Morgan Shuster in Iran

Monday, January 6, 2014

William Morgan Shuster (1877 – 1960), American lawyer, civil servant, and publisher, who is best known as the treasurer-general of Persia by appointment of the Iranian parliament, or Majles, from May to December 1911.

In 1906, the Constitutional Revolution of Iran sought to establish a democratic civil society in Persia. The movement forced the Shah to agree to the election of the first Majlis, the opening up of a relatively free press, and a number of other reforms.

After being recommended by the U.S. government to the Iranian minister in Washington, Shuster was appointed by the Majlis to help manage the country's financial position. Persia was on shaky financial footing at the time due to heavy debts accumulated by the Qajars, the Persian royal family, to the two colonial powers of Great Britain and Russia in Iran. Great Britain and Russia had previously carved up Persia into two spheres of influence pursuant to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.

Shuster became active in supporting the Constitutional revolution of Persia financially. When Iran's government ordered Shu'a al-Saltaneh, the Shah's brother, who was aligned with the goals of Imperial Russia in Persia, to surrender his assets to the government, Shuster was assigned this task, which he promptly moved to execute. Imperial Russia immediately landed troops in Bandar Anzali demanding a recourse and apology from the Persian government.

The hiring of Shuster and his American associates as financial advisors concerned the imperial powers, who sought to keep Persia from independent influences and dampen national feeling.

Under Russian and British pressure, the vice-regent of Persia expelled Shuster from office in December 1911 against the will of the Persian parliament. Shortly thereafter, due to the chaotic political climate created by Shuster's ouster, the deposed Shah, Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar attempted an invasion of Persia.

Eventually, Iran's parliament in Tehran was shelled by General Liakhoff of Imperial Russia, and the American Morgan Shuster was forced to resign under tremendous British and Russian pressures.

Shuster returned to the United States and wrote a scathing indictment of Russian and British meddling in the affairs of Persia, titled The Strangling of Persia. In one well-known passage of that book, Shuster decried the influence of the Great Powers:

[I]t was obvious that the people of Persia deserve much better than what they are getting, that they wanted us to succeed, but it was the British and the Russians who were determined not to let us succeed.

The Strangling of Persia, which has been dedicated to "The Persian People", was originally published in New York by the Century Company in 1912, then reprinted by the Greenwood Press in 1968 and Mage Publishers in 1987 and 2005. The book was subtitled, the story of the European diplomacy and oriental intrigue that resulted in the denationalization of twelve million Mohammedans, a personal narrative. The dedication of the book reads thus:


In the endeavour to repay in some slight measure the debt of gratitude imposed on me through their confidence in my purposes towards them and by their unwavering belief, under difficult and forbidding circumstances, in my desire to serve them for the regeneration of their nation, this book is dedicated by the author.

The book's motto is:

"Time with whose passage certain pains abate
But sharpens those of Persia's unjust fate."

Shuster's book is an invaluable eyewitness account of a weak developing nation that is falling prey to the ambitious imperial expansionism of Great Britain and Russia.The central theme is the tenacity with which he applies himself to the task of creating a viable administrative apparatus to collect taxes, the sine qua non of creating a nationalist government capable of resisting imperialism. For this very reason, Shuster and his administrative assistants were the direct targets of the Russian invasion of the country in 1911-1912.Shuster's removal from his position at the Treasury was a principal objective of Russian foreign policy. The details of the struggle for power in Tehran are written in a robust, straightforward style.

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