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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
Reid reported that the Foreign Office was reluctant to replace Sir Mortimer because it would prejudice his pension rights upon retirement. For the moment the President acquiesced in this decision, although he expressed a fervent wish that the English might send Durand “on some mission of vital importance to Timbuctoo or Thibet or the Antarctic and give us a competent man in his place.”
Two months later the President instructed Reid to inform the King and Sir Edward Grey of “the utter worthlessness” of Durand. Roosevelt wanted to maintain as good or better relations with England as he did with Germany. But “when the English are such fools as to keep a man like Durand here while the Germans have a man like Speck, it increases the difficulty of my task.” To add to the President’s annoyance, he was convinced that various outstanding problems between the United States and Canada demanded attention and that no effective steps were being taken to solve them.
When Roosevelt found regular diplomatic channels unsatisfactory, he was always ingenious in finding short cuts. His boldest effort to cut through the gathering fog of Anglo-American misunderstanding was to send for another of his English friends. This time the kitchen ambassador was Arthur Lee, whom he had met during the Spanish-American War when the Englishman was serving as British military attaché with the American Army. By 1906, Lee had become a member of Parliament and a person of some influence in English politics.
In July, 1906, the President wrote to inquire whether Lee, whose wife was an American, was planning to visit the United States that summer. Roosevelt hoped so, because he wanted a chance to talk with someone with whom he could speak intimately. Learning from Lee’s reply that because of poor health he did not intend to make the trip until October, the President invited him to spend a couple of nights at the White House at that time. “There are several things that I should like to discuss with you. I do not think things are worse between the two nations than they were, but it is always well to look ahead and avoid difficulties.”
The visit came off as planned, and Roosevelt unburdened himself on a great variety of subjects—the Hague Conference, the Newfoundland fisheries, the Algeciras Conference, the Russo-Japanese peace negotiations, the seal fisheries, the Chinese customs, and Venezuela. In a letter, obviously intended to be shown to Sir Edward Grey, the President told Lee:
You and I have campaigned together. You stand for your country’s interests first; and I should not respect you if this were not the case. But so far as is compatible with first serving the interests of your country you have a genuine desire to do what is friendly to America. These are the reasons why I asked you to come over to see me and have made you my channel of communication.
Durand did not long retain his post after Lee’s return to England. At the end of October the Ambassador received a letter from Sir Edward Grey, announcing with regret that there must be a change in the embassy. To Sir Mortimer this abrupt termination of a distinguished career came as a staggering blow. He blamed not only the machinations of the President, but also the unfriendliness of Secretary of State Elihu Root and Senator Lodge, who had resented Durand’s sturdy presentation of the Canadian case in pending controversies.
News that the British government was searching for exactly the right man aroused amused speculation. The North American Review commented that the name of James Bryce had been suggested, but this seemed an unlikely choice. Bryce was a statesman and a scholar, but he was wholly unversed in the game of tennis played so happily on the White House courts by the French ambassador. Lord Curzon had also been suggested, but he could not ride as far nor shoot as straight as the German ambassador. Opinion seemed to be settling in favor of Lord Desbrough, who had shot in India, Africa, and the Rockies, had rowed across the English channel, had swum the Niagara River, and who cast a beautiful fly. When the appointment finally went to Bryce, The Nation expressed hearty approval. This seemed a step away from the recent practice of foreign chancelleries in treating the United States “as a spoiled child among the nations” and vying with each other in sending “rough riding and tennis-playing diplomats to Washington lest they fall out of the category of most favored nation.”
The President received Bryce with apparent pleasure. To the new appointee he wrote: “I am sure I need not say how delighted I shall be, as all your friends will be, to welcome you here, and how we thank the Government for sending you.” And to Lee he wrote that Bryce’s reputation would give him a peculiar strength in the eyes of the American public. But he added that he might still have to communicate with the British government occasionally through Lee himself—and this proved to be the case. The truth was that Roosevelt respected the new ambassador, but never felt the same kind of affection for him that he did for “Speck” and Jusserand.