Abd al-Rahman ibn Hisham was born in 1778. Following the death of his uncle Suleiman of Morocco, Abd al-Rahman was proclaimed sultan of Morocco in Fez on 30 November 1822. His reign began during a tumultuous time, when many noble families and rural tribal confederations in Morocco were trying to extract greater power away from the center, and spent much of the early part of his reign crushing revolts.
Upon ascension, the sultan's finances were in shambles. With the country in disarray, the central government (the Makhzen) was unable to collect much customary taxation. Abd al-Rahman turned to foreign trade, which had been cut off by the prior sultan, as way to reap in customs revenue, and began to negotiate a series of trade treaties with various European powers. Abd al-Rahman also decided to revive the institution of Barbary piracy, hoping to replenish his treasury, but this created confrontations with the European powers as British blockaded Tangier in 1828, and the Austrians bombarded Larache, Asilah and Tetouan in 1829. The final bombardment of a Moroccan city in retribution for piracy occurred in 1851 at Salé.
He was an adept leader and administrator and was able to build public works and infrastructure. He did however have to deal with internal conflicts and had to quell revolts many times: 1824, 1828, 1831, 1843, 1849, and 1853. He was always successful at placating the nobles and malcontents though.
The most serious foreign threat to Morocco, however, was France, which had launched its invasion of neighboring Algeria in 1830. Abd al-Rahman rushed Moroccan troops up to defend Tlemcen, but they were thrown back and Tlemcen captured by the French in 1832. Abd al-Rahman supported the continued guerrilla resistance in Algeria led by Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri, albeit only tentatively, not wishing to incur French retaliation. But the border tribes of Morocco continued supporting Abd al-Qadir more actively, prompting the French launch their own strikes over the border and establishing forward outposts in Moroccan territory, which only inflamed the reaction in Morocco and increased the irregular border war. The French demanded that Morocco cease its support of Abd al-Qadir and cede its eastern frontierlands to French control and, in 1844, launched the Franco-Moroccan War. The war did not go well for the sultan. The French navy bombarded Mogador (Essaouira) and Tangier, while the Moroccan army, under Abd al-Rahman's son Moulay Muhammad, was decisively defeated by the French at the Battle of Isly in August 1844. Abd al-Rahman was forced to consent to the humiliating Treaty of Tangier in October 1844, withdrawing support for al-Qadir, reducing the frontier garrisons and submitting the Moroccan-Algerian border to modification. The Treaty of Lalla Maghnia was signed in March 1845, whereby the Moroccan border was demarcated further west, closer to the Moulouya River.
The treaties aggravated the internal situation in Morocco, which grew more unstable as Abd al-Rahman was accused of yielding too quickly to French demands. Abd al-Rahman in fact rejected the treaty of Lalla Maghnia at first, blaming it on his negotiatiors, but was eventually forced to ratify it. Army units and rural tribes across the north and east, already basically ungovernable, started raising rebellions which were only crushed with difficulty. The aftermath saw the break between Abd al-Rahman and Abd al-Qadir.
In 1856, Mulai Abd al-Rahman established the souk of Zraqten on the north side of the High Atlas, adding to territory in southern Morocco controlled by the Glaouis, who were Caids ruling various southern areas from the 18th century until Moroccan independence in 1956, after originally settling in Telouet to establish a souk. They would tax caravans travelling from the Sahara and Tafilalt regions as well as taxing goods sold locally.
The Agdal Gardens of Marrakesh, an irrigated garden, originally established by the Almoravids in the 12th century and enlarged in the days of the Saadians was revamped, reforested and encircled by ramparts during the reign of Mulai Abd al-Rahman.
Abd al-Rahman died in Meknes on August 28, 1859. He was succeeded by his son, sultan Mohammed IV of Morocco.
During his long reign he proved himself competent in an Africa that was being colonized by stronger European nations. He was able to remain independent and maintain his borders without ceding any land. He also signed the necessary treaties to enforce his beliefs.