In 1804, on this day the American Raid on Tripoli failed. In the early days of the new United States, the nation struggled to establish itself with global credibility. Many assumed that Britain would eventually reabsorb its colonies, while France had even anticipated conquering the colonies after they were weakened by separation from Britain.
American Raid on Tripoli FailsOne of the keys to achieving recognition internationally was establishing a navy to protect American interests abroad, but for the first few decades, the Unites States struggled. After the creation of the Continental Navy in 1775, Benedict Arnold's fleet of hastily built ships was wiped out in the Battle of Valcour Island but was strategically successful with slowing down the British support to the Army on land. Except for the legendary stand by John Paul Jones, the early US depended upon privateers and, most significantly, the navy of the French. While allies for a time, the US refused to pay debts to Republican France on money borrowed from the Crown, and France began to prey on American merchants at sea in the Quasi-War. The US had newly restarted its Navy after defunding it from 1785-94, first building six frigates to battle the Barbary Pirates, who had ended the Portuguese blockade holding them within the Mediterranean after Portugal was weakened with the French Revolutionary Wars.
The Quasi-War had given the American Navy a handful of notable victories and ended with the Convention of 1800 with French recognition of the Americans' rights at sea, but piracy from the Barbary Coast continued. While America again scaled down its navy to six ships in 1800 as the Federalists left office, the Pasha of Tripoli demanded $225,000 tribute from the incoming President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson refused, and the Pasha declared war by cutting down the flag of the US Consulate. Congress did not officially return the declaration, but they did grant Jefferson powers to give defensive commands to Americans at sea. An attempt was made to blockade Tripoli, but it was largely unsuccessful aside from the morale-boosting victory of the USS Enterprise over the Tripoli. Commodore Edward Preble established short blockades and launched attacks against the Berbers with varying success until the USS Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli's harbor and was captured intact in October of 1803.
Tripolitans took the Americans prisoner and turned Philadelphia into another shore battery to keep Americans at sea. After nightfall on February 16, 1804, a team of US Marines under Lieutenant Stephen Decatur (pictured) sneaked into harbor with a captured Tripolitan ship, attempting to float close enough to the Philadelphia to storm her. Unfortunately, their position was deemed suspicious, and the Tripolitans opened fire at point blank range, decimating the Americans and killing Lt. Decatur. Humbled, the Americans returned to heir blockade. Washington fell into a political quagmire with some suggesting America pay a tribute while others called for a simple withdrawal, and Jefferson's plans of reinforcement under Commodore Samuel Barron were put on hold. On his own, Preble grew more daring in his attacks, even launching a fire ship into the Tripolitan fleet, but most actions proved unsuccessful. It was not until the overland attack on Derne by mercenaries and 100 Marines under William Eaton, formal consul to Tunis, through the desert that the Americans gained an upper hand.
Preble saw his opportunity to press for victory, and he reinvested his sailors into further Marines to press the overland attack. Eaton had with him Hamet Karamanli, the Pasha's ousted brother who had claim to Tripoli's throne, and Preble encouraged him to march quickly for the capital. Coordinating with naval attacks learned from British assaults, the Americans swept into the city and took it on June 10, 1805. Many felt that Yussif Karamanli had attempted to make peace and the hungry-for-victory Americans had quashed him, but Jefferson and Congress were satisfied that the problem of pirates had been resolved in what became known as the Barbary War.
Naval problems continued with Britain as the Royal Navy pressed captured Americans into service and even seized the USS Chesapeake in 1807 after Captain James Barron refused an illegal search. This, along with US expansionism, led to the War of 1812 with Britain, which saw another wave of American struggles at sea. One of the most disastrous was the American attempt to run the blockade at New London, Connecticut, in 1813, which led to the capture of three ships, including the Macedonian, which the US had captured from the British only the year before. By the end of the war, Americans had had enough of naval battle and decided to focus on a transport fleet for a wider number of Marines.
These Marines would be instrumental in the cleanup of pirates in the Caribbean in the 1820s. Many of the estimated 3000 ships captured there were taken by privateers, and so the Marines dealt with them in a similar manner as Tripoli: attacking primarily on land while supported at sea and using large numbers of local mercenaries. The strategy was successful, and brought American imperial influence southward, making a number of newly liberated states from Spain into virtual American colonies. The Mexican War saw another use of the transport fleet as 12,000 soldiers invaded Veracruz and captured Mexico City, with the resulting treaty giving the US its Southwest quarter.
While having strong diplomatic measures close to home, the US did not participate in much foreign activity, such as the 1862 Opening of Japan by British forces newly victorious from the Second Opium War in China.