The Morocco Crisis of 1911.


The Morocco crisis of 1911 arose out of the dispatch of the German gunboat Panther to Agadir on July 1. The ostensible ground for this action was the request of German firms in Agadir for protection in the disordered state of the country. But inasmuch as there were no German subjects at Agadir and the port was not open to Europeans, it was clear that the real motive was a desire to reopen the whole question. The German Government resented the complete failure of the convention of 1899, and determined now, by a show of force, to prevent a further French penetration unless France would negotiate for a final settlement of the problem.


It is highly probable that Germany hoped to break up the Triple Entente. It is also probable that at the beginning of the affair Germany expected to obtain part of Morocco for itself, counting upon the known military weakness of France and the confusion in England produced by the struggle over the House of Lords to prevent serious opposition.


The absolute reserve of Sir Edward Grey and his insistence that Great Britain must be consulted in any arrangements concerning Morocco; the attitude of Mr. Balfour, who declared that the opposition would support the Government in its policy; the rally of all shades of French opinion; these circumstances, and perhaps also some pressure from Russia, apparently caused the German Government to reconsider. At any rate, as early as July 7, the German ambassador in Paris informed the French Government that Germany cherished no territorial aspirations in Morocco and would negotiate for a French protectorate on the basis of “compensation” for Germany in the French Congo region and the safeguarding of her economic interests in Morocco. Thus the first stage of the negotiations was safely passed. But stormy times were still ahead.


The German terms, as presented on July 15, while containing an offer to cede the northern part of the Cameroons and Togoland, demanded from France the whole of the French Congo from the River Sangha to the sea to which was later added the transfer of France's right to the preemption of the Belgian Congo. The Germans also showed every disposition to limit the scope of the French protectorate and to seek for themselves special economic privileges, in the spirit of the convention of 1909. So great a price France was not prepared to pay, and she refused the German demand. The danger lay in a continued French refusal and a continued German insistence. The dispute would then be thrown back on Morocco.


It was to obviate this danger that Great Britain now intervened; she was pledged to support the policy of France in Morocco and would do so to the very end; on the other hand, she would not interfere in, and would heartily support, any reasonable accommodation between France and Germany, that is, any settlement in Africa which France, acting as a free agent, was disposed to make. As the German Government had so far made no statement of its policy to the British Government, Mr. Lloyd George, at the request of Sir Edward Grey, delivered on July 21 his famous Mansion House speech, in which he declared that national honor was more precious than peace; a speech everywhere construed, especially in view of the orator's pacifist leanings, as a definite warning to Germany that she could not impose an unreasonable settlement on France. A difficult week followed, in which certain British naval preparations were made, while the foreign secretary and the German ambassadors were holding exceedingly stiff conversations. But the speech had done its work. The Wilhelmstrasse, impressed also, perhaps, by panicky conditions on the Berlin Bourse, became conciliatory, giving assurance that designs on Morocco formed no part of its program, and reaching an agreement with France, in principle, as to the future settlement.


In spite of all this, little progress was achieved. It was officially admitted that the situation was " grave and on August 18 the negotiations were broken off, the German Government taking advantage of a railway strike in England to revive certain pretensions with respect to Morocco. After a long consultation with his Government, the French ambassador in Berlin on September 4 resumed his conversations with the German foreign office. On the 9th there was a great crash on the Berlin Bourse, also renewed rumors of military and naval preparations on both sides. But in the end good sense prevailed. On October 4 the two negotiators initialed a convention which gave France a protectorate de facto in Morocco, although the term was not used; in return she pledged herself most explicitly to observe the principle of the open door.


The French Government was now willing to discuss the compensation to be awarded Germany in the Congo. On November 2 it was agreed that Germany should receive two prongs of French territory which would bring the Cameroons in touch with the Congo and Ubangi Rivers at Bonga and Mongumba, respectively, while Germany surrendered the Duck's Beak in the Lake Chad region. The only difficulty arose over the German demand that France transfer to Germany her right of preemption to the Belgian Congo; but with the assistance of the Russian Government a formula was found by which any change in the status of the Congo was reserved to the decision of the powers signatory of the Berlin African act of 1885. On November 4, 1911, the Morocco and Congo conventions were signed in Berlin, a letter from the German foreign secretary to the French ambassador being annexed, in which Herr von Kinderlen-Waechter recognized the right of France to erect her protectorate in Morocco.


The settlement was a great triumph for France, secured by the manifestations of national solidarity at home and the diplomatic assistance of Great Britain. Many Frenchmen regretted the cession of French territory, but Morocco was certainly far more valuable than the Congo, and above all the Republic had scored a distinct victory over the mighty Empire which had defeated it in 1870-1871. In Germany there was a corresponding discontent, which manifested itself in bitter, criticisms of the Imperial Government's diplomacy and in violent outbursts of hatred for Great Britain, whose intervention was believed to have spoiled the German game. It is also to be observed that the land which Germany received was valuable chiefly as the entering wedge for further penetration of the Belgian Congo. Such designs had long been suspected, and they were proved by a conversation between the French ambassador in Berlin and the German foreign minister, Herr von Jagow, in the spring of 1914, in which the latter declared that Belgium was not in a position to develop, the Congo adequately and ought “to give it up”. If, as has been recently stated by so eminent a personage as Herr August Thyssen, the German Emperor and his general staff in the year 1912 decided upon a world war, it is most probable that the reverse sustained in this diplomatic bout with France and Great Britain was a decisive factor, for it had been brought home to the war lords of Berlin that diplomatically the Triple Entente was stronger than the Triple Alliance. It must also have been clear to them that the sympathy of the world had been with France in the controversy of 1911.

Note -- Nothing has been said about the secret negotiations conducted between M. Caillaux, the French prime minister, and Baron von Jancken, of the German foreign office. As yet the facts are not fully known. There is much difference of opinion as to whether the final settlement was greatly affected by the tortuous diplomacy of Caillaux.

Source: Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey, Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870-1914. Prepared for the National Board for Historical Service. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1918.

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