The Second Berber War (1815-1816), also known in historiography as the Algerian War, was the second of two armed conflicts that occurred in the early 19th century between the United States and the nominally subordinate North African city-states of the Ottoman Empire: Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, generally referred to as the Berber States. The war between the Berber States and the United States ended in 1815; the international conflict was brought to an end the following year when the British and Dutch fleets came into action. This war led to the cessation of the practice of the United States paying tribute to pirate states and hastened the final eradication in the Mediterranean of piracy, which had been rampant during Ottoman domination (from the 16th to the 18th century). Within a few decades, European states were able to build modern, powerfully armed ships that could not be matched by Berber pirates lacking the technology.
After the victorious First Berber War (between 1801 and 1805), the United States had to turn its attention to another theater of operations, due to the deteriorating relations with the United Kingdom against the background of the trade that American merchants carried out with France, which the British tried unsuccessfully to block. The Berber states immediately took advantage of this situation and resumed their piratical practices, attacking American and European merchant ships in the Mediterranean, demanding ransom for officers and turning ordinary sailors into slaves.
European states, engaged in the great conflict that was the Napoleonic Wars, had neither the strength nor the capacity to address (until 1815) the issue of piracy in the Mediterranean basin.
The displacement of American ships from the Mediterranean by the British fleet during the 1812 conflict further encouraged pirate city-states to attack ships bearing American flags. Omar ibn Muhammed, deejay of Algiers, expelled American consul Tobias Lear and declared war on the United States for refusing to pay an annual tribute.
With the end of the British-American War of 1812, which actually lasted until December 1814, the United States was able to resume its interests on the coast of North Africa. On March 3, 1815, the United States Congress saw fit to send a navy against Algiers, and soon 10 warships, under the command of Commodores Stephen Decatura and William Bainbridge, veterans of the First Berber War, set sail for the Mediterranean. Decatur”s squadron set sail on May 20, 1815, while Bainbridge had difficulty completing his squadron and did not go to sea until July 1. In this situation, the initiative – both militarily and diplomatically – fell on Decatur”s shoulders.
En route to Algiers, shortly after leaving Gibraltar, Decatur”s squadron encountered off Cape Gata and after a brief battle captured the Algerian deejay”s flagship “Meshuda”. Shortly thereafter, the Algerian brig “Estedio” was captured in a clash off Cape Palos.
In the last week of June the squadron reached Algiers and talks with the deej began. After protracted negotiations, in which persistent demands for compensation alternated with threats to bombard the city, the dey capitulated. Under the terms of the treaty, signed aboard the USS “Guerriere” in the roadstead of Algiers on July 3, 1815, Decatur agreed to return, for $10,000, the “Meshuda” and the “Estedio,” while the Algerians were to release all the Americans held captive, of whom there were to be about ten, as well as a significant group of Europeans. Article 3 of the treaty stated: “The United States, in accordance with the customs accepted among civilized nations, shall not demand ransom for the release of the crews taken prisoner.” The treaty guaranteed that there would be no future collection of tributes. This was stated in Article 2: “It is understood by both contracting parties that in the future no tributes, presents, or any other form of payment will, under any pretext, be required by the Dey and the Regency of Algiers from the United States of America.” Ultimately, the treaty granted all shipping rights to the United States.
As soon as Decatur left Algiers heading for Tunis to negotiate identical terms with the Bey there, and for Tripoli, where he intended to force the feed to abide by earlier agreements, the deej of Algiers rejected the treaty.
In early 1816, Britain undertook a diplomatic mission, backed by a small squadron of ships of the line, intending to persuade the rulers of Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers to cease acts of piracy and release Christian slaves. The rulers of Tunis and Tripoli agreed without resistance, but the dey of Algiers proved stubborn and the negotiations were turbulent. Edward Pellew, who headed the mission, convinced that he had finally negotiated a treaty abolishing the slavery of Christians, returned to England. Meanwhile, shortly after the treaty was signed, as a result of conflicting orders, Algerian troops slaughtered some 200 fishermen from Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica under British protection. This caused an outburst of rage in Britain and Europe in the belief that Pellew”s negotiations had failed.
As a result, Pellew was once again sent to sea with instructions to complete his mission and at the same time punish the recalcitrant Algerians. For this purpose he received a squadron of five ships of the line escorted by a number of frigates and supported by six Dutch ships.
On August 27, 1816, after a round of failed negotiations, the fleet conducted a 9-hour bombardment of the city. The attack destroyed many pirate ships and coastal batteries, forcing the deejay to accept the terms he had rejected the previous day. Pellew warned that if the conditions were not implemented, the bombardment would resume. The dey accepted the terms not knowing that the Englishman was bluffing, for the fleet had fired all its ammunition. The treaty was signed on September 24. 1,083 Christian slaves and the British consul were freed, and the U.S. recovered the last tribute paid.
This time, unlike after the First Berber War, when almost all European countries were involved in hostilities (including the Americans with the British), there were no major wars in Europe. The era of colonialism and imperialism began, of which the Berber states were also victims, as the European powers reached for all sources of food, minerals, and cheap labor.