The Barbary Coast Pirates & Not One Cent for Slavery

The Pirates' Ruse Luring a Merchantman In The Olden Days, c.1896
The Pirates’ Ruse Luring a Merchantman In The Olden Days, c.1896

Being relatively inexpensive to produce, 19th-Century American tokens were a common and popular way to express political opinion and ideologies. Given their diminutive size and ease of dissemination, tokens were perfect messengers for political expression, while at the same time being used as much needed instruments for conducting commerce and trade.

Such is the case with an Anti-Slavery token produced by William Leggett Bramhall. Being a staunch Republican and supporter of Presidential-candidate Abraham Lincoln, Bramhall saw a medalet token as a lucrative and effective way to bolster Lincoln and get the word out about his pro-abolitionist stance. Depicted on his token are the words: “MILLIONS FOR FREEDOM / NOT ONE CENT FOR SLAVERY”

The origin of this slogan harkens back to the dawn of the 19th century, during an era when the Barbary States required annual tribute for free passage along their coasts. Walking the Plank

Walking the PlankAt the time, pirate ships and crews from North Africa’s Berber states of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers were mercilessly plaguing the Mediterranean.

The capture of merchant ships, and enslavement and ransom of their crews were the main sources of wealth and naval power for the Muslim rulers of the fiefdoms.

Countries who desired unfettered access along their coasts were extorted; those which didn’t pay were routinely harrowed and attacked by the pirates. Either way, the situation forced countries to pay; even those that could barely afford it.

Such a dilemma was also faced by the United States. Initially the U.S. chose to begin building a naval fleet of frigates.

But then the United States attempted to negotiate treaties and make payments to end the atrocities. To avoid fighting an expensive war, the United States met the Barbary states’ demands for “tribute” payments, and temporary paused their efforts at frigate construction.

In quick time however, both the public as well as the leadership of the early United States found such tributes repulsive and expensive. Robert Goodloe Harper, a galvanizing Congressman from South Carolina, gave a defiant speech in 1798.

In his speech he voiced the slogan:



His words echoed across the country, and quickly evolved to represent the public’s sentiment of the time.

At the same time, the warring nations of Europe, especially France and Great Britain, began their own attacks on defenseless American commercial shipping. Ultimately, the combination of attacks by European powers, as well as the ongoing demand of tributes, led to the formation of the U.S. Navy.

The Bombardment of Tripoli
The U.S. Navy’s Bombardment of Tripoli

Founded in 1798, the Navy was tasked to prevent further pirate attacks against American vessels, as well put a final end to the hugely expensive tributes demanded by the Barbary States. Once effective, the Navy fought back against the European attacks, and the Barbary Wars ensued from 1801 through 1805, with the U.S victorious in both fronts.

Given the savage atrocities committed by the pirates of the Barbary coast at the time, Bramhill’s employment of a modified slogan metaphorically alludes similarly to the barbarism of slavery.





Union And Liberty!

Bramhill’s slogan on his medalet became so popular, that it quickly evolved to become a common rallying cry for abolitionists.

Struck by the Scoville Manufacturing Company of Waterbury Connecticut, a total of 15,000 in brass, 7 in silver, and 75 in copper were made.

The obverse reads “SUCCESS TO REPUBLICAN PRINCIPLES,” aligning the abolitionist movement to Lincoln’s Presidential campaign.

The reverse device of the medalet features crossed palm fronds, a triumph symbol, and a six-pointed star. Around the coin and amidst the devices, its motto reads “MILLIONS FOR FREEDOM NOT ONE CENT FOR SLAVERY.”

Dewitt 1860-59 Lincoln's Millions for Freedom 'Not One Cent for Slavery'
Dewitt 1860-59, R-7

The specimen above, Dewitt-1860-59, was struck in copper. Given the surviving number of copper specimens known, this gives it a rarity rating of R-7.

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. The Story of Africa and Its Explorers Volume 1, Robert Brown, Cassell, 1892
  2. Proceedings of The Annual Meeting Issues 44-49, The American Numismatic Society, 1902, pg.15
  3. ‘Abraham Lincoln Presidential Campaign Medal,’ Yale University Art Gallery eCatalogue
  4. Library of Congress Digital Archives
  5. The United States Navy Digital Archives
Aaron Packard

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