Consul McMath’s Sentence to Tangier


TALIM Consul McMath

Jesse McMath, US Consul Tangier, 1862-1869

Those shoe boxes full of old photos keep on producing historic gems.  Thanks to Parisian pediatrician, author, and Tangerine transplant Philip Abensur – who had already provided us a rare image of Civil War era US Consul in Tangier James DeLong from the archives of his great great-uncle, Consulate Dragoman or interpreter Moses Pariente – we have yet another American Consul from the 1860s.

Jesse H. McMath, who was US Consul in Tangier 1862 – 1869, was the man upon whom Mark Twain took pity in Innocents Abroad.  This, from Chapter IX:

When we went to call on our American Consul General today I noticed that all possible games for parlor amusement seemed to be represented on his center tables. I thought that hinted at lonesomeness. The idea was correct. His is the only American family in Tangier. There are many foreign consuls in this place, but much visiting is not indulged in. Tangier is clear out of the world, and what is the use of visiting when people have nothing on earth to talk about? There is none. So each consul's family stays at home chiefly and amuses itself as best it can. Tangier is full of interest for one day, but after that it is a weary prison. The Consul General has been here five years, and has got enough of it to do him for a century, and is going home shortly. His family seize upon their letters and papers when the mail arrives, read them over and over again for two days or three, talk them over and over again for two or three more till they wear them out, and after that for days together they eat and drink and sleep, and ride out over the same old road, and see the same old tiresome things that even decades of centuries have scarcely changed, and say never a single word! They have literally nothing whatever to talk about. The arrival of an American man-of-war is a godsend to them. "O Solitude, where are the charms which sages have seen in thy face?" It is the completest exile that I can conceive of. I would seriously recommend to the government of the United States that when a man commits a crime so heinous that the law provides no adequate punishment for it, they make him Consul General to Tangier.

I am glad to have seen Tangier–the second-oldest town in the world. But I am ready to bid it good-bye, I believe.

We have no futher indication that McMath felt as sorry for himself as Twain did for him, and his relatively long tenure certainly involved more than a few occasions which broke his routine.

The Library of Congress website has a facsimile of McGrath's congratulatory letter to Abraham Lincoln after his re-election during the Civil War – "which gladdened the hearts… of the friends of human liberty, progress, and good government throughout the world."

And the Legation's walls display McGrath's handwritten announcment of the "lamentable news of the death by assassination of Abraham Lincoln…" written a bare four months later.

Most notably, on May 31, 1865, on behalf of "His Excellency the President of the Republic of the United States, Jesse Harlan McMath, Esquire, his consul general near his majesty the Sultan of Morocco" signed the Cap Spartel Lighthouse Convention.  The lighthouse, on Africa's northwest extremity, continues to watch over the strategic Strait of Gibraltar.  This treaty, considered by many to be the forerunner of the League of Nations and eventually the UN, was negotiated at the American Legation in Tangier, presumably by McMath.

Jesse McMath's "weary prison" had at least a few high moments. 

Gerald Loftus 

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