Perdicaris Affair

Perdicaris Affair
   A diplomatic incident arising after a supposed United States citizen, Ion Perdicaris, was kidnapped along with his English stepson by a Moroccan revolutionary, Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli. President Theodore Roosevelt responded by threatening to “send in the Marines.” The eventual outcome saw Perdicaris returned and Roosevelt’s domestic and international status enhanced.
   At the time Morocco was nominally under the rule of Sultan Mulia Abdul-Aziz, with Tangier having a number of well-to-do neighborhoods, although outside of the capital the hinterland was lawless and ruled by revolutionaries. On May 18, 1904, Raisuli stormed the Tangier home of millionaire Perdicaris and took him hostage, demanding a ransom and to be made governor of two districts surrounding Tangier. Tension rose as stories likening Raisuli to a Barbary pirate circulated in the international press. Through quiet diplomatic channels Roosevelt enlisted support from Europe’s leading powers in exerting pressure on the Moroccan Sultan to pay off Raisuli, but to much greater public fanfare he dispatched seven ships of the Great White Fleet to the African coast. While the Fleet headed east on June 21, news arrived in Washington that the Sultan would concede to Raisuli’s demands. Thus it was at the behest of Roosevelt that the Sultan struck a deal with Raisuli and the navy never landed the Marines.
   The incident was important for Roosevelt in domestic politics. Although delivered by Secretary of State John Hay to the Moroccans in the form of a diplomatic note, the Wild-West style call of “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” became synonymous with Roosevelt as it became public at the 1904 Republican convention. The subsequent release of Perdicaris ensured Roosevelt was the overwhelming favorite for the 1904 election. A fuller version of the Perdicaris affair emerged later. At the time of the incident Perdicaris was no longer an American citizen having renounced his citizenship to avoid his family assets being seized during the American Civil War. Furthermore, almost 40 years later Roosevelt’s knowledge of this prior to his rallying cry came to light. The potential political ramifications of this for Roosevelt’s standing in terms of international embarrassment, as well as a reelection campaign were well understood by Hay at the time, who saw that it was “a bad business,” which would require the Administration to “keep it excessively confidential.”
   That they did at the time served to enhance Roosevelt’s international position at a point where he sought to forward U.S. foreign policy by speaking softly and carrying a big stick following his role in the creation of the Panama Canal Zone and anticipating his role as peacemaker in the Russo-Japanese War and mediator at the 1905 Algeciras Conference, which stabilized Morocco position as North Africa’s last independent nation.
   See also <>.
    Burton, David H. Theodore Roosevelt: Confident Imperialist. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1968;
    Marks, Frederick W. Velvet on Iron: The Diplomacy of Theodore Roosevelt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979;
    Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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