In the meantime Adams and Jefferson were attempting to conclude a treaty with Tripoli. The initiative, relative to this, had been taken by one Abdurrahman, a Tripolitan ambassador in London. To an acquaintance he had expressed surprise that Adams had not left a card as the other foreign ministers had done, and could explain the omission only on the basis of his country’s being at war with the United States. “We will make peace with them, however,” he was reported to have said, “for a tribute of a hundred thousand dollars a year—not less.”
This event led to the first of a series of conferences regarding relations between the United States and Tripoli. Adams paid Abdurrahman a visit, and on that occasion the two men discussed a state of war existing between their respective countries. Adams inquired why there should be such hostility in view of the fact that there had been no “injury, insult, or provocation on either side.”
To this query the Tripolitan replied that the Barbary States, and Turkey, were the “sovereigns of the Mediterranean,” and would permit no nation to navigate it without a treaty of peace. He then produced a commission from his government, granting him wide powers in the negotiation of treaties.