Jefferson’s War (Joseph Wheelan)

 (America’s First War on Terror)

Two centuries ago, without congressional or public debate, a president whom we think of today as peaceable, Thomas Jefferson, launched America’s first war on foreign soil – a war against terror.  The enemy was Muslim; the war was waged unconventionally, with commandos, native troops, encrypted intelligence, and launched from foreign bases under short-term alliances.

For nearly two hundred years, the Barbary pirates had haunted the Mediterranean, enslaving tens of thousands of Europeans and extorting millions of dollars from their countries in a mercenary holy war against Christendom.  Sailing in sleek corsairs built for speed and plunder, the Barbary pirates attacked European and American merchant shipping with impunity, triumphing as much by terror as force of arms.

As a newly independent nation, America and her merchant fleet became a frequent target of such piracy.  After his inauguration, instead of negotiating worthless treaties and paying tribute, Jefferson chose to fight.

Jefferson’s War traces the events surrounding the evolution of the third President’s resolute belief that peace with the Barbary States, and respect from Europe, could be achieved only through the “medium of war.”  Displaying what will strike readers today as a surprising combativeness, Jefferson ordered the U.S. Navy to Tripoli in 1801 to repel “force with force.”  The navy thus shook off any doubts lingering from the Revolutionary War about its fighting ability, proving that ship-for-ship, it was the equal of any navy afloat.

The Barbary War was also a proving ground for such young officers as William Bainbridge, Stephen Decatur, Isaac Hull, and David Porter, who would be invaluable in the coming showdown with Great Britain in the War of 1812.  The Barbary War’s climax was William Easton’s astounding 520-mile desert expedition at the head of a fractious army of Arabs, disaffected Tripolitans, European mercenaries, and eight U.S. marines, culminating at the Battle of Derna.  There, led by Lt. Presley O’Bannon, marines raised the Stars and Stripes over a hostile foreign shore for the first time, their deeds that day immortalized in “The Marines’ Hymn” with the ringing line, “To the Shores of Tripoli.”

Readers who enjoy military and naval history, presidential biographies and accounts of the early American republic, will find that Joseph Wheelan’s spirited narrative of Jefferson’s war provides an important perspective on America’s struggles with terror – then and now.


Joseph Wheelan for twenty-six years was an editor and reporter for the Associated Press and the Caspar Star-Tribune.  Gryphon Editions is proud to present this book as a special signed, leather-bound edition for the subscribers of the Classics of Liberty Library. The title is on SALE just for today– so don’t wait to order your copy!

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