Thomas Barclay and America’s Longest Standing Treaty

On June 26th, 1786, Sidi Mohammed ibn Abdullah (Mohammed III), the Sultan of Morocco, was the first to sign the 25 article Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the United States of America and Morocco. The man who negotiated the treaty, Thomas Barclay, signed for the U.S. on July 15th, 1786.

Two future presidents – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – who were in paris at the time signed for the U.S. in January 1787 and the 50-year treaty was ratified by Congress on July 15th, 1787.

In 1837, the treaty officially expired and was redone as originally written and still remains in force today, 234 years later. The treaty focuses primarily on how trade between the two countries will be handled, jurisdiction on how disputes are to be resolved and guidance on what procedures will be followed in case both sides are on opposites of a war.

For the record, this treaty survived the two Barbary Pirates War that began in 1801 after the U.S. decided that as a country, we would no longer pay tribute to the pirates operating from the North African coast of modern Algeria, Libya and Tunisia.

The Moroccan Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was negotiated largely by Irish borne Thomas Barclay who was a successful trader. He also spoke fluent Arabic and wrote the actual document that is in both Arabic and English.

Barclay was the son of a wealthy Irish merchant and settled first in Boston and then moved to Philadelphia. He made his own fortune running what we would call an import export business. After the Revolutionary War, President Washington sent him to Europe to negotiate – read reduce as much as possible – the country’s debts to those who loaned the Continental Congress money.

In 1786, a frustrated Mohammed III ordered a U.S. merchant ship to be seized by one of his ships and brought to Marrakesh. Why? Morocco was a very early supporter of the revolution and wanted a treaty with the new country. Despite letters to the U.S. Congress and president, Mohammed III did not receive a response so he arranged for the ship to be taken. Barclay was dispatched to Morocco in June 1786 and the treaty soon followed.

Alarmed by the activities of the pirates operating from bases in Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli, President Washington ordered Barclay to go to Algiers and negotiate the release of our ships as well as treaties that would end the piracy. He went to Lisbon to get gold and silver coins and died from some sort of infection within a few days of arriving in Portugal. For some reason, his gravestone says he died in a duel (See image).

Barclay’s importance to U.S. diplomatic history cannot be overestimated because for two and a half centuries, his work has stood the test of time. That’s more than can be said of many treaties negotiated by the United States of America.

Image of Thomas Barclay’s grave stone courtesy of Wikipedia

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