Letter to John Adams July 11, 1786

Basic Information

Author: Thomas Jefferson
Recipient: John AdamsThen US Minister to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
Date: July 11, 1786


In his letter to Adams, Jefferson recommends the establishment of a naval force in order to combat the Barbary pirates. Jefferson expresses his concerns that paying tribute to the Barbary States would only further incentivizeIncentive noun a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something. future captures of US merchant ships and the imprisonment of sailors. Moreover, Jefferson tries to persuade Adams to support the establishment of a navy by explaining that a small fleet would be more cost efficient than tribute to Barbary States.

Original Text

"…Of the 4. positions laid down in your letter of the 3d. instant, I agree to the three first, which are in substance that the good offices of our friends cannot procure us a peace without paying it’s price, that they cannot materially lessen that price, and that paying it, we can have the peace in spight of the intrigues of our enemies. As to the 4th. that the longer the negotiation is delayed the larger will be the demand, this will depend on the intermediate captures: if they are many and rich the price may be raised; if few and poor it will be lessened. However if it is decided that we shall buy a peace, I know no reason for delaying the operation, but should rather think it ought to be hastened. But I should prefer the obtaining it by war. 1. Justice is in favor of this opinion. 2. Honor favors it. 3. It will procure us respect in Europe, and respect is a safe-guard to interest. 4. It will arm the federal head with the safest of all the instruments of coercion over their delinquent members and prevent them from using what would be less safe. I think that so far you go with me. But in the next steps we shall differ. 5. I think it least expensive. 6. Equally effectual. I ask a fleet of 150. guns, the one half of which shall be in constant cruise. This fleet built, manned and victualled for 6. months will cost 450,000£ sterling. It’s annual expence is 300£ sterl. a gun, including every thing: this will be 45,000£ sterl. a year. I take British experience for the basis of my calculations, tho’ we know, from our own experience, that we can do, in this way, for pounds lawful, what costs them pounds sterling. Were we to charge all this to the Algerine war it would amount to little more than we must pay if we buy peace. But as it is proper and necessary that we should establish a small marine forceThe United States Marines Corp would later engage in the First Barbarian War, 1801-1805. (even were we to buy a peace from the Algerines,) and as that force laid up in our dockyards would cost us half as much annually as if kept in order for service, we have a right to say that only 22,500£ sterl. per ann. should be charged to the Algerine war. 6. It will be as effectual. To all the mismanagements of Spain and Portugal urged to shew that war against those people is ineffectual, I urge a single fact to prove the contrary where there is any management."

Read the full text of the letter here.

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