Sunday, June 5, 2011

Jefferson and Pirates, ARGHHH!!!

Well, I have concluded my second week at the library. This week I learned a little about collection development. Depending on how you look at it, collection development at the Jefferson Library is either very simple or more difficult than at more diverse libraries. On the one hand, since the library has such a narrow focus, we accept anything and everything that has to do with Thomas Jefferson, his legacy, or his time. I got to look through several publications to find newly published materials that we might want to add to our collection, and having such specific guidelines makes that job pretty simple. On the other hand, we have to pass up a lot of great stuff because it does not fit the parameters of our institution. That is the difficult part.

I also embarked on some research for one of the encyclopedia articles I will be writing this summer. The subject is the Barbary Wars- the first of which took place during Jefferson's presidency. But Jefferson had had several run-ins with the Barbary states before he assumed the presidency. The United States' dealings with the Barbary states (Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli) had been an issue almost from American independence. Without the protection of a strong navy, American shipping was fair game for the corsairs of Barbary (corsairs were the equivalent of privateers at the time, meaning they were acting under the direction of the government). Jefferson had the responsibility of appointing a consular to Algiers while he was secretary of state. Although negotiations with Algiers had occurred before, tensions between the US and Algiers were becoming increasingly tense, so an experienced diplomat was a necessity. This predicament leads us to the curse of the Algerian consular appointment...dum dum DUM. Jefferson's first choice was John Paul Jones, an experienced naval fighter whom Jefferson believed could exert some pressure on the Algerian ruler to back off on his demands. Sadly, before Jefferson's appointment letter arrived, Jones had died. It was a sad loss, but not the end of the world. There were other people who could fill the position. Jefferson's second choice was Thomas Barclay, who had previously negotiated a treaty with Morocco which did not include having to pay tribute. So Jones' name was crossed out of the letter and Barclay's was filled in. Barclay received the commission and began making preparations in Lisbon, only to die a couple of weeks later. Third choice was David Humphreys, the American minister to Portugal (If I were him, I would be afraid to receive that letter). Humphreys actually made it to Algiers in 1793, the year that Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State. It took several years, hundreds of thousands of dollars and more diplomatic agents to bring about peace between Algiers and the U.S.. And even then, it would not be a lasting peace. War with the Barbary States would flare up again during Jefferson's presidency.
Here's a picture of a battle with Algiers in 1816 (which I borrowed from wikipedia), because it's always great to have a visual.

Of course, I still have a lot of research left to do to get a complete picture of this aspect in American history. But so far, my exploration has turned up very interesting facts.

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