The opening line of the “Marines’ Hymn”—“From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli”—commemorates the Mexican War (1846–1848) and the war with Tripoli when Marines took Part 1n the capture of Derna on April 27, 1805. There is a new war going on, a war over history. Keith Ellison (D. Minn.), the first Muslim Congressman, told the Detroit Free Press that he used Thomas Jefferson’s two-volume copy of the Koran to take his oath of office because the book helped influence the founding fathers of America. According to Ellison, the Koran is “definitely an important historical document in our national history and demonstrates that Jefferson was a broad visionary thinker who not only possessed a Quran, but read it. . . . It would have been something that contributed to his own thinking.” There is no doubt about that, but in what way?

Jefferson, embroiled in a war with Islamic terrorists in his day, commented, “Too long, for the honor of nations, have those Barbarians been [permitted] to trample on the sacred faith of treaties, on the rights and laws of human nature!”[1] Little has changed since the eighteenth century. In Joseph Wheelan’s well researched and highly readable book on America’s first war on terror with Islam, we learn that “Jefferson’s war pitted a modern republic with a free-trade, entrepreneurial creed against a medieval autocracy whose credo was piracy and terror. It matched an ostensibly Christian nation against an avowed Islamic one that professed to despise Christians.”[2] Wheelan’s historical assessment of the time is on target. “Except for its Native American population and a small percentage of Jews, the United States was solidly Christian, while the North African regencies were just as solidly Muslim—openly hostile toward Christians.”[3]

Dumas Malone, Jefferson’s biographer, writes: “Treaties had been made with these petty piratical powers in the past, all of them calling for what amounted to tribute. The United States was acting like the other nations with commerce to protect, but Jefferson had opposed this sort of policy from the time he was in France, believing that the only effective language to employ against these brigands of the sea was that of force. He never believed in buying peace with them, and actually he was the first President to use force against them.”[4]

So what did Jefferson learn from the Koran? As early as 1786, Jefferson, who was serving as the ambassador to France, and John Adams, the Ambassador to Britain, met in London with Ambassador Abdrahaman, the Dey of Tripoli’s ambassador to Britain, in an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty based on Congress’ vote of funding. Peace would come at a price. If America wanted “temporary peace,” a one-year guarantee, it would cost $66,000 plus a 10% commission. “Everlasting peace” was a bargain at $160,000 plus the obligatory commission. This only applied to Tripoli. Other nations would also have to be paid. The amount came to $1.3 million. But as we saw above, there was no assurance that the treaties would be honored. In vain Jefferson and Adams tried to argue that the United States were not at war with Tripoli. In what way had the U.S provoked the Muslims, they asked? Ambassador Abdrahaman went on to explain “the finer points of Islamic jihad” to the Koranically challenged Jefferson and Adams. In a letter to John Jay, Jefferson wrote the following:

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, and that every Musselman [Muslim] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.[5]

Abdrahaman was paraphrasing the Koran’s “rules of engagement” found in the 47 Surah: “Whenever you encounter the ones who disbelieve [during wartime], seize them by their necks until once you have subdued them, then tie them up as prisoners, either in order to release them later on, or also to ask for ransom, until war lays down her burdens.” Unless a nation submitted to Islam, whether it was the aggressor or not, that nation was by definition at war with Islam. It’s no wonder that Jefferson studied the Koran. He realized that if Americans ever capitulated, the Muslims would be singing “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of A-mer-i-ca.”

Footnotes:
[1]
. Thomas Jefferson, congratulatory letter to Lt. Andrew Sterett (1760–1807). Quoted in Joseph Wheelan, Jefferson’s War: America’s First War on Terror, 1801–1805 (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003), 102
[2]. Wheelan, Jefferson’s War, xxiii.**
[3]**. Wheelan, Jefferson’s War, 7.**
[4]**. Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President: First Term, 1801–1805 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970), 4:97–98. **[5]**. Quoted in Wheeler, Jefferson’s War, 40–41.