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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
Relations with Germany, meanwhile, had deteriorated, and in the summer of 1908 Roosevelt made a final effort to improve them through the agency of his good friend Sternberg. He gave the Ambassador a personal letter to the Kaiser, urging that the United States and Germany agree to an arbitration treaty similar to those recently negotiated by Secretary of State Root with France, England, and other powers. Roosevelt urged Sternberg to see the Emperor in person to discuss this and various other matters. Once more as he had done with Sternberg in 1902, with Spring Rice in 1904, and with Arthur Lee in 1906, the President was charging a trusted personal friend with a special message to a foreign government.
But this time death intervened. Cancer, whose ravages Sternberg had been enduring with characteristic stoicism, finally struck him down in August, 1908. Roosevelt’s grief was great. “I have never met a man,” he wrote to Henry White, “for whom I had a higher respect or regard.”
During the closing months of the Roosevelt regime the German embassy was occupied by a new and unfamiliar ambassador, Count Johann von Bernstorff, while the British embassy was administered by the highly respected but somewhat aloof Mr. Bryce. Only in Jusserand did Roosevelt find the kind of comradeship that he loved.
Roosevelt’s extraordinary interest in the ambassadors reflected the highly personal character of his presidency. The greatest personal triumph of any of the ambassadors was that of Jusserand. In 1898 Roosevelt had been writing that the French were incapable of self-government and that the day of the Latin races was over. But by 1905 the President had developed a real affection for France—and undoubtedly it was the France personified by the gay and learned little ambassador whom he had come to love.
In the rivalry of the foreign governments to win Roosevelt’s favor, issues involving the future alignment of the United States in world politics had been at stake. The grouping of powers that would struggle for victory in World War I was already taking place. Germany and Austria-Hungary, in uneasy alliance with Italy, were in one camp; Britain, France, and Russia were in the other. How would the United States stand in the threatened struggle? William II and Edward VII would have been equally astounded if they could have foreseen that two million American soldiers would so soon be thrown into the trenches of the Western Front. What seemed to be at stake between 1901 and 1909 was not the military alliance of the United States, but rather its moral and economic support. Even this, however, was regarded as a prize well worth struggling for, as feverish diplomatic activities in Washington revealed. The Kaiser’s attempt to woo Roosevelt was spirited, but in the end unsuccessful. Personal factors, reinforced by ties of sentiment and ideas of national interest, pushed the United States inexorably toward the side of England and France. The uneven neutrality of Wilson’s day was clearly foreshadowed by the trend of events during the reign of Theodore Roosevelt.