Legation, Consulate, Diplomatic Agency: Tangier’s American Presence

TALIM Legation to Consulate General
(click on picture to enlarge)

Among all the documents that are squirelled away in odd corners of the Legation's research library or administrative files, every so often an item of more than passing interest surfaces.

What we're looking at here is the unmistakable pink of the State Department "airgram" announcing in June 1956 that the American Legation in Tangier would revert to the status of Consulate General.  Rabat, heretofore a Consulate General, would be "elevated" to Embassy status.  Morocco was again independent, and Tangier would no longer serve as its diplomatic gateway to the world.

Over the course of the almost two centuries where Tangier was Morocco's diplomatic capital, America's piece of turf in the medina was known by a number of titles.  In the early years, in fact for the better part of a century, the US representative was a Consul, therefore the building was the American Consulate.

With the return of Tangier native and Civil War veteran Felix Matthews, Tangier's status was raised to that of Consulate General in the 1870s.  Then in 1905, when after more than a century of consular relations the US and Morocco finally established diplomatic relations, Samuel Gommere was named Minister, in charge of the American Legation.

The Legation nomenclature stuck in popular use, even when the US, finally bending to the reality of the establishment of the French and Spanish protectorates in Morocco, downgraded the level of the chief of mission to that of Diplomatic Agent.

In this short summary provided by the State Department's Office of the Historian, we see that over the years, Morocco has seen American diplomats or consuls in an amazing variety of places:

  • Tangier earliest date March 31, 1791, closed early 1989. Tangier, which had been an international city (but still technically part of Morocco) was fully integrated into Morocco on October 29, 1956.
  • Essaouira (Mogador) earliest date February, 7, 1817, latest open date December 15, 1920
  • Larache and Asilah earliest date: May 11, 1852 latest date: September 25, 1896
  • Tétouan (Tetuan) earliest date: May 11, 1852 latest date: June 14, 1896
  • Casablanca earliest date: May 13, 1878 (currently Consulate General)
  • Rabat (Ribāt, Salé, Sali, Sallee) earliest date: June 25, 1881. Became Embassy June 11, 1956.
  • Safi earliest date: June 25, 1881 latest date: November 19, 1890
  • El Jadida (Mazagan, Magazan) earliest date: July 28, 1882 latest date: November 5, 1896

Who, nowadays, would imagine that the US presence in Morocco not only was centered in Tangier for the better part of two centuries, but that for more than a hundred years the US also had a consulate in Essaouira?

Gerald Loftus

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