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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
During these months of 1905 Roosevelt felt increasing concern over world affairs. The rivalry of the powers, which had seemed somewhat amusing when he entered the White House, now bore a much grimmer aspect. The war between Russia and Japan threatened to be merely the prelude to a much greater conflict. Although the President could regard with equanimity the little wars in which the good civilized powers chastised the backward and decadent ones, he was horrified at the thought of a battle to the death among the great civilized powers themselves. Through Sternberg and Jusserand he felt it possible to exert a moderating influence on Berlin and Paris. His lines of communication with London were much less satisfactory. Finding it impossible to talk with Durand, he continued to write long letters to Spring Rice in St. Petersburg and to make no secret of his wish that his old friend might be transferred to Washington.
It was to Spring Rice that he wrote, in the fall of 1905, expressing satisfaction with support received from Germany in the final phases of mediation in the Russo-Japanese War: “In my letters to you I have sometimes spoken sharply of the Kaiser. I want to say now that in these peace negotiations he has acted like a trump. He has done everything he could to make the Czar yield and has backed me up in every way, and I thoroughly appreciate how he has behaved.” With England’s tactics the President was not so happy. He criticized the reluctance of the British government to exert a moderating influence on Japan and suspected that the British would not have been unwilling to have had the war continue longer.
The President’s concern with world affairs was extended to another area of international tension when, in March, 1905, the Kaiser began to complain to him about French policy in Morocco. His first reaction was one of impatience, but his second thought was that the situation was sufficiently serious to require him to sound out the English and French governments, both of which were involved in the situation because of the establishment of the Entente Cordiale in 1904. In June, 1905, as Roosevelt later related the story, it really looked as if there might be war, and he felt honor-bound to try to prevent this if he could. He assured Jusserand that he “had a real sentiment for France” and would not advise her to do anything humiliating or disgraceful, but that it would be eminently wise to avoid war if it could be done by adopting a course that would save the Emperor’s self-esteem. If France would consent to an international conference on Morocco, the United States would participate and would, if necessary, take very strong ground against any German attitude that seemed unjust or unfair. Roosevelt’s advice was a major factor in the decision of the French government to accept the idea of a conference—a decision that resolved the immediate danger of war.
The President considered this to be a triumph of personal diplomacy. Commenting upon his numerous conferences with the French and German ambassadors, he said: “With Speck I was on close terms; with Jusserand, who is one of the best men I have ever met, and whose country was in the right on this issue, I was on even closer terms.”
The Kaiser was effusively grateful to the President, but his apparent belief that Roosevelt sympathized with the German point of view was ill-founded. Actually, Roosevelt was coming more and more under the influence of Jusserand. At the Algeciras Conference of 1906, the American representative, Henry White, sided on the crucial issues with France and England. The Kaiser continued to communicate with Roosevelt through Sternberg, but the President refused to back the German demands. The final agreement paid Hp service to the principle of the Open Door in Morocco, but its real effect was to consolidate the French position. “In this Algeciras business,” Roosevelt wrote to Ambassador Whitelaw Reid, “you will notice that while I was most suave and pleasant with the Emperor, yet when it became necessary at the end I stood him on his head with great decision.”
To stand the Kaiser on his head and make him like it was quite a feat, but Roosevelt was convinced that he had done so. He took pains to give William II credit for the settlement. A few days after the Algeciras agreement, the President solemnly received a group of German war veterans and read a little speech praising the Kaiser’s great contribution to peace—a speech previously approved by both Sternberg and Jusserand.
The whole Morocco affair confirmed Roosevelt in his affection for the German and French ambassadors and deepened his discontent with their British colleague. In June, 1905, Roosevelt had made an effort through Senator Lodge, then on a trip to England, to ease Sir Mortimer painlessly out of the embassy. When this effort failed, Roosevelt accepted the outcome with apparent good grace, but Durand’s reprieve was short-lived. In April, 1906, the President wrote impatiently to Ambassador Reid, complaining about Durand’s deficiencies. “Why under Heaven the English keep him here I do not know! If they do not care for an Ambassador, then abolish the Embassy; but it is useless to have a worthy creature of mutton-suet consistency like the good Sir Mortimer.”