The Second Barbary War (1815)

U.S. Squadron Before the City of Algiers

Commodore Stephen Decatur's fleet positioned itself off the coast of Algiers in June 1815 after capturing two Algerine ships. Officials from Algiers met with Decatur at sea, and peace terms were negotiated between the United States and Algiers.

President James Madison saw an opportunity when peace was made with Britain after the War of 1812 to deal with the Barbary States who returned to harassing American trade vessels in the Mediterranean region. On 23 February 1815, Madison spoke to Congress about the issue of Barbary piracy and the need for American military action.

James Madison, 4th President of the United States of America in 1809, reelected in 1813

James Madison, Democratic-Republican Party, elected the 4th President of the United States of America in 1809 and reelected in 1813.

Algiers: Declaration of War and Its Causes

At the conclusion of the War of 1812 in 1815, President James Madison requested Congressional approval for military action against the Barbary Pirates.

He said, “I recommend to Congress the expediency of an act declaring the existence of a state of war between the United States and the Dey of Algiers.”10 Madison saw this declaration of war as a necessity for not only protecting American merchant ships in the region, but also to assert the United States’ dominance as a power which could operate and conduct itself unmolested by any other nation.

President James Madison’s plea for war highlighted the “acts of more overt and direct warfare against the citizens of the United States trading in the Mediterranean, some of whom are still detained in captivity.”10 Congress declared war on Algiers on 2 March 1815 and gave Madison “the authority to take whatever measures he deemed necessary.”10

 

Commodore Stephen Decatur

Commodore Stephen Decatur was the leader of the United States Navy squadron which sailed into the Mediterranean and influenced the Barbary States to sign peace treaties with the United States and end the piracy of American shipping.

President Madison quickly formed a naval squadron from the United States Navy under Commodore Stephen Decatur. Commodore Decatur was ordered to sail to Algiers and attack any Algerine ships he came across, thereby achieving more favorable terms with the new dey, Omar Agha. Decatur’s squadron of ten ships sailed from New York on 20 May and on 15 June, his squadron passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and encountered Algerine ships returning from pirating cruises in the Atlantic. Decatur pressed home the attack and captured two Algerine ships with their crews of nearly five hundred, killing the Algerine commander Rais Hamidou in the process, at small loss to his own force.7 

Rais Hamidou (Algiers)

Rais Hamidou was a prominent Barbary pirate who captured many ships for Algiers. He was killed at the beginning of the naval battle with Commodore Decatur's squadron on 17 June 1815 by an American broadside. A statue of his likeness was erected in 1987 overlooking the Port of Algiers.

By late June, Decatur reached Algiers with the captured vessels and he positioned his fleet outside the port of Algiers. The port captain and Swedish consul came out to negotiate and Decatur made it clear the United States demanded peace on its terms.12

In return for the release of American prisoners in Algiers, Decatur returned his prizes to Omar and received all the "favourable [sic] features of those...[terms] conclcuded with the most favoured [sic] nations." (CITATION: Letter no. 3, Series of Letters to the United States Senate from Commodore Stephen Decatur and Others, 1816)

This was all accomplished a little more than three months after the approval of military force by Congress and a few days of naval combat. Commodore Decatur continued on to Tunis and Tripoli with similar intentions to prove a point of American dominance. After the conclusion of peace, the American squadron liberated European slaves and formally secured similar terms as it had with Algiers. Commodore Decatur was hailed as a national hero upon his return to the United States.13

"Treaty of Peace, Signed Algiers June 30 and July 3, 1815"

This peace treaty was written in less than a week by Commodore Decatur and representatives from Algiers after naval combat on the Mediterranean. It ensured terms such as compensation made to American captives freed from Algiers, terms for retaliation against attacks on American shipping and the prosecution of crimes against Americans in Algiers and vice versa.

Gunner John Lord’s Sea Bag

Gunner John Lord was a sailor in Decatur's squadron and participated in combat against the Algerine Pirates. This is one of the sea bags he used to store his possessions on the voyage.

Gunner John Lord's Powder Horn

John Lord used this powder horn to load cannons in naval combat against Algerine Pirates in the Second Barbary War.

Dress Shirt Belonging to John Lord, Gunner, USN

This dress shirt is similar to one worn by Gunner John Lord while serving as a Warrant Officer in the United States Navy during the Second Barbary War.