The Conquest of Tunis

ON MAY 12, 1881, the Bey of Tunis yielded to the overpowering force of a French military expedition and at his Bardo Palace signed a treaty which made Tunis a protectorate of France. Although the ostensible occasion for military intervention had been the unruly activities of certain desert tribes, the Kroumirs, who raided from Tunisian territory across into the French colony of Algeria, the official French Yellow Book, published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1881,(1) showed that diplomatic correspondence over Tunis had concerned such economic matters as railway and harbor concessions, the right to construct telegraph and cable lines, land titles claimed by Frenchmen, and banking projects. Indeed, Clemenceau and other members of the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies charged that the Tunisian episode was a "coup de bourse" (stock exchange maneuver) and demanded a parliamentary inquiry, while editor Henri Rochefort of L'Intransigeant led the radical press in a vitriolic campaign against the government, ridiculing the "Kroumir hunt" and offering to prove that the real instigators of the intervention were the bankers, investors, and politicians who had speculated in Tunisian funds or who desired concessions and economic favors in Tunis. These attacks became so violent and specific that the government (Jules Ferry, Prime Minister; Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, Minister of Foreign Affairs) felt constrained to defend itself by having the French consul at Tunis, M. Roustan, enter suit for libel against Henri Rochefort. The trial was the sensation of the day, for not Rochefort but the policy of France was said to be at the bar. The witnesses were past and present ministers, diplomats and financiers.(2) When Rochefort was acquitted, he and his associates hailed the verdict as a vindication of their charges, while the English and Italian press enjoyed the chagrin of the French government.

Thus, there seemed to be ample evidence to justify this conclusion contained in one of the most brilliant studies of economic imperialism: "A French army conquered Tunis because a comparatively few Frenchmen believed that the power of the French state should be used to promote the economic interests of Frenchmen in Tunis."(3) Yet reëxamination of the question, especially in the light of evidence that became available in 1930-31 with the publication of the relevant French diplomatic documents,(4) raises serious doubts as to whether it may not be putting the cart before the horse to ascribe the conquest of Tunis to the direct influence of private economic interests on policy. Were not the private investors and speculators in this instance rather tools of political policy than its instigators? Probably the truest interpretation would be that they were both: they served as instruments of diplomacy, and in so doing they urged diplomacy forward. In most actual cases where investments have figured in political friction there has been an intertwining of private economic interests with non-economic political considerations of power, glory, and prestige. It is to emphasize this point in a concrete fashion that the present chapter concludes Part I of this study with an account of the Tunis episode.

The Tunisian question dates from the French conquest of Algeria in 1830. Henceforth France, to the displeasure of England, exerted pressure to prevent the Turkish Sultan from asserting the suzerainty which was supposed to be his over the Bey of Tunis. For example, a French fleet in 1835 barred the path of a Turkish fleet on the way to Tunis, and a decade later when the Porte sent a firman of investiture to the Bey the latter replied, at the instigation of the French consul, that he needed none. Again in 1854, 1864, 1871 France used its influence to "protect" the Bey against Turkey or to dissuade him from doing homage to the Sultan ---not always with success.(5) These facts show that long before France took Tunis, and long before French investors had entered the country, the Paris cabinet had been accustomed to regard this land adjacent to Algeria as a natural field for the development of French political influence.

The era of foreign economic concessions began in 1857 at the end of the Crimean War. The French secured the right to build a telegraph line between Algeria and Tunis. In 1861 other lines were added, and the Bey was induced to sign an agreement which the French later interpreted as giving them a monopoly on telegraphic communication in the country. These concessions, it should be noted, were accorded not to private companies but to the French government itself, which constructed and operated the lines. This is important, as it shows the intensity of French political interests in the Regency before the economic interests of private French nationals had appeared upon the scene. England also had an energetic representative in Tunis, Sir Richard Wood, who, from 1855 until his recall at the request of Paris in 1879, fought tenaciously and skillfully against France's waxing "natural preponderance."(6) He obtained the promise of a number of concessions at this time, including the right to build a railway from the city of Tunis to the port of La Goletta. This concession was taken up by an English company a decade later (1871), and led it into bankruptcy, whereupon the tiny bankrupt railroad became a bone of contention between France and Italy. The other economic opportunities that Mr. Wood was at pains to secure for his countrymen remained, for the most part, singularly unattractive to English capitalists. Only French capitalists, we are told by a patriotic French historian, have always had confidence in the fortunes of the Regency. "This observation," he adds, " . . . goes to prove that France, and only France, might be able some day voluntarily or of necessity to intervene in Tunis."(7) It also goes to prove that capitalists are usually reluctant about undertaking economic enterprises at their own risk in an unstable, backward country, but that this reluctance is somewhat less on the part of those capitalists who have reason to believe that their government's political ambitions may lead it to support their private speculations.

Up to this point the French government had built some telegraph lines and the English consul had tried unsuccessfully to interest English capitalists, but there were no important private European investments in Tunis. But if financiers were not ready to risk important sums in permanent undertakings, there was no lack of European adventurers, salesmen, and speculators eager to pander to the Bey's weaknesses and to extort money from him on various shady pretexts. In this they worked hand in hand with the consuls, to whom the claims of nationals often provided welcome ammunition with which to carry on the struggle for influence. A process well known in Oriental countries under extraterritoriality went on in Tunis: A European pulled the necessary wires, greased the necessary palms, and received the concession of vast agricultural domains or unexplored mineral lands from the Bey. In return he promised to develop the economic resources of the country, and thereby to increase the revenues of the government, though the concessionnaire himself was often accorded tax exemption. After painting these brilliant prospects to the Bey and obtaining his grant, the promoter would retire to Europe and seek to gather capital. Sometimes he would even go so far as to send workmen to Tunis, perhaps even to scratch a corner of land or to build some shacks, But soon work would stop and the astonished Bey would be the recipient of a demand for a large indemnity. The concessionnaire, it would be claimed, had sacrificed his time and his activity only to see his undertaking brought to naught by the insecurity of the country, for which the government must be held responsible. Against such claims, supported, as they usually were, by the consul of a European power determined to augment his country's influence in Tunis and therefore to regard any resistance as a national affront, the Bey had no choice. He had to reimburse concessionnaires for unreaped harvests, unborn cattle, and unmined minerals.(8)

The bogs of the credit system seem to have had a fatal fascination for oriental princes---Khedives, Sultans, and Beys ---newly in contact with European civilization. Urged on by the agents of foreign companies, by financial promoters, and by their own stupid or venal ministers, shown the comforts of European cities, beside which the luxury of their palaces seems superficial, and dreaming of immortalizing their reigns by great public works, they are drawn into a vicious circle from which they escape only at the price of financial or political dependence. Tunis entered upon this path of ruin in the early sixties. The internal debt of the government in 1862 was equivalent to 28 million francs, on which it was paying interest at the rate of 12 or 13 per cent. The Bey's outlays were mounting steadily, while the discontent of native tribes with reforms that had been forced upon the government by the European powers was impeding tax collections. In this predicament a prime minister who had been in contact with European bankers conceived a brilliant scheme: the debt was to be "consolidated" and a loan for 35 million francs floated in Paris at an interest rate only half so high as that being paid. Such a bargain was concluded with the banking firm of Oppenheim and Erlanger on May 6, 1863. This was the first Tunisian external loan, and it began the Bey's education in western financial methods. The loan could naturally not be floated at par, and the bankers retained handsome slices---6 millions for this, 2.7 millions for that, and so on. The sum which finally seeped down through all the intermediaries, through the prime minister, to the Bey himself, was only 5.6 millions out of the 35 he had expected! Now the Bey still had the old debt (28 millions) and the new one (35 millions) as well.(9)

Once started, the road to bankruptcy was rapid. New debt charges necessitated new taxes, which were levied by military bands under court favorites and yielded little to the treasury, while they goaded the population to desperation and rebellion. Insurrections necessitated new expenditures, new borrowings, new debt charges, new taxes, new rebellions. Anarchy reigned in the country. From 1865 to 1867 cholera and famine added to the miseries of Tunis. Then the currency was debased, and in a series of financial operations known as "the four conversions" the revenues pledged for previous loans were pledged again. The French holders of Tunisian bonds---most of the bonds had been sold in France---gathered in a hall at Paris and addressed a formal complaint to the French government, asking it to take in hand their compromised interests. At first the political interests of the French government had sought means of economic penetration in Tunis; now the private interests of Frenchmen in Tunis were in turn urging the government forward. The balance wheel of national political ambitions and private interests was gathering momentum.

It appears that the French government was only too glad to assert its "legitimate preponderance" in the country bordering on Algeria, for before the other powers could get wind of the matter and stop it, the French consul had signed a convention with the Bey under which a commission composed of Frenchmen and Tunisians was to be charged with the collection of all the revenues of Tunis and with their distribution among the state creditors. The news of this financial protectorate, to be exercised single-handedly by France, was most disagreeable to England and Italy, who saw in it a threat to the status quo, to the "equilibrium of the Mediterranean," and to other sacred symbols of international politics, perhaps even to the European balance of power. Conveniently for these two powers, a few Italians and a few Englishmen were also creditors of the Bey! The consuls of England and Italy made strenuous representations at the Bardo, and the Bey felt constrained to withdraw from his agreement with France. Thereupon the consul of France lodged energetic protests, lowered his flag, and suspended diplomatic relations. But France was not able to confront both England and Italy, and as these powers stood back of the Bey, a face-saving compromise had to be found. The agreement of July 5, 1869, retained the original Franco-Tunisian financial commission, but reduced it to the status of an executive committee under an International Commission of Control on which England and Italy were to be represented, as well as France.(10)

The International Commission reduced and consolidated the debt and rationed out the Bey's tax income, but contact with western civilization had already brought the Regency to a hopeless state of anarchic disorganization. Even on the morrow of the new arrangement discord reigned everywhere ---between the two financial control committees, between the consuls and the financial committees, among the consuls themselves, between certain consuls and their excessively grasping compatriots, among the ministers of the Bey, between the Tunisians and the tax collectors, even between the French consul, as protector of French claimants, and the French inspector of finances who was the unyielding executor of decisions taken by the financial commission. Nevertheless, this unwieldy machinery did postpone---through more than ten years of intrigue and struggle---the final seizure of Tunis by a European power. International politics in Tunis during those years turned principally around the question of economic concessions.

The Italian consul, Signor Pinna, fished in troubled waters and obtained, among other concessions, an estate near Jedeida for an Italian agricultural company, the Societià Commerciale Industriale ed Agricola per la Tunisia. Hardly installed on its lands, the company put forward claims to exercise jurisdiction over the inhabitants, became involved in local disputes with the Arabs living on the property, and had to retire precipitately. Thereupon the Bey was confronted with an elaborate claim for damages, Signor Pinna hauled down his flag, and Italian newspapers talked of a military expedition. This was early in 1871, while France was in the throes of the Franco-Prussian War. It seems clear that the Italian government deliberately chose this favorable opportunity to make a forward move in Tunis, and that the protection of the agricultural company happened to provide a convenient pretext. The demands advanced by Signor Pinna included not only exorbitant damages for the alleged injury suffered by the company, but tax exemption and immunity for Italian property in the future in such a form that, according to the French, every Italian landholding would have been an imperium in imperio subject only to the jurisdiction of the Italian consul. The international financial commission protested with all its might. French diplomats were alarmed but powerless. England, however, came to the rescue of the status quo and combined with France against Italy. The dispute was submitted to arbitration, and thus the principle of the balance of power and the jealousies of European states once more saved Tunis from single-handed intervention by a foreign power.(11)

In 1874 Sir Richard Wood obtained a concession on behalf of an English company for the construction of a railway some 200 kilometers long to follow the valley of the Medjerdah from the city of Tunis to a point near the Algerian frontier. The French at once perceived with chagrin and alarm that such a project, by planting the English flag between Algeria and Tunis, would erect an impassable barrier to penetration from the direction of the French colony. M. Roustan, just installed as consul of France in Tunis, was deeply concerned, but he quietly bided his time, knowing that the English company would find it difficult to raise capital for such a large and risky undertaking "in a country where England had no real interests.(12) Meanwhile he informed General Chanzy, the French governor of Algeria, who was passionately devoted to the extension of French influence into Tunis and who undertook to prepare the way for the substitution of a French company in place of the English, should opportunity offer. Sure enough, the delay of one year specified in the Medjerdah concession passed, and the English company was not ready to proceed. Roustan persuaded the Bey's government to annul the concession, despite the protests of Sir Richard Wood, and on May 6, 1876, it was reissued to the Société de Construction des Batignolles.(13) This company transferred its rights to a subsidiary, the Compagnie de Bône-Guelma, a hitherto unimportant organization interested in Algerian railways. The Bône-Guelma shares had been issued originally by the Comptoir d'Escompte of Paris in 1875, and when the company increased its capital stock and floated a large bond issue in 1877, after assurance of a government subsidy, the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas handled most of the financing.(14)

According to the leading economic exponent of French colonialism, Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, it was impossible to expect a profitable return on a Medjerdah railway line for at least fifteen or twenty years.(15) If the line was to be built, some sort of subsidy or guarantee was essential. It was futile to try to extract one from the debt-ridden treasury of the Bey; so in March, 1877, the French government put a law through parliament which declared the Medjerdah line to be of general interest to France and guaranteed the Bône-Guelma Company an annual net revenue of 10,122 francs per kilometer, a sum corresponding to six per cent on the estimated cost of construction.(16) At the time this law was passed, hardly a voice was raised in protest---probably because of general ignorance of the questions involved and because other more absorbing political topics held the stage at the moment. Subsequent accusations were very bitter. M. Clemenceau and others in 1881 denounced the Medjerdah railway as one of the financial intrigues which had forced France into a military expedition on behalf of private speculators.(17) A parliamentary report by M. André Berthelot in 1899 called the agreements between the French government and the company "either stupid or scandalous, or both."(18) Though speculators and company promoters may have reaped fat profits from the Medjerdah enterprise, it nevertheless seems abundantly clear from a study of the available evidence that the main impetus and motive power back of this and other phases of French penetration in Tunis came from the political rather than the economic side. French expansionists, influenced especially by the military men in Algeria, wanted "economic" interests in Tunis and were willing to pay well for them. French capitalists were glad to serve as patriotic tools---for a price. Thus it was that Frenchmen completed in 188o0 the 190 kilometers of railway in which English capitalists, with all their reputation for daring enterprise in foreign countries, had been unwilling to risk their funds.(19)

Sir Richard Wood now attempted to block the access of the Medjerdah line to the sea by insisting that all merchandise must be transshipped over the facilities of the little English-owned railway from Tunis to La Goletta, and he dissuaded the English proprietors from selling out to the French company. Furthermore, according to Roustan, he worked to ally the Italians in opposition, and even "dictated to the German consul a dispatch designed to draw the attention of the cabinet of Berlin to the incursions of France in Tunis."'(20) But while the consuls intrigued and fought over every means of influence, including economic concessions, as they always do in politically unsettled countries, bargains were being struck in Europe.

At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, which met to consider the Eastern question, Lord Salisbury let it be known that England intended to seize Cyprus, which had belonged to the Mediterranean empire of Turkey. To purchase French goodwill he suggested to Foreign Minister Waddington that England would look. on with indifference should the Paris cabinet decide to take Tunis.(21) Bismarck, too, signified the entire, and indeed enthusiastic, approval of the German government for French aggrandizement in Tunis, explaining frankly that he wanted to see the injured pride of France restored and its attention diverted from Europe, so that it would forget Alsace-Lorraine.(22)

With the consent of England and Germany so suddenly to be had, French statesmen made no delay in planning to gather the harvest.(23) Two obstacles remained, however. The first was the almost certain resistance of Italy to any forward step of France in Tunis. The suggestion had been advanced during the conversations at Berlin that the Italians might be appeased by the offer of Tripoli, but French statesmen considered the matter a very delicate one.(24) The other obstacle was the internal political situation, which many members of the cabinet considered unripe for a policy of colonial expansion. The memory of the Franco-Prussian War was still very recent, and a large part of public opinion in France was opposed to any action abroad which might conceivably diminish France's strength on the eastern frontier. A policy of abstention and "recueillement" was the order of the day. Moreover, in 1878 the weighty opinion of Gambetta opposed any sort of intervention in Tunis as inopportune; and his views prevailed over those of Marshal MacMahon, M. Dufaure (the premier), and General Chanzy (governor of Algeria), who were all partisans of immediate action.(25)

The result was that on September 1st Waddington was telegraphing to Roustan that some time would probably have to pass before the matter of the protectorate over Tunis could be pushed. Roustan was admonished on the 5th to "continue meanwhile to follow the maneuvers of Italian agents closely and to study men and things with a view to action later on," while the French foreign office cast about for something to offer Italy.(26) On October 13, 1878, Waddington instructed his ambassador in Rome that in case the Italians should inquire about Tunis they were to be told that conditions there were of vital interest to France because of the proximity of Algeria; that France had no desire to annex Tunis at present, but for many years the government of France had regarded it as a country destined to gravitate into the orbit of French interests. In accordance with this policy, France had always treated the Bey as a sovereign in his own right and not as a vassal of the Sultan. For the same reason France could not permit any other power to establish itself on the territory of Tunis and would immediately oppose any such attempt by force of arms. "It is absolutely necessary," the ambassador was told, "that the Italian government grasp very clearly this idea that Italy cannot cherish dreams of conquest in Tunis without colliding with the will of France and without risking a conflict with her." If possible the ambassador was to get the Italians themselves to suggest what compensation in the Mediterranean they might be willing to accept.(27) About the same time Waddington was complaining to London that, despite English promises, Sir Richard Wood was continuing his aggressive opposition to French influence in Tunis. In Berlin, Bismarck told the French representative he wanted to see an outlet for French amour propre, belittled the importance of Italian opposition, and offered to ask England for the removal of Wood. In January, 1879, Lord Salisbury yielded to the wishes of France and replaced Sir Richard Wood by Mr. Reade.(28)

Notice that events have thus far been traced only to the latter part of 1878, but that already the ruling French statesmen had manifested the definite intention to take Tunis and were waiting only for the most opportune moment. This is established beyond question by the recently published French diplomatic documents. Notice furthermore that the government of Jules Ferry---which has usually been assigned far too large a share of responsibility for the Tunisian conquest simply because it was in power when the climax came ---was not to take office for two full years from the time of the diplomatic preparations reviewed above. Ferry wrote the literal truth when he subsequently disclaimed that he and his colleagues had invented anything in Tunisian policy. "We followed a tradition," he said. "We took up the plans which had been studied, worked out in detail by our predecessors. Our only merit was to dare and to act at the opportune time."(29) Notice, finally, one more circumstance of crucial importance for evaluating the rôle played by private investments in the conquest of Tunis: The spectacular diplomatic disputes over economic rights in the Regency which have offered a particularly tempting basis for the generalization that the motivation of French policy came from private economic interests occurred after the definite crystallization of this policy. The disputes alluded to comprise mainly four Tunisian "affairs" which attracted the attention of Europe from 1878 to 1881---the Sancy affair, the purchase of the Tunis---La Goletta Railway, the Enfida affair, and the Crédit Foncier.

In July, 1877, M. Roustan persuaded the Tunisian government to grant an estate to the Count de Sancy, a Frenchman resident in Tunis, in consideration of the latter's promise to engage in stock-raising and to improve the breed of horses in the country. The concession specified that de Sancy's rights were to be forfeited if a stipulated number of animals were not found on his farm by July 1, 1879. That date arrived, the animals were not there, and the Bey undertook to repossess the estate. In this he was backed by the consuls of England and Italy and the International Financial Commission, including the French Inspector of Finances, M. Queillé, who was interested in maintaining the Bey's sources of revenue intact for the benefit of bondholders. The Count de Sancy, on the other hand, claimed that interrupted communications with Europe consequent on the Russo-Turkish War had prevented him from fulfilling his part of the contract and that his estate should not be forfeited. Roustan, as political agent of France, was pursuing a policy of "penetration" and was always eager for pretexts on which the authority of his nation might be demonstrated or increased, so of course he took the part of the Count. The affair now entered the realm of high politics.

On December 9, 1878, a commission of which M. Queillé was a prominent member proceeded to the estate in dispute, intending to take possession in the name of the Bey. They were met by a guard from the French consulate, forbidden to enter, and finally forced to retire. The news of this astonishing conflict spread rapidly to the capitals of Europe, and in Paris the foreign minister, M. Waddington, fully upheld the conduct of Roustan. M. Queillé was censored and called home.(30) Next followed an anxious interchange between Paris and Berlin. Was Bismarck, by any chance, secretly encouraging Italy in Tunis, and did this explain why the Bey, apparently acting under Italian instigation, had suddenly become less docile toward France? Bismarck, however, vigorously reaffirmed his intention to support French ambitions in Tunis, in token of which the German government let it be known that reports from its consul showed M. Roustan to be all in the right and the Bey completely in the wrong on the de Sancy issue. The consul of Germany's ally, Austria, who had sided with the Bey and the financial commission, was officially censored by his government. Emboldened by these assurances, Waddington hesitated no longer, dispatched an ultimatum to the Bey (January 5, 1879), and prepared to back it with a naval squadron, if necessary. It was expected, however, that the Bey would yield, and this he did, having no other course open to him.(31) Thus high politics in Europe rather than anything M. de Sancy and the Bey had done or not done in Tunis determined which way the scales of justice turned in this particular case of diplomatic protection.

In February, 1879, Waddington sent a draft treaty to Roustan and again asked him to feel out the Bey on the question of a protectorate, now that the outcome of the de Sancy affair had demonstrated his helplessness against France. Waddington's dispatches show clearly enough that the French government wanted to make its position paramount in Tunis, but that it feared to imperil its political position at home and to risk foreign complications by using force.(32) So "peaceful economic penetration" continued. Meanwhile a new Italian consul, Signor Maccio, had arrived in Tunis with a display of military pomp and circumstance (dutifully and jealously reported to Paris by Roustan), which gave warning that henceforth French advances would be hotly contested.(33) The pressure of rival intrigue upon the unfortunate Bey redoubled. If he yielded in alarm to the threats of M. Roustan, he was sure to incur the wrath of Signor Maccio. If he listened to the blandishments of Maccio he was sure to find himself treading on some sacred right of France or of French citizens, which Roustan assured him would be defended by warships if necessary. The Bey temporized and vacillated. The consuls protested, advised, threatened, wrote long dispatches to their governments about each other's plots. The cabinets of Paris and Rome weighed the political imponderables, warned each other through the suave language of their ambassadors, and egged their consuls on.

Suddenly a rumor spread that Commander Rubattino, an Italian shipping magnate acting at the behest of his government, was about to buy the tiny railway from the city of Tunis to the harbor of La Goletta for which Sir Richard Wood had obtained the concession and which had bankrupt the Tunisian Railways Company, Ltd. On March 31, 1880, a telegram from Roustan confirmed the rumor, but added that negotiations for the equipment were still pending and the transaction was not yet closed. "It is believed that a solid offer of four million might still prevent the conclusion of the deal to the profit of Italy."(34) The word "profit" in this diplomatic sense meant the right to subsidize a bankrupt railroad upon which the political equilibrium of the Mediterranean suddenly seemed to depend. The secretary of the English company was still bargaining in Rome when the Bône-Guelma Company hurriedly invited another agent to Paris by telegraph and bought the railway forthwith at a price of 2,600,000 francs ($520,000). The news of this purchase provoked the most lively dissatisfaction among the Italians(35) and while Freycinet (now Minister of Foreign Affairs in France) telegraphed Roustan to get the Bey's formal approval to the sale without delay,(36) Rubattino's agents went before the English chancery court charged with the liquidation of the Tunisian Railway Company's affairs and were successful in having the transaction reopened---to the manifest advantage of the stockholders. The court ordered the railway to be sold at public auction in London on July 7, 1880

When that day came the Bône-Guelma Company retired from the bidding at four million francs, and the Italians got the road for 4,137,500 francs ($827,500)---an amount said to have been about four times its reasonable valuation, for it was badly constructed to begin with (in places the ties were reported to have been laid on the bare ground) and was in need of extensive repairs.(37) The political rivalry of France and Italy had produced a fortunate windfall, indeed, for the stockholders of the bankrupt enterprise! It soon became apparent why Commander Rubattino had been able to bid such a handsome sum. Five days after the sale his company, the Società Generale di Navigazione, signed an agreement with the Italian government whereby the public treasury guaranteed annual earnings of six per cent on the purchase price and a like return on investments necessary to recondition the line.(38) The railway was also, in a sense, an extension of the steamship service from Italy to Tunis for which Rubattino's company was already receiving a subsidy.(39) Thus Italy followed the example of France in subsidizing means of "economic penetration" in Tunis---to the definite alarm of French statesmen and diplomats. The Tunis-La Goletta railway episode, which gave clear evidence of Italian political intentions in Tunis, did more than any other single factor to bring the Tunisian question to a head and to precipitate the French military occupation of the following spring. "Peaceful penetration," when blocked, usually turns to military measures.

In 1880, a former prime minister of the Bey, Kheredine, then resident in Constantinople, sold a huge estate called the Enfida to a French financial organization, the Société Marseillaise. Kheredine owed his holdings to the favor of the Bey, and is said to have seized this opportunity to convert them into cash so that he could not be deprived of them by the intrigues of his successor. The Société Marseillaise paid 2,500,000 francs for the estate, probably speculating on political developments which would soon establish the authority of France in Tunis. Roustan exulted over the addition to French influence that the Enfida would mean ---"70,000 hectares: it is a province."(40) The new prime minister and the Bey (and presumably the Italian consul, behind the Bey) were naturally much alarmed when they heard of this latest increase of French interests. The Bey declared that he had given the Enfida to Kheredine for his own tranquil enjoyment, not for sale to foreigners, and when the Société Marseillaise came to register its title in the manner prescribed 'by Tunisian custom it encountered every possible obstruction. The Enfida question, too, ascended into the realm of high politics.

A principle of Tunisian law known as the right of scheffa, based on the Koran, provided that a neighboring landowner has a right to purchase property about to be sold to a third party, provided he is willing to pay the same price. This right was invoked against the Enfida, after its sale to the Société Marseillaise, by one Levy, a Jew from Malta who was a British subject and therefore under the diplomatic protection of Great Britain. Levy (or whoever was thrusting him forward) had the legal services of a clever English lawyer named Broadley, who was newly arrived from India and appears to have welcomed the opportunity to bring himself into prominence and to thrust sticks into the wheels of the French. Broadley was not merely Levy's advocate; he was also, or soon became, the Tunisian correspondent of the London Times---one of those startling examples of the relations between sources of public opinion and parties interested in the diplomatic protection of interests abroad. He also had contacts with certain members of parliament, one or two of whom had visited Tunis, observed the French efforts at penetration, and were kept informed by Broadley. His espousal of Levy's cause soon resulted in questions being put to the government in the House of Commons.

The available accounts of Levy's procedure against the Enfida are very conflicting, both as to fact and interpretation. Roustan's dispatches to Paris conveyed the distinct impression that this was just one more subterfuge entered into by the Bey and his officials, with the connivance of Signor Maccio, to impede the legitimate progress of French influence. Levy was an unimportant person never heard of before, a mere pawn of powerful anti-French intriguers. This is also the view taken by French historians, one of whom states that at Levy's death it developed that he had never owned any property contiguous to the Enfida.(41) How different were these "facts" as known to French statesmen and to readers of leading French journals from the same "facts" as known to readers of the London Times! Broadley's account of the affair, included in his two volumes on Tunis published in 1882,(42) portrays Mr. Levy as the owner of an important estate adjacent to the Enfida who had for some time been trying to buy Kheredine's property, backed financially by Tunisian friends. Kheredine and the Société Marseillaise had sought to prevent exercise of his right of scheffa by providing in the deed that Kheredine was to retain a zone of land one meter wide all around the estate, but this expedient ignominiously failed because Levy also owned gardens within the Enfida!

In any case, local justices placed Levy's servants in possession of the Enfida on January 12, 1881, and on January 16th they were forcibly ejected by an agent of the Société Marseillaise with the help of guards from the French consulate, while Roustan let it be known that he regarded the Enfida as French property, outside the jurisdiction of local courts and not subject to local law---an imperium in imperio such as the Italians had tried to establish in 1871. Now there were diplomatic interchanges between London and Paris.(43) When France dispatched a warship to Tunis, Lord Granville replied that since the Tunisian courts might be overawed by such a display of naval force it would be necessary to send an English ship to restore the balance, and one actually appeared. It is significant that in the argument between the French and British foreign offices, M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire (who had become foreign minister in France) based his representations upon the general situation of France in Tunis, the interests which France's possession of Algeria gave her there, and the previous assurance of a free hand in Tunis received from Lord Salisbury in 1878. Just as in the Sancy affair and in similar cases of diplomatic protection, the abstract justice of the individual rights supposedly at stake receded into the background; the outcome hinged upon matters of high policy. Eventually both governments withdrew their cruisers, Levy was placed temporarily in possession, and the dispute was settled through the local courts---after the French occupation, and unfavorably to Levy. Jules Ferry afterwards stated in the French Chamber of Deputies that the Société Marseillaise had acted very patriotically in the matter, implying that for political reasons it had refused a tempting offer for the Enfida.(44)

Not long after the excitement over the Tunis-La Goletta railway had subsided, M. Léon Renault, a member of the French Chamber of Deputies, arrived in Tunis as the agent of certain French financiers who proposed to create an agricultural mortgage bank. They hoped to make their profits by lending money to the cultivators of Tunisian soil, and by taking over land should the frequent bad harvests render the debtors unable to pay. The promoters argued that the undertaking would be of distinct advantage to the Bey by making it easier to collect taxes. They asked him to grant a concession conferring upon the proposed "Crédit Foncier" the exclusive right to issue banknotes to the value of the loans advanced by it, and, in addition, one clause of the proposed concession was alleged to have provided that the Bey would undertake to guarantee the bank against loss.(45) M. Renault was introduced to the Tunisian government by Roustan at an interview in which the latter discussed with the prime minister certain movements of French troops on the Algeria-Tunis frontier. " . . .I remarked to Mustapha," reported the Consul, "that the journey of this Deputy and the projects in the interest of Tunis which he brought with him was the best response to the alarming rumors which have been spread the last few days regarding the intentions of the government of the Republic.... Without entering into the details of the projects presented by M. Léon Renault, I gave Mustapha to understand that their execution would be calculated to consolidate the relations of mutual friendship" between Tunis and France. Critics later said that this was a veiled threat.(46) Jules Ferry replied that the concession had not been granted by the Bey and that this constituted the best proof that there had been no undue diplomatic pressure behind it.

These were the four affairs that provoked so much discussion in the French parliament and press after the military occupation of 1881. They formed the main basis of the charge that the conquest had been undertaken for private economic ends. But it seems clear that the disputes over de Sancy's concession, the Tunis-La Goletta railway, the Enfida, and the support of the Crédit Foncier project were all incidents in a definite policy of political penetration determined upon prior to the advent of these particular interests. The particular interests were able to take advantage of the diplomatic policy for their profit-making purposes, because the diplomatic policy needed their services as economic instruments. Thus politics and private investment were interwoven.

It is unnecessary to trace the other diplomatic battles between the consuls of France and Italy that preceded the events of May, 1881. They, too, concerned economic matters ---port and railway concessions demanded by Roustan to counterbalance Italy's La Goletta purchase, hot argument over the telegraph line which Italy proceeded to erect along the railway and to connect up with an undersea cable, Roustan's demand that the Bey grant no further railway concessions to Italy. It was not only economic interests, however, which served as tools of diplomatic struggle in Tunis. The Italians published a newspaper in the Arab language and circulated it among the native population to arouse antagonism against the French. Italian and French priests aligned themselves with the political ambitions of their countries.(47) French partisans assert that the Italian consul employed agents to stir up rebellion and anti-French demonstrations, while the English lawyer, Broadley, claimed to know firsthand from agitators employed by Roustan that the French consul himself had fomented many of the tribal disturbances on the Algerian frontier which provided the final pretext for intervention.(48)

Toward the end of January, 1881, Roustan's dispatches from Tunis and the Havas news agency's reports to the French press began to emphasize the raids of the Kroumirs from Tunis into Algeria. These were a nomadic people who had for years carried on intertribal warfare with little regard for a theoretical boundary line that meant nothing in their desert haunts, and no one in Europe had paid any attention to them until it suddenly became convenient to do so. Yet it was for the announced purpose of chastizing the Kroumirs that the cabinet of Jules Ferry on April 7th asked parliament to vote a small credit for a military expedition from Algeria, and it was this expedition which occupied the capital of Tunis, forced the Bey to sign the treaty of May 12, 1881, and made his country a protectorate of France.

There was much more at stake between France and Italy in the Tunisian question, of course, than the right to build unprofitable railways, to construct port works or to lay telegraph and cable lines. Two issues of deep import were involved: The first was the right to exercise preponderant political influence over the government of Tunis, or ultimately to annex the country. The second sprang out of the first, once an open conflict had developed. It was the question of prestige and hence of power; it made victory or defeat on the first issue a much more significant matter than the mere gain or loss of control over Tunis. (49) In accordance with this situation, the French foreign office gradually built up an explicit doctrine which rationalized the relationship between economic concessions and political influence in Tunis. In successive dispatches to Rome, London, and other European capitals it can be seen taking shape, until it was stated most completely by Freycinet in an interview with the Italian ambassador on July 16, 1880. Freycinet's exposition was as follows (paraphrased and slightly condensed):

There are two very distinct categories of economic enterprise which may attract the nationals of France and Italy in Tunis, the first of a purely private sort, the second in the nature of public utilities, which usually fall within the exclusive domain of the state. In this latter category are telegraph lines, port works, railroads, etc. Such enterprises bear the essential mark of the state, when they are not executed by the state directly. In the domain of purely private interests, let there be entire freedom for Italians and Frenchmen to compete; if Italians win the palm, France has nothing to say. Let there be active and skillful agents in Tunis to protect Italian nationals; France does not object. But where state enterprises are concerned, or where the political direction of the Regency is involved, France cannot agree to a division of authority, which would be a perpetual menace for France and an inevitable source of conflicts.(50)

Seldom have the interrelations which characterize private economic enterprise and political influence in disputed regions been so explicitly expounded by a government. We must observe, however, that the distinction between Freycinet's two categories of enterprise is a matter of degree, one shading into the other; and despite his protestations that Italian undertakings of a purely private character would not be resented by France, it is obvious that under the conditions which then prevailed in Tunis any important investment of capital was bound to take on the character of a public question. Not only railways, port works, telegraphs, and cables, but even bank projects, land speculations, and agricultural enterprises served as instruments of political penetration, provoked further penetration, and became centers of international friction.

Chapter Thirteen

Table of Contents