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Ambassadors To The Court Of Theodore Roosevelt
Personal friendships were important when T.R. was President. Ultimately, they had great effect on America’s foreign policies.
February 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 2
The German announcement that Sternberg was being sent to Washington merely to serve as chargé during Holleben’s illness deceived no one. The Washington Times summed up the situation with colloquial exactness: “Emperor William has chosen a chum of President Roosevelt to represent Germany at Washington.” The President’s success in getting a Washington post for “Speck” was so sudden and complete that he was himself embarrassed. To Professor Hugo Münsterberg, a friend of Holleben, Roosevelt sent assurances that “the idea of my in any way having moved against him [Holleben] is too preposterous for discussion.” And this may well have been true. Probably the most that the President had hoped was that his friend might get the second post in the embassy.
Sternberg had a staggering assignment on his shoulders. Whatever American good will Germany had gained during the spring of 1902 had been dissipated by the end of the year. Sternberg worked energetically to repair the damage. Even before he left Berlin, he called in the reporters to assure them of the Kaiser’s love of peace and admiration for the Monroe Doctrine. As early as February 19, Sternberg was able to report to his government that he had been out riding with Roosevelt and that the latter had expressed great pleasure in the steps taken to resolve the Venezuelan difficulty. The Kaiser expressed keen approval in the margin of his ambassador’s dispatch: “What a fine thing it is when the German representative of His Majesty is able to ride with the President!”
The German government was soon embarked upon a new campaign of flattery. The president of the St. Louis Exposition was received by the Kaiser with unusual honors, and the United States was invited to send a naval squadron to visit Kiel. Roosevelt ordered one first-class battleship to join with the old cruisers of the European squadron for this purpose. “As you say,” he wrote to Hay, “the attitude of the German government is puerile, but if we can save nice Speck’s head by giving a battleship a voyage I shall be delighted to do so.”
Just as Roosevelt helped “Speck” by agreeing to this bit of pageantry, so he sought to give his other friend, Sir Michael Herbert, something to show on his record. In January, 1903, Secretary Hay and Ambassador Herbert signed a treaty providing for the submission of the Alaskan boundary dispute to a mixed commission. As it turned out, this was a rather dubious contribution to Anglo-American harmony. The Canadians complained bitterly over the high-handed manner in which the President interfered with the deliberations of the commission. Good or bad, however, the outcome of the Alaskan business had no influence on the prestige of Michael Herbert. In September, 1903, while the commission was in the last phase of its work, the Ambassador, long plagued with consumption, died in Switzerland.
Roosevelt, of course, had his own suggestions for the Washington embassy. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, still in England with the Alaska Boundary Commission, “endeavored by every means” to get Spring Rice transferred to Washington either as ambassador or first secretary, and Henry White assured the President that this might be done. The Foreign Office decided, however, that Spring Rice could not be spared from St. Petersburg, where he was at the moment on duty as secretary of the British embassy.
The new British ambassador was Sir Mortimer Durand. A former Indian civil servant and experienced diplomat, Durand was apparently well qualified for the post. He had been, in addition, a worshipper of Roosevelt from afar. When Spring Rice had gone to Persia in 1899, Durand had been the British minister there. As Spring Rice confided to Mrs. Lodge: “My chief (Durand) thinks Teddy R. the greatest man in the world and has treated me with immense respect since I let on that I correspond with Teddy. I tell him stories and he listens open-mouthed.”
But the President never warmed up to the new ambassador. Although Sir Mortimer rode well and played a good game of cricket, he was unequal to Roosevelt’s demands for strenuosity. Describing an occasion when he had innocently accepted the President’s invitation to go for “a walk,” Durant wrote in his diary:
We drove out to Rock Creek, a wooded valley with streams running through it, and he then plunged down the khud , and made me struggle through bushes and over rocks for two hours and a half, at an impossible speed, till I was so done that I could hardly stand. His great delight is rock climbing, which is my weak point. I disgraced myself completely, and my arms and shoulders arc still stiff with dragging myself up by roots and ledges. At one place I fairly stuck, and could not get over the top till he caught me by the collar and hauled at me.… He did almost all the talking, to my great relief, for I had no breath to spare.
Even when he was not out of breath, the Ambassador was no match for the President in conversation. Durand was essentially a shy man, who covered up his deficiency with a rigid official manner which gave him a perhaps undeserved reputation for aloofness and pride.
If Sir Mortimer was no rival to Sternberg in the affections of the President, the same could not be said for I can Jules Jusserand, whom the French government sent to Washington in February, 1903.