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“Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead”
John Hay’s ringing phrase helped nominate T. R., but it covered an embarrassing secret that remained concealed for thirty years
August 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 5
The American public awaited Chadwick’s arrival as eagerly as Gummere. Excitement rose when the press reported that Admiral Theodore F. Jewell, in command of the European Squadron, three days’ sail behind Chadwick, would be ordered to reinforce him if the emergency continued.
Tangier received further word from the sherifs of Wazan that Raisuli had not only absolutely declined to abate his demands but had added an even more impossible condition: a British and American guarantee of fulfillment of the terms by the Moroccan government.
Knowing his government could not make itself responsible for the performance or non-performance of promises by another government, Gummere despairingly cabled the terms to Washington. As soon as he saw them, Roosevelt sent “in a hurry” for Secretary Hay (who had meanwhile returned to the capital). “I told him,” wrote Hay that night in his diary, “I considered the demands of the outlaw Raisuli preposterous and the proposed guarantee of them by us and by England impossible of fulfillment.” Roosevelt agreed. Two measures were decided upon and carried out within the hour: Admiral Jewell’s squadron was ordered to reinforce Chadwick at Tangier, and France was officially requested to lend her good offices. (By recognizing France’s special status in Morocco, this step, consciously taken, was of international significance in the train of crises that was to lead through Algeciras and Agadir to 1914.) Roosevelt and Hay felt they had done their utmost. “I hope they may not murder Mr. Perdicaris,” recorded Hay none too hopefully, “but a nation cannot degrade itself to prevent ill-treatment of a citizen.”
An uninhibited press told the public that in response to Raisuli’s “insulting” ultimatum, “all available naval forces” in European waters were being ordered to the spot. Inspired by memory of U.S. troops chasing Aguinaldo in the Philippines ( see AMERICAN HERITAGE, February, 1958, page 24), the press suggested that “if other means fail” marines could make a forced march into the interior to “bring the outlaw to book for his crimes.” Such talk terrified Gummere, who knew that leathernecks would have as much chance against Berbers in the Rif as General Braddock’s redcoats against Indians in the Alleghenies; and besides, the first marine ashore would simply provoke Raisuli to kill his prisoners.
On May 29 the elder Wazan brought word that Raisuli threatened to do just that if all his demands were not met in two days. Two days! This was the twentieth century, but as far as communications with Fez were concerned it might as well have been the time of the Crusades. Nevertheless, Gummere and Nicolson sent couriers to meet their vice-consuls at Fez (or intercept them if they had already left) with orders to demand a new audience with the Sultan and obtain his acceptance of Raisuli’s terms.
At five thirty next morning a gray shape slid into the harbor. Gummere, awakened from a troubled sleep, heard the welcome news that Admiral Chadwick had arrived at last aboard his flagship, the Brooklyn. Relieved, yet worried that the military mind might display more valor than discretion, he hurried down to confer with the Admiral. In him he found a crisp and incisive officer whose quick intelligence grasped the situation at once. Chadwick agreed that the point at which to apply pressure was Mohammed Torres. Although up in the hills the brigand’s patience might be wearing thin, the niceties of diplomatic protocol, plus the extra flourishes required by Moslem practice, called for an exchange of courtesy calls before business could be done. Admiral and consul proceeded at once to wait upon the foreign minister, who returned the call upon the flagship that afternoon. It was a sight to see, Chadwick wrote to Hay, his royal progress through the streets, “a mass of beautiful white wool draperies, his old calves bare and his feet naked but for his yellow slippers,” while “these wild fellows stoop and kiss his shoulder as he goes by.”
Mohammed Torres was greeted by a salute from the flagship’s guns and a review of the squadron’s other three ships, which had just arrived. Unimpressed by these attentions, he continued to reject Raisuli’s terms. “Situation critical,” reported Chadwick.
The situation was even more critical in Washington. On June 1, an extraordinary letter reached the State Department. Its writer, one A. H. Slocumb, a cotton broker of Fayetteville, North Carolina, said he had read with interest about the Perdicaris case and then, without warning, asked a startling question, “But is Perdicaris an American?” In the winter of 1863, Mr. Slocumb went on to say, he had been in Athens, and Perdicaris had come there “for the express purpose, as he stated, to become naturalized as a Greek citizen.” His object, he had said, was to prevent confiscation by the Confederacy of some valuable property in South Carolina inherited from his mother. Mr. Slocumb could not be sure whether Perdicaris had since resumed American citizenship, but he was “positive” that Perdicaris had become a Greek subject forty years before, and he suggested that the Athens records would bear out his statement.