Long before the United States came into existence, the Barbary States of northern Africa had gained their revenue from piracy and the European nations had paid them money and gifts for immunity to their vessels. This practice was adopted by the young American republic, and tribute was part of the treaty of 1796-97. Because the people of Northern Africa were predominantly Islamic, and the people of the United States were predominantly Christian, the Barbary States wanted some assurance that the new United States government had no religious animosity against the Barbary States. Thus, Article 11 (see below) was added to the treaty as an extra assurance of peace between the U.S. government and the Barbary States. Note that the treaty uses the now-obsolete terms "Musselmen" to mean "Muslims" (Islamic people) and "Mehomitan" (based on the Islamic prophet Mohammed) to mean "Islamic."
Although the English translation was a relatively poor translation from the original Arabic, what you see below is the English text that was given to the U.S. Senate for consideration. The Senate unanimously ratified the treaty. President John Adams, in his proclamation of the treaty, said he had "seen and considered the said Treaty" and "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, had agreed to accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof." It has been printed in all official and unofficial treaty collections since it appeared in the Session Laws of the Fifth Congress (1797) and in The Laws of the United States, edited by R. Folwell (1799). The full text of the treaty was published in several major U.S. newspapers at the time, and there is no historical evidence of any public disagreement with the facts as stated by Article 11 of the Treaty. Indeed, the treaty was used (along with the language of the U.S. Constitution) by some conservative Christian ministers (most notably, staunch Presbyterian minister Samuel Wiley) to attack the U.S. government as being sinful, un-Christian, and anti-Godly.
Article VI of the United States Constitution makes this treaty legally binding U.S. law: "all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."
The Barbary Treaties
Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796
Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796 and at Algiers January 3, 1797. Original in Arabic. Arabic and English translations submitted to the Senate May 29, 1797. Resolution of advice and consent June 7, 1797. Ratified by the United States June 10, 1797. Proclaimed by U.S. President Adams June 10, 1797.
[English Translation from the Arabic by Joel Barlow, U.S. Consul to Algiers, 1796-7]
Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary.
There is a firm and perpetual Peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, made by the free consent of both parties, and guaranteed by the most potent Dey & regency of Algiers.
If any goods belonging to any nation with which either of the parties is at war shall be loaded on board of vessels belonging to the other party they shall pass free, and no attempt shall be made to take or detain them.
If any citizens, subjects or effects belonging to either party shall be found on board a prize vessel taken from an enemy by the other party, such citizens or subjects shall be set at liberty, and the effects restored to the owners.
Proper passports are to be given to all vessels of both parties, by which they are to be known. And, considering the distance between the two countries, eighteen months from the date of this treaty shall be allowed for procuring such passports. During this interval the other papers belonging to such vessels shall be sufficient for their protection.
A citizen or subject of either party having bought a prize vessel condemned by the other party or by any other nation, the certificate of condemnation and bill of sale shall be a sufficient passport for such vessel for one year; this being a reasonable time for her to procure a proper passport.
Vessels of either party putting into the ports of the other and having need of provissions or other supplies, they shall be furnished at the market price. And if any such vessel shall so put in from a disaster at sea and have occasion to repair, she shall be at liberty to land and reembark her cargo without paying any duties. But in no case shall she be compelled to land her cargo.
Should a vessel of either party be cast on the shore of the other, all proper assistance shall be given to her and her people; no pillage shall be allowed; the property shall remain at the disposition of the owners, and the crew protected and succoured till they can be sent to their country.
If a vessel of either party should be attacked by an enemy within gun-shot of the forts of the other she shall be defended as much as possible. If she be in port she shall not be seized or attacked when it is in the power of the other party to protect her. And when she proceeds to sea no enemy shall be allowed to pursue her from the same port within twenty four hours after her departure.
The commerce between the United States and Tripoli,-the protection to be given to merchants, masters of vessels and seamen,- the reciprocal right of establishing consuls in each country, and the privileges, immunities and jurisdictions to be enjoyed by such consuls, are declared to be on the same footing with those of the most favoured nations respectively.
The money and presents demanded by the Bey of Tripoli as a full and satisfactory consideration on his part and on the part of his subjects for this treaty of perpetual peace and friendship are acknowledged to have been recieved by him previous to his signing the same, according to a reciept which is hereto annexed, except such part as is promised on the part of the United States to be delivered and paid by them on the arrival of their Consul in Tripoly, of which part a note is likewise hereto annexed. And no presence of any periodical tribute or farther payment is ever to be made by either party.
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
In case of any dispute arising from a notation of any of the articles of this treaty no appeal shall be made to arms, nor shall war be declared on any pretext whatever. But if the (consul residing at the place where the dispute shall happen shall not be able to settle the same, an amicable referrence shall be made to the mutual friend of the parties, the Dey of Algiers, the parties hereby engaging to abide by his decision. And he by virtue of his signature to this treaty engages for himself and successors to declare the justice of the case according to the true interpretation of the treaty, and to use all the means in his power to enforce the observance of the same.
Signed and sealed at Tripoli of Barbary the 3d day of Jumad in the year of the Higera 1211-corresponding with the 4th day of Novr 1796 by
JUSSUF BASHAW MAHOMET Bey
GALIL Genl of the Troops
AMET Minister of Marine
MAHOMET Coml of the city
ALLY-Chief of the Divan
Signed and sealed at Algiers the 4th day of Argib 1211-corresponding with the 3d day of January 1797 by
HASSAN BASHAW Dey
and by the Agent plenipotentiary of the United States of America
[Seal] Joel BARLOW