Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Mawlay Sulayman, Sultan of Morocco, [5 August 1802]

To Mawlay Sulayman, Sultan of Morocco

[5 Aug. 1802]

Great and good friend

It became known to us, not long since, that it would be agreeable to you that the US. should procure to be made for you one hundred gun carriages at your expence. we have lost no time since this intimation in preparing and sending them to you by a ship of our own; and we feel it more conformable with our dispositions towards your majesty to ask your acceptance of them as a mark of the esteem and respect we bear you, and of the desire we entertain of cultivating that peace and friendly intercourse, which, while it is acceptable to us with all nations, is particularly desired with your majesty.

A war, as unjust as it was unprovoked, having been declared against us by Tripoli, we sent some armed vessels into the Mediterranean for the protection of our commerce in that sea. We gave it in particular charge to our officers to respect your majesty’s flag and subjects, and to omit no opportunity of cultivating a good understanding with you: and we trust that should circumstances render it necessary for our vessels to enter your majesty’s harbors, or to have communications with them, they will experience that hospitality and friendly assistance which we would practise towards your majesty’s vessels and subjects in our own ports or elsewhere whenever we could be useful to them. I pray god to have you, very great & good friend in his holy keeping. Done in the US. of America this  day of August 1802.

FC (DLC: TJ Papers, 125:21646); undated, but recorded in SJL under 5 Aug.; entirely in TJ’s hand; at foot of text: “The Emperor of Marocco. rough draught”; at head of text in a clerk’s hand: “Copd.”; for later alterations by TJ, see his letter to Sulayman of 21 Aug. PrC (DLC: TJ Papers, 125:21553); lacking the later alterations. Enclosed in TJ to Madison, 6 Aug.

As sultan, Mawlay Sulayman (1766–1822) was the religious leader of Morocco as well as head of state. A younger son of the sultan Sidi Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah, Sulayman had not been first in line for the throne, and his education, which entailed years of study with tutors, focused on religious topics. In 1792, when a coalition of military and tribal leaders proclaimed him sultan, he was initially reluctant. His brother, Mawlay al-Yazid, had in a reign of only two years disrupted the stability that marked their father’s long rule. Al-Yazid purged the bureaucracy of most of its experienced administrators, and Sulayman, in order to build and maintain the centralized state he desired, had to recruit people from outside the government, including merchants and slaves, to fill important posts. He faced recurring challenges from brothers, cousins, and other relatives while he labored to impose his authority over remote tribes and provinces. In 1799–1800, an epidemic of bubonic plague, the deadliest that the country had suffered in several centuries, killed between one quarter and one half of the population—including powerful opponents of Sulayman’s regime, but also key officials of his government. For some time, Moroccan sultans had generally curtailed corsairing, a policy that Sulayman continued. A fear that the country’s location on the Strait of Gibraltar made Morocco a target for invasion by France or Spain led him to cultivate good relations with Great Britain. Maintaining a weak navy, he tended to avoid confrontation with other countries except when he thought he could win better treaties. After he ordered attacks on American ships in 1803, a swift reprisal by the U.S. squadron forced him to submit to peace terms. He eventually dissolved his navy. During the last years of Sulayman’s life, his rule was weakened by famine, plague, defeats in battle against rebels, and political upheaval. Mawlay was an honorific title that meant “my lord” and, like sidi, signified descent from the Prophet Muhammad (Mohamed El Mansour, Morocco in the Reign of Mawlay Sulayman [Wisbech, Eng., 1990], xiii, xiv, 16–23, 88–100, 104, 107–14, 133–5, 184–202, 218; Mohamed El Mansour, “The Anachronism of Maritime Jihad: The U.S.-Morocco Conflict of 1802–1803,” in Jerome B. Bookin-Weiner and Mohamed El Mansour, eds., The Atlantic Connection: 200 Years of Moroccan-American Relations, 1786–1986 [Rabat, Morocco, 1990], 49–55; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 33 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 9 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , 2:378; 3:222).

PARTICULAR CHARGE TO OUR OFFICERS: instructions sent to Commodore Richard Dale in May 1801 included reminders on how to treat the “Vessels, Citizens & Subjects” of nations at peace with the United States. Dale was told to “bear in mind, that we are at Peace & wish to continue in Peace with all Nations,” and that the commander of an American squadron should be “as much distinguished for his attention & adherence to all the rights of humanity & hospitality, as by his firmness in support of the honor of his country.” In additional orders sent in Feb. 1802, Dale was also told to refrain from capturing or recapturing Tripolitan vessels in waters under the jurisdiction of other nations, “in order that their peace & sovereignty may remain unviolated.” Any conduct that brought the United States “into collision” with any other power would be scrutinized “scrupulously and without indulgence” by the Navy Department. Richard V. Morris received similar instructions in March 1802 before departing with his squadron for the Mediterranean (NDBW description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, Washington, D.C., 1939–44, 6 vols. and Register of Officer Personnel and Ships’ Data, 1801–1807, Washington, D.C., 1945 description ends , 1:468; 2:60, 92; Vol. 34:115n).

Index Entries