Where is the oldest US diplomatic property still in use and America’s first piece of foreign real estate?
Surprise! It’s in Morocco.
When United States of America was a young country (its thumb sucking phase), few recognized it as a nation because they were afraid to piss off Britain. Then in 1700s, ruling supreme country. This foolish young upstart dare to unshackle the chains of its parent and declare itself independent? It was unheard of. Without a queen and a king to boot. It was a period of monarchs and before the legendary French Revolution (which America may have inspired which then inspired other colonies to declare independence from its oppressive colonizers). It’s like if Guam were to declare independence. No one would dare recognize it especially if America denied it.
It was like that between America and Britain.
In 1777 Sultan Sidi Muhammad bin Abdallah knew that if he wanted to secure the safety of his kingdom, Morocco from conniving European countries he needed allies and diplomatic relations. He was afraid of neighboring Spain and Portugal because they go waaaay back. Way back when Morocco invaded Spain and Portugal (back when they weren’t known as Spain and Portugal) and turned it into the beautiful Al Andalusia (yes, Spain and Portugal used to be Arab and African!..specifically, Berbers- what native Moroccans call themselves). The Moroccans occupied Southern Spain and Portugal for 500 years (from 711 to 1400 –hmm.. the last few hundred years during the Mongol conquest and the Black Plague) before they were kicked out by the northern Castile and Aragon armies (the two main kingdoms that were to become Spain).
Well, Sultan Sidi Muhammad bin Abdallah sent out a friendly hand to United States when it declared independence thereby making history. Morocco became the first country to recognize America as a country and thus began United States’ longest unbroken treaty between these two countries. Imagine what the conservative Republicans would say about that. Yes sir! A Muslim Arab (technically an Arab-Berber) was the first to recognize America as a nation. What say you now?
America then acquired its first property abroad in Tangier, Morocco and established one of its first diplomatic missions. It’s now called the Tangier American Legislation. Legislation is a rank lower than embassy and consulate (like second runner up in a beauty pageant).
Today the Tangier American Legislation is a museum, a cultural library, a cultural library and a research center on Arabic studies. And still owned by the United States. It is also the only American national historic landmark on foreign soil. It’s boggles the mind. When we entered the building, it’s like stepping into a little piece of America in Morocco. Finally, we were in a clean pristine place. Big old red white and blue flags were everywhere. Everything was organized. Air conditioning was blasting. Yep, we were in American soil.
This is a historic letter from Sultan Mohammed bin Adbullah to George Washington in the Tangier American Legislation museum.
This is George Washington’s reply. Imagine! America’s first president writing a letter to a Muslim head of State expressing gratitude. Well, this was pre-9/11 after all.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter.
City of New York December 1, 1789
Great and Magnanimous Friend,
………..It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity of assuring Your Majesty that, while I remain at the head of this nation, I shall not cease to promote every measure that may conduce to the friendship and harmony which so happily subsist between your Empire and them, and shall esteem myself happy in every occasion of convincing Your Majesty of the high sense (which in common with the whole nation) I entertain the magnanimity, wisdom and benevolence of Your Majesty.
May the Almighty bless Your Imperial Majesty, our Great and Magnanimous friend, with His constant guidance and protection.
– George Washington
To know more about the Tangier American Legislation, visit these sites: