Pirates at the Legation: Morocco & the Civil War

This is a guest post by Dr. Jamie L. Jones.*

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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.

TALIM James de Long (1)

James De Long, US Consul Tangier

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.

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