This is a guest post by Dr. Jamie L. Jones.*
Given the length of this post, be sure to click at the line marked "continue reading Pirates at the Legation..."
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One hundred and fifty years ago this week, the sultan of Morocco weighed in on the United States Civil War: Morocco would side with the Union, against the rebelling Confederate states. The announcement was subtle but decisive, delivered in the form of an edict about ships entering Moroccan ports. Because Morocco did not recognize the legitimacy of the Confederate government, it would not allow Confederate ships to enter Moroccan ports.
In a letter dated September 23, 1863, the sultan and his ministers issued this order to the bashaws in all the ports of Morocco:
...if any vessel of the so-called Confederate states enters your ports, it shall not be received, but you must order it away at once, as they are not allowed entrance, because we do not know them, and they have no consul by which they may be known to us, or who may act for them; therefore we have prohibited their entrance on pain of seizure; and you will act on this subject in cooperation with the United States vice-consul, in accordance with the treaties and in conformity with our master’s royal order. And peace.
A ship is a material emblem of its state, and when Morocco closed its maritime ports to the Confederates, it closed the country to the Confederacy at large.
The formal letter offers a glimpse of diplomacy as a polite process carried out in pen and paper. But the letter was the last stage in a process that began a year and a half earlier when the U.S. Consulate at Tangier (now the Tangier American Legation) played host to two pirates and a noisy riot. The Civil War’s arrival in Tangier was strange and surprising: an important, if little-known, episode in the history of relations between the U.S. and Morocco.
During the winter of 1862, the U.S. Consul James De Long got word that two Confederate naval officers were visiting town on a short layover. The men had been sailing with the Confederate raider Sumter, which had been sinking Union ships in the Mediterranean. When De Long heard that the two men had landed at the port, he acted quickly. With the assistance of Moroccan police, he arrested the two men, Henry Myers and Thomas T. Tunstall, and held them in irons at a makeshift prison at the Consulate. His charge? The two men were treasonous traitors, “pirates” who were bent on destroying the material interests of the United States, of which they were legal citizens.
Not everyone agreed that the two Confederates were pirates. In fact, De Long’s peers among the European diplomats in Tangier were outraged. Europe and England were working hard to maintain neutrality in the U.S. Civil War, in part because they depended so strongly on cotton trade with the southern states. The consuls and ambassadors in Tangier believed De Long had no authority to enlist Moroccan police, nor to imprison the men. (It’s hard to imagine the present-day Legation as the site of a prison, however makeshift.)
Some of the Europeans in Tangier raised a riot and stormed the U.S. Consulate in an attempt to free the prisoners at the Consulate. In response, Consul De Long wrote scolding letters to foreign ministers and ambassadors of nations all over Europe and to foreign ministers in Morocco. De Long implored these diplomats and statesmen to punish offending rioters in Tangier and side with the Union against the Confederacy. The matter of how to respond to De Long was debated in the British Parliament and, likely, in offices throughout Europe. In short, De Long and his pirates incited a diplomatic crisis. While Europe and the U.K didn’t budge in their doctrine of neutrality, Morocco agreed to take sides, and the United States strengthened ties with one of its oldest allies.