Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Yusuf Qaramanli, Pasha and Bey of Tripoli, 21 May 1801

To Yusuf Qaramanli,
Pasha and Bey of Tripoli

May 21. 1801.

Great & respected friend.

The assurances of friendship1 which our Consul has given you,2 & of our sincere desire to cultivate peace3 & commerce with your subjects, are faithful expressions of4 our dispositions, and you will continue to find proofs of them in5 all those acts of respect & friendly intercourse which are due6 between nations standing as we do in the relations of peace & amity with each other.7 at the conclusion of our treaty with you we endeavored to prove ourselves contented with it8 by such demonstrations as were then satisfactory to you;9 and we are disposed to believe that in rendering into another language those expressions in your lre of the 25th. of May last which seem to imply expectations10 inconsistent with the faith of that transaction your intentions have been misconstrued.—on this supposition we renew11 to you sincerely12 assurances of our constant friendship and that our desire to cultivate peace & commerce with you13 continues firm & unabated.

We have found it expedient14 to detach a squadron of observation into the Mediterranean sea, to superintend the safety of our commerce there & to exercise our seamen in nautical duties. we recommend them to your hospitality and good offices should occasion require their resorting to your harbours. we hope that their appearance will give umbrage to no power15 for, while we mean to rest the safety of our commerce on the resources of our own strength & bravery in every sea, we have yet given them16 in strict command to conduct themselves towards all friendly powers with the most perfect respect & good order it being the first object of our sollicitude17 to cherish peace & friendship with all nations with whom it can be held on terms of equality & reciprocity.

I pray God very great and respected friend that he may have you always in18 his holy keeping.

Dft (DLC); heavily emended; the most significant changes are recorded in notes below. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, Credences); in a clerk’s hand; at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America; To the Most illustrious and honored Bey of Tripoli of Barbary, whom God preserve”; lacks dateline at head (see note 18 below); substantive variations are recorded in notes below. Tr (DNA: RG 233, PM, 7th Cong., 1st sess.); in the same clerk’s hand; wording follows FC. PrC (DNA: RG 46, EPFR, 7th Cong., 1st sess.); a letter-pressed copy of the Tr; faint, portions overwritten. TJ transmitted this letter to Congress among the papers supplementing his 8 Dec. 1801 message (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, 2:348–9; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:24). Not recorded in SJL.

Yusuf (ca. 1773–1838) was a younger son of the ruling Qaramanli family, but he displaced his father and brothers by intrigue and force of arms and, with assistance from Tunis, expelled another aspirant to power who had been approved by the Ottoman sultanate. From 1795 he ruled Tripoli and attempted to consolidate and expand the country’s economic wherewithal and political power. The sultan sanctioned Yusuf’s rule, accorded Tripoli the same status in the empire as Tunis and Algeria, and helped strengthen its navy. Yusuf, however, resisted Ottoman domination. He expanded Tripoli’s authority into the North African interior and supported the French campaign in Egypt. Later in his reign, after the United States and European nations ceased to pay tribute money and he was forced to renounce the enslavement of their seafarers, his imposition of high taxes fostered internal discord that led to his abdication (Kola Folayan, Tripoli during the Reign of Yusuf Pasha Qaramanli [Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1979], 4, 7–21, 25–7, 47–58, 71–2, 128–34, 144–6; Ronald Bruce St. John, Historical Dictionary of Libya, 2d ed. [Metuchen, N.J., 1991], 63–4; Seton Dearden, ed., Letters Written during a Ten Years’ Residence at the Court of Tripoli: Published from the Originals in the Possession of the Family of the Late Richard Tully, Esq., the British Consul [London, 1957], 241).

James Leander Cathcart was the American consul in Tripoli. Yusuf had expressed dissatisfaction to Cathcart over the terms of the treaty between the United States and Tripoli, which had been signed in 1796 and ratified the following year. As conveyed to Congress, the letter that Yusuf addressed to John Adams on 25 May 1800 said in part, after expressions of goodwill: “We, on our part, will correspond with you, with equal friendship, as well in words as deeds. But if only flattering words are meant, without performance, every one will act as he finds convenient. We beg a speedy answer, without neglect of time, as a delay on your part cannot but be prejudicial to your interests. In the mean time, we wish you happiness.” The bey subsequently communicated an intention to declare war in the spring of 1801 if the United States did not undertake new negotiations (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, 2:352; Joseph Barnes to TJ, 19 Mch. 1801).

First object of our sollicitude: on 21 Mch., Levi Lincoln wrote to William Eaton, the consul at Tunis: “The new Administration which has commenced under Mr. Jefferson has not yet been able to decide upon the interests of the United States in relation to Barbary. We are however impressed with the necessity of paying immediate attention to the menacing demands of Tripoli. It is not improbable that a part of our naval force may be speedily sent into the Mediterranean to guard against exigences or by a demonstration of our power to reduce the capricious Sovereigns of Barbary to a sense of justice, thro’ the medium of their fears” (in DNA: RG 59, DCI).

1TJ first wrote “The <expre> <friendly> assurances” before altering the phrase to read as above.

2TJ here canceled “of our great friendship to you.”

3TJ here canceled “friendship.”

4Preceding three words interlined in place of “in perfect correspondence with.”

5Preceding nine words interlined in place of “you may be assured that they shall ever be <tested> manifested by.”

6Word interlined in place of “observed.”

7FC begins a new paragraph with the next sentence.

8Preceding five words interlined in place of “<evidence> manifest our satisfaction <at> on that event.” FC: “to prove our respect for yourself, and satisfaction at that event.”

9FC: “as gave you then entire content.”

10FC: “purposes.” In Dft TJ here canceled “inconsistent with the solemn engagemts not warranted by.”

11TJ first wrote “and on this belief we repeat” before altering the clause to read as above.

12Word interlined in place of “the.”

13TJ altered “you” to “your state,” then restored the original wording.

14Word interlined in place of “convenient.”

15TJ first wrote “by any of the Mediterranean powers.”

16FC: “given to this squadron.”

17Word interlined in place of “wishes.”

18Preceding two words interlined in place of “under.” After this sentence FC continues in a new paragraph: “Written at the City of Washington, the twenty first day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand Eight hundred and one,” followed by a transcription of TJ’s signature and “By the President, James Madison Secretary of State.”

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