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Early Relations

U.S. Morocco Relations - The Beginning

Morocco and the United States have a long history of friendly relations. This North African nation was one of the first states to seek diplomatic relations with America. In 1777, Sultan Sidi Muhammad Ben Abdullah, the most progressive of the Barbary leaders who ruled Morocco from 1757 to 1790, announced his desire for friendship with the United States. The Sultan's overture was part of a new policy he was implementing as a result of his recognition of the need to establish peaceful relations with the Christian powers and his desire to establish trade as a basic source of revenue. Faced with serious economic and political difficulties, he was searching for a new method of governing which required changes in his economy. Instead of relying on a standing professional army to collect taxes and enforce his authority, he wanted to establish state-controlled maritime trade as a new, more reliable, and regular source of income which would free him from dependency on the services of the standing army. The opening of his ports to America and other states was part of that new policy.

The Sultan issued a declaration on December 20, 1777, announcing that all vessels sailing under the American flag could freely enter Moroccan ports. The Sultan stated that orders had been given to his corsairs to let the ship "des Americains" and those of other European states with which Morocco had no treaties-Russia Malta, Sardinia, Prussia, Naples, Hungary, Leghorn, Genoa, and Germany-pass freely into Moroccan ports. There they could "take refreshments" and provisions and enjoy the same privileges as other nations that had treaties with Morocco. This action, under the diplomatic practice of Morocco at the end of the 18th century, put the United States on an equal footing with all other nations with which the Sultan had treaties. By issuing this declaration, Morocco became one of the first states to acknowledge publicly the independence of the American Republic.

On February 2O, 1778, the sultan of Morocco reissued his December 20, 1777, declaration. American officials, however, only belatedly learned of the Sultan's full intentions. Nearly identical to the first, the February 20 declaration was again sent to all consuls and merchants in the ports of Tangier, Sale, and Mogador informing them the Sultan had opened his ports to Americans and nine other European States. Information about the Sultan's desire for friendly relations with the United States first reached Benjamin Franklin, one of the American commissioners in Paris, sometime in late April or early May 1778 from Etienne d'Audibert Caille, a French merchant of Sale. Appointed by the Sultan to serve as Consul for all the nations unrepresented in Morocco, Caille wrote on behalf of the Sultan to Franklin from Cadiz on April 14, 1778, offering to negotiate a treaty between Morocco and the United States on the same terms the Sultan had negotiated with other powers. When he did not receive a reply, Caille wrote Franklin a second letter sometime later that year or in early 1779. When Franklin wrote to the committee on Foreign Affairs in May 1779, he reported he had received two letters from a Frenchman who "offered to act as our Minister with the Emperor" and informed the American commissioner that "His Imperial Majesty wondered why we had never sent to thank him for being the first power on this side of the Atlantic that had acknowledged our independence and opened his ports to us." Franklin, who did not mention the dates of Caille's letters or when he had received them, added that he had ignored these letters because the French advised him that Caille was reputed to be untrustworthy. Franklin stated that the French King was willing to use his good offices with the Sultan whenever Congress desired a treaty and concluded, "whenever a treaty with the Emperor is intended, I suppose some of our naval stores will be an acceptable present and the expectation of continued supplies of such stores a powerful motive for entering into and continuing a friendship."

Since the Sultan received no acknowledgement of his good will gestures by the fall of 1 779, he made another attempt to contact the new American government. Under instructions from the Moroccan ruler, Caille wrote a letter to Congress in September 1779 in care of Franklin in Paris to announce his appointment as Consul and the Sultan's desire to be at peace with the United States. The Sultan, he reiterated, wished to conclude a treaty "similar to those Which the principal maritime powers have with him." Americans were invited to "come and traffic freely in these ports in like manner as they formerly did under the English flag." Caille also wrote to John Jay, the American representative at Madrid, on April 21,1780, asking for help in conveying the Sultan's message to Congress and enclosing a copy of Caille's commission from the Sultan to act as Consul for all nations that had none in Morocco, as well as a copy of the February 20, 1778, declaration. Jay received that letter with enclosures in May 1780, but because it was not deemed to be of great importance, he did not forward it and its enclosures to Congress until November 30, 1 780.

Before Jay's letter with the enclosures from Caille reached Congress, Samuel Huntington, President of Congress, made the first official response to the Moroccan overtures in a letter of November 28,1780, to Franklin. Huntington wrote that Congress had received a letter from Caille, and asked Franklin to reply. Assure him, wrote Huntington, "in the name of Congress and in terms most respectful to the Emperor that we entertain a sincere disposition to cultivate the most perfect friendship with him, and are desirous to enter into a treaty of commerce with him; and that we shall embrace a favorable opportunity to announce our wishes in form."

The U.S. Government sent its first official communication to the Sultan of Morocco in December 1780. It read:
We the Congress of the 13 United States of North America, have been informed of your Majesty's favorable regard to the interests of the people we represent, which has been communicated by Monsieur Etienne d'Audibert Caille of Sale, Consul of Foreign nations unrepresented in your Majesty's states. We assure you of our earnest desire to cultivate a sincere and firm peace and friendship with your Majesty and to make it lasting to all posterity. Should any of the subjects of our states come within the ports of your Majesty's territories, we flatter ourselves they will receive the benefit of your protection and benevolence. You may assure yourself of every protection and assistance to your subjects from the people of these states whenever and wherever they may have it in their power. We pray your Majesty may enjoy long life and uninterrupted prosperity.

No action was taken either by Congress or the Sultan for over two years. The Americans, preoccupied with the war against Great Britain, directed their diplomacy at securing arms, money, military support, and recognition from France, Spain, and the Netherlands and eventually sought peace with England. Moreover, Sultan Sidi Muhammad and more pressing concerns and focused on his relations with the European powers, especially Spain and Britain over the question of Gibraltar. From 1778 to 1782, the Moroccan leader also turned to domestic difficulties resulting from drought and famine, and unpopular food tax, food shortages and inflation of food prices, trade problems, and a disgruntledmilitary.

The American commissioners in Paris, John Adams, Jay, and Franklin urged Congress in September 1783 to take some action in negotiating a treaty with Morocco. "The Emperor of Morocco has manifested a very friendly disposition towards us," they wrote. "He expects and is reading to receive a Minister from us; and as he may be succeeded by a prince differently disposed, a treaty with him may be of importance. Our trade to the Mediterranean will not be inconsiderable, and the friendship of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli may become very interesting in case the Russians should succeed in their endeavors to navigate freely into it by Constantinople."

Congress finally acted in the spring of 1784. On May 7, Congress authorized its Ministers in Paris, Franklin, Jay, and Adams, to conclude treaties of amity and commerce with Russia, Austria, Prussia, Denmark, Saxony, Hamburg, great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Genoa, Tuscany, Rome, Naples, Venice, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Porte as well as the Barbary States of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. The treaties with the Barbary States were to be in force for 10 years or longer. The commissioners were instructed to inform the Sultan of Morocco of the "great satisfaction which Congress feels from the amicable disposition he has shown towards these states." They were asked to state that "the occupations of the war and distance of our situation have prevented our meeting his friendship so early as we wished." A few days later, commissions were given to the three men to negotiate the treaties.

Continued delays by American officials exasperated the sultan and prompted him to take more drastic action to gain their attention. On October 11,1784, the Moroccans captured the American merchant ship, Betsey. After the ship and crew were taken to Tangier, he announced that he would release the men, ship, and cargo once a treaty with the United States was concluded. Accordingly, preparation for negotiations with Morocco began in 1785. On March 1 Congress authorized the commissioners to delegate to some suitable agent the authority to negotiate treaties with the Barbary States. The agent was required to follow the commissioners' instructions and to submit the negotiated treaty to them for approval. Congress also empowered the commissioners to spend a maximum of 80,000 dollars to conclude treaties with these states. Franklin left Paris on July 12, 1785, to return to the United States, 3 days after the Sultan released the Betsey and its crew. Thomas Jefferson became Minister to France and thereafter negotiations were conducted by Adams in London and Jefferson in Paris. On October 11, 1785, the commissioners appointed Thomas Barclay, American Consul in Paris, to negotiate a treaty with Morocco on the basis of a draft treaty drawn up by the commissioners. That same day the commissioners appointed Thomas Lamb as special agent to negotiate a treaty with Algiers. Barclay was given a maximum of 20,000 dollars for the treaty and instructed to gather information concerning the commerce, ports, naval and land forces, languages, religion, and government as well as evidence of Europeans attempting to obstruct American negotiations with the Barbary States.

Barclay left Paris on January 15, 1 786, and after several stops, including 21/2 months in Madrid, arrived in Marrakech on June 19. While the French offered some moral support to the United States in their negotiations with Morocco, it was the Spanish government that furnished substantial backing in the form of letters from the Spanish King and Prime Minister to the Sultan of Morocco. After a cordial welcome, Barclay conducted the treaty negotiations in two audiences with Sidi Muhammad and Tahir Fannish, a leading Moroccan diplomat from a Morisco family in Sale who headed the negotiations. The earlier proposals drawn up by the American commissioners in Paris became the basis for the treaty. While the Emperor opposed several articles, the final form contained in substance all that the Americans requested. When asked about tribute, Barclay stated that he "had to offer to His Majesty the friendship of the United States and to receive his in return, to form a treaty with him on liberal and equal terms. But if any engagements for future presents or tributes were necessary, I must return without any treaty." The Moroccan leader accepted Barclay's declaration that the United States would offer friendship but no tribute for the treaty, and the question of presents or tribute was not raised again. Barclay accepted no favor except the ruler's promise to send letters to Constantinople, Tunisia, Tripoli, and Algiers recommending they conclude treaties with the United States.

Barclay and the Moroccans quickly reached agreement on the Treaty of Friendship and Amity. Also called the Treaty of Marrakech, it was sealed by the Emperor on June 23 and delivered to Barclay to sign on June 28. In addition, a separate ship seals agreement, providing for the identification at sea of American and Moroccan vessels, was signed at Marrakech on July 6,1786. Binding for 50 years, the Treaty was signed by Thomas Jefferson at Paris on January 1, 1787, and John Adams at London on January 25, 1787, and was ratified by Congress on July 18, 1787. The negotiation of this treaty marked the beginning of diplomatic relations between the two countries and it was the first treaty between any Arab, Muslim, or African State and the United States.

Congress found the treaty with Morocco highly satisfactory and passed a note of thanks to Barclay and to Spain for help in the negotiations. Barclay had reported fully on the amicable negotiations and written that the king of Morocco had "acted in a manner most gracious and condescending, and I really believe the Americans possess as much of his respect and regard as does any Christian nation whatsoever." Barclay portrayed the King as "a just man, according to this idea of justice, of great personal courage, liberal to a degree, a lover of his people, stern" and "rigid in distributing justice." The Sultan sent a friendly letter to the President of Congress with the treaty and included another from the Moorish minister, Sidi Fennish, which was highly complimentary of Barclay.

The United States established a consulate in Morocco in 1797. President Washington had requested funds for this post in a message to Congress on March 2, 1795, and James Simpson, the U.S. Consul at Gibraltar who was appointed to this post, took up residence in Tangier 2 years later. Sultan Sidi Muhammad's successor, Sultan Moulay Soliman, had recommended to Simpson the establishment of a consulate because he believed it would provide greater protection for American vessels. In 1821, the Moroccan leader gave the United States one of the most beautiful buildings in Tangier for its consular representative. This building served as the seat of the principal U.S. representative to Morocco until 1956 and is the oldest piece of property owned by the United States abroad.

U. S.-Moroccan relations from 1777 to 1787 reflected the international and economic concerns of these two states in the late 18th century. The American leaders and the Sultan signed the 1786 treaty, largely for economic reasons, but also realized that a peaceful relationship would aid them in their relations with other powers. The persistent friendliness of Sultan Sidi Muhammad to the young republic, in spite of the fact that his overtures were initially ignored, was the most important factor in the establishment of this relationship.