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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
At Chicago, Uncle Joe Cannon, the salty perennial Speaker of the House, who was convention chairman, rapped with his gavel and read the telegram. The convention was electrified. Delegates sprang upon their chairs and hurrahed. Flags and handkerchiefs waved. Despite Hay’s signature, everyone saw the Roosevelt teeth, cliche of a hundred cartoons, gleaming whitely behind it. “Magnificent, magnificent!” pronounced Senator Depew. “The people want an administration that will stand by its citizens, even if it takes the fleet to do it,” said Representative Dwight of New York, expressing the essence of popular feeling. “Roosevelt and Hay know what they are doing,” said a Kansas delegate. “Our people like courage. We’ll stand for anything those two men do.” “Good hot stuff and echoes my sentiments,” said another delegate. The genius of its timing and phrasing, wrote a reporter, “gave the candidate the maximum benefit of the thrill that was needed.” Although the public was inclined to credit authorship to Roosevelt, the Baltimore Sun pointed out that Mr. Hay too knew how to make the eagle scream when he wanted to. Hay’s diary agreed. “My telegram to Gummere,” he noted comfortably the day afterward, “had an uncalled for success. It is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public.”
After nominating Roosevelt by acclamation, the convention departed in an exhilarated mood. In Morocco a settlement had been reached before receipt of the telegram. Raisuli was ready at last to return his captives. Mounted on a “great, grey charger,” he personally escorted Perdicaris and Varley on the ride down from the mountains, pointing out on the way the admirable effect of pink and violet shadows cast by the rising sun on the rocks. They met the ransom party, with thirty pack mules bearing boxes of Spanish silver dollars, halfway down. Payment was made and prisoners exchanged, and Perdicaris took leave, as he afterward wrote, of “one of the most interesting and kindly-hearted native gentlemen” he had ever known, whose “singular gentleness and courtesy … quite endeared him to us.” At nightfall, as he rode into Tangier and saw the signal lights of the American warships twinkling the news of his release, Perdicaris was overcome with patriotic emotion at “such proof of his country’s solicitude for its citizens and for the honor of its flag” Few indeed are the Americans, he wrote to Gummere in a masterpiece of understatement, “who can have appreciated as keenly as I did then what the presence of our Flag in foreign waters meant at such a moment and in such circumstances.”
Only afterward, when it was all over, did the State Department inform Gummere how keen indeed was Perdicaris’ cause for appreciation. “Overwhelmed with amazement” and highly indignant, Gummere extracted from Perdicaris a full, written confession of his forty-year-old secret. He admitted that he had never in ensuing years taken steps to resume American citizenship because, as he ingenuously explained, having been born an American, he disliked the idea of having to become naturalized, and so, “I continued to consider myself an American citizen.” Since Perdicaris perfectly understood that the American government was in no position to take action against him, his letter made no great pretension of remorse.
Perdicaris retired to England for his remaining years. Raisuli duly became governor of the Tangier districts in place of the falsehearted Bashaw. The French, in view of recent disorders, acquired the right to police Morocco (provoking the Kaiser’s notorious descent upon Tangier). The Sultan, weakened and humiliated by Raisuli’s triumph, was shortly dethroned by a brother. Gummere was officially congratulated and subsequently appointed minister to Morocco and American delegate to the Algeciras Conference. Sir Arthur Nicolson took “a long leave of absence,” the Wazan brothers received handsomely decorated Winchester rifles with suitable inscriptions from Mr. Roosevelt, Hay received the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, and Roosevelt was elected in November by the largest popular majority ever before given to a presidential candidate.
“As to Paregoric or is it Pericarditis,” wrote Hay to Assistant Secretary Adee on September 3, “it is a bad business. We must keep it excessively confidential for the present.” They succeeded. Officials in the know held their breath during the campaign, but no hint leaked out either then or during the remaining year of Hay’s lifetime or during Roosevelt’s lifetime. As a result of the episode, Roosevelt’s administration proposed a new citizenship law which was introduced in Congress in 1905 and enacted in 1907, but the name of the errant gentleman who inspired it was never mentioned during the debates. The truth about Perdicaris remained unknown to the public until 1933, when Tyler Dennett gave it away—in one paragraph in his biography of John Hay.