Before the Declaration of Independence, colonial Americans who engaged in trade in the Mediterranean and with the Barbary States were dependent upon the British for protection from Barbary piracy. France had led the way in securing definite rights or protection not only for foreigners but also for natives in the employ of foreigners. The first treaty granting these privileges was concluded between Morocco and France in May 1767; other nations soon gained similar rights through a most-favored-nation clause. When the United States declared its independence in 1776, England withdrew its admiralty passes. To prevent the plundering of American ships, a committee of the Continental Congress immediately urged the negotiation of a treaty with France to obtain a royal pledge to protect and defend American vessels as effectively as England had previously done. Although Louis XVI promised in the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and France, signed on 6 February 1778, to interpose with the Barbary States "for the benefit, convenience, and safety" of his American ally, this agreement proved to be of little value.
After the American Revolution, the U.S. Congress took the initiative to establish direct contacts to secure the protection of American ships and seamen in the Mediterranean area. In May 1784, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were commissioned to negotiate treaties with the Barbary States. When an American ship, the Betsey, was seized by Moroccan pirates and taken to the port of Tangier, the commissioners authorized Thomas Barclay, the U.S. consul general at Paris, to go to Morocco and act as their agent to conclude a treaty with Morocco. Barclay's mission was successful. In 1786 he signed an agreement with Sultan Sidi Mohammed, which was ratified by Congress on 18 July 1787. This treaty, which established the basis for American extraterritorial rights in Morocco, was modified and renewed in 1836 and again in 1886, and remained in effect until 1956. The United States soon negotiated treaties with the dey of Algiers in 1795, with the sultan of Tripoli in 1796, and with the dey of Tunis in 1797; it did not relinquish these treaty rights until 1912, when Libya became a colony of Italy. But neither the treaty with Morocco nor those concluded with the Barbary States provided protection to American commerce. Tripoli declared war on the United States in 1801, and hostilities ensued with the Barbary pirates until 1816, when new treaties were imposed upon Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunisia. Following the War of 1812, the United States was no longer harassed by piracy in the Mediterranean.
In the Islamic countries, the protectorate system created serious difficulty. Under bilateral treaties, European consuls obtained both almost complete jurisdiction over the persons and properties of their own nationals, and the right to offer this protection to anyone they employed. These persons were not subject to local law and were exempt from all personal or direct taxation or forced levies. The system lent itself to abuses, since many local citizens gladly paid large sums of money to secure these exemptions.
Foreign consuls found the selling of protection an excellent way to augment their incomes. As early as 1859, the Moroccan government demanded more careful regulation of the protectorate system. Complaints were also voiced against the unwarranted interference by consuls in the local courts. Efforts to remedy the situation were made in 1877, when the sultan sought to limit and control the extent of foreign protectorate claims, and to obtain the return to Moroccan jurisdiction of Moroccan subjects who, after naturalization in a foreign country, had returned to live in Morocco. But the discussions with the diplomatic corps brought no agreement, and the United States, while expressing its willingness to remedy the abuses, insisted that naturalized citizens were equal to native-born citizens, and therefore not subject to Moroccan jurisdiction if they returned to that country.
At the Conference of Madrid in 1880, protectorates were the main item on the agenda. Britain favored conceding to Moroccan demands, whereas France urged that no abridgment be made on the right of protection. The conference adopted the French point of view, and the Convention of Madrid not only validated the protectorate system but also, by clarifying, defining, and legalizing the situation, strengthened it by converting the former bilateral treaties and simple consular agreements into an international convention. After the Madrid Convention an orgy of protection selling began, and the protection problem became linked to political penetration.
During the latter decades of the nineteenth century, imperial rivalries steadily exerted a profound impact on extraterritoriality. As European powers pressed to partition Africa and carve out their colonial empires, the danger of the dismemberment of Morocco became increasingly ominous. In 1871 the sultan of Morocco, fearful that his country might be partitioned by European countries, offered to place his entire nation under an American protectorate. Although refusing to accept the offer, the State Department proffered its friendly offices to prevent such an act. To forestall dismemberment or the establishment of hegemony in a region by any one power, and at the same time ensure the maintenance of treaty rights and extraterritoriality, the United States espoused the creation of international settlements, such as that in Shanghai, which had been set up in the 1850s, and the Open Door policy.
Political and economic competition among the European powers intensified efforts to maintain and broaden extraterritorial rights. In Morocco particularly, a decisive shift occurred from concern with persons and property to an interest in economic exploitation and trade. The Moroccan crisis that almost triggered conflict between France and Germany, and was a prelude to World War I, was occasioned by Germany's desire to prevent French economic control of that country. The intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt in this dispute led to the Algeciras Conference in 1906. While the Act of Algeciras effected a compromise that guaranteed equality of economic opportunity and the Open Door, France and Spain secured privileged positions with the Moroccan police force.
The interests of France, Spain, and Britain converged on Tangier, which overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar. England and Germany strongly favored internationalization of Tangier, but France resisted this proposal, insisting on French and Spanish preponderance. Following the Act of Algeciras, France swiftly took steps to establish a protectorate over Morocco. Germany attempted to counter this move by dispatching a gunboat, the Panther, to Agadir to "protect German interests." This action, in 1911, precipitated a second Moroccan crisis. But again a compromise was reached. In a Franco-German accord, concluded in November 1911, Germany conceded France a free hand in Morocco in exchange for a sizable slice of the French Congo. After firmly establishing its position in Morocco, and working out arrangements with Germany and Spain, France agreed to cooperate in the creation of an international regime for Tangier, modeled on the International Settlement of Shanghai. A statute was finally approved by most of the Algeciras powers by November 1914.
The American extraterritorial treaties with Morocco were very similar to those with other Islamic states. However, abrogation of American extraterritorial jurisdiction in Morocco was a complicated matter. France established a protectorate in Morocco in 1912, designating special zones for Spain and an "international zone" in Tangier. After the protectorate was established, France began pressing the United States to renounce its extraterritorial rights.
Following the establishment of the French protectorate in Morocco, many countries surrendered their capitulatory rights. With the signing of the Tangier Statute in 1923, the protectorate system was eliminated. England was the last of the signatory powers to formally renounce its right of protection and all capitulatory rights, in a 1937 accord with France. But the United States refused to accept the Tangier Statute or the modification in 1928 that officially established the basis for the internationalization of the city. Since Americans had few political or economic interests in Tangier, Washington decided it would be more advantageous to remain outside the international settlement, thus retaining both its diplomatic status and its extraterritorial rights.
Some vestiges of extraterritoriality persisted after World War II. For example, American extraterritorial rights were not ended in Morocco until 1956, when Moroccan independence was attained; the final economic integration of Tangier was secured only in October 1960. When the United States finally gave up its extraterritorial jurisdiction in Morocco, one issue was its desire to support Arab nationalism without antagonizing France. Moreover, it was sensitive to the danger that the Soviet Union could exploit Moroccan irritation with American extraterritorial claims. Finally, the United States wanted to preserve its military bases in the region and increase the number of American troops.