How 'Old Hickory' reacted to murdered Americans in distant lands

The deadly and brazen attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi on Sept.11 demonstrated the ongoing threat that radical Islamists pose to Americans and American interests around the world. The weak and deceptive response to the attack by the Obama administration should justifiably worry every American that sees a Middle East in flames and rising world powers willing to challenge the United States.


While information about the Benghazi attack has been muddled, it is appearing more and more likely that the State Department and the Obama administration delayed and prevented a military intervention in the drawn out siege of the U.S. embassy.

The Obama administration initially tried to blame the Benghazi attack and the violence that erupted in the Middle East on a movie trailer, made by an American, which amateurishly made fun of Muslims. A number of liberals were calling for a crackdown of free speech, the arrest of the filmmakers and were blaming Americans for the acts of murder and terrorism. However, it has become apparent that the White House knew that the attack was an act of terrorism just hours after the assault began.

Sen. Rand Paul wrote an op-ed titled, “Where Were the Marines?” in which he described how there were no marines present at the Libyan embassy, even though there are at least several hundred guarding the Iraq embassy. Paul demonstrated how precautions to protect the Libyan embassy were not taken and the woeful response to the drawn-out assault. On top of the scarce protection, was the even worse failure to call for support when the embassy was under siege.

A weak and muddled response is the last thing the United States needs in the Middle East and North African Coast. The proper American message to the brutal murders should have been more in line with how an early 19th century president dealt with Americans being slain in far off lands.


On Febrauary 7, 1831, the American spice trader out of Salem, Massachusetts, Friendship, was boarded and raided by Malaysian pirates in the Sumatran port of Qullah Battoo and four Americans were killed. This attack had occurred after years of peaceful trading between Americans and Sumatrans.

Siege of Quallah Battoo

According to Charles Corn, the author of The Scents of Eden, the Sumatrans on the island yelled to Friendship Captain, Charles Edicott after the raid, “Who great man now, Malay or American?” “How many American Dead?” “How many Malay dead?”

The attack had occurred in large part because the Sumatrans had no reason to fear the United States. Although they had seen British and Dutch warships for years, no show of American force had ever been seen in nearly half a century despite warnings from American merchants.

When told of American naval might, the Sumatran natives would say, “American gunship! No have got big American gunship!”

Jon Meacham noted in the book American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House that Captain Endicott said of the Sumatrans in his report, “May the mistake under which they rest, that the Americans have not the power to chastise them, be corrected with all convenient dispatch!”

The precedent set by the two engagements on the North African coast during the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, called the Barbary Wars, would be brutally followed by President Andrew Jackson twenty years later.  The reaction to the piracy and murder was as swift and decisive as naval action halfway around the world could be in the 19th century.


Jackson said of the incident that, “the flag of the Union is not to be insulted with impunity,” and he gave the order to Commodore John Downs of the frigate, Potomac, to demand restitution from the local warlord, or raja.

When Downes asked for a clarification of his orders, Secretary of the Navy Levi Woodbury said, “Give the rascals a good thrashing.”

In a clear act of unilateral intervention, the Potomac entered the Quallah Battoo harbor and proceeded to level it to the ground, first the marines were sent in to raze the fortifications, and then the ship bombarded the city from a distance. Hundreds of people were killed in  Quallah Battoo and the city lay in ashes.

After the assault, the leaders of Quallah Battoo pleaded for forgiveness and Commodore Downes agreed to end hostilities while reminding the inhabitants that the United States had no desire to take the island. American goals were trade and defense, not maritime empire.

According to Corn, the impact of the Battle of Qullah Battoo reverberated all throughout Sumatra. Commodore Downs said to Secretary Woodbury of the other Sumatran rajas, “All of them have declared their friendly dispositions toward the Americans, and their desire to obtain our friendship.”

America still had a relatively light protective force for their trade in Sumatra and a few years later, during the Martin Van Buren presidency, another American merchant ship was attacked. Yet again, an expedition was sent and it too laid siege to a Sumatran port and again the outcome was overwhelming American victory. After the Second Sumatran War there would be no more assaults on American shipping and the United States learned its lesson, bolstering the defense for overseas trade with more warships.


President Obama’s reaction to the attack on the Libyan embassy couldn’t be farther from the actions of presidents in the early days of the American Republic. Instead of seeking justice while condemning violent acts against U.S. citizens, the Obama administration sacrificed American lives and retreated from American values, like the freedom of speech.

Rep. Allen West (R.-Fla.) had the best response to the Benghazi attack, truly in the spirit of Andrew Jackson, “The future does not belong to those who attack our Embassies and Consulates and kill our Ambassadors. The Angel of Death in the form of an American Bald Eagle will visit you and wreak havoc and destruction upon your existence.”


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