Story Nostra. In 1802: against the acts of piracy of the Algerian corsairs Bonaparte sends a squadron with an ultimatum

To the dey of Algiers demanding 200,000 piastres to respect a peace treaty with France, Bonaparte replies by threatening “to destroy Algiers and to seize the whole coast of Africa”, succeeding where Charles V failed.

On December 28, 1801 (7 Nivose Year X), a treaty signed between the First Consul and the Regency of Algiers, an emanation of the Ottoman power, explicitly guarantees France the freedom of navigation and trade on the maritime routes of the Mediterranean.

This peace concluded, the French ships return to sea, their crews believing they can travel in complete confidence. However, shortly after, this treaty was brutally broken by Mustapha-Pasha, the Dey of Algiers. Ships from Toulon bound for Santo Domingo are boarded by corsairs and diverted.

The flag of the Republic is no longer respected, nor is its territory. A Neapolitan vessel was captured in the harbor of Hyères, and a merchant marine officer beaten with a stick by a raïs in the harbor of Tunis. Finally, we have no news of the 150 men of a French ship that was stranded during the winter on the Algerian coast.

These acts of piracy outraged the First Consul who demanded compensation and explanations in a letter to the Dey of Algiers, stating in particular: ” If you want to live in friendship with me, you must not treat me like a weak power, you must have the French flag respected, that of the Italian Republic which has appointed me its leader and you must give me reparation of all the outrages that have been done to me. » (1) This official letter follows previous messages that remained unanswered, only increasing Bonaparte’s anger.

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Since the sixteenthe century, the Barbarians changed their strategy. If they no longer come to raid as in the time of Dragut the populations of the islands and the coasts of the Mediterranean, provoking the punitive expeditions of Charles V, they now engage in privateering, not depriving themselves of capturing merchant ships coming French ports. ” The Consulate can no longer support such actions which compromise the maritime transport essential to the links with the theaters of the overseas campaigns, in particular in Egypt or the West Indies… It is therefore important to bring the Regency of Algiers to reason, by an action diplomatic rather than a military expedition. » (2)

Bonaparte raises his tone by mixing the threat with diplomacy. In the detailed report drawn up by Talleyrand, Minister for Foreign Affairs, on the situation vis-à-vis Algiers, it is said that ” the charge d’affaires asks for satisfaction and does not obtain it; they dare to make him proposals insulting to the dignity of the French people: they want France to buy the execution of the treaty! »

In other words, compliance by Algiers with the treaty of December 28, 1801 requires the government of France to pay a sum of 200,000 piastres. A process reminiscent of that of the Barbary Monks who freed their captives only in exchange for a ransom. Bonaparte did not fail to make known the attitude of Algiers to Selim, an enlightened and reforming sultan, a way of appealing to the Turks through diplomatic pressure.

“I will land 80,000 men on your shores and I will destroy your regency”

On July 27 (8 Thermidor) the crisis was at its peak. Bonaparte from Malmaison wrote to the dey threatening to ” destroy Algiers and seize the entire coast of Africa “, proclaiming in substance: “ I also let you know my indignation at the demand that your ministers have dared to make, that I pay 200,000 piastres. I have never paid anything to anyone… And if God has not blinded you to lead you to your downfall, know what I am and what I can do. If you refuse to give me satisfaction, I will land 80,000 men on your coasts and I will destroy your regency, for in the end I will not allow you to treat my flag as you treat that of the small powers of the North and the small powers of Italy… »

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On August 6, 1802, a French squadron under the orders of Rear Admiral Leisseygues set out for Algiers. Leaving from Toulon, she was sent by Bonaparte First Consul, carrying a message delivered by Lieutenant-Commander Hulin for the dey of Algiers, Mustapha-Pacha.

On August 18, the staff of the squadron went ashore where they were received with deference by the dey in the most magnificent gazebo in the Regency gardens. The dey changes his tone, apologizing, saying ” the desire to live on good terms with the French Republic », Responding point by point to the Consulate’s objurgations.

You complain about the raïs Ali-Tatar. I arrested him to put him to death. At the time of the execution, your consul asked me for his pardon in your name, and for you, I delivered him… You ask for the punishment of the raïs who led here two ships of the French Republic. According to your wishes, I dismissed him; but I warn you that my raïs do not know how to read European characters… You ask for 150 men whom you say are in my States; there is not one. God wanted these people to be lost, and it pained me. »

Finally, the dey instructs his raïs to respect the French flag: “ I will punish the first who leads a French vessel into my ports. “Regarding the sum claimed, Mustapha-Pasha keeps a low profile: “ You didn’t want to give me the 200,000 piastres I had asked for to compensate me for the losses I suffered for you. Whether you give it to me or you don’t, we’ll always be good friends. »

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The dey does not specify which ” losses it is in this case. From then on, the two powers will live a period of peace, the First Consul having been persuasive with Algiers. However the thorny question of piracy rebounds, when Napoleon deposed experiences exile on the island of Elba. The Congress of Vienna resumes the fight against the Algerian corsairs.

England, a naval power, sent a considerable fleet under the command of Lord Exmouth which arrived in the harbor of Algiers in April 1816. In the name of the kingdoms of Naples and Sardinia, the English envoy concluded a peace deemed far too onerous by the belligerents who ask London to tear up these new treaties.

In August 1816, an Anglo-Dutch armada appeared again before Algiers. An ultimatum is given to the Dey demanding the abolition of Christian slavery and the deliverance of all prisoners of this religion. Without a response from the Dey, the fleet opened fire, causing innumerable destruction and human loss.

On August 28, after a second ultimatum, the Dey accepted the conditions dictated by the British admiral and apologized. In the end, the Algerians will have lost 2,000 men in the fire of their ships. Lord Exmouth’s use of force resulted in the release of 1,200 Christian slaves.

1. Napoleon. Correspondence.
2. Claude Cazemajou-Pizzini. Napoleon Bonaparte and the Barbarians. Review A cronica.

Story Nostra. In 1802: against the acts of piracy of the Algerian corsairs Bonaparte sends a squadron with an ultimatum