February 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 2
Personal friendships were important when T.R. was President. Ultimately, they had great effect on America’s foreign policies.
The friendships of the President of the United States inevitably have a significance far transcending those of an ordinary citizen. When these friendships are with members of the foreign diplomatic corps, the relationships may influence the course of world politics. Theodore Roosevelt’s likes and dislikes for particular ambassadors stationed at Washington during his presidency proved to be peculiarly important.
International relations were then at a critical stage, with the alliances that were destined to clash in 1914 already taking shape. The friendship of the United States alter its impressive show of strength in the Spanish-American War was regarded as a prize of great value. And, finally, the highly personal character of Roosevelt’s leadership invited attempts to win favor through the establishment of intimate contacts between the embassies and the White House.
On October 1, 1901, less than three weeks after the death of President William McKinley, his successor sent oft two letters to foreign addresses. To Cecil Spring Rice, serving as a British commissioner in Cairo, Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “fust a line to say how much I have thought of you. I do wish you could come over now and be my guest at the White House. Is there any chance of it?” And to Baron Hermann Speck von Sternberg, German consul at Calcutta, he wrote: “Just a line to say how much I wish you and your wife could come to America sometime during the next three and a half years. I am very fond of you, as you know, and I should so like to have both of you at the White House.”
Sternberg and Spring Rice were both old friends of the President. Spring Rice had introduced himself to Roosevelt in November, 1888, when the two men were aboard an Atlantic liner bound for England. So quickly did they take to each other that three weeks later Spring Rice served as best man at Roosevelt’s wedding. During the Harrison Administration Roosevelt, as Civil Service commissioner, and Spring Rice, as second secretary of the British legation, were both living in Washington. Almost exactly the same age, the two young men enjoyed a vigorous comradeship. They played tennis daily at the British legation and settled the affairs of the world in spirited conversation. Mrs. Roosevelt was as delighted with Spring Rice as was her husband.
While Roosevelt was Civil Service commissioner, he had also established a firm friendship with Huron Speck von Sternberg, then a secretary in the German legation. “Speck” was an old soldier with a record of heroism in the Franco-Prussian War. He was a crack rifle shot, an excellent horseman, and an indefatigable walker—which made him, in Roosevelt’s opinion, “quite a companion.” In 1891 Sternberg was at Oyster Bay, learning polo “with German solemnity and thoroughness.”
Close relationship with this German diplomat h:id an important influence on Roosevelt’s ideas about American foreign policy. Sternberg was a patriotic German with a deep affection for his emperor, William II. There is little doubt that Roosevelt thought better of the Kaiser because of his friendship for “Speck.” “What you say about the Kaiser is interesting,” he wrote to Sternberg in 1899. “He is far and away the greatest clowned head of the present day. He is a Monarch—a King in deed as well as in name, which some Kings are not. He is a fit successor to the Ottos, the Henrys, and the Fredericks of the past.”
The appraisal was significant, because the currents of American public opinion were running in the other direction. Following the Spanish-American War. England was enjoying an unwonted popularity in the United States, while Germany was regarded with dislike and suspicion. But Roosevelt dreamed of a different alignment of the powers. Soon alter his election to the vice presidency, he wrote to the Baron: “As you know, I have a very strong hope that Germany, England and the United States will more and more be able to act together.”
Roosevelt’s indulgence in high diplomacy while serving as Vice President was more amusing than important. But McKinley’s death dramatically changed the situation, and the new President’s attempts to get Sternberg and Spring Rice near him had great significance.
These maneuvers occurred at a critical moment in the history of international relations. The United States was a new force in world politics, and the European powers were eager to exert influence at Washington. Throughout the early months of Roosevelt’s presidency, both England and Germany made strenuous efforts to flatter and influence the new President.
Embarrassingly for Germany, the assassination of McKinley had occurred just as the German press was engaged in a campaign of denunciation of the American peril, using a recent speech of Vice President Roosevelt as a deplorable example of American jingoism. The Kaiser threw the machinery into reverse with a clash of gears. Before any of the other diplomats could act, the German charge called upon the President to deliver a personal message of felicitations from the Emperor. When Baron Theodor von Holleben, the regular German ambassador, returned to America shortly thereafter, he not only called at the White House but also expressed in a newspaper interview Germany’s good will toward the United States.
Then the German government released the text of a secret document, signed by Ambassador Holleben, appearing to prove that Lord Pauncefote, the British ambassador, had taken the initiative in proposing joint action by the powers in 1898. Washington was shocked by this attack upon the highly respected dean of the diplomatic corps. Both the President and the Secretary sympathized with Lord Pauncefote, whose essential friendship for the United States they believed to be beyond question. Much of the blame for the episode was laid at the door of Ambassador Holleben.
The Pauncefote controversy developed unusual heat because it coincided with a bold German campaign to win American friendship. In January, 1902, the Kaiser invited Alice Roosevelt, the President’s seventeen-year-old daughter, to christen a new yacht being built for the German ruler in an American shipyard. When this invitation was accepted, William II announced that his brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, would go to the United States for the ceremonies. From the American public, Prince Henry received a hearty welcome. The German-Americans turned out en masse out of affection for the fatherland; the Irish-Americans noisily joined in the celebrations to annoy the English; thousands of unhyphenated Americans lined the streets, lull of democratic’ curiosity to catch a glimpse of visiting royalty. Even Roosevelt was won over. To Joseph H. Choate, United States ambassador to Britain, the President wrote: “The Prince, by the way, is a thoroughly good fellow. He is evidently very friendly with England and spoke strongly against those who misunderstood the English attitude and experiences in the Transvaal.”
In the midst of the contest among European countries to win favor at Washington, England lost one of her best assets with the death of Lord Pauncefote in May, 1902. The veteran ambassador had enjoyed unique prestige. James Bryce asserted that there never had been a British representative abroad who so completely won the confidence and respect of the people to whom he was accredited. The unfortunate Holleben, blamed for so many things during these months, was condemned for having hastened Pauncefote’s death by his assertions about the British diplomat’s conduct during the Spanish-American War.
In choosing a new ambassador, the British government made a shrewd bid for Roosevelt’s favor. Spring Rice did not have sufficient seniority in the diplomatic service to be ready for this important post, but the appointment went to another good friend of the President, Sir Michael Herbert. “Mungo” Herbert had been secretary of the British legation in 1889 when Roosevelt went to Washington as Civil Service commissioner. Roosevelt had initiated “Mungo” into the mysteries of baseball and the two attended games together so regularly that it was a matter of comment when they missed one. “It is not recalled,” said the New York Tribune , “that ever before has so intimate a personal friendship existed between a President and a foreign diplomat as that between President Roosevelt and Ambassador Herbert.”
Holleben, the Kaiser’s representative, lasted only six months after Herbert’s appointment. Although Roosevelt professed to like and trust the Ambassador, he lost no opportunity to let the Kaiser know that Sternberg was his favorite German. During Prince Henry’s visit the President hat! expressed his wish that Sternberg could be stationed in Washington. The Prince’s response had been polite, but noncommittal.
In November, Sternberg and his wile stopped oil in the United States on a trip back to Germany from India. They spent several days at the White House, and the President talked with characteristic frankness about German-American relations. Particularly on Roosevelt’s mind was the projected Anglo-German-Italian blockade of Venezuela. This program of coercion, designed to compel a delinquent Latin-American state to pay its obligations to foreign bondholders, had received the President’s advance approval but nevertheless aroused serious misgivings. By mid-December, Sternberg was in Berlin, relaying to a curious Foreign Office what his American friend had said to him.
While Sternberg was impressing Berlin officialdom with his intimate knowledge of the President’s ideas, Ambassador Holleben was in America, an unhappy witness to a resurgence of anti-German feeling. Although England and Italy were also involved in the coercion of Venezuela, American displeasure centered largely on Germany.
The Venezuelan crisis eased after December 18, when the European governments agreed in principle that the debt issue should be submitted to arbitration. But Holleben’s troubles did not cease. On January 9, 1903, reports of his recall again appeared in the newspapers, and this time the stories were true. Pierre de Margerie, the French chargé d’affaires, confided the story to his government. On January 5, he said, Holleben had given a diplomatic dinner and had appeared to be in excellent health. The next day it was announced that the Ambassador was suffering from an attack of grippe. From the sixth to the eighth he saw no one, and on the eighth he left Washington in great secrecy without saying good-bye either to the President or to the Secretary of State.
The German announcement that Sternberg was being sent to Washington merely to serve as chargé during Holleben’s illness deceived no one. The Washington Times summed up the situation with colloquial exactness: “Emperor William has chosen a chum of President Roosevelt to represent Germany at Washington.” The President’s success in getting a Washington post for “Speck” was so sudden and complete that he was himself embarrassed. To Professor Hugo Münsterberg, a friend of Holleben, Roosevelt sent assurances that “the idea of my in any way having moved against him [Holleben] is too preposterous for discussion.” And this may well have been true. Probably the most that the President had hoped was that his friend might get the second post in the embassy.
Sternberg had a staggering assignment on his shoulders. Whatever American good will Germany had gained during the spring of 1902 had been dissipated by the end of the year. Sternberg worked energetically to repair the damage. Even before he left Berlin, he called in the reporters to assure them of the Kaiser’s love of peace and admiration for the Monroe Doctrine. As early as February 19, Sternberg was able to report to his government that he had been out riding with Roosevelt and that the latter had expressed great pleasure in the steps taken to resolve the Venezuelan difficulty. The Kaiser expressed keen approval in the margin of his ambassador’s dispatch: “What a fine thing it is when the German representative of His Majesty is able to ride with the President!”
The German government was soon embarked upon a new campaign of flattery. The president of the St. Louis Exposition was received by the Kaiser with unusual honors, and the United States was invited to send a naval squadron to visit Kiel. Roosevelt ordered one first-class battleship to join with the old cruisers of the European squadron for this purpose. “As you say,” he wrote to Hay, “the attitude of the German government is puerile, but if we can save nice Speck’s head by giving a battleship a voyage I shall be delighted to do so.”
Just as Roosevelt helped “Speck” by agreeing to this bit of pageantry, so he sought to give his other friend, Sir Michael Herbert, something to show on his record. In January, 1903, Secretary Hay and Ambassador Herbert signed a treaty providing for the submission of the Alaskan boundary dispute to a mixed commission. As it turned out, this was a rather dubious contribution to Anglo-American harmony. The Canadians complained bitterly over the high-handed manner in which the President interfered with the deliberations of the commission. Good or bad, however, the outcome of the Alaskan business had no influence on the prestige of Michael Herbert. In September, 1903, while the commission was in the last phase of its work, the Ambassador, long plagued with consumption, died in Switzerland.
Roosevelt, of course, had his own suggestions for the Washington embassy. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, still in England with the Alaska Boundary Commission, “endeavored by every means” to get Spring Rice transferred to Washington either as ambassador or first secretary, and Henry White assured the President that this might be done. The Foreign Office decided, however, that Spring Rice could not be spared from St. Petersburg, where he was at the moment on duty as secretary of the British embassy.
The new British ambassador was Sir Mortimer Durand. A former Indian civil servant and experienced diplomat, Durand was apparently well qualified for the post. He had been, in addition, a worshipper of Roosevelt from afar. When Spring Rice had gone to Persia in 1899, Durand had been the British minister there. As Spring Rice confided to Mrs. Lodge: “My chief (Durand) thinks Teddy R. the greatest man in the world and has treated me with immense respect since I let on that I correspond with Teddy. I tell him stories and he listens open-mouthed.”
But the President never warmed up to the new ambassador. Although Sir Mortimer rode well and played a good game of cricket, he was unequal to Roosevelt’s demands for strenuosity. Describing an occasion when he had innocently accepted the President’s invitation to go for “a walk,” Durant wrote in his diary:
We drove out to Rock Creek, a wooded valley with streams running through it, and he then plunged down the khud , and made me struggle through bushes and over rocks for two hours and a half, at an impossible speed, till I was so done that I could hardly stand. His great delight is rock climbing, which is my weak point. I disgraced myself completely, and my arms and shoulders arc still stiff with dragging myself up by roots and ledges. At one place I fairly stuck, and could not get over the top till he caught me by the collar and hauled at me.… He did almost all the talking, to my great relief, for I had no breath to spare.
Even when he was not out of breath, the Ambassador was no match for the President in conversation. Durand was essentially a shy man, who covered up his deficiency with a rigid official manner which gave him a perhaps undeserved reputation for aloofness and pride.
If Sir Mortimer was no rival to Sternberg in the affections of the President, the same could not be said for I can Jules Jusserand, whom the French government sent to Washington in February, 1903.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.