History of the U.S. and Morocco

  1. History of the U.S. and Morocco
  2. Current Issues

Morocco and the United States have a long history of friendly relations. This North African nation was one of the first states to seek diplomatic relations with America. In 1777, Sultan Sidi Muhammad Ben Abdullah, the most progressive of the Barbary leaders who ruled Morocco from 1757 to 1790, announced his desire for friendship with the United States. The Sultan’s overture was part of a new policy he was implementing as a result of his recognition of the need to establish peaceful relations with the Christian powers and his desire to establish trade as a basic source of revenue. Faced with serious economic and political difficulties, he was searching for a new method of governing which required changes in his economy. Instead of relying on a standing professional army to collect taxes and enforce his authority, he wanted to establish state-controlled maritime trade as a new, more reliable, and regular source of income which would free him from dependency on the services of the standing army. The opening of his ports to America and other states was part of that new policy.

The Sultan issued a declaration on December 20, 1777, announcing that all vessels sailing under the American flag could freely enter Moroccan ports. The Sultan stated that orders had been given to his corsairs to let the ship “des Americains” and those of other European states with which Morocco had no treaties-Russia Malta, Sardinia, Prussia, Naples, Hungary, Leghorn, Genoa, and Germany-pass freely into Moroccan ports. There they could “take refreshments” and provisions and enjoy the same privileges as other nations that had treaties with Morocco. This action, under the diplomatic practice of Morocco at the end of the 18th century, put the United States on an equal footing with all other nations with which the Sultan had treaties. By issuing this declaration, Morocco became one of the first states to acknowledge publicly the independence of the American Republic.

On February 2O, 1778, the sultan of Morocco reissued his December 20, 1777, declaration. American officials, however, only belatedly learned of the Sultan’s full intentions. Nearly identical to the first, the February 20 declaration was again sent to all consuls and merchants in the ports of Tangier, Sale, and Mogador informing them the Sultan had opened his ports to Americans and nine other European States. Information about the Sultan’s desire for friendly relations with the United States first reached Benjamin Franklin, one of the American commissioners in Paris, sometime in late April or early May 1778 from Etienne d’Audibert Caille, a French merchant of Sale. Appointed by the Sultan to serve as Consul for all the nations unrepresented in Morocco, Caille wrote on behalf of the Sultan to Franklin from Cadiz on April 14, 1778, offering to negotiate a treaty between Morocco and the United States on the same terms the Sultan had negotiated with other powers. When he did not receive a reply, Caille wrote Franklin a second letter sometime later that year or in early 1779. When Franklin wrote to the committee on Foreign Affairs in May 1779, he reported he had received two letters from a Frenchman who “offered to act as our Minister with the Emperor” and informed the American commissioner that “His Imperial Majesty wondered why we had never sent to thank him for being the first power on this side of the Atlantic that had acknowledged our independence and opened his ports to us.” Franklin, who did not mention the dates of Caille’s letters or when he had received them, added that he had ignored these letters because the French advised him that Caille was reputed to be untrustworthy. Franklin stated that the French King was willing to use his good offices with the Sultan whenever Congress desired a treaty and concluded, “whenever a treaty with the Emperor is intended, I suppose some of our naval stores will be an acceptable present and the expectation of continued supplies of such stores a powerful motive for entering into and continuing a friendship.”

Since the Sultan received no acknowledgement of his good will gestures by the fall of 1 779, he made another attempt to contact the new American government. Under instructions from the Moroccan ruler, Caille wrote a letter to Congress in September 1779 in care of Franklin in Paris to announce his appointment as Consul and the Sultan’s desire to be at peace with the United States. The Sultan, he reiterated, wished to conclude a treaty “similar to those Which the principal maritime powers have with him.” Americans were invited to “come and traffic freely in these ports in like manner as they formerly did under the English flag.” Caille also wrote to John Jay, the American representative at Madrid, on April 21,1780, asking for help in conveying the Sultan’s message to Congress and enclosing a copy of Caille’s commission from the Sultan to act as Consul for all nations that had none in Morocco, as well as a copy of the February 20, 1778, declaration. Jay received that letter with enclosures in May 1780, but because it was not deemed to be of great importance, he did not forward it and its enclosures to Congress until November 30, 1 780.

Before Jay’s letter with the enclosures from Caille reached Congress, Samuel Huntington, President of Congress, made the first official response to the Moroccan overtures in a letter of November 28,1780, to Franklin. Huntington wrote that Congress had received a letter from Caille, and asked Franklin to reply. Assure him, wrote Huntington, “in the name of Congress and in terms most respectful to the Emperor that we entertain a sincere disposition to cultivate the most perfect friendship with him, and are desirous to enter into a treaty of commerce with him; and that we shall embrace a favorable opportunity to announce our wishes in form.”

The U.S. Government sent its first official communication to the Sultan of Morocco in December 1780. It read:

We the Congress of the 13 United States of North America, have been informed of your Majesty’s favorable regard to the interests of the people we represent, which has been communicated by Monsieur Etienne d’Audibert Caille of Sale, Consul of Foreign nations unrepresented in your Majesty’s states. We assure you of our earnest desire to cultivate a sincere and firm peace and friendship with your Majesty and to make it lasting to all posterity. Should any of the subjects of our states come within the ports of your Majesty’s territories, we flatter ourselves they will receive the benefit of your protection and benevolence. You may assure yourself of every protection and assistance to your subjects from the people of these states whenever and wherever they may have it in their power. We pray your Majesty may enjoy long life and uninterrupted prosperity.

No action was taken either by Congress or the Sultan for over two years. The Americans, preoccupied with the war against Great Britain, directed their diplomacy at securing arms, money, military support, and recognition from France, Spain, and the Netherlands and eventually sought peace with England. Moreover, Sultan Sidi Muhammad and more pressing concerns and focused on his relations with the European powers, especially Spain and Britain over the question of Gibraltar. From 1778 to 1782, the Moroccan leader also turned to domestic difficulties resulting from drought and famine, and unpopular food tax, food shortages and inflation of food prices, trade problems, and a disgruntled military.

The American commissioners in Paris, John Adams, Jay, and Franklin urged Congress in September 1783 to take some action in negotiating a treaty with Morocco. “The Emperor of Morocco has manifested a very friendly disposition towards us,” they wrote. “He expects and is reading to receive a Minister from us; and as he may be succeeded by a prince differently disposed, a treaty with him may be of importance. Our trade to the Mediterranean will not be inconsiderable, and the friendship of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli may become very interesting in case the Russians should succeed in their endeavors to navigate freely into it by Constantinople.”

Congress finally acted in the spring of 1784. On May 7, Congress authorized its Ministers in Paris, Franklin, Jay, and Adams, to conclude treaties of amity and commerce with Russia, Austria, Prussia, Denmark, Saxony, Hamburg, great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Genoa, Tuscany, Rome, Naples, Venice, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Porte as well as the Barbary States of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. The treaties with the Barbary States were to be in force for 10 years or longer. The commissioners were instructed to inform the Sultan of Morocco of the “great satisfaction which Congress feels from the amicable disposition he has shown towards these states.” They were asked to state that “the occupations of the war and distance of our situation have prevented our meeting his friendship so early as we wished.” A few days later, commissions were given to the three men to negotiate the treaties.

Continued delays by American officials exasperated the sultan and prompted him to take more drastic action to gain their attention. On October 11,1784, the Moroccans captured the American merchant ship, Betsey. After the ship and crew were taken to Tangier, he announced that he would release the men, ship, and cargo once a treaty with the United States was concluded. Accordingly, preparation for negotiations with Morocco began in 1785. On March 1 Congress authorized the commissioners to delegate to some suitable agent the authority to negotiate treaties with the Barbary States. The agent was required to follow the commissioners’ instructions and to submit the negotiated treaty to them for approval. Congress also empowered the commissioners to spend a maximum of 80,000 dollars to conclude treaties with these states. Franklin left Paris on July 12, 1785, to return to the United States, 3 days after the Sultan released the Betsey and its crew. Thomas Jefferson became Minister to France and thereafter negotiations were conducted by Adams in London and Jefferson in Paris. On October 11, 1785, the commissioners appointed Thomas Barclay, American Consul in Paris, to negotiate a treaty with Morocco on the basis of a draft treaty drawn up by the commissioners. That same day the commissioners appointed Thomas Lamb as special agent to negotiate a treaty with Algiers. Barclay was given a maximum of 20,000 dollars for the treaty and instructed to gather information concerning the commerce, ports, naval and land forces, languages, religion, and government as well as evidence of Europeans attempting to obstruct American negotiations with the Barbary States.

Barclay left Paris on January 15, 1786, and after several stops, including 21/2 months in Madrid, arrived in Marrakech on June 19. While the French offered some moral support to the United States in their negotiations with Morocco, it was the Spanish government that furnished substantial backing in the form of letters from the Spanish King and Prime Minister to the Sultan of Morocco. After a cordial welcome, Barclay conducted the treaty negotiations in two audiences with Sidi Muhammad and Tahir Fannish, a leading Moroccan diplomat from a Morisco family in Sale who headed the negotiations. The earlier proposals drawn up by the American commissioners in Paris became the basis for the treaty. While the Emperor opposed several articles, the final form contained in substance all that the Americans requested. When asked about tribute, Barclay stated that he “had to offer to His Majesty the friendship of the United States and to receive his in return, to form a treaty with him on liberal and equal terms. But if any engagements for future presents or tributes were necessary, I must return without any treaty.” The Moroccan leader accepted Barclay’s declaration that the United States would offer friendship but no tribute for the treaty, and the question of presents or tribute was not raised again. Barclay accepted no favor except the ruler’s promise to send letters to Constantinople, Tunisia, Tripoli, and Algiers recommending they conclude treaties with the United States.

Barclay and the Moroccans quickly reached agreement on the Treaty of Friendship and Amity. Also called the Treaty of Marrakech, it was sealed by the Emperor on June 23 and delivered to Barclay to sign on June 28. In addition, a separate ship seals agreement, providing for the identification at sea of American and Moroccan vessels, was signed at Marrakech on July 6,1786. Binding for 50 years, the Treaty was signed by Thomas Jefferson at Paris on January 1, 1787, and John Adams at London on January 25, 1787, and was ratified by Congress on July 18, 1787. The negotiation of this treaty marked the beginning of diplomatic relations between the two countries and it was the first treaty between any Arab, Muslim, or African State and the United States.

Congress found the treaty with Morocco highly satisfactory and passed a note of thanks to Barclay and to Spain for help in the negotiations. Barclay had reported fully on the amicable negotiations and written that the king of Morocco had “acted in a manner most gracious and condescending, and I really believe the Americans possess as much of his respect and regard as does any Christian nation whatsoever.” Barclay portrayed the King as “a just man, according to this idea of justice, of great personal courage, liberal to a degree, a lover of his people, stern” and “rigid in distributing justice.” The Sultan sent a friendly letter to the President of Congress with the treaty and included another from the Moorish minister, Sidi Fennish, which was highly complimentary of Barclay.

The United States established a consulate in Morocco in 1797. President Washington had requested funds for this post in a message to Congress on March 2, 1795, and James Simpson, the U.S. Consul at Gibraltar who was appointed to this post, took up residence in Tangier 2 years later. Sultan Sidi Muhammad’s successor, Sultan Moulay Soliman, had recommended to Simpson the establishment of a consulate because he believed it would provide greater protection for American vessels. In 1821, the Moroccan leader gave the United States one of the most beautiful buildings in Tangier for its consular representative. This building served as the seat of the principal U.S. representative to Morocco until 1956 and is the oldest piece of property owned by the United States abroad.

U. S.-Moroccan relations from 1777 to 1787 reflected the international and economic concerns of these two states in the late 18th century. The American leaders and the Sultan signed the 1786 treaty, largely for economic reasons, but also realized that a peaceful relationship would aid them in their relations with other powers. The persistent friendliness of Sultan Sidi Muhammad to the young republic, in spite of the fact that his overtures were initially ignored, was the most important factor in the establishment of this relationship.

The history of the relationship dates back ten years prior to the Treaty of Marrakech. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, American ship merchants who had sailed under the British flag lost the protection of British tribute payments to the North African coastal states. While the American peace commissioners in Paris vainly tried to secure French assurances of protection against the Barbary powers, on December 20, 1777 the Sultan, in what amounted to virtual recognition of United States’ independence, declared to the European consuls and merchants in the Moroccan ports of Tangier, Sale, Larache and Essaouira, that all American ships were to be given the right to freely enter Moroccan ports to “take refreshments and enjoy in them the same privileges and immunities as those of the other nations with whom his Imperial Majesty is at peace.”

Shortly after the Sultan opened his ports to American ships, he appointed Stephen D’Audibert Caille, a French merchant in Sale, to act as consul for all countries which had no consular representation in Morocco. In late 1779, Caille, acting on instructions from the Sultan, wrote to the American Congress through the American Commissioner in Paris, Benjamin Franklin. The letter informed Congress of the Sultan’s appointment of Caille as Consul and also stated Sultan Sidi Mohamed’s desire to conclude a treaty of peace with America. On November 28, 1780 Con- gress directed Franklin to correspond with Caille and assure him that the United States wanted to “cultivate the most perfect friendship” with the Sultan and that the United States would like to negotiate a commercial treaty with Morocco.

In May 1784, the American Commissioners in Paris, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were authorized by Congress to conclude treaties of friendship and commerce with Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. In 1785, Thomas Barclay, the Consul General of the United States in Paris was appointed to travel to Morocco and conduct the negotiations.

Mr. Barclay arrived in Marrakech, on June 19, 1786, and had two audiences with the Sultan. Barclay’s proposals, based on a text drafted by Jefferson in Paris, formed the basis of the agreement eventually signed. Offering only the friendship of the United States in return for a treaty, Barkley had no difficulties in negotiating and concluding the agreement with Sultan Sidi Mohamed. The major points of the twenty five article agreement provided for the protection of American shipping along the Moroccan coast and for commerce between the two nations on the basis of most favored nation. The treaty, binding for 50 years, was sealed by the Sultan on June 28,1786 and an additional article was added July 6th. Signed and sealed by Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States, Thomas Jefferson in Paris on January 1, 1787, and John Adams in London on January 25th, it was ratified by Congress and entered into force on July 18, 1787. The treaty was significant in that it was the first between the United States and any Arab, Muslim or African country and it demonstrated the commitment of both nations to peace and friendship

The Relationship is Strengthened

Shortly after the organization of the government of the United States under the new Constitution, President George Washington wrote a letter of appreciation, to his “Great and Magnanimous Friend” Sultan Sidi Mohamed. Dated December 1, 1789, the letter informed the Sultan that the United States had adopted a new Constitution and apologized for the delay in communicating with Morocco. Washington added:

“…It gives me pleasure to have this opportunity of assuring your majesty that I shall not cease to promote every measure that may conduce to the friendship and harmony which so happily subsist between your empire and these. within our territories, there are no mines of either gold or of silver, and this young nation, just recovering from the waste and desolation of a long war, has not, as yet, had time to acquire riches by agriculture and commerce. But our soil is beautiful, and our people industrious, and we have reason to flatter ourselves that we shall gradually become useful to our friends …. may the Almighty bless your Majesty with his constant guidance and protection…

During his rule, Sultan Sidi Mohamed faithfully abided by the terms of the treaty. However, the struggle for succession which followed his death in April 1790 caused President Washington and his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to be concerned. Both men recognized the importance of peace with Morocco and quickly acted to obtain the new Sultan’s off irmation of Moroccan commitment to the treaty. As Jefferson told Congress, “…the friendship of this power is important because our Atlantic as well as Mediterranean trade is open to his annoyances and because we carry on useful commerce with his nation.” To maintain the peace, Barclay was again appointed to negotiate with the Sultan and given the title of Consul. Unfortunately he died in route and was replaced by James Simpson, the American Consul at Gibraltar.

James Simpson was successful in getting Sultan Moulay Suliman to reaffirm Morocco’s commitment to the Treaty of Marrakech.

The Sultan wrote a letter to President Washington in which he conveyed his commitment to the Treaty of Friendship saying “… we are at peace, tranquility and friendship with you in the same manner as you were with our father who is in glory. Peace.” Sultan Suliman admired the American people and said so publicly. As he told Consul Simpson ” … the Americans, I find, are the Christian nation my father most esteemed … I am the same with them as my father was and I trust they will be so with me.” With good relations thus reaffirmed, Simpson was appointed consul to Morocco and took up his post in Tangier in 1797.

In 1821, Sultan Suliman again demonstrated his admiration for the United States when he provided a house to be used by the American Consul General, John Mullowny, and all future American Consuls. This action placed the American diplomats in Tangier on an equal footing with those of the other major powers. He further expressed his high regard for the United States when he wrote Consul Mullowny that” … I order and permit free trade with all Americans in any part of my empire … the Americans mean more to me than any other nation, and whatever footing the most favored nation is on, they are to be favored more than any other.”

In 1835, with the 50 year term of the Treaty of Marrakech about to expire, President Andrew Jackson dispatched James R. Leib to secure a renewal of the treaty with Sultan Abderrrahman. To this end, Lieb was directed to secure greater privileges for American Ships and to marked every effort to insert a clause providing that, except on a twelve month notice bey either party, the treaty would remain in effect indefinitely. Again negotiations went smoothly with the Sultan and the Treaty was renewed with the changes requested. The treaty, with the original text in Arabic, was signed in Meknes on September 16,1836, endorsed by Leib in Tangier on October 1, 1836 and was officially proclaimed on January 30, 1837. As Lieb noted in his report to the Department of State, one of the most remarkable features of the negotiations was that the treaty was sealed by the Sultan on the basis of friendship, without any stipulations and before the presentation of gifts.

Morocco’s commitment to a friendly relationship with the U.S. government was reaffirmed during the American Civil War when the Minister of Foreign Affairs assured American Consul, Jesse H. McMath, that his country, “being a sincere friend of the American nation would never air or give countenance to the insurgents.”

In 1865, the Cape Spartel Lighthouse Treaty was signed by the United States and nine other countries. First proposed by John Mullowny in 1821, construction began in 1861 and was completed in 1864. The Sultan granted neutrality for the lighthouse at the Straits of Gibraltar under the condition that the ten naval powers who used it would supervise and maintain it. The Treaty, ratified by President Andrew Johnson on July 14, 1866 and proclaimed March 12, 1867 was the first International convention to which the United States was a party. As U.S.-Moroccan relations continued to warm in the early seventies, the new American Consul Felix Angel Mathews boasted that his reception in the Moroccan capital was greater than “any ever before accorded to any representative of even the most favored European states.”

During the Madrid Conference in 1880 and again at the Algeciras Conference in 1906, American representatives spoke eloquently in defense of Morocco. At the turn of the century the U.S. reaffirmed its ‘open door’ policy with regard to Morocco, calling for the maintenance of order and guarantees of religious and racial toleration in Morocco: “in short, fair play is what the United States asks for Morocco and all interested parties.” Declaring its neutrality in the controversy over domination of Morocco, the United States stressed the introduction of “reforms based upon the triple principle of the sovereignty of His Majesty, the Sultan, the integrity of his domains, and economic liberty without any inequality.”

In 1942, to prevent the invasion of North Africa by the Axis powers, the United States and its allies landed forces in Morocco and Algeria. A few days later, President Franklin Roosevelt sent Sultan Mohammed V a message stating “I have been highly pleased to learn of the admirable spirit of cooperation that is animating you and your people in their relationships … with the forces of my country.” After recalling the traditional friendship between the U.S. and Morocco, the President concluded “our victory over the Germans will, I know, inaugurate a period of peace and prosperity, during which the Moroccan and French people of North Africa will flourish and thrive in a manner which befits their glorious past.” In reply, the Sultan noted that Morocco had been “duty-bound to defend itself, but once the cessation of hostilities had been ordered and the commanders of your troops affirmed that they did not come as conquerors but as liberators … We declared to Major General George Patton that as long as our prestige, soul, religion and traditions were respected … they could rest assured that they found in Morocco only friends and collaborators.”

In January 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt and Degaulle met for four days in the Casablanca suburb of Anfa to map out strategy for the war. The Anfa Conference is significant because it marked the moment when the Allies first agreed on the demand for the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers.

One of the highlights of the conference was a dinner party hosted by President Roosevelt in honor of Sultan Mohammed V and his son Moulay Hassan. This recognition of the Moroccan sovereign as host of the conference and as a ruler of importance by President Roosevelt gave credibility to Moroccan aspirations for independence. At the dinner, the discussion centered on Morocco’s natural wealth and the possibility of development, and on efforts to raise health and education levels. The two leaders also talked of increasing U.S.-Moroccan trade and economic cooperation. President Roosevelt asserted that the Sultan should not allow other countries to exploit Morocco’s natural resources. He suggested that Moroccan engineers, educators and scientists be educated in America, and offered the possibility that American firms might help Moroccan development. The President was also reputed to have said that he would do all in his power to support Morocco’s wish to be independent of the French. As they left the table, the Sultan proclaimed “anew future for my country.”

Relations Since Independence

Following World War Two, and after more than a decade of struggle, Morocco attained its independence from France in 1956. Upon the return of the Sultan from exile in 1955, President Eisenhower had sent him a special message expressing his hope that the new reign would “…restore peace and prosperity which the United States so deeply desires” to the Moroccan people.

When Morocco finally broke free from the French in 1956, President Eisenhower again sent a message this time through his diplomatic agent in Morocco, Julius Holmes congratulating Morocco and saying “…My government renews its wishes for the peace and prosperity of Morocco, and has asked me to express its gratification that Morocco has freely chosen, as a sovereign nation, to continue in the path of its traditional friendships.” In return, the Sultan affirmed that the Treaty of 1836 would continue to be honored and stated Morocco’s support of a common policy against communism.

In recognition of the soverign and independent status of Morocco, the United States raised the level of its representation in Morocco from Diplomatic Agent to Ambassador. On July 21, 1956, the Senate confirmed Cavendish W. Cannon as the first U.S. Ambassador to Morocco. On September 5, 1956, the newly appointed Moroccan Ambassador to the United States, Dr. El Mehdi Ben Mohamed Aboud, presented his credentials to President Eisenhower, and on October 6, 1956, Ambassador Cannon took up his post in Rabat thus establishing full diplomatic relations between our two countries.

Over the past three decades, U.S.-Moroccan relations have been characterized by mutual respect and friendship. Ties between our two nations have been cultivated through visits by high-level government officials. This free exchange of ideas between U.S. and Moroccan leaders began in November 1957 when the Sultan made an official visit to the United States where he met with President Eisenhower. Less than two years later, then Vice-President Nixon travelled to Morocco where he too discussed improved bilateral cooperation between the two countries with Sultan Mohamed V.

The relationship continued to grow closer following the death of King Mohammed V in 1961. His successor, King Hassan II, visited the United States several times, and met Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton during his reign.

King Mohammed VI first met President Clinton at the funeral of King Hassan II on July 25, 1999.; As Crown Prince, King Mohammed VI visit the United States several times. His visit on June 20, 2000 marked his first trip to the United States as King.