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How America won independence at sea.

Americans are mistaken if they think the colonists' fight for independence was won solely by defeating the British, argues Frank Lambert, professor of American history at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., and author of The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World.

"Here was the United States just emerging from its fight for independence when the young country finds itself blocked from free trade by North African countries in the Atlantic Ocean," Lambert relates.

"Now, America had to fight for free access against imperial restrictions imposed by Britain and North African states and Europe in what is known as the Barbary Wars. This 33-year period, which includes the Tripolitan War (1801-05) and the Algerine War (1815-16), is an important aspect of history that people often overlook."

In 1784, the U.S. was vying with the Barbary States--including Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli--to dominate Atlantic Ocean trading routes. America's 13 colonies had just won independence from Great Britain in 1783, but the victory also meant the loss of protection from the British Royal Navy. The following year, the U.S.'s first ship, Betsey, was captured by pirates and its crew held for ransom.

"[Pres.] Thomas Jefferson called the Barbary States 'petty powers' and declared they were no match for the new America, but the pirates commissioned by these North African states managed to stop American shipping and commerce cold."

Lambert contends that many historians only think about the Barbary Wars when analyzing the U.S.'s relations with the Arab world. For example, some cultural and religious studies support the premise that religious conflict played a primary role in the wars. "The tension and fighting during this time was about trade, not theology," Lambert insists. He says many of the pirates contracted by the Barbary States were Christian Europeans, so the idea that Christian Americans were fighting only African Muslims is not accurate.

"Pirates who were hired by many countries, especially in times of war, were businessmen and capitalists of every background searching for a profit in the Atlantic Ocean," Lambert concludes. "Governments armed pirates' ships and directed the pirates to attack ships of other warring countries. America even hired its own pirates to disrupt British trade ships during the War of Independence."
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Title Annotation:USA Yesterday
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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