History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/First/II:18


Chapter 18: England and TripoliEdit

After aiding to negotiate the Louisiana treaty at Paris, in April and May, 1803, Monroe, as the story has already told, being forbidden by Bonaparte to pursue his journey to Madrid, followed his alternative instructions, to take the post which Rufus King was vacating in London. King left England in the middle of May, 1803; Monroe arrived in London July 18, when the war between England and France was already two months old.

The mild Addington ministry was still in power, and nothing had yet happened to excite Monroe's alarm in regard to British policy in the United States. On the contrary, the ministry aided the Louisiana purchase with readiness that might reasonably have surprised an American minister, while the friendliest spirit was shown by Lord Hawkesbury in all matters of detail. Except the standing dispute about impressments, every old point of collision had been successfully removed by the King, whose two conventions,—the one for discharging British debts recognized by treaty, the other for settling the boundaries of New England and of the northwest territory,—seemed to free the countries for the first time from the annoying inheritance of disputes entailed by the definitive treaty which closed the Revolutionary War in 1783. The calm which seemed to prevail throughout England in regard to her relations with America contrasted sharply with the excitement shown by the English people in all their allusions to the Corsican demon, as they thought him, whose regiments, gathering at Bourlogne, they might expect to see at any moment encamped at Hastings, where no hostile camp-fire had burned since the night, seven hundred years before when the body of an English king, hedged about with the dead bodies of a whole English aristocracy, lay stiff and stark on the bloody hillside, victims of another French adventurer. England was intent on her own imminent dangers; and under the strain which the renewal of her painful efforts brought with it, she was glad to leave America alone.

Yet calm as the atmosphere appeared to be, signs of future storm were not wholly wanting. Had Monroe been naturally anxious, he might, without seeking far, have found cause for anxiety serious enough to take away all appetite for Spanish travel, and to hold him close to his post until some one should consent to relieve him from an ungrateful and unpromising duty. The American minister at London in 1804 could hope to gain nothing either for his country or for himself, and he stood always on the verge of disaster; but when he was required to take a "high tone" in the face of a nation almost insane with anxiety, he challenged more chances of mortification than any but a desperate politician would have cared to risk.

Monroe had at first nothing to do but to watch the course of public opinion in England. During the autumn of 1803, while President Jefferson and Secretary Madison at Washington received Merry with a changed policy, and all through the winter, while Washington was torn by "canons of etiquette" and by contests of strength between Jefferson, Madison, Casa Yrujo, and Merry, the United States minister in London was left at peace to study the political problems which bore on his own fortunes and on those of his friends at home, as well as on the interests of the Union.

Beneath the calm of general society mutterings of discontent from powerful interests could be heard,—occasional outbursts of jealousy, revivals of old and virulent passions, inveterate prejudices, which made as yet but little noise in the Press or in Parliament, but which rankled in the breasts of individuals. One of the earlier symptoms of trouble came in a familiar shape. For twenty years, whenever a question had arisen of hostility to American trad or of prejudice against American character, the first of Englishmen to stimulate it, and the loudest to proclaim the dangers of Great Britain, had been John Baker Holroyd, Earl of Sheffield, whose memory might have been lost under the weight of his pamphlets had it not been embalmed in the autobiography of Gibbon. Lord Sheffield felt such devotion to the British navigation laws as could be likened only to the idolatry which a savage felt toward his fetich; one might almost have supposed that to him the State, the Church, and the liberties of England, the privileges of her nobility, and even the person of her sovereign, were sacred chiefly because they guaranteed the safety of her maritime system. This fanaticism of an honest mind led to results so extravagant as to become at times ridiculous. The existence of the United States was a protest against Lord Sheffield's political religion; and therefore in his eyes the United States were no better than a nation of criminals capable of betraying God for pieces of silver. The independence of America had shattered the navigation system of England into fragments; but Lord Sheffield clung the more desperately to his broken idol. Among the portions which had been saved were the West Indian colonies. If at that day the navigation laws had one object more important than another, it was to foster the prosperity of these islands, in order that their sugar and molasses, coffee and rum, might give freight to British shippers and employment to British seamen; but to Lord Sheffield the islands were only a degree less obnoxious than the revolted United States, for they were American at heart, complaining because they were forbidden to trade freely with New York and Boston, and even asserting that when the navigation laws were strictly enforced their slaves died of starvation and disease. Lord Sheffield seriously thought them ungrateful to murmur, and held it their duty to perish in silence rather than ask a relaxation of the law.

The rupture of the Peace of Amiens, in May, 1803, set Lord Sheffield again at work; and unfortunately the material lay ready to his hand. The whole subject of his discourse related to a single fact; but this fact was full of alarm to the English people. The extraordinary decrease of British tonnage in the American trade, the corresponding increase of American shipping, and the loud exultation of the Yankees over the British shipmasters were proofs of the danger which menaced England, whose existence depended on maritime strength. In the month of February, 1804,[1] Lord Sheffield published a pamphlet, which dwelt on these calamities as due to the wanton relaxation of the navigation laws and the senseless clamor of the colonies. He was answered in a pamphlet[2] written by one of the colonial agents; and the answer was convincing, so far as Lord Sheffield's argument was concerned, but his array of statistics remained to disturb the British mind.

Monroe might therefore count on having, some day, to meet whatever mischief the shipping interest of Great Britain could cause. No argument was needed to prove that the navy would support with zeal whatever demands should be made by the mercantile marine. There remained the immense influence of the West Indian colonies to consider; and if this should be brought into active sympathy with the ship-owners and the royal marine against American trade, no minister in England—not even Pitt himself at the height of his power—would be strong enough to resist the combination.

The staple product of the West Indian islands was sugar, and owing to several causes the profits of the planters had until 1798 been large. The insurrection of the Haytian negroes in 1792 annihilated for the time the supply of sugar from St. Domingo; prices rose in consequence, and a great increase in the number of sugar plantations naturally followed. Several of the Dutch and French islands fell into the hands of England, and adventurers flocked to them, eager to invest British capital in new sugar-fields. Under this impulse the supply again increased. Cuba, Porto Rico, Guadeloupe, and at last St. Domingo itself under Toussaint's rule poured sugar into the market. American ships carried French and Spanish sugar to Europe until it became a drug. The high price lasted till 1798; in that year Pitt even imposed a heavy additional duty upon it as a sure source of revenue. In 1799 the effect of over-production first became apparent. During the next few years the price of sugar fell, until great suffering began to prevail in the islands, and the planters wrote piteous letters of distress to England. Their agents wrote back that the English market was flooded with colonial produce: "Send no more sugar home; give it away rather!" was their advice,—and the colonists, without the means of purchasing even the necessaries of life, supplicated government to let them send their sugar to the United States, to be exchanged for American produce.[3]

This the government dared not do, for the shipping interest must in such a case be sacrificed. Debarred from this outlet for their produce, the colonists looked about them for some other resource; and since they were not allowed to act independently of the shipmasters, they saw no other course than to join hands with the shipping interest, and to invoke the aid of the navigation laws. The glut of the European market was caused by American neutrals, who were allowed to carry French and Spanish sugars from the West Indies to Europe. If this neutral trade could be stopped, the supply of French and Spanish sugar would be left to rot in Cuba and Guadeloupe, while British colonial produce would enjoy a monopoly throughout Europe.

Even before the Peace of Amiens this policy gained many adherents, and the Peace tended to strengthen their influence. The Addington ministry was not only weak in character, but timid in policy; and by a natural reaction it threw restless and ambitious younger statesmen into an attitude of protest. A new departure was felt to be necessary; and the nervous energy of England, strained almost to insanity by the anxieties of ten years' desperate danger, exhausted itself in the cry for one great commanding spirit, who should meet Bonaparte with his own weapons on his own field.

This cry produced George Canning. Of him and his qualities much will be said hereafter, when his rise to power shall have made him a more prominent figure; here need be noticed only the forces which sought assertion through him, and the nature of the passions which he was peculiarly qualified to express. At all times nations have been most imperilled by the violence of disappointed or terrified interests; but the danger was never so great as when these interests joined to a greed for selfish gain the cry for an unscrupulous chief. Every American schoolboy once knew by heart the famous outburst of Canning, which began, "Away with the cant of 'measures, not men'!" but of the millions of persons who read or heard this favorite extract few understood its meaning to American interests and feelings. This celebrated speech, made Dec. 8, 1802, at a time when Addington's cautious ministry still held office, was intended to dwarf Addington and elevate Pitt,—to ridicule caution and extol violence. "Sir," cried Canning, "to meet, to check, to resist, to stand up against Bonaparte, we want arms of the same kind. I vote for the large military establishments with all my heart; but for the purpose of coping with Bonaparte, one great, commanding spirit is worth them all."

"Arms of the same kind" were, speaking generally, irresponsible violence and disregard of morality. The great, commanding spirit of the moment was Mr. Pitt; but between the lines of this speech, by the light of its author's whole career, the secret was easily read that in his opinion the man of the future who could best meet Bonaparte on his own ground with his own weapons was not William Pitt, but George Canning.

After many months of warfare against Addington, Canning was gratified. In May, 1804, Addington retired from office, carrying into the House of Lords the new title of Lord Sidmouth, while Pitt returned to power. No one of note returned with him. His old colleague, Lord Grenville, refused to join his Administration, and Charles James Fox was personally excluded by King George. To fill the Foreign Office Pitt could find no better man than Lord Harrowby,—a personage of very second-rate importance in politics. With a Cabinet so weak as to command little respect, and reactionary as was required to suit the King's growing prejudices, Pitt was obliged to disguise his feebleness by the vigor of his measures. While creating, by expenditure of money, a new coalition against Napoleon, he was unable to disregard the great moneyed and social interests which were clamoring for a spirited policy against neutrals and especially against America. In private he avowed his determination to re-establish the old system, and his regret that he should ever have been, most reluctantly, induced to relax the maritime rights of Britain.[4]

That Monroe should have been the last person in London to know the secret thoughts of Pitt was not surprising. The Board of Trade commonly exerted more influence than the Foreign Office over the relations of England with the United States; and George Rose, Vice-President of the Board of Trade, Pitt's devoted friend and a Tory after Lord Sheffield's heart, would never have chosen Monroe as a confidant of schemes under discussion in his department. Lord Harrowby was but the mouthpiece of other men. From him Monroe could expect to hear only what had already been decided. Nevertheless a little study of the mercantile interests of the city, and a careful inquiry into the private opinions of men like Rose and Canning, might have thrown some light on the future, and would naturally have roused anxiety in the mind of Monroe.

Pitt's return to power, with the intention of changing the American policy which had been pursued since the negotiation of Jay's treaty, happened very nearly to coincide with the arrival at the Foreign Office of Merry's most alarming despatches, announcing that Madison required the total abandonment of impressments, the restriction of blockades and the right of search, and complete freedom in the colonial trade, as the conditions on which the friendship of the United States could be preserved. The announcement of President Jefferson's high tone was accompanied by the British minister's account of his own social mortifications by the President and the Secretary of State; of the Senate's refusal to approve the fifth article of Rufus King's boundary convention, in order to attack the British right of navigating the Mississippi; and by drafts of bills pending in Congress, under which any British admiral, even though it were Nelson himself, who should ever have taken a seaman out of an American vessel, was to be arrested in the streets of the first American port where he might go ashore, and to suffer indefinite imprisonment among thieves and felons in the calaboose.

May 30, 1804, Monroe had his first interview with Lord Harrowby. In such cases the new secretary, about to receive a foreign minister, commonly sent for the late correspondence, in order to learn something about the subjects on which he was to have an opinion. Beyond a doubt Lord Harrowby had on his table the despatches of Merry, written between November and April, which he probably finished reading at about the moment when Monroe was announced at the door.

Under such circumstances, Monroe reported to his Government that Lord Harrowby's manners were designedly unfriendly; his reception was rough, his comments on the Senate's habit of mutilating treaties were harsh, his conduct throughout the interview was calculated to wound and to irritate.[5] After this unpromising experience, two months were allowed to pass without further demonstration on either side. Then Lord Harrowby called Monroe's attention to the twelfth article of Jay's treaty, which regulated the commercial relations between the British West Indies and the United States, and which had expired by limitation. He suggested its renewal, according to its old terms, until two years after the next general peace. To this offer Monroe replied, with the utmost frankness, "that the President wished to postpone this matter until he could include impressment and neutral rights in the treaty; that we must begin de novo; that America was a young and thriving country; that in 1794 she had had little experience, since then she understood her interests better; and that a new treaty should omit certain things from that of 1794, and include others. The most urgent part was that which respected our seamen."[6]

An approaching contact of opposite forces always interests men's imagination. On one side, Pitt and Lord Harrowby stood meditating the details of measures, which they had decided in principle, for taking from the United States most of the commercial advantages hitherto enjoyed by them; on the other side stood Monroe and Jefferson, equally confident, telling the Englishmen that very much greater advantages must be conceded. That one or the other of these forces must very soon give way was evident; and if ever an American minister in London needed to be on the alert, with every faculty strained to its utmost, the autumn of 1804 was such a moment. Monroe, aware of his danger, gave full warning to the President. Even as early as June 3, after his first interview with Lord Harrowby, he wrote that a change of policy was imminent. "My most earnest advice is to look to the possibility of such a change."[7]

Lord Harrowby also gave every reasonable warning. His reply to Monroe's demands for further negotiation was simple,—nothing need be expected from him. He refused to do any business at all, on the plea of other occupations incident to the formation of a new ministry.[8] Monroe sent him the draft of the comprehensive treaty which Madison had forwarded, but Lord Harrowby declined for the present to discuss it. Then Monroe came to the conclusion that his presence in London was no longer necessary; and accordingly, Oct. 8, 1804, he started for Paris and Madrid. Until July 23, 1805, the legation at London was left in charge of a secretary.

A month after his departure, Lord Harrowby wrote a letter of instructions[9] to Merry in reply to the series of despatches received from Washington.
"His Majesty's government," he said, "have perceived with considerable concern, from some of your most recent despatches, the increasing acrimony which appears to pervade the representations that have been made to you by the American Secretary of State on the subject of the impressment of seamen from on board of American ships. The pretension advanced by Mr. Madison that the American flag should protect every individual sailing under it on board of a merchant-ship is too extravagant to require any serious refutation. In the exercise of the right, which has been asserted by his Majesty and his predecessors for ages, of reclaiming from a foreign service the subjects of Great Britain, whether they are found on the high seas or in the ports of his own dominions, irregularities must undoubtedly frequently occur; but the utmost solicitude has been uniformly manifested by his Majesty's government to prevent them as far as may be possible, and to repress them as far as may be possible, and to repress them whenever they have actually taken place."

Intending to pursue the same course in the future, the Government would without delay give the strictest orders to its naval officers "to observe the utmost lenity in visiting ships on the high seas, and to abstain from impressments in the ports of the United States."

In regard to commercial questions, Lord Harrowby offered to consider the treaty of 1794 as in force until some new arrangement could be formed. Until the decision of the President should be known, it was "intended to propose to Parliament to lodge the power of regulating the commerce with America in the King in Council, in the same manner as before the treaty of 1794." The offer of considering the treaty as in force "must be regarded as a boon to America; and it was made merely under the persuasion that if accepted it would be accepted with a view to maintain a friendly relation between the two countries, and to avoid in the interval everything which could lead to interrupt it. If this system is followed in America, it will be followed here in every respect with an anxious desire for the continuance of harmony and cordiality."

The same conditional and semi-threatening disposition toward good-will ran through the rest of these instructions. In regard to the boundary convention, his Majesty's government would at all times be ready to reopen the whole subject; "but they can never acquiesce in the precedent which in this as well as in a former instance the American government has endeavored to establish, of agreeing to ratify such parts of a convention as they may select, and of rejecting other stipulations of it, formally agreed upon by a minister invested with full powers for the purpose."

Finally, Merry was to "avoid, as far as possible, any language which might be conceived to be of a menacing or hostile tendency, or which might be construed into an indication of a desire on the part of his Majesty's government to decline any discussion of the several points now pending between the two countries." Lord Harrowby clearly wished to encourage discussion to the utmost. He left the " canons of etiquette" unnoticed, and offered not even a hint at any change of policy meditated by his Government.

So matters remained in England during the last months of President Jefferson's first term. On both sides new movements were intended; but while those of the United States government were foreseen and announced in advance by Merry, those of the British ministry were hidden under a veil of secrecy, which might perhaps have been no more penetrable to Monroe had he remained in London to watch them than they were to him in his retreat at Aranjuez.

To the world at large nothing in the relations of the United States with England, France, or Spain seemed alarming. The world knew little of what was taking place. Only men who stood between these forces could understand their movements and predict the moment of collision; but if these men, like Merry, Turreau, and Yrujo, had been asked March 3, 1805, to point out the brightest part of Jefferson's political horizon, they would probably have agreed with one voice that everything in Europe threatened disaster, and that the only glimpse of blue sky was to be seen on the shores of Africa. The greatest triumph to be then hoped from Jefferson's peace policy was the brilliant close of his only war.

During the year 1804 the little American fleet in the Mediterranean made famous some names which within ten years were to become more famous still. With the "Constitution," the only heavy frigate on the station after the loss of the "Philadelphia," and with half-a-dozen small brigs and schooners, Preble worked manfully at his task of annoying the Pacha of Tripoli. Three years' experience showed that a mere blockade answered no other purpose than to protect in part American commerce. It had not shaken the Pacha in the demand of black-mail as his condition of peace. Bainbridge, still held a prisoner in the town, believed that Jefferson must choose between paying what the Pacha asked, or sending eight or ten thousand men to attack him in his castle. Black-mail was the life of the small pirate rulers, and they could not abandon it without making a precedent fatal to themselves, and inviting insurrection from their subjects. Preble could only strike the coast with fear; and during the summer of 1804 he began a series of dashing assaults with the "Constitution," helped by four new craft,—the "Argus" and "Syren," fine sixteen-gun brigs; the "Nautilus" and "Vixen," fourteen-gun schooners; the "Enterprise," of twelve guns, and a captured Tripolitan brig of sixteen guns, re-named the "Scourge,"—all supported by eight small gunboats borrowed from the King of Naples who was also at war with Tripoli. Thus commanding a force of about one hundred and fifty guns, and more than a thousand men, August 3, carrying his flag-ship into the harbor, Preble engaged the Tripolitan batteries at very short range for two hours. Fortunately, the Mussulmans could not or did not depress their guns enough to injure the frigate, and after throwing many broadsides into the batteries and town, Preble retired without losing a man. His gunboat flotilla was equally daring, but not so lucky. One division was commanded by Lieutenant Somers, the other by Stephen Decatur. They attacked the Tripolitan gunboats and captured three, besides sinking more; but James Decatur was killed. A few days afterward, August 7, the attack was repeated, and some five hundred 24-lb. shot were thrown into the batteries and town. August 24 a third bombardment took place within the month; and although Preble knew that Barron was near at hand with a strong reinforcement, August 29 he carried his flotilla a fourth time into the harbor, and again threw several hundred solid shot into the town. A fifth bombardment, the heaviest of all, took place early in September. In these affairs, so poor was the Tripolitan gunnery or courage that the Americans suffered almost no loss beyond that of a few spars. The only serious disaster, besides the death of James Decatur, was never explained. Preble, wishing to try the effect of a fire-ship, on the night of September 4 sent one of his best officers, Lieutenant Somers, into the harbor with the ketch "Intrepid" filled with powder, bombs, and shell. The "Argus," "Vixen," and "Nautilus" escorted Somers to shoal water, and waited for him to rejoin them in his boats. They saw the batteries fire upon him; then they heard a sudden and premature explosion. All night the three cruisers waited anxiously outside, but Somers never returned. He and his men vanished; no vestige or tidings of them could ever be found.

Considering Preble's narrow means, the economy of the Department, and the condition of his small vessels, nothing in American naval history was more creditable than the vigor of his blockade in the summer of 1804; but he could not confidently assert that any number of such attacks would force the Pacha to make peace. A week after the loss of Somers in the "Intrepid" Commodore Samuel Barron arrived, bringing with him nearly the whole available navy of the United States, and relieved Preble from the command. Preble returned home, and was rewarded for his services by a gold medal from Congress. Two years afterward he died of consumption.

Barron had with him such a force as the United States never before or since sent in hostile array across the ocean,—two forty-fours, the "Constitution" and the "President;" two thirty-eight gun frigates, the "Constellation" and the "Congress;" the "Essex," of thirty-two guns; the new brigs, "Hornet" of eighteen, and the "Syren" and "Argus" of sixteen; the twelve-gun schooners "Vixen," "Nautilus," and "Enterprise;" ten new, well-built American gunboats; and two bomb-vessels. With the exception of the frigates "Chesapeake" and "United States," hardly a sea-going vessel was left at home. Commanded by young officers like John Rogers and Stephen Decatur, Chauncey, Stewart, and Isaac Hull, such a squadron reflected credit on Robert Smith's administration of the navy.

Nevertheless the Pacha did not yield, and Barron was obliged by the season to abandon hope of making his strength immediately felt. Six months later the commodore, owing to ill-health, yielded the command to John Rodgers, while the Pacha was still uninjured by the squadron. As the summer of 1805 approached, fear of Rodgers's impending attack possibly helped to turn the Pacha's mind toward concession; but his pacific temper was also much affected by events on land, in which appeared so striking a combination of qualities,—enterprise and daring so romantic and even Quixotic that for at least half a century every boy in America listened to the story with the same delight with which he read the Arabian Nights.

A Connecticut Yankee, William Eaton, was the hero of the adventure. Born in 1764, Eaton had led a checkered career. At nineteen he was a sergeant in the Revolutionary army. After the peace he persisted, against harassing difficulties, in obtaining what was then thought a classical education; in his twenty-seventh year he took a degree at Dartmouth. He next opened a school in Windsor, Vermont, and was chosen clerk to the Vermont legislature. Senator Bradley, in 1792, procured for him a captain's commission in the United States army. His career in the service was varied by insubordination, disobedience to orders, charges, counter-charges, a court-martial, and a sentence of suspension not confirmed by the Secretary of War. In 1797 he was sent as consul to Tunis, where he remained until the outbreak of the war with Tripoli in 1801. Tunis was the nearest neighbor to Tripoli, about four hundred miles away; and the consul held a position of much delicacy and importance. In the year 1801 an elder brother of the reigning Pacha of Tripoli resided in Tunis, and to him Eaton turned in the hope of using his services. This man, Hamet Caramelli, the rightful Pacha of Tripoli, had been driven into exile some eight or nine years before by a rebellion which placed his younger brother Yusuf on the throne. Eaton conceived the idea of restoring Hamet, and by this act of strength impressing all the Mahometan Powers with terror of the United States. In pursuit of this plan he spent more than twenty thousand dollars, embroiled himself with the Bey of Tunis, quarrelled with the naval commanders, and in 1803 returned to America to lay his case before the President and Congress.

Although no one could be surprised that the President and his Cabinet hesitated to put themselves without reserve in the hands of an adventurer, Eaton's anger was extreme at finding the Government earnest for peace rather than war. Himself a Connecticut Federalist, a close friend of Timothy Pickering, he expressed his feelings in his private letters with the bitterness as well as with the humor of his class.[10]

"I waited on the President and the Attorney-General. One of them was civil, and the other grave. . . . I endeavored to enforce conviction on the mind of Mr. Lincoln of the necessity of meeting the aggressions of Barbary by retaliation. He waived the subject, and amused me with predictions of a political millennium which was about to happen in the United States. The millennium was to usher in upon us as the irresistible consequence of the goodness of heart, integrity of mind, and correctness of disposition of Mr. Jefferson. All nations, even pirates and savages, were to be moved by the influence of his persuasive virtue and masterly skill in diplomacy."

Eaton's interviews probably took place at the moment when the Louisiana treaty confirmed the Cabinet in its peace policy and in reliance on diplomacy. In March, 1804, Eaton succeeded in returning to the Mediterranean as naval agent, but without special powers for the purpose he had in mind.

"The President becomes reserved; the Secretary of War 'believes we had better pay tribute,"—he said this to me in his own office. Gallatin, like a cowardly Jew, shrinks behind the counter. Mr. Madison 'leaves everything to the Secretary of the Navy Department.' And I am ordered on the exposition by Secretary Smith,—who, by the by, is as much of a gentleman and a soldier as his relation with the Administration will suffer,—without any special instructions to regulate my conduct."

With no other authority to act as a military officer than a vague recommendation from the President as a man who was likely to be extremely useful to Barron, Eaton returned with Barron's large squadron. He felt himself ill-treated, for he was irritable and self-asserting by nature, and was haunted by a fixed idea too unreasonable for the President to adopt; but he chose to act without authority rather than not act at all, for he was born an adventurer, and difficulties which seemed to cooler heads insurmountable were nothing in his eyes. Sept. 5, 1804, he arrived at Malta, and thence sailed to Alexandria; for in the meanwhile Hamet had been driven to take refuge in Egypt, and Eaton on reaching Cairo, Dec. 8, 1804, found that the object of his search was shut up in Minyeh on the Nile with some rebellious Mamelukes, besieged by the viceroy's troops. After infinite exertions and at no little personal danger, Eaton brought Hamet to Alexandria, where they collected some five hundred men, of whom one hundred were Christians recruited on the spot. Eaton made a convention with Hamet, arranged a plan of joint operations with Barron, and then at about the time when President Jefferson was delivering his second Inaugural Address, the navy agent led his little army into the desert with the courage of Alexander the Great, to conquer an African kingdom.

So motley a horde of Americans, Greeks, Tripolitans, and Arab camel-drivers had never before been seen on the soil of Egypt. Without discipline, cohesion, or sources of supply, even without water for days, their march of five hundred miles was a sort of miracle. Eaton's indomitable obstinacy barely escaped ending in his massacre by the by the Arabs, or by their desertion in mass with Hamet at their head; yet in about six weeks they succeeded, April 17, 1805, in reaching Bomba, where to Eaton's consternation and despair he found no American ships.[11]

"Nothing could prevail on our Arabs to believe that any had been there. They abused us as imposters and infidels, and said we had drawn them into that situation with treacherous views. All began now to think of the means of individual safety; and the Arabs came to a resolution to separate from us the next morning. I recommended an attempt to get into Derne. This was thought impracticable. I went off with my Christians and kept up fires upon a high mountain in our rear all night. At eight the next morning, at the instant when our camp was about breaking up, the Pacha's casnadar, Zaid, who had ascended the mountain for a last look-out, discovered a sail! It was the 'Argus;' Captain Hull had seen our smokes, and stood in. Language is too poor to paint the joy and exultation which this messenger of life excited in every breast."

Drawing supplies from the brig the little army rested a few days; and then, April 25, moved against Derne, where they found the town held by a garrison of eight hundred men who had thrown up earthworks and loopholed the terraces and houses for musketry. Eaton sent to the governor a flag of truce, which was sent back with the Eastern message,—"My head, or yours!" Three cruisers, the "Nautilus," "Argus," and "Hornet," acted in concert with Eaton, and a vigorous combined attack, April 27, drove the governor and his garrison from the town. Eaton received a ball through the left wrist, but could not afford to be disabled, for on the news of his arrival a large force was sent from Tripoli to dislodge him; and he was obliged to fight another little battle, May 13, which would have been a massacre had not the ships' guns held the Tripolitans in awe. Skirmishing continued another month without further results. Eaton had not the force to advance upon Tripoli, which was nearly seven hundred miles to the westward, and Hamet found no such popular support at Derne as he had hoped.

What influence Eaton's success at Derne had on the Pacha at Tripoli was never perfectly understood; but the Pacha knew that Rodgers was making ready for an assault, beside which the hottest of Preble's bombardments would seem gentle; Eaton at Derne with Hamet was an incessant and indefinite threat; his own subjects were suffering, and might at any moment break into violence; a change of ruler was so common a matter, as Yusuf had reason to remember, that in the alternative of losing his throne and head in one way or the other, he decided that peace was less hazardous than war. Immediately upon hearing that his troops had failed to retake Derne, he entered into negotiations with Tobias Lear, the American Consul-General at Algiers, who had come to Tripoli for the purpose; and on this occasion the Pacha negotiated with all the rapidity that could be wished. June 3, 1805, he submitted to the disgrace of making peace without being expressly paid for it, and Lear on his side consented to ransom the crew of the "Philadelphia" for sixty thousand dollars.

When Eaton learned what Lear had done, his anger was great and not unreasonable. That Lear should have made a treaty which sacrificed Eaton's Mahometan allies, and paid sixty thousand dollars for the imprisoned seamen at a moment when Eaton held Derne, and could, as he thought, with two hundred marines on shore and an immense fleet as sea drive the Pacha out of his dominions within six weeks, was astonishing. Lear's only excuse was the fear of causing a massacre of the "Philadelphia's" crew,—a reason which Eaton thought unfounded and insufficient, and which was certainly, from a military point of view, inadmissible. The treaty left the Mahometan allies at Derne to be massacred, and threw Hamet on Eaton's hands. Deposited at Syracuse with a suite of thirty persons without means of support, Caramelli became a suppliant for alms to the United States Congress. Eaton declared the treaty disgraceful, and thenceforth his grievances against the government took an acute form. The settlement of his accounts was slow and difficult. He returned to America and received great attentions, which made him none the less loud in complaint, until at last he died in 1811 a victim to drink and to craving for excitement. Eaton was beyond question a man of extraordinary energies and genius; he had even the rare courage to displease his own Federalist friends in 1807, because of defending Jefferson who had done nothing for him, but who at a critical moment represented in his eyes the Union.

Meanwhile peace with Tripoli was obtained without tribute, but at the cost of sixty thousand dollars, and at the expense of Eaton and his desperate band of followers at Derne. Hamet Caramelli received at last a small sum of money from Congress, and through American influence was some years afterward made governor of Derne. Thus after four years of unceasing effort the episode of the Tripolitan war came to a triumphant end. Its chief result was to improve the navy and give it a firmer hold on popular sympathy. If the once famous battles of Truxton and the older seamen were ignored by the Republicans, Preble and Rodgers, Decatur and Hull, became brilliant names; the midnight death of Somers was told in every farmhouse; the hand-to-hand struggles of Decatur against thrice his numbers inflamed the imagination of school-boys who had never heard that Jefferson and his party once declaimed against a navy. Even the blindest could see that one more step would bring the people to the point so much dreaded by Jefferson, of wishing to match their forty-fours against some enemy better worthy of their powers than the pirates of Tripoli.

There was strong reason to think that this wish might soon be gratified; for on the same day when Lear, in the "Essex," appeared off Tripoli and began his negotiation for peace, Monroe's travelling-carriage rumbled through the gates of Madrid and began its dusty journey across the plains of Castile, bearing an angry and disappointed diplomatist from one humiliation to another.


  1. Strictures, etc., on the Navigation and Colonial System of Great Britain. London, 1804.
  2. Claims of the British West Indian Colonists. By G. W. Jordan. London, 1804.
  3. Lowe's Enquiry, 4th edition, 1808.
  4. Anti-Jacobin Review, August, 1807, p. 368; Introduction to Reports, etc., on Navigation, p. 22; Atcheson's American Encroachments, London, 1808, p. lxxvii; Baring's Inquiry, London, 1808, p. 73.
  5. Monroe to Madison, June 3, 1804; State Papers, iii. 92.
  6. Monroe to Madison, Aug. 7, 1804; State Papers, iii. 94.
  7. Monroe to Madison, June 3, 1804; State Papers, iii. 92.
  8. Monroe to Madison, Sept. 8, 1804; MSS. State Department Archives.
  9. Harrowby to Merry, Nov. 7, 1804; MSS. British Archives.
  10. Life of General William Eaton, Brookfield, 1813, p. 262.
  11. Life of Eaton, p. 328.