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As Well As The Art Of Diplomacy, There Are Also The Arts Of Diplomacy
February 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 2
Although the receiving of official gifts caused endless diplomatic and ethical dilemmas, the giving of official presents never seems to have raised qualms in American minds. Some of the early gifts foreshadowed militaryassistance programs of a later day. When the emperor of Morocco sought to buy a hundred gun carriages during the war between Tripoli and the United States in 1802, President Jefferson wrote to him that
And the pet lions forcibly presented to Consul Carr were sent in appreciation for a present of “two field pieces and ammunition.”
Books were a favorite selection. In 1847 Secretary of State James Buchanan “caused to be handsomely bound and lettered” for presentation to the sultan of Turkey “the Indian Biographies of Hall & McKenney, and of Catlin.” Other gifts were frequently described as “government publications.” In the igao’s the Department of State kept on hand a supply of sets of Moore’s International Law Digest . The first volume would be sent to the President with a suggested inscription for him to pen on the flyleaf before the books were sent off for presentation.
Photographs of the President were not released until all possible ramifications were explored. If it was thought that the possession of an autographed portrait could be used for political advantage or be construed as endorsement for a dubious cause, some other gift was chosen.
A rather strange decision was made in 1927 to send to the Empress Zauditu of Ethiopia a silver bowl purchased and engraved sixteen years earlier for presentation to her father, Emperor Menelik n. When a new American minister arrived at Addis Ababa in 1911 to present the bowl, he found that the emperor was too ill to receive him, and the bowl was returned to the Department of State. Before it was given to the Empress Zauditu, it received a thorough polishing and a new inscription. A note accompanied the bowl, explaining the origin of the gift.
In recent years Presidents have chosen a variety of presentation pieces. President Eisenhower often made gifts of fine Steuben glass. Among the presents of the Johnson administration were two interesting ones: a faithful reproduction of a wooden lap desk designed by Thomas Jefferson and a copy of an unusual brass candlestick that belonged to George Washington. Mrs. John F. Kennedy was inspired by the mineral collection at the Smithsonian Institution to have New York jeweler David Webb create a series of paperweights made of American minerals mounted in gold. One was made of New Mexican azurite and malachite in a mounting that resembled blades of grass with tiny gold and turquoise flowerettes; another was American topaz held by an American eagle executed in gold. President Nixon has taken advantage of the moon landings during his administration to prepare unique gifts for several heads of state. Tiny bits of moon rock were embedded in lucite on wooden bases. These were accompanied by a miniature of the recipient’s national flag, which had made the trip to the moon and back.
On the whole, the trained Old World diplomat of the eighteenth or nineteenth century would be pained indeed to see the unglamorous settings of some modern diplomatic meetings, and the frequent disregard of traditional etiquette and courtesy might grieve him. He would find no consolation in the unadorned, functional bindings of many present-day international agreements. But his heart would rejoice when he learned that the President of the United States had at last come to view the exchange of gifts as a gracious gesture rather than attempted bribery. In this respect at least, the age of elegance has survived, and the American conscience has permitted the arts of diplomacy to flourish.