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America's two main diplomats at the time were John Adams in London and Jefferson in Paris. Together they called upon Ambassador Abdrahaman, the envoy of Tripoli in London, in March 1786. This dignitary mentioned a tariff of three payments--for the ransom of slaves and hostages, for cheap terms of temporary peace and for more costly terms of "perpetual peace." He did not forget to add his own commission as a percentage. Adams and Jefferson asked to know by what right he was exacting these levies. The U.S. had never menaced or quarreled with any of the Muslim powers. As Jefferson later reported to the State Department and Congress, "The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners."
Jefferson's recommendation was that the Administration refuse any payment of tribute and prepare at once to outfit a naval squadron to visit the Mediterranean in strength. Ultimately, he proposed, America should arrange for an international concert of powers composed of all those nations whose shipping and citizens were preyed upon. "Justice and Honor favor this course," he wrote, adding that it would also save money in the long run.
Adams agreed with the sentiment but did not think the recommendation was feasible. Congress at that time was in no mood to spend money for a fleet. Jefferson, however, never let the subject drop. In 1787 he approached Jones, who was down on his luck in Paris, out of work and having woman troubles as usual. Would Jones be interested in a job offer from Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, who Jefferson happened to know was looking for an admiral? That admiral's task would be to clear out the Turkish fleet from the Black Sea, on Russia's southern border.
Why would Jefferson want to act as recruiter for a European monarch? First, because he wanted to keep Jones employed and give him the type of combat experience that would befit the potential chief naval commander of the United States. Second, because three of the four Barbary States--Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis--were part of the Turkish, or Ottoman, Empire. Britain, which rather encouraged the Barbary powers to attack American ships, used Turkey as a counterweight in its war against Catholic powers on mainland Europe. Why shouldn't the U.S. reply in kind by discreetly helping Russia make life hard for the Turks?