“An Interrupted Tête-À-Tête”

July 1, 1905

William A. Rogers

“An Interrupted Tête-À-Tête”

Symbols, John Bull; Women, Symbolic;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

Africa; France; Germany; Great Britain; Morocco;

No caption

This W. A. Rogers cartoon depicts German antagonism over improving relations between Britain and France.  In April 1904, Britain and France signed the Entente Cordiale, which helped ensure diplomatic cooperation between the two nations without establishing a formal alliance.  Among other provisions, the agreement recognized the authority of Britain in Egypt and of France in Morocco (with a nod to Spanish interests there).  The Entente Cordiale provoked concern in Germany, which had previously relied on the rivalry between Britain and France to help check the power of both.  On March 31, 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany delivered a speech in Tangier, Morocco, in which he called for an international conference to ensure Morocco's independence.

The Germans believed that they could convince President Theodore Roosevelt to take their side against the French in the international dispute over Morocco.  Roosevelt, who privately leaned toward the French position, was focused on mediating the Russo-Japanese War and inclined not to get involved in the Moroccan matter.  However, in June the situation threatened to erupt into war between Germany and France (and possibly Britain), so the American president persuaded the French to enter into negotiations.

The German ambassador, Hermann Speck von Sternburg, lacked diplomatic skill and ineptly assured Roosevelt that the German government would accept the American president's decisions "in every case."  Aptly characterizing such diplomatic carte blanche as "extraordinary," Roosevelt informed the French that he could exert sufficient influence on the Germans.  In early July 1905 (after this postdated cartoon appeared), Germany and France agreed to a conference in Algeciras, Spain, beginning in January 1906.  Roosevelt appointed Henry White, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, to represent the United States.  The U.S. Senate, skeptical of American involvement in European affairs, received administration assurances of the limited, non-voting role of the United States in the Algeciras Conference, along with many diplomatic documents related to it.

In February 1906, the negotiations stalled and war-talk revived.  Roosevelt presented a proposal to break the impasse, but the Germans objected that it was too pro-French.  Germany, though, was not prepared to fight a war over Morocco and was put into a diplomatic box by Sternburg's earlier promise to Roosevelt.  In April 1906, the conference participants--Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Russia, and the United States--signed the treaty.  Although the Act of Algeciras reaffirmed Moroccan independence and free trade with the Great Powers, the French and Spanish continued to police the African sultanate.  The Moroccan crisis was important for forging closer relations between France, Britain, and the United States, while further isolating Germany, a diplomatic collision-course paving the way to World War I (1914-1917).

Ambassador White signed the Algeciras Treaty, but stated that the American government was under no "obligation or responsibility" to enforce its terms.  Wary senators did not approve the treaty until December 1906, and only after revising it to emphasize the agreement's economic provisions and deny that it "depart[ed] from traditional American foreign policy which forbids participation by the United States in the settlement of political questions which are entirely European in their scope."  President Roosevelt signed the revised treaty as the best he could get.

Robert C. Kennedy

“An Interrupted Tête-À-Tête”
December 3, 2023

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