One of the primary pirate outposts was the North African port of Tripoli, in modern day Libya. Muslim pirates based in Tripoli would not only steal the ships and cargo of American and European ships, they would hold the passengers ransom and sell into slavery those without families to pay the exorbitant bounties for their release.
Needless to say, this made trade risky, unpleasant, and expensive. So what did America do? This was the 1700’s, so they didn’t roll in with their massive fleet and install a huge invading force. We had no desire for a military engagement, so we paid them off. The US paid money for safe passage of ships flying the US flag. (Americans thought of it as tolls, the Barbary coast pirates saw it as tribute).
But this isn’t a post about foreign policy. As stated earlier, the pirates were Muslims. They wanted nothing to do with making pacts with a Christian nation. Luckily, our forefathers wanted nothing to do with being a Christian nation, so they had no qualms with Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli:
Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
In other words: we understand you’re Muslim and you have problems with the Christian nations of Europe. We’re nothing like them, please work with us.
What I find most interesting is that the Treat of Tripoli had to be ratified by the House and Senate. Guess how many of the 339 Representatives and Senators in 1797 agreed to these terms?
Answer: all of them. It was the third unanimous vote in US history.