Morocco: Diplomatic Intrigues under Roosevelt

The North African nation of Morocco drew the attention of the Roosevelt administration on two occasions.

  • The Perdicaris Affair. In May 1904, an apparently naturalized U.S. citizen, Ion Perdicaris, was captured in Morocco by a chieftain named Raisuli. Roosevelt hurriedly dispatched warships to Tangier despite the fact that quiet diplomatic efforts were on the verge of securing the captive's release.
  • Roosevelt, however, chose to exercise the "big stick" on the eve of the Republican nominating convention. Secretary of State John Hay sent a well-publicized telegram to the Moroccans, ordering "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead." Many Americans, including delegates at the convention, preferred to believe that the demand had been made by the president. Perdicaris was promptly released by humiliated Moroccan officials.

    It was later learned that evidence that Perdicaris was actually a Greek citizen had been offered to Roosevelt, but the president wanted to avoid a loss of face that would have resulted from recalling the fleet.

  • Algeciras Conference. The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed a race among the European powers for commercial control in Africa. Britain achieved ascendancy in Egypt and the Italians were to control Tripoli. France, Spain and Germany vied for dominance in Morocco. Kaiser Wilhelm II, searching for Germany's "place in the sun," traveled to Tangier in March 1905 and delivered a saber-rattling speech concerning his nation's ambitions in Morocco. Tensions rapidly developed and talk of war circulated through the European capitals.

    Wilhelm II, despite his swagger, realized that Germany was not prepared for war and prevailed upon a reluctant Roosevelt to back an international peace conference. The major powers assembled in Algeciras, Spain in 1906 and agreed upon the following:

    • Morocco's territorial integrity was to be respected
    • The "open door" was to be recognized by all powers
    • The French and Spanish were given supervisory powers over the Moroccan police.

    The Algeciras Conference was a bitter pill for Germany. Late in joining the race for colonies, they failed miserably with their attempt in Morocco. Roosevelt, who did not personally attend the meetings, was really more interested in securing peace in the Russo-Japanese War than in becoming involved in Africa. Many in the United States were critical of American participation in the conference, arguing that it was unwise to be drawn into such a remote location where the nation had only the most limited commercial interests. The Senate reluctantly ratified the Algeciras treaty, but did so only with a stipulation that American involvement did not represent a departure from its traditional policy of avoiding participation in European disputes.

    From the European viewpoint, Algeciras was successful in that a potential war was averted, but the wedge between Anglo-French interests and those of the Germans was increased.

See other foreign affairs issues under Theodore Roosevelt.

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