Mr. Vidal to Mr. Hunter
February 19, 1873. (Received May 21.)
Sir: Were it as true as it is held to be true, that happy are the nations without a history, the Tripolitans—one of the most wretched people in the world—would be among the happiest nations. Their history is so little known that, although in olden times there were in their country powerful cities mentioned by geographers, the very locality of those cities cannot be ascertained; and nobody knows to-day to which three of those towns this region owes its name of Tripoli. That general ignorance in regard to the history of the country is so much the more surprising as this land lies in the very center of that antique civilization whose most famous seats were the great cities of Greece, Egypt, Sicily, and Carthage, and the other Phœnician sea-ports. While we know so much about these countries and their chief towns, all the records we have of the Tripolitans for the last twenty centuries could be written in as many words.
“Subjects in succession to the Romans, the Arabs, the Spaniards, the Malta knights, and the Turks, they lastly became semi-independent.”
What the character of that half independence was, it has always baffled diplomats and historians to decide. From the 18th of October, [Page 1149] 1662, when a bassa of this kingdom made a treaty with Charles II, of England, to the 13th of August, 1831, date of the last convention between the French government and a Bey of Tripoli, this regency, whatever may be the meaning of that word, concluded treaties with nearly all the nations of Europe, without mentioning our own treaties of 1796 and 1805; and during those two centuries the Tripolitans were always at war with one Christian state or another, ours not excepted, without the Sultan of Constantinople ever interfering in those wars, or even doing so much as protesting against any of those treaties negotiated without his authorization, and in no case submitted to him for ratification.
Nevertheless the Ottoman Emperor was the real de facto and de jure sovereign of the regency.
“Though they acknowledge the supremacy of the Porte,” wrote Molloy about the Tripoli pirates, “yet all the power of it cannot impose on them more than their own wills voluntarily consent to. * * * This Tunis and Tripoli, and their sister Algiers, do at this day (though nests of pirates) obtain the rights of legation.”
In his treaty made with France in 1740 Sultan Mahmoud Khan I took the title of “Sovereign of the three great cities of Constantinople, Adrianople, and Broussa, as well as of Damascus; fragrance of Paradise, of Tripoli in Syria, of Egypt, &c.; of Africa, Barca; of Barbary Ethiopia, the strong places of Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis.”
Nor could it be alleged to-day that this was a vain title, as well as that of the sovereigns of England when they styled themselves Kings of France; or that of the respective Kings of Naples and Sardinia, who, for a long time, were the titular sovereigns of Cyprus and Jerusalem. Among the sixty-one countries, provinces, or cities mentioned by the Sultan in that treaty of 1740 as being under his sovereignty, there is not one that was not really at that time under his rule; and, strange as it may appear, when we think of the many wars and revolutions which have taken place during the last one hundred years, all of those countries, with the exception of Greece, Algiers, and Crimea only, are to this day in his possession.
In the first article of the treaty of 1801 between France and Youssouf Pasha, Bey and Dey of Tripoli, the very same Bashaw with whom we had a war, it was stated that all capitulations heretofore agreed upon between France and the Grand Seignior, or which may be consented to by the embassador of France sent expressly to the Porte, “will be exactly and sincerely kept and observed, without any direct or indirect contravention from either party.” That condition alone would be sufficient to prove that the ruler of Tripoli, at the very moment he was entering into a treaty with a foreign government, acknowledged the supremacy of the Ottoman Sultan, and the right of the latter to negotiate treaties in behalf of the regency. Youssouf’s son, Sidi Ali, the last Bashaw who reigned in Tripoli, was not recognized as such by the representatives of foreign powers until an envoy from the Porte brought him the Sultan’s firman of investiture. (Inclosure No. 1.)
Toward the end of the last century the grandfather of that Sidi Ali—another Bashaw of that Caramanli family, which, having ruled over Tripoli for about two centuries, were considered by the inhabitants as Arabs more than Turks*—wishing to rid the country of all the [Page 1150] Osmanli it contained, hit on a very ingenious plan, which was, after him, resorted to by an Egyptian ruler against the Mamelukes. Having invited to a night banquet all the Turkish officials, civil and military, then in the regency, he had men of his own lying in wait for them in a long and somber corridor of the seraglio, which leads from the first entrance to the inside yard. As the unsuspecting guests came in one by one, they were pounced upon by the Bashaw’s men, dragged to dark adjoining cells, and quietly murdered! The next morning when the inhabitants awoke there was nothing changed in Tripoli; only there were in the regency about a hundred Turkish gentlemen missing. That Bashaw was not so happy with his family as he might have expected, considering to what fearful extremity he had gone for their benefit. He had three sons, the youngest of whom was a real cub, not unworthy the bloody den where he had breathed his first. When a little over twenty years of age that prince had a quarrel with his eldest brother, of whom he appears to have been very jealous, and for a long time he would not speak to him; but on a fine morning he repaired to his mother’s private apartments, protesting of his great desire to have a reconciliation with his brother. The poor unsuspecting lady sent for her other son, and then, as they were sitting, the three on the same sofa, the heir apparent between the two other ones, interchanging words of friendship, and peace, and happiness, the young monster sprang all of a sudden closer to his brother and stabbed him right in the heart, killing him instantly.
A few days later the young fratricide, who had fled immediately after the commission of his crime, repaired with a respectable number of followers before the walls of Tripoli, and had actually the hardihood to besiege in the seraglio his father and his own brother Ahmet, who by the death of the eldest son had become heir to the crown. For want of heavy artillery on either side that siege was protracted for a very long time; and while hostilities were going on, an Ottoman kapoudan passing at the head of a squadron not far from these shores, heard of that civil war, sailed for Tripoli, took the city by surprise,* and compelled the old Bashaw and his reconciled sons to flee together to the Tunisian regency. Thus the eighteenth century ended at Tripoli in a grand tableau of horrors, plunders, slaughters, pestilence, and famine.
But in the course of time, the Capitan Pasha and his Arnaut soldiers [Page 1151] were expelled, and the young Caramanli princes, Ahmet and Youssuf, were put again in possession of what they considered to be their legitimate throne. Ahmet, who was of an easy nature, had consented for peace’s sake to share his power with his brother. Fearing, however, the jealousy and plotting genius of his royal partner, he would ever follow him everywhere as faithfully as his shadow. But on a certain occasion when they were returning together from a hunting excursion in the mountains back of Tripoli, Youssuf, who was mounted on a very swift horse, ran with all possible speed to the city. He arrived long before his brother, and when Ahmet reached the walls he found the gate shut; and on the top of it there was his brother, who, addressing him in a sneering manner, said: “You can, if you list, turn the head of your cattle to the east, and go as far as Derna, there to reign as a quiet, unambitious Pasha.” Ahmet, being probably of opinion that it was better for him to be first in Derna than second in Tripoli, took his brother’s advice. That Ahmet was a dead weight, as it was forcibly expressed by Mr. John Payne, the United States Secretary at this post in 1809. Thus, thanks to a heinous crime and a vast amount of deception, Youssuf became at last sole ruler of the regency. That is the same Bashaw with whom the United States had a war in 1804, and for whose brother Ahmet’s sake a handful of men, headed by our gallant General William Eaton, went on foot from Egypt to Derna, across a desert of five hundred miles, and took that fortress by storm, on the 27th of April, 1805; a success which compelled Youssuf to make with the American nation a treaty which is still in force.
Twenty-seven years after the signing of that treaty, Youssuf, who had proved a cruel, though at first an energetic and able ruler, had by degrees lost most of his best points, while his bad qualities had in the mean time grown with great luxuriance. His eldest son had already rebelled against him; but, being unsuccessful, he was sent to exile, and died in some out-of-the-way place in Upper Egypt.
In 1832 the English government, which had a reason of their own (which I will explain another time) to bind with stronger ties this regency with the Turkish Empire, set up against Youssuf a claim of $200,000 for damages inflicted on their subjects.
To say the truth, this very day, when the British population of Tripoli is ten times greater than it was forty years ago, I don’t think that the whole amount of real and personal property owned by them all would be the fourth part of that figure. The Pasha, who had nearly exhausted his means in a recent war against insurgents, could not, of course, pay the whole amount in the extremely short lapse of time given him by the British consul. Accordingly a British squadron came to Tripoli to support England’s pretension. Then, by the advice of the French agent, Youssuf abdicated on the 12th of April, 1832, in favor of his son, Sidi Ali Bey, who was, it appears, a very unpopular man. But that same day quite a young man, Sidi I Mohammed, an offspring of that son of the retiring Bashaw who had died in exile, bravely took up arms against his grandfather and his uncle, and with a large army of volunteers commenced the siege of Tripoli, exactly as Youssuf had in his youth besieged his father and brother. That second siege lasted very nearly three years. While the civil war was raging, the United States consul at Tripoli, whose sympathies were rather enlisted on the side of Sidi I Mohammed, and who had been grossly insulted and threatened by the sicaries of Sidi Ali Bey, thought it more prudent to repair to Malta, where he remained until the war was over. In 1834 the Constantinople Sultan sent to Ali Bashaw the firman of investiture; but the people [Page 1152] would not obey it. Strange enough, Tripolitan history is ever repeating itself. That second siege ended exactly like the first, by the successful interference of the Turks. A Grand Vizier, sent over with vessels and soldiers from Constantinople, took possession of the city, thanks to a kind of diplomacy which is greatly admired in these Levantine countries. While he was giving out to Sidi Ali’s friends that he had come to support their party, he was all the time hinting underhanded to Sidi I Mohammed’s admirers that all his strength would be thrown on their side of the scales. Ali Bashaw was invited to go on board the admiral’s vessel to hear the reading of the firman by which Sultan Mahmoud II invested him a second time with regal power. But when the ceremony was over, and he expressed his desire to go ashore, they informed him that he was a prisoner; and that was the last ever heard of him. All his immense riches were confiscated. This event took place on the 28th of May, 1835. On that same day the vizier went to the seraglio, had the Sultan’s firman appointing him Pasha of the Regency read to the population, and ordered the gates of the city to be thrown open to the besiegers. The latter had no objection to submit to the new ruler, for if they had rebelled, it was not that they loved I Mohammed in particular, but that they hated Ali the more. I Mohammed, seeing himself deserted, went to the desert and shot himself dead.
On the 2d of June next the commander-in-chief of the Turkish forces sent to the representatives of Christian powers at Tripoli a letter-circular, a copy of which I herewith inclose, (No. 2,) to inform them of his appointment by Sultan Mahmoud II. Nevertheless the treaties which those foreign governments had with the regency of Tripoli continued to be in force; and until now they, and not those with the Porte, have regulated in this regency the relations between Franks and Moors. Those among the consuls who were envoyés, and had presented letters of credence to the former Bashaw, continued to be considered as political agents.
But if the diplomatic relations between the new Tripolitan ruler and the Christian governments remained quite unchanged, it was not so with the relations between the regency and the Porte. From that day all the administration of the land became as much centralized in Constantinople as that of the United States custom-house, internal revenue, or post-offices is centralized at Washington; all the judges and customhouse officers are Osmanli, sent from the capital; the six or seven thousand soldiers garrisoned in the regency are Ottomans too; the Constantinople Osmanli idiom has long been substituted to the Arabic language for all official business; the only Arab office-holder in Tripoli is the alcalde or scheick elbelad, appointed by the Pasha governor; and the latter, deprived, of course, of the treaty-making power, is a mere agent, with no more administrative power than is given to the prefects who administer the eighty-seven departments of France, or the sixty-eight provincie of Italy.
The Turkish Empire is composed, as the Department knows, of three classes of countries. There are, in the first place, twenty-nine provinces under the immediate rule of the Constantinople Divan. Most of those twenty-nine provinces are elayets; others, vilayets, mutessarifliks, or kaïmakamliks. At the head of the administration of each province stands a governor-general, named vali, or mutessarif, or kaïmakan, appointed by the grand vizier, and under the immediate control of the Constantinople cabinet for every possible transaction. In the second class we find states not administered by the Sultan’s Divan, but to a certain extent acknowledging the supervising power of the grand vizier. [Page 1153] Lastly, there are countries which, though nominally and de jure the Sultan’s possessions, are in reality, and for all practical purposes, quite independent of the Ottoman government.
To that third class belong Moldavia, Dalmatia, Serbia, and Montenegro; to the second, Egypt and Tunisia; and to the first, the eyalets of Candia, Roumilia, Inina, Salonica, Bagdad, Trebizond, Yemen, the Mediterranean Isles, &c., the city of Constantinople, the Kïmakamlik of Samos, the mutessarifliks of Cyprus and Siban; the vilayets of Adrianople, Danube, Croatia, Alep, Taraboussi Gharb, (which means Tripoli of Barbary,) &c. (Inclosure No. 3.)
Before the change which took place in 1835 this regency could not have found its place in any of the three preceding divisions, for it had the treaty-making power and the full privilege of legation, a power which is not actually enjoyed by any of the countries I have mentioned in this paragraph, (Roumania, Egypt, and Tunis not excepted,) as I will explain in another dispatch devoted to the regencies.
I could not give you the list of the twenty or thirty Pashas appointed since 1835 to administer this country. The last five of them were the Pashas Mahmoud, Ali Riza, Halet, Mohammed Reschid, and Ali Riza again. Mahmoud Pasha, assisted by a Tripolitan Moor, who was sheik-et-belade, or chief of the city, made here an immense fortune, thanks to which he could, on his leaving this place, secure the appointment of secretary of the navy at Constantinople. Ali Riza, having the same wish to grow rich, but not Mahmoud’s ability, the people made, in 1870, a peaceful but expressive demonstration against him and the sheikh. Both were removed from office. The next vali was Halet Pasha, a very good man, with whom I was on quite friendly terms, and who authorized me to ship on board the Guerriere the anchor of the Philadelphia. He was offered a large amount of money if he would not prosecute the former sheikh of the city, but he declined the offer, had the Moor arrested and sent to Constantinople. When the prisoner arrived at the capital he found, to his agreeable surprise, a great change in the political scene. His friend Mahmoud had, thanks to a clever use of his riches, succeeded the lamented Ali Pasha as Grand Vizier. Of course his highness freed the sheikh and removed from office Halet Pasha, who retired, leaving behind him a good reputation, bitter enemies, and debts, which he has since paid. Next came an old gentleman who remained with us but a few months, and was then appointed vali of the holy cities; and now we have Ali Riza Pasha again, and the old shiekh, though no longer in office, is a power behind the throne.
When the Caramanli dynasty fell all the European governments represented in this country, while they insisted on their right to maintain in force their treaties with the old bashaws, considered as quite unnecessary to accredit diplomatic agents near a seraglio which had henceforth no authority to conclude anything, but whose duty is, on the contrary, to refer every letter and document and report every political act, administrative transaction, and judiciary or police case, the very events of every day public life, to Constantinople, for advice, decision, sanction, or instruction. For that reason they either recalled their agents, or, when they had occasion to appoint new ones, they sent mere consuls without any diplomatic character.
The Russian, Swedish, and Danish consulates-general at Tripoli were closed soon after 1835. Austria had as late as 1846 a general agent in the regency, but now its consulate is in charge of an Italian shop-keeper, who is at the same time consul for Belgium and for Germany too. Spain was represented here as late as 1846 by a consul-general chargé d’affaires, [Page 1154] but subsequently the office was left with one vice-consul only, and now a Greek Ottoman subject, who was the firman’s interpreter, has it in charge, with the title of deputy vice-consul. The French had in Tripoli a consul-general chargé d’affaires in 1845. Then only that agent dropped the second half of his title.
For a very long time the Minister des Affaires Etrangères entertained the idea of reducing this post to a mere consulate, and in 1870 it was in fact a consulate-general with a consul at its head; but since their last unfortunate war they have sent hither a consul-general, fearing that the Algerines could interpret that reduction of a French post on the African coast as a sign of decadency.
I cannot state at what time the Dutch had no longer a diplomatic agent in this regency.
* * * * * * *
In 1860 the consulates-general of Two Sicilies, Tuscany, and Sardinia were consolidated into one office, with a consul at the head, but five or six years ago the consul received the honorary title of consul-general, on account, I suppose, of the great number of Italians who are here; so that when I arrived in Tripoli I found a consul in charge of the French consulate-general and a consul-general in charge of the Italian consulate. These anomalies are happily unknown in our administration. For a long time the British kept at Tripoli the same diplomatic agent whom they had under the old Bashaw. When he died, in 1849 or ’50, his successor somewhat modified his title, and was known as consul-general charge d’affaires. Shortly after came another one, who was consul-general only. The British subjects here are the most numerous Frankish colony.
The United States Government is the only one whose representative comes here with a letter of credence.
Judge, sir, how indignant and mortified I was when I made the discovery that the Pasha to whom I had presented a letter signed by the chief of our government, and in which that Ottoman functionary was addressed as a highness, was nothing more than a second-class office-holder, who receives the complimentary title of excellency only, (a title which, in these Levantine and Italian-speaking countries, does not signify much,) and who shortly after was removed from office at the mere caprice of the Grand Vizier. In 1848 the State Department determined to reduce this consulate, (inclosure No. 4,) but I could not find out from the perusal of the old papers in the archives of this office the reason why it was ultimately decided to maintain the post on its former footing.
In regard to the capitulation, I must state that the European powers, being unwilling to have the validity of their treaties with the Bashaws brought to a test, have generally abstained, since 1835, from sending their men-of-war to this point. The Department knows that, in virtue of the old treaties, the Tripoli forts have to salute the vessels of Christian navies first, while it is the reverse according to the treaties with the Porte.
During the Crimean war, or at the end of it, England and France, having at that time nothing to refuse to their weak and therefore petted ally made with Turkey a convention by which their treaties with the Porte were to be applied to all the Turkish provinces.
I beg to state that I never read that convention, nor ever heard of it, until quite recently. In the summer of 1871 the British government had another convention with Turkey, by which the former took the engagement to consider their treaties with this regency as absolute as soon as all the other Christian powers would have made a similar convention. [Page 1155] That document was published, but European diplomats and consuls in eastern countries are generally so disinclined to assist their colleagues in acquiring official information that I could not get a copy of it.
Lastly, I read quite recently in an Italian newspaper that the ministers of France, Great Britain, and Italy have just signed another convention with the Ottoman secretary of foreign affairs, by virtue of which the subjects of those three Christian powers in Tripoli will be amenable to the regular courts of the country, and no longer to their respective consular courts, when they stand as defendants in civil law suits or criminal prosecutions, wherein the plaintiffs, prosecutors, or victims are Ottoman subjects. If such be the fact, the former treaties with this regency are practically put to an end, so far as those three Christian nations are concerned. But I must say that, to this day, the new convention has not yet been enforced.
Having thus shown that, since 1835, the three United States consuls appointed to this office, Messrs. Zaines, Porter, and myself were the only consuls coming here with letters of credence from the head of the Government, it is, I think, unnecessary to show the expediency of having here but an ordinary agent, without any kind of ministerial character. But such being the case, is it proper to maintain, at great expense, an agent in a place where there are no American citizens, and whither, to my knowledge, no American merchant-vessels ever went for the last thirty years? In all respects this office is a perfect sinecure, as it would be in Damascus or Bagdad, and there is no possible prospect it can ever be made useful, except the Government would decide to act in conformity with my dispatch No. 32.
But it does not follow that we should give up our treaties with the Bashaws as easily as England, France, and Italy have just done; it will be, on the contrary, the purpose of my next dispatch to prove—1st, that we have a perfect right to keep those treaties in force; 2d, that it is our interest to do so; and 3d, that as long as there is a United States consul at Tripoli he ought to be invested with that ministerial character which the letter of credence presented by my predecessors and myself have necessarily given us in the eyes of the world.
I am, &c.,
- The proper spelling of the name of that family is Caramanli, and not Caramanri as it was written in nearly all the dispatches of our consuls to the State Department. The Caramanli were originally from Caramania. The ending li in Turkish corresponds in this case to the ending er in such English words as Vermonter, New Yorker, Britisher.↩
The port of Tripoli has, like those of Messina, in Sicily, and Toronto, in Upper Canada, the shape of a scythe, formed by a long and narrow strip of land protruding from the main shore at an angle of less than 45 degrees. It is across that strip of land that the Turkish kapoudan, being unable to pass through the mouth of the port, which he found too well protected by the guns of the seraglio, caused a number of large boats to be dragged during the night and launched in the port. Early the next morning his men were enabled to go in those boats to the very foot of the castle, where they found a postern guarded by a handful of men, who, expecting no attack from that quarter, were easily routed, and by that means the seraglio was taken by the Turks ere its inmates were aware of an attack.
It is not a little interesting to know that on two previous occasions the Turks had had recourse to a similar stratagem; once with the greatest success, and the second time with an effect that very nearly secured victory to them. In 1453 Sultan Mahammed, who was besieging Constantinople, caused seventy vessels of his fleet to be transported during one single night across the six miles of land which divide, back of the city, the Marmora sea from the port of or Corne d’or; and by that means he could attack the place on its defenseless side, and take possession of it.
In 1565 Mustafa Pasha, grand vizier of Sultan Suleiman, repeated the same maneuver while he was besieging Malta with 40,000 men. He had his boats, then lying in the port named Marsamuscetto, drawn across the neck of land which separates that port from the great harbor, and had them launched again in that part of the latter now called the Marsa. In both instances it was exactly as if an army besieging New York City from the Long Island side had their boats carried from the East to the North Rivers across the section of the city north of the Central Park.↩