Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates:
A New Nation Confronts Terrorism
beginning of the colonial period to the events of September 11th, the Muslim world has been instrumental as Americans have defined their own national identity and purpose. Focusing on America's encounter with the Barbary states of North Africa in The Crescent Obscured:
The United States and the Muslim World, 1776-1815 (University of Chicago Press, 2000), author Robert Allison traces the perceptions and misperceptions of Islam in the American mind as the new nation constructed its ideology and system of government. The parallels between the challenges facing Thomas Jefferson and his resolution in confronting them and the actions taken by United States as a result of September 11th are striking.
From the 16th to the 19th century, the northern
coast of Africa was occupied by several independent Muslim states (the so-called Barbary states, after the Berbers) under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire:
Algeria, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunisia. Beginning in the early 1500s, the Barbary pirates attacked European commercial ships in both the Mediterranean and Atlantic. After the American Revolution, the Barbary pirates began to attack U.S. shipping as well. Following the example of European nations, the U.S. at first concluded treaties with the Barbary states that provided for immunity from attack by paying "tribute" money, a policy Thomas Jefferson had long opposed. As diplomatic representative to France he had tried but failed to persuade European countries to join with the United States in an attack on the pirate bases. By the end of 1800, the pasha of Tripoli demanded tribute money beyond the amount fixed by treaty, not anticipating that Jefferson, the most persistent advocate for military force in the Mediterranean, was about to become president of the United States. When Jefferson refused the demand, war ensued.
Allison explains that Jefferson's diplomatic experience in the 1780s had convinced him that military force was the most effective way to deal with the Barbary states. But his political experience in the 1790s had reinforced his concern about too much power concentrated
in the federal government and made him wary of using that force. He remained as determined as ever not to submit to the demands of the Barbary states, eager to prove to both the North Africans and Europeans that the Americans were not going to play the same power games other nations did. But Jefferson was also determined not to create a military machine in the United States, and his administration was committed to reducing the national debt.
Jefferson's seemingly contradictory
policies-reducing government spending and sending the navy halfway around the world-were in fact directed to the same goal. He had taken part in a revolution against a large, abusive government. That revolution, as Jefferson saw it, was fought to free the people's energies. By closing the Mediterranean to the people's entrepreneurial spirit, the Barbary states imposed a barrier that was just as effective as the British Navigation Acts.
By engaging in official piracy, the Barbary states placed themselves outside the accepted bounds of international law. By refusing to play the European game of bribery, by standing up to the Barbary powers and removing them from the arsenal of weapons against the New World, Allison continues, Jefferson would convince Europe that his was a new kind of nation, one that would not follow the corrupt practices of the old world.
Jefferson sent warships to blockade Tripoli, and Stephen
Decatur, a young naval officer, distinguished himself in several daring actions. However, the war with Tripoli did not end until 1805, when Captain William Eaton captured the Tripolitan town of Darnah and the pasha agreed to make peace. The victory over Tripoli made the Americans the equals of any other people, Allison concludes, not because of the military power, but because that power was guided by a spirit of justice, and its goal was not conquest but freedom.
Jefferson & Adams Enthralls Audiences in Colonial Williamsburg
The Jefferson Legacy Foundation co-produced Howard Ginsberg's three-character stage play, Jefferson & Adams, as a costumed reading at the beautiful newly restored 400-seat Kimball Theatre in Colonial Williamsburg.
The two performances on October 25th and 28th sold out and received standing ovations. It was an historic event for the JLF and as well for Colonial Williamsburg as it was the first performance to play at the Kimball since its reopening in September. It was an inspired-and inspiring-venue.
Jefferson & Adams provides two hours of thought-provoking and stimulating awareness of America as a nation and America as a people, telling the story of the turbulent 50-year friendship
told through the correspondence of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and his wife, Abigail.
The play focuses on both the intersections and divergences in their lives and beliefs from their work together at the Continental Congress until their deaths on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The story is constructed from the voluminous correspondence between these two statesmen, discussing the events that shaped the new nation and the world as well as revealing the serious political disagreements that almost destroyed their friendship. Adams's perceptive and articulate wife Abigail is the third character in the play. Excerpts from the letters are woven into a compelling script, full of rich, poignant, and prophetic language indicative of the characters' keen intellect, strong convictions, dedication to their country, and devotion to their wives and families. The heart-felt dialogue reveals the essence and vicissitudes of the characters and communicates the spirit of the time and the enormously pivotal events that shaped American, world, and human history.
Bill Barker, who has portrayed Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg since 1993 and has also appeared in Philadelphia and at The White House and in JLF events in Vermont and Virginia, is known the world over. He brought his erudition and devotion to a sparklingly elegant and refined performance. Sam Goodyear first performed the role of John Adams in the 1995 premiere production of Jefferson & Adams with the Leatherstocking Theatre Company in Cooperstown, New York. He became the short and rotund antithesis to the lean and elegant Jefferson. He speaks a New England American English that echoes directly from early Colonial days. The audience responded with glee to the considerable humor he brought to the role. The role of Abigail Adams is crucial to the understanding of the extraordinary force that this exceptional woman exerted on her husband and on Jefferson as well. Abigail Schumann played Abigail Adams with a playfulness and feminine strength that provided a neatly contrapuntal perspective to the production. She has been a company member of Colonial Williamsburg's 18th-century play series since 1990.
In 1995, Jefferson & Adams was produced by the Leatherstocking Theater Company in Cooperstown, New York to mark the reopening of historic Hyde Hall, running for twelve performances to sold-out audiences. In July 2000, the play was performed for a week at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown. It has also been performed as a staged reading in Sarasota and Boca Raton, Florida; New York; London; and at the Adams Home in Quincy, Massachusetts. A radio adaptation of the play was produced by KPFA in Berkeley, California and is regularly broadcast on the Fourth of July. Since the Colonial Williamsburg performance, Jefferson & Adams has been performed at the Century Association in New York City, with Sam Waterston as Jefferson, Jane Alexander as Abigail, and Sam Goodyear once again as Adams. The co-production of Jefferson & Adams is the JLF's latest collaboration with Colonial Williamsburg. Other joint projects include the multimedia web site presentation: Thomas Jefferson: Man of the Millennium, (www.history.org/almanack/people/jeffhdr.htm).
We believe Jefferson & Adams is a powerful vehicle with which to further our mission. The play will assume a significant role as part of the JLF's outreach programs to encourage civic responsibility, through the inspiring example of the two great minds of American independence. The JLF will be seeking significant funding to bring the play to a wider audience through grants, private contributions, and corporate sponsorship. Specific venues are still to be determined but will include historic and restored theaters throughout the country.
Educational Outreach Activities Reach Across Generations
The Jefferson Legacy Foundation has been furthering its mission with all kinds of groups, from schoolchildren to history buffs. Here's an update on some of our activities:
The Thomas Jefferson Lady.
This has been perhaps our favorite educational outreach program to date, which we brought to several schools in Vermont this fall. LuAnn Ose, a retired teacher based in Arizona, is a wonderful storyteller who for the past 15 years has given audience-participation presentations throughout the U.S. in schools, senior centers, churches, service clubs, etc., about the life of Thomas Jefferson. Her novel approach includes a delightful "storybag" filled with unique and sometimes amusing items. Each audience member is invited to "pick but not peek" from the bag, and each item prompts a story from Thomas Jefferson's life and times. For example, a bar of soap prompts a story about how Thomas Jefferson wanted to be a lawyer, but since there were no law schools in Virginia at the time, he had to study under George Wythe until he passed the bar exam. As one teacher told us, "Through Ms. Ose we learned not only about Thomas Jefferson and history...but about ourselves."
The Summer White House. JLF Chairman Chip Stokes gave an extremely well-received lecture to participants on a tour to Summer White Houses sponsored by the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.
Meanwhile, plans are in the works for our second annual Birthday Party for Thomas Jefferson in April. Despite the snow on the ground and bitter temperatures (or perhaps because of!), our thoughts are beginning to turn to this year's Community Garden. We had a great harvest in 2001 despite the drought and managed to bring in new multi-generational recruits. We also exhibited once again at the Vermont History Expo in June, where we were enthusiastically received. We're also very excited about mounting our "Northern Journey" exhibit at two historic Vermont venues this summer, thanks to a grant from the Vermont Council on the Humanities (see page 4). And on a related note, Chip Stokes gave a lecture to students at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts, where our exhibit was mounted from April through November.
A Letter from the President
As we review the attacks on our country on September 11, 2001, we examine the ideas upon which the United States was created. We look to the standards set by Thomas Jefferson's legacy as compass points to guide our response to those attacks.
Jefferson's legacy, as Daniel Boorstin summarized, is a triple faith: "in the right of people to govern themselves, to choose their own God, and freely to search for knowledge." The United States is facing its most challenging tests at this time. We are asking ourselves what we stand for, where our national character is rooted, what we aspire to perpetuate and preserve.
In all our projects, The Jefferson Legacy Foundation attempts to help people understand the
ideas of Jefferson's legacy and to employ that understanding to participate responsibly in a free and open society. It is for each generation to revisit our national creed. It is for us to evaluate the September 11 attacks in light of the ideas in our national creed. Those ideas - Jefferson's legacy - must continue to guide our response.
In his State of the Union Address on January 29, President Bush said: "Our enemies. . .embrace tyranny and death as a cause and a creed. We
stand for a different choice, made long ago, on the day of our founding. We affirm it again today. We choose freedom and the dignity of every life."
In his Jefferson Image in the American Mind, our board member Merrill D. Peterson says: "There are many Jefferson legacies, but unquestionably the greatest is the philosophy of human rights so eloquently stated in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln named those principles 'the definitions and axioms of free
society.' They have done more to define the values and goals of the nation than any other act or statement. . .When so many of Jefferson's values have slipped away, he may yet go on vindicating his power in the national life as the heroic voice of imperishable freedoms. It is this Jefferson who stands at the radiant center of his own history, and who makes for the present a symbol that unites the nation's birth with its inexorable ideal. But whether this and later generations will be able to
repeat with earlier generations John Adams's deathbed deliverance, 'Thomas Jefferson still survives,' must depend on a power greater than Jefferson's historical momentum. It must depend, in the final analysis, on the conscious knowledge of Jefferson's faith and [our] responsible commitment to its survival."
Understanding and acting responsibly to America's creed depends upon what Lincoln called, the "virtue and vigilance" of its citizens. Our response to the September 11
attacks will determine the future of our nation and humankind.
Clarence W. Leeds, III
- The JLF has received a grant from the Vermont Council on the Humanities to mount its exhibit, The Northern Journey of Thomas Jefferson & James Madison and Jefferson's
Role in Vermont Statehood: 1791, at two historic sites in Vermont: Chimney Point Tavern on Lake Champlain (where Jefferson and Madison lodged) and The Old Constitution House in Windsor. JLF Board member Frank Shuffelton will offer a lecture at each venue on "Thomas Jefferson and the People's Government." Both exhibits will run from late May through mid October. Please call for more information.
- JLF Chairman Chip Stokes has joined the Board of Trustees at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, a frequent partner in JLF activities.
- The JLF was delighted to host Thomas Jefferson Foundation Librarian Jack Robertson in October. Shared goals and visions were exchanged as well as ideas for future collaborations.
Construction work is almost completed on the Jefferson Library at Kenwood, the home of Monticello's International Center for Jefferson Studies. Like the Jefferson Legacy Foundation Library and Retreat, Monticello's Jefferson Library is built in honor of a Founding Father. The 15,500-square-foot facility will contain stacks for more than 28,000 volumes, reading and study spaces, conference rooms, offices, and high-speed digital access to libraries and databases around the world. The library is scheduled to open in April 2002.
- Just a reminder that JLF Director Emeritus and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David McCullough, is not the only Board member who has written a book that examines the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Merrill D. Peterson, in 130 pages, provides a balanced and fascinating look in his Adams and Jefferson: A Revolutionary Dialogue (Oxford University Press, 1976).
JLF Participates in Earth Charter Celebration
The Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire in all peoples a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility.
It is both an expression of hope and a call to help create a global partnership at a critical juncture in history. The Jefferson Legacy Foundation joined in a daylong event at beautiful Shelburne Farms in Vermont on September 9th to celebrate the Earth Charter. It was an inspiring and stimulating day of presentations, discussion, music, dance, and art discussion. More than 2,000 people attended this extraordinary and unifying event, just two days before the terrorist attacks of September 11th.