Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead

A video clip from the film The Wind and the Lion (1975) where Brian Keith gave a superb performance as Theodore Roosevelt and John Huston gave an unforgettable portrayal of Secretary of State John Hay.  John Milius’ film was first rate entertainment, but poor history.  In the film Perdicaris is Edith Perdicaris, portrayed by Candice Bergen, who is taken captive by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, played with considerable panache by Sean Connery, the leader of  a band of Berber insurgents in Morocco in 1904.  Perdicaris comes to respect, perhaps even to love, her captor, who, after many adventures, ultimately frees her.  As is usually the case, reality was more prosaic than fiction.

Perdicaris the captive was not an attractive female, but a 64 year old man, Ion Pericaris.  Perdicaris did grow to respect his captor, who treated him well, regarding him as a patriot fighting against a corrupt regime.  Perdicaris was captured on May 18, 1904.  Raisuli sent to the Sultan a list of demands in exchange for the release of Perdicaris and his stepson who was also a captive.  The demands included $70,000 in gold, safe-conduct for his tribesmen, and being named governor of two districts near Tangier.

Theodore Roosevelt was outraged by this kidnapping of an American citizen, and had ships of the Navy stationed off Morocco.  His first instinct was to have the US Marines go in and rescue Perdicaris, but Secretary Hay convinced him that such a course was unwise.  Morocco was a state of first importance to many European powers, and American intervention might have set off a powderkeg similar to the events that ultimately led to World War I.  The administration faced an additional quandry when it learned that during the Civil War in 1862 Perdicaris had renounced his American citizenship in Greece, apparently to prevent the Confederate government from confiscating his holdings in the Confederacy.  The Roosevelt Administration made certain that no one outside of the administration became aware of this.

Working behind the scenes, Hay convinced the Sultan, through British and French diplomatic intermediaries, to pay the ransom.  For home consumption Hay released a telegram sent to the Sultan demanding Perdicaris alive, or Raisuli dead.  1904 was a Presidential election year, and the telegram caused a tumultuous scene when it was read to the Republican national convention.  A few days after the telegram was issued, the Sultan payed the ransom and Peridcaris and his stepson were duly released.  As was usual in his career, Roosevelt enjoyed good fortune in this incident, and reached his goal of freeing Perdicaris at no cost to himself or the United States.

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