William Smith of South Carolina made a reply in which he defined the issue as being between defense and tribute; but Giles had the last word. He wanted to know whether it was maintained that the frigates it was proposed to build would “boldly march upon land and break the chains of the prisoners?” He begged Congress not to do what “would irritate the barbarians and furnish additional misery to the unfortunate prisoners.” In this closing struggle over the bill Giles fought single-handed. When he had quite finished, the bill was passed by 50 yeas to 39 nays, a result which showed a decided gain in strength from the discussion.
The debates in the Senate have not been preserved, but the Senate was so evenly divided that it took the casting vote of the Vice-President to pass the bill, which became law March 27, 1794. In order to get it passed at all, a proviso had been tacked on that, if peace terms could be arranged, “no farther proceeding be had under this Act.” In September, 1795, a treaty of peace with Algiers was finally concluded, after negotiations had been facilitated by a contingent fee of $18,000 paid to “Bacri the Jew, who has as much art in this sort of management as any man we ever knew,” the American agents reported. It was a keen bargain, as Bacri had to propitiate court officials at his own risk, and had to look for both reimbursement and personal profit, too, out of the lump sum he was to receive in event of his success. It can hardly be doubted that he had the situation securely in hand before making the bargain. The money paid in Algiers for the ransom of the captives, for tribute and for presents to officials amounted to $642,500.00. But in addition the United States agreed to build a frigate for the Algerine navy and also supply naval stores, which with incidental expenses brought the total cost of the peace treaty up to $992,463.25. Moreover, the United States agreed to pay an annual tribute of 12,000 sequins,—about $27,500.
By the terms of the navy act, the United States had to stop building vessels for its own protection. Of those which had been authorized, the frigates Constitution, United States, and Constellation were under way and were eventually completed. The timber, with material that had been collected for the other vessels, was sold, except what was needed for the frigate which was to be presented to the Algerines, and which was to be built at Portsmouth, N.H. The whole affair was a melancholy business that must have occasioned Washington deep chagrin. In his address to Congress, December 7, 1796, announcing the success of the negotiations for effecting the release of the captives, he observed that “to secure respect to a neutral flag requires a naval force, organized and ready to vindicate it from insult or aggression.”
FRENCH DESIGNS ON AMERICA