Sunday, July 10, 2016

"Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead"

One of the films that probably belongs in my "guilty pleasures" category is John Milius's "The Wind and the Lion" (1975) starring Sean Connery and Candice Bergen. It purports to be about the 1904 kidnapping of an American citizen in Morocco by a Berber chieftain and TR's response. The film isn't concerned with being historically accurate, e.g. Bergen plays Perdicaris, who was in fact a man, and Greek. It is fun to watch. I've continued to read All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt and have come to this incident. By this time, Hay had been Secretary of State for years, now for Roosevelt. This is from the book's account of the Perdicaris affair:
.... Ion Perdicaris, a middle-aged bon vivant who for the past twenty years had been living in affluent idleness in Morocco, was kidnapped, along with his stepson, by the Berber chieftain Muali Ahmed er Raisuli, universally described in the English-speaking press as a "brigand."

Morocco was the nominal suzerainty of a corrupt and ineffectual sultan. Raisuli was the sultan's nemesis, and he had paid a dear price for his hostility. His people had been dragooned into military service and cruelly taxed, their villages had been burned, and he had been imprisoned in chains for four years.

Raisuli
In retaliation, Raisuli became a sort of Robin Hood of the Rif. His ransom demand for Perdicaris included not just money—although he wanted a great deal of that: $70,000—but also withdrawal of government troops, release of partisan prisoners, removal of the military governor, and control of the districts surrounding Tangier. It was a stiff order, but Raisuli was both devious and cocksure. He had chosen to kidnap Perdicaris not simply because he knew Perdicaris was wealthy, but because he supposed Perdicaris to be a prominent American. By creating an international incident, Raisuli figured to shame the sultan into meeting all of his demands. ....

Purely by chance, as the telegram announcing the kidnapping of Perdicaris reached Washington, three naval squadrons were steaming across the Atlantic en route to the Mediterranean, for training but also as a demonstration of American sea power. Never before had the U.S. Navy concentrated so many ships—thirteen in all—in European waters.

Hay and Roosevelt did not receive the ransom terms until May 27, and then only by way of a telegram from Joseph Choate in London; Perdicaris's stepson was a British subject. They agreed that Raisuli's demands were preposterous. Lacking a better remedy, Hay sent orders to the commander of the navy squadrons, Admiral French Chadwick, to show the flag at Tangier. ....

Ion Perdicaris
Rather than be drawn into awkward and potentially demeaning negotiations between the kidnappers and the Moroccans, Hay's inclination was to send a terse telegram to Gurnmeré, making it plain that the United States would punish Raisuli commensurately for any harm he did to Perdicaris. ....

...[N]egotiations with Raisuli were not going well; with each hesitation by the sultan, Raisuli increased his demands and advanced the day of Perdicaris's execution. The arrival of Admiral Chadwick's South Atlantic Squadron and Admiral Theodore Jewell's European Squadron at Tangier was hardly a deterrent; rather, their presence made Raisuli that much more determined. "Now the Sultan's authorities will be compelled to accede to my demands," Raisuli is said to have told Perdicaris, who by this point, despite the death threats, was being treated more as guest than prisoner in the brigand's mountain hideout.

Hay's distaste for the Moroccan standoff increased on June 1, when he received a letter from A.H. Slocomb, a cotton broker in North Carolina who had met Perdicaris in Athens during the Civil War. "[I]s Perdicaris an American citizen?" Slocomb wanted to know.

A good question, it turned out. Perdicaris's father was Greek by birth but naturalized as an American citizen; Ion Perdicaris was born in New Jersey. Slocomb claimed that Perdicaris had come to Greece during the war in order to renounce his American citizenship as a way to keep the Confederates from confiscating property he had inherited from his mother, who was a South Carolinian.

Roosevelt
Hay shared Slocomb's query with Roosevelt, and on June 4 he sent a cipher telegram to the American consul in Athens, asking for the facts on Perdicaris. The consul wrote back on June 7 that "one lonnas Perdicaris" had been made a naturalized Greek citizen on March 19, 1862. Hay did not pass this unsettling intelligence to Gummeré; nor to the British, who now had their own battleship at Tangier; nor to the French Foreign Ministry, whose "good offices" he had also entangled with the diplomatic tar baby of the moment. ....

.... Roosevelt...was through negotiating. "Our position must now be to demand 'the death of those that harm [Perdicaris] if he is harmed," the president declared to Hay. He also broached the notion of a joint military action with England and France. The following day, Admiral Chadwick began working up a plan to put ashore two brigades of 'Marines and sailors to seize the Tangier waterfront and customs house. Such emphatic action, the admiral reckoned, ought to cure the sultan's impotence in consummating a deal with Raisuli—which., of course, was what Raisuli had been scheming for all along.

More than ever, Hay wanted the affair behind him. The Republican Convention had begun in Chicago; the campaign would hit full stride after that, and neither Hay nor the president was eager for another war—not over a brigand on horseback and the dubiously credentialed Perdicaris. And so Hay wired Gummeré, repeating a message that he and Roosevelt had drafted at least once already, only this time he put it more bluntly: "We want Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead." ....

"Uncle Joe" Cannon
As the cable was being transmitted to Gummeré, a correspondent in Washington got wind of it and forwarded it to Chicago, where it was hurried to Joseph Cannon, Speaker of the House of Representatives and holder of the gavel at the convention. .... With Roosevelt a shoo-in, the convention had been short on suspense thus far.

"Uncle Joe" Cannon recognized red meat when he saw it, and when he regained the podium, he fed his listless congregation with good effect. "We want Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!" he read aloud.... The Republicans roared like Romans at the Coliseum. "Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, give me the blood of the Mussulman [Muslim]," the New York World bruited the next morning. ....

The party nominated Roosevelt by acclamation. (Their choice for vice president was Indiana senator Charles W. Fairbanks.) Most of the delegates had attributed the dead-or-alive ultimatum to bully Teddy, but at least one newspaper praised Hay for a rare display of pugnacity....

A bit surprised at his own virulence, Hay wrote in his diary with wry amusement: "My telegram to Gummeré had an uncalled for success. It is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public."

Yet his telegram had not been necessary at all. By the time Gummeré received Hay's instructions, Raisuli had agreed to release Perdicaris and his stepson, in exchange for the asked-for $70,000 and the freedom of his imprisoned tribesmen. Two days later, Raisuli escorted Perdicaris and his stepson down from the mountains to Tangier. Kidnapper and captives parted as friends, and soon the American warships weighed anchor to resume their summer exercises. The nation, Republicans especially, approved of the administration's tough talk, but Hay exhaled merely a sigh of relief. Several weeks later when it was at last confirmed that Perdicaris had indeed forsaken his American citizenship as a young man, Hay elected to keep the information quiet. He wanted to hear nothing more about "Perigoric," he told Alvey Adee. "Or is it Pericarditis?" ....
All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt