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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
Three years older than Roosevelt, Jusserand had combined the careers of professional diplomat and scholar. During their first lively hall-hour of conversation, Roosevelt and Jusserand ranged over an audacious breadth of subjects. Madame Jusserand, the former Elise Richards, Paris-born daughter of a New England family, contributed to Jusserand’s success. At the first White House dinner attended by the Ambassador and his wife the conversation—following the unpredictable excursions of Roosevelt’s mind—turned to the Mongols, and Madame Jusserand scored heavily with the historical data that she was able to contribute.
In due course Roosevelt took the French ambassador on a hike through Rock Creek Park—the test for diplomats which Durand had failed so ignominiously. Jusserand soon learned the rules of the game. One must “walk straight into a river, or a mud-hole and avoid with a feeling of horror paths and bridges.’ As soon as he caught on, the Ambassador followed the leader on this and subsequent walks with exemplary agility, racing along at a breathless pace. Jusserand was profoundly grateful that he had been a mountain climber in his youth.
Most of these excursions took place in the fall and winter, but one of the most memorable occurred on a hot day in May. Tramping along the bank of the Potomac, the President suddenly proposed to his companions that they take a swim. As Jusserand recalled the scene:
A passer-by with a camera might have taken a picture worth having: the chief of the State and his friends alined, stark-naked, along the bank. As we were about to enter the water, the President shouted: “Eh. Mr. Ambassador, have you not forgotten your gloves;” .… I shouted back: ”We might meet ladies.”
Behind this jocular façade a contest for influence was in progress that might affect world history. Jusserand was acutely aware of this, and in long dispatches to his government he analyzed the character of Roosevelt as he might that of some capricious eastern potentate with whom he had to deal. The President, he reported, had many points of similarity with the German Emperor. Both were impulsive, had fixed moral and religious ideas, and were fascinated by military affairs. Indeed, Roosevelt had confided to Jusserand his belief that if William II were to live in America his success would be certain; he was the go-getter type. These similarities between the President and the Kaiser had been of great advantage to Jusserand’s natural rival, Baron Speck von Sternberg.
The Russo-Japanese War gave Roosevelt an opportunity to play the game of world politics with more verve than ever. While he freely exchanged ideas about the Far Eastern situation with the Kaiser through Ambassador Sternberg, he found it difficult to employ similar channels of communication with the British government. The letters to Spring Rice in St. Petersburg became longer than ever, but they were a poor substitute for the man-to-man talks Roosevelt loved.
If Spring Rice could not come over as ambassador, Roosevelt hoped that he could at least make a short visit. To arrange such a visit was a delicate matter. It was finally arranged that Spring Rice should go to Washington as the private guest of Ambassador Durand. The trip was made in accordance with these arrangements, permitting the President, for a short time, to meet again with one to whom he could “talk freely.” As a result of this visit, Roosevelt instructed the new American ambassador to St. Petersburg to act in close collaboration with Spring Rice and also with the German ambassador. It was still the President’s dream to build some kind of Anglo-American-German collaboration, with himself, Sternberg, and Spring Rice pulling the wires.
Before Spring Rice returned to St. Petersburg, he reported to the British government on his talks with Roosevelt. One of his most interesting conferences was with Edward VII, who was eager to learn just what the President had said and what he was like. The King expressed great admiration for the hero of San Juan Hill: “such a brave man too” and “fought like a tiger” were two of the encomiums which Spring Rice relayed with delight to Mrs. Roosevelt. The King insisted on writing a personal letter to the President, rather against the wishes of the British government, which feared that Roosevelt might be embarrassed by such a message.
Quickly responding to the King’s overture of friendship, Roosevelt wrote to Edward, assuring him that American and English interests were identical both in Latin America and in the Far East. As a further mark of cordiality, he sent the King a copy of The Winning of the West .
From this time on the King and the Kaiser both wrote occasional letters to Roosevelt, often to complain about each other. “Uncle Edward evidently has his eye on Nephew William,” Roosevelt commented to John Hay, “and sings a variant on the old song that ‘Codlin is our friend and not Short!’ ” And from the Kaiser’s side came incessant accusations against England. “The Kaiser has become a monomaniac about getting into communication with me every time he drinks three pen’-orth of conspiracy against his life and power.” The President’s hope of lining up England, Germany, and the United States in a good understanding began to pale. “It is perfectly hopeless to try to bring about a better understanding between England and Germany. I attempted it in vain.”