledgling country that was just trying to survive.

The threat that Jefferson was compelled to face off against originated from what was called the Berber states, or Barbary Coast, a collection of semi-autonomous Islamic states in North Africa that were part of the greater Ottoman Empire, including Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis.

The Barbary states had a habit of sending out pirate ships to attack and capture merchant ships passing through the Mediterranean Sea. They would kidnap the crews of the ship and either hold them for high ransoms from their home countries, or force them to convert to Islam, or simply kill them.

In 1786, while serving as an Ambassador for the new United States, Jefferson asked Tripoli’s Ambassador to Great Britain what right the Barbary states had that allowed them to kidnap and slaughter the innocent crews of passing merchant ships.

According to Jefferson, Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja replied that Islam “was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Qur’an, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman [Muslim] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

In essence, the Ambassador from Tripoli stated that their religion, Islam, gave them the right to kidnap and murder and enslave those who held different beliefs. Jefferson took this information to heart and remembered it well. He also spent time studying the Koran himself, to gain a better understanding of the enemy his young nation was facing.

In 1801, when Jefferson was president, the Pasha of Tripoli suddenly demanded a massive payment from the United States, along with an increased annual tribute, in order to secure safe passage for American ships through the Mediterranean.

Jefferson refused the demands of the Pasha, and instead of sending more money and acquiescing to the angry and demanding Muslims, he sent naval warships bearing the newly created U.S. Marine Corps.

This was the first war by the American nation on foreign soil, and is where the line “to the shores of Tripoli” in the Marine Corps hymn comes from. It is also believed that the term “Leathernecks,” which refers to Marines, comes from the thick leather neck coverings that the Marines wore to protect themselves from being beheaded by the giant swords wielded by the Barbary pirates.

Thomas Jefferson showed how a U.S. president should respond to threats from radical Islamists, and that is by confronting and defeating them.