Minister Gummere & Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick In Morocco

TALIM Samuel R. Gummere 600 dpi
Samuel R. Gummere, First American Minister to Morocco (Tangier, 1898 – 1909)

Note: This guest post by Mehdi Zainoune, summer intern en route to studies at Sciences Po in Paris, is part of our series of vignettes from the history of Morocco-United States relations.  Samuel René Gummere (February 19, 1849 – May 28, 1920) was posted to Tangier at a particularly complex time in relations between Morocco, the United States, and Europe.  Gummere, who spent 1898 through 1905 as Consul General and then was elevated to Minister when diplomatic relations were established, presided over the Tangier American Legation during a time of gunboat diplomacy triggered by the kidnapping of Ion Perdicaris.  His long experience in Morocco was key to his selection as adviser to the US delegation at the 1906 Algeciras conference, which was to decide the fate of a Morocco increasingly prey to European colonial intentions.

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"A diplomat of polish and ability, a brilliant conversationalist and raconteur." 

Entry on Samuel René Gummere, Dictionary of American Biography, 1932

1898: Samuel R. Gummere, appointed U.S. Consul General in Tangier, starts a uniquely event-filled 11-year assignment, during which Gummere was named the first American Minister to Morocco, and his Tangier Consulate General elevated to the status of Legation, the mark of diplomatic relations.

As one of a handful of Americans in Tangier, Gummere was a frequent guest of the wealthy and controversial Ion H. Perdicaris.  Earlier, in the 1880’s, the relationship between the two Trenton New Jersey natives had already touched politically charged topics when Samuel Gummere joined Ion Perdicaris in protesting to the Secretary of State against the practice of issuing certificates of American citizenship or protection as carried on profitably but illegally by the United States Consulate in Tangier (also known as the Protégé System).

Perdicaris is a name that might be familiar to film buffs.  John Milius’ 1975 Hollywoodian epic The Wind and the Lion revealed both Gummere and Perdicaris to the American public.

However distorted the film’s historical details may have been (Perdicaris, an elderly male, was played by a young Candice Bergen; US Marines shooting at Moroccans and Germans – sorry, it never happened, though Marines did wind up guarding the Belgian Legation), it highlighted the crucial position of Tangier in the early 20th century, when European nations were jockeying for influence in and power over a chaotic Moroccan kingdom.

The original May 1904 event, where Perdicaris was kidnapped for ransom by Moroccan warlord Raisuli, revealed how tense the relations between Morocco and “the Powers” had become, and came to be known as the “Perdicaris Affair.”

In this highly politicized incident, President Theodore Roosevelt, already known for his “Big Stick” through actions in Latin America (Venezuela, Santo Domingo, and the Panama Canal), was handed another opportunity to exert his robust foreign policy, backed up by the threat of military force – the US Navy and Marines – if required.

Roosevelt dispatched seven warships from the Atlantic fleet to Tangier – followed by the stirring telegram “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead” – despite the fact that Gummere's quiet diplomacy was on the verge of securing the captive's release. This high-profile incident, among others, like the puzzling 1901 “Ezegui Affair” – when the Moroccan government threatened to keep moving the kingdom’s capital (!) if Gummere (backed up by an earlier use of an American cruiser) insisted on visiting the Sultan for apologies over the accidentally assassinated American citizen Marcus Ezegui – proved Gummere’s diplomatic worth.

Gummere was rewarded by appointment as the first Minister of the United States to Morocco in March 1905, reflecting the two countries’ establishment of diplomaticrelations after more than a century of consular and commercial relations.

Gummere’s presence at the Algeciras conference in 1906 – which aimed to settle European differences regarding Morocco – was due to his wide knowledge of the local situation and was appreciated by the other American commissioners.

Roosevelt, despite his saber-rattling reputation, feared a continental war and the disruption it would cause to American trade, and ensured that America played an important role in reaching a successful conclusion in Algeciras. Through Gummere and his other mediators, he offered a compromise plan which the European powers accepted. The proposal granted Morocco a greater deal of autonomy and allowed for all European nations to trade with Morocco.

Alas, it was to be short lived, as France and Spain declared their respective Protectorates over Morocco in 1912.  A non-career appointee, Gummere returned to private life after Tangier.

Mehdi Zainoune

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