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One Million Dollars Paid to Pirates

For many years these pirates had attacked any vessel they met in the Mediterranean. Generally it was only to demand a certain sum of money, but if the captain either could not or would not pay it, they often sank the vessel after robbing it, or towed it into one of their harbors, where they sold the crew into captivity.

The people of northern Africa were Muslims, and for that reason hated all Christians. Captive sailors were therefore often treated with the greatest cruelty. European countries, wishing to trade in the Mediterranean, had learned to fear these pirates so greatly that they actually paid the Barbary rulers large sums for leaving their ships alone. Our government followed their example in the treaty made with Algiers in 1795.

A treaty was signed with Algiers, in Africa, where many of our countrymen had been kept prisoners by pirates. All the Americans thus held were set free for $1,000,000, and our ships were allowed to cruise in the Mediterranean, on condition that we paid the pirates a certain sum every year, just as other countries then did. But there were many people who did not approve of this treaty either, and they were so ready to criticize everything Washington said or did, that he once sadly said—what many a President must have felt since: “I’d rather be in my grave than President.”