Sultan Abdulaziz, President Abraham Lincoln, and U.S.-Ottoman Relations during the Civil War
By the time Abraham Lincoln assumed office on March 4, 1861, seven southern states had already declared their secession from the Union. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, replacing the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire became an especially urgent matter for Lincoln. The incumbent ambassador, James Williams, who was left over from Buchanan’s administration, was a Southerner from Tennessee and busily engaged in urging the Porte to support the South. Secretary of War Simon Cameron recommended that Pennsylvania Representative Edward Joy Morris be Minister Resident (Ambassador) to Istanbul, and Lincoln, agreed.
“The United States has a true and loyal friend in the sovereign of this great empire.”
James Williams headed for London with his family when he was replaced by Morris. After then, he maintained a secret correspondence with Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States, and other Confederate diplomats.
Edward Joy Morris was a Representative from Pennsylvania, studied law at Harvard, and practiced in Philadelphia. He had served a Chargé d’Affaires to Naples from January 20, 1850, to August 26, 1853. Morris was not only a good Republican, but also a seasoned traveler who had visited and written about the Levant. In 1842 he published Notes of a Tour through Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Arabia Petraea, to the Holy Land and in 1855, translated from the German Alfred De Besse’s The Turkish Empire, Embracing the Religion, Manners, and Customs of the People: with a Memoir of the Reigning Sultan and Omer Pacha.
On June 12, 1861, Abraham Lincoln appointed Edward J. Morris as the new Minister Resident to Istanbul with a letter of credence addressed to Sultan Abdulaziz. It wrote:
“I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to the envelope of a letter addressed to His Imperial Highness, the Sultan of Turkey, (Mr. E. Joy Morris’ credence) dated this day, and signed by me and for so doing this shall be his warrant.”
When Morris reached Istanbul, Sultan Abdulaziz had recently acceded to the throne following the death of Sultan Abdülmecid I. His brother had previously established friendly relations with the U.S., especially with allowing exportation of camels from his dominions and the camels he gifted to the U.S. Army.
On October 22, 1861, Morris presented his credentials to Sultan Abdulaziz. In his report to the Secretary of State, William H. Seward, he wrote:
“I have the honor to advise you that I had an audience with the Sultan on the 22d ultimo, on which occasion I delivered my letter of credence as minister resident, and presented to him the congratulations of the President of the United States on his accession to the throne.”
The President of the United States of America having been pleased to select me to represent the government of the United States near your Imperial Majesty
In the midst of managing a possible British and French support for the Confederacy, Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward managed to find time to strengthen America’s relationship with the Ottoman Empire. While tensions ran high in both Washington and Istanbul about how Sultan Abdulaziz would respond to U.S. pleas for neutrality, the Sultan assured Lincoln about the Porte’s support for the Union.
To the Sultan, Morris said: “The President of the United States of America having been pleased to select me to represent the government of the United States near your Imperial Majesty, in the character of minister resident, I have the honor to present to jour Majesty my letters of credence… The President has also charged me with the agreeable duty of offering his most cordial congratulations on the occasion of the accession of your Majesty to the throne of your ancestors. The government and people of the United States have learned with sincere satisfaction the accession of a sovereign whose elevated character and enlightened mind offer the highest assurances of the happiness and prosperity of the Ottoman Empire.”
Morris wanted to assure that the friendly relations between the U.S. and the Ottoman Empire would continue without any interruption despite the Civil War. He told the Sultan: “I congratulate myself on having been appointed to represent the United States of America near your Imperial Majesty, and I beg your Majesty to do me the justice to believe that it will be my constant aim to do all in my power to maintain and extend the amicable relations which have existed in unbroken harmony between the two nations from the commencement of their intercourse to the present day”
I am happy in thus being able to report to you that the United States has a true and loyal friend in the sovereign of this great empire.
While expressing his desire to retain the friendly relations, Sultan Abdulaziz “was of the most cordial and friendly character.” He “expressed his sympathy with the government of the United States for the troubles in which the American Union in all its original power and integrity, and with the restoration of peace and concord among the American people.”
In his report, Morris wrote: “I am happy in thus being able to report to you that the United States has a true and loyal friend in the sovereign of this great empire. The same feeling inspires all his ministers, and I am sure that this feeling is as sincere as it is warm and generous, I need not assure you that it will give me great pleasure to cultivate and confirm this good feeling in every possible way.”
When the Civil War entered its second summer in 1862, the first anniversary of the accession of Sultan Abdulaziz to the throne was celebrated throughout the Empire. On 25th of June, also the diplomatic corps was received in person for the first time on such an occasion. The reception took place at the Dolmabahce Palace.
After Sir Henry Bulwer, British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, gave an address congratulating Sultan Abdulaziz on behalf of the diplomatic corps, the Sultan passed down the line, speaking to each member of the corps.
His Majesty replied that civil war was an incident in the history of all nations.
When he came to Ambassador Morris, he inquired “in quite an earnest manner as to the state of the war in the United States.” Morris replied: “it was a great calamity for us as well as for the world; that it was waged on one side for the destruction of a government which had been to the people living under it a source of countless blessings, and on the other for the preservation of the American Constitution; but that it would soon end with the maintenance of the Union and the free institutions of the country.
“His Majesty replied” wrote Morris to the Secretary of State, “that civil war was an incident in the history of all nations” and wanted Morris to convey to the President his most ardent wishes for the prosperity and continued union of the republic of the United States.”
Morris thanked the Sultan for his kind wishes and “assured him that both the government and people of the United States were gratefully sensible for his friendship and good will, and particularly so in this dark period of their history.”
“The manner of the Sultan, while addressing me, was very cordial and manifested a perfect sincerity of purpose” noted Morris.
In addition to the Sultan’s sympathy for the Union, in 1862, the Ottoman government decided to renew the “Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, between the United State of America and the Ottoman Porte” that was signed in 1830.
The treaty signed in 1862 ensured a continued trade and diplomatic relationship between both countries. The renewal of this treaty was an impressive feat for the Lincoln administration during the course of the Civil War.
President Lincoln announced in his annual message to the Congress on December 1, 1862 that “the new commercial treaty between the United States and the Sultan of Turkey has been carried into execution.”
As Minister-Resident to Turkey, Edward Joy Morris served well and long: representing, over a course of nine years, Presidents Lincoln, Johnson and Grant.
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