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the courts to which they were accredited. On one occa-
sion of court festivity, one of them, in a gorgeous uni-
form such as American ministers formerly wore, ran
howling through the mud in the streets of St. Petersburg,
the high personages of the empire looking out upon him
from the windows of the "Winter Palace. Sundry other
performances of his, to which I have referred in the ac-
count of my Russian mission, were quite as discreditable.

Another American representative, stationed at Berlin
during that same period, disgraced his country by notori-
ous drunkenness; and though some of our countrymen
at that capital sought to keep him sober for his first pres-
entation to the King, they were unsuccessful. Happily,
his wild conduct did not culminate abroad ; for a murder
which he committed in a drunken fit did not occur until
after his return to our country. A third American repre-
sentative at that period published regularly, in his home
newspaper, such scurrilous letters regarding the authori-
ties of the country to which he was accredited, his col-
leagues in the diplomatic service, and, indeed, the coun-
try itself, that, according to common report, his early
return home was caused by his desire to escape the conse-
quences. These were the worst, but there were others


utterly unfit, men who not only spoke no other language
used in diplomatic intercourse, but could not even speak
with fairly grammatical decency their own. As to the
early days of Mr. Lincoln's administration, there is a
well-authenticated story that, a gentleman having expos-
tulated with the Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, for send-
ing to a very important diplomatic post a man whose
conduct was the reverse of exemplary, Mr. Seward re-
plied, "Sir, some persons are sent abroad because they
are needed abroad, and some are sent because they are
not wanted at home."

It is a great pleasure to note that since the war both
of the political parties have greatly improved in this re-
spect, and that the standard of diplomatic appointments
has become much higher. It is a duty as well as a plea-
sure to acknowledge here that no President of the United
States has ever taken more pains to make the diplomatic
and consular services what they should be than a repre-
sentative of the party to which I have always been op-
posedPresident Cleveland. Especially encouraging is
the fact that public opinion has become sensitive on this
subject, and that the only recent case of gross misconduct
by an American minister in foreign parts was immedi-
ately followed by his recall.

And it ought also to be said, even regarding our diplo-
matic system in the past, that sundry sneers of the pes-
simists do our country wrong. It is certain that no other
country has been .steadily represented in Great Britain
by a series of more distinguished citizens than has our
own, beginning with John Adams, and including the
gentleman who at present holds the position of am-
bassador to the Court of St. James. Much may also
be said to the credit of our embassies and legations
generally at the leading capitals of Europe. As to
unfortunate exceptions, those who are acquainted with
diplomatists in different parts of the world know
that, whatever may have been the failings of the United
States in this respect, she has not been the only


nation which has made mistakes in selecting foreign

Our service at the present day is, in some respects, ex-
cellent; but it is badly organized, insufficiently provided
for, and, as a rule, has not the standing which every
patriotic American should wish for it.

I have frequently received letters from bright, active-
minded young men stating that they were desirous of fit-
ting themselves for a diplomatic career, and asking ad-
vice regarding the best way of doing so ; but I have felt
obliged to warn every one of them that, strictly speaking,
there is no American diplomatic service; that there is
no guarantee of employment to them, even if they fit
themselves admirably; no security in their tenure of of-
fice, even if they were appointed ; and little, if any, prob-
ability of their promotion, however excellent their record.
Moreover, I have felt obliged to tell them that the service,
such as it is, especially as regards ambassadors and
ministers, is a service with a property qualification ; that
it is not a democratic service resting upon merit, but an
aristocratic service resting largely upon wealth, a very
important indeed, essential qualification for it being
that any American who serves as ambassador must, as
a rule, be able to expend, in addition to his salary, at
least from twelve to twenty thousand dollars a year, and
that the demands upon ministers plenipotentiary are but
little less.

And yet, if Congress would seriously give attention
to the matter, calling before a proper committee those
of its own members, and others, who are well acquainted
with the necessities of the service, and would take com-
mon-sense advice, it could easily be made one of the best,
and quite possibly the best, in the world. The most es-
sential and desirable improvements which I would pre-
sent are as follows :

I. As regards the first and highest grade in the diplo-
matic service, that of ambassadors, I would have at least
one half their whole number appointed from those who


have distinguished themselves as ministers plenipoten-
tiary, and the remaining posts filled, as at present, from
those who, in public life or in other important fields, have
won recognition at home as men fit to maintain the char-
acter and represent the interests of their country abroad.

II. As regards the second grade in the service,
namely, that of ministers plenipotentiary, I would ob-
serve the same rule as in appointing ambassadors, hav-
ing at least a majority of these at the leading capitals
appointed from such as shall have especially distin-
guished themselves at the less important capitals, and a
majority of the ministers plenipotentiary at these less
important capitals appointed from those who shall have
distinguished themselves as ministers resident, or as sec-
retaries of embassy or of legation.

III. As to the third grade in our service, that of min-
isters resident, I would observe the general rule above
suggested for the appointment of ambassadors and min-
isters plenipotentiary; that is, I would appoint a majority
of them from among those who shall have rendered most
distinguished service as first secretaries of embassy or
of legation. When once appointed I would have them
advanced, for distinguished service, from the less to the
more important capitals, and, so far as possible, from the
ranks of ministers resident to those of ministers pleni-

IV. As to the lower or special or temporary grades,
whether that of diplomatic agent or special charge d'af-
faires or commissioner, I would have appointments made
from the diplomatic or consular service, or from public
life in general, or from fitting men in private life, as the
President or the Secretary of State might think the most
conducive to the public interest.

V. I would have two grades of secretaries of legation,
and three grades of secretaries of embassy. I would have
the lowest grade of secretaries appointed on the recom-
mendation of the Secretary of State from those who
have shown themselves, on due examination, best quali-


fied in certain leading subjects, such as international
law, the common law, the civil law, the history of treat-
ies, and general modern history, political economy, a
speaking knowledge of French, and a reading knowledge
of at least one other foreign language. I would make the
examination in all the above subjects strict, and would
oblige the Secretary of State to make his selection of
secretaries of legation from the men thus presented. But,
in view of the importance of various personal qualifica-
tions which fit men to influence their fellow-men, and
which cannot be ascertained wholly by examination, I
would leave the Secretary of State full liberty of choice
among those who have honorably passed the examinations
above required. The men thus selected and approved I
would have appointed as secretaries of lower grades,
that is, third secretaries of embassy and second secreta-
ries of legation, and these, when once appointed, should
be promoted, for good service, to the higher secretary-
ships of embassy and legation, and from the less to the
more important capitals, under such rules as the State
Department might find most conducive to the efficiency of
the service. No secretaries of any grade should there-
after be appointed who had not passed the examinations
required for the lowest grade of secretaries as above pro-
vided ; but all who had already been in the service during
two years should be eligible for promotion, without any
further examination, from whatever post they might be

VI. I would attach to every embassy three secre-
taries, to every legation two, and to every post of minister
resident at least one.

One of the thoroughly wise arrangements of every
British embassy or legation an arrangement which has
gone for much in Great Britain's remarkable series of
diplomatic successes throughout the world is to be seen
in her maintaining at every capital a full number of sec-
retaries and attaches, who serve not only in keeping the
current office work in the highest efficiency, but who be-


come, as it were, the antenna of the ambassador or min-
isteradditional eyes and ears to ascertain what is going
on among those most influential in public affairs. Every
embassy or legation thus equipped serves also as an ac-
tual and practical training-school for the .service.

VII. I would appoint each attache from the ranks
of those especially recommended, and certified to in writ-
ing by leading authorities in the department to which
he is expected to supply information : as, for example, for
military attaches, the War Department; for naval at-
taches, the Navy Department; for financial attaches, the
Treasury Department; for commercial attaches, the De-
partment of Commerce; for agricultural attaches, the
Department of Agriculture; but always subject to the
approval of the Secretary of State as regards sundry
qualifications hinted at above, which can better be ascer-
tained by an interview than by an examination.

I would have a goodly number of attaches of these
various sorts, and, in our more important embassies, one
representing each of the departments above named.
Every attache, if fit for his place, would be worth far more
than his cost to our government, for he would not only
add to the influence of the embassy or legation, but decid-
edly to its efficiency. As a rule, all of them could also be
made of real use after the conclusion of their foreign
careers: some by returning to the army of navy and
bringing their knowledge to bear on those branches of
the service; some by taking duty in the various depart-
ments at Washington, and aiding to keep our government
abreast of the best practice in other countries ; some by
becoming professors in universities and colleges, and thus
aiding to disseminate useful information ; some by becom-
ing writers for the press, thus giving us, instead of loose
guesses and haphazard notions, information and sugges-
tions based upon close knowledge of important problems
and of their solution in countries other than our own.

From these arrangements I feel warranted in expecting
a very great improvement in our diplomatic service.


Thus formed, it would become, in its main features, like
the military and naval services, and, indeed, in its essen-
tial characteristics as to appointment and promotion, like
any well-organized manufacturing or commercial estab-
lishment. It would absolutely require ascertained know-
ledge and fitness in the lowest grades, and would give
promotion for good service from first to last. Yet it
would not be a cast-iron system: a certain number of
men who had shown decided fitness in various high public
offices, or in important branches of public or private
business, could be appointed, whenever the public in-
terest should seem to require it, as ministers resident,
ministers plenipotentiary, and ambassadors, without hav-
ing gone through examination or regular promotion.

But the system now proposed, while thus allowing the
frequent bringing in of new and capable men from pub-
lic life at home, requires that a large proportion of each
grade above that of secretary, save a very small number
of diplomatic agents, commissioners, and the like, shall
be appointed from those thoroughly trained for the ser-
vice, and that all secretaries, without exception, shall be
thoroughly trained and fitted. Scope would thus be given
to the activity of both sorts of men, and the whole system
made sufficiently elastic to meet all necessities.

In the service thus organized, the class of ambassadors
and ministers fitted by knowledge of public affairs at
home for important negotiations, but unacquainted with
diplomatic life or foreign usages and languages, would
be greatly strengthened by secretaries who had passed
through a regular course of training and experience.
An American diplomatic representative without diplo-
matic experience, on reaching his post, whether as am-
bassador or minister, would not find as was once largely
the case secretaries as new as himself to diplomatic
business, but men thoroughly prepared to aid him in
the multitude of minor matters, ignorance of which
might very likely cripple him as regards very important
business: secretaries so experienced as to be able to set


him in the way of knowing, at any court, who are the
men of real power, and who mere parasites and pre-
tenders, what relations are to be cultivated and what
avoided, which are the real channels of influence, and
which mere illusions leading nowhither. On the other
hand, the secretaries thoroughly trained would doubtless,
in their conversation with a man fresh from public af-
fairs at home, learn many things of use to them.

Thus, too, what is of great importance throughout the
entire service, every ambassador, minister plenipoten-
tiary, or minister resident would possess, or easily com-
mand, large experience of various men in various coun-
tries. At the same time, each would be under most
powerful incentives to perfect his training, widen his ac-
quaintance, and deepen his knowledge incentives which,
under the old system, which we may hope is now passing
away, with its lack of appointment for ascertained fit-
ness, lack of promotion for good service, and lack of any
certainty of tenure, do not exist.

The system of promotion for merit throughout the ser-
vice is no mere experiment ; the good sense of all the lead-
ing nations in the world, except our own, has adopted
it, and it works well. In our own service the old system
works badly; excellent men, both in its higher and lower
grades, have been frequently crippled by want of proper
experience or aid. We have, indeed, several admirable
secretaries some of them fit to be ambassadors or min-
isters, but all laboring under conditions the most de-
pressing such as obtain in no good business enterprise.
During my stay as minister at St. Petersburg, the secre-
tary of legation, a man ideally fitted for the post, insisted
on resigning. On my endeavoring to retain him, he an-
swered as follows : "I have been over twelve years in the
American diplomatic service as secretary ; I have seen the
secretaries here, from all other countries, steadily pro-
moted until all of them still remaining in the service are
in higher posts, several of them ministers, and some am-
bassadors. I remain as I was at the beginning, with no


promotion, and no probability of any. I feel that, as a
rule, my present colleagues, as well as most officials with
whom I have to do, seeing that I have not been advanced,
look upon me as a failure. They cannot be made to
understand how a man who has served so long as secre-
tary has been denied promotion for any reason save in-
efficiency. I can no longer submit to be thus looked down
upon, and I must resign. ' '

While thus having a system of promotion based upon
efficiency, I would retain during good behavior, up to a
certain age, the men who have done thoroughly well in the
service. Clearly, when we secure an admirable man,
recognized as such in all parts of the world, like Mr.
Wheaton, Mr. Bancroft, Mr. Charles Francis Adams, Mr.
Marsh, Mr. Townsend Harris, Mr. Washburne, Mr. Low-
ell, Mr. Bayard, Mr. Phelps, and others who have now
passed away, not to speak of many now living, we should
keep him at his post as long as he is efficient, without
regard to his politics. This is the course taken very
generally by other great nations, and especially by our
sister republic of Great Britain (for Great Britain is
simply a republic with a monarchical figurehead linger-
ing along on good behavior) : she retains her representa-
tives in these positions, and promotes them without any
regard to their party relations. During my first official
residence at Berlin, although the home government at
London was of the Conservative party, it retained at the
German capital, as ambassador, Lord Ampthill, a Lib-
eral ; and, as first secretary, Sir John Walsham, a Tory.
From every point of view, the long continuance in dip-
lomatic positions of the most capable men would be of
great advantage to our country.

But, as the very first thing to be done, whether our
diplomatic service remains as at present or be improved,
I would urge, as a condition precedent to any thoroughly
good service, that there be in each of the greater capitals
of the world at which we have a representative, a suitable
embassy or legation building or apartment, owned or


leased for a term of years by the American Government.
Every other great power, and many of the smaller
nations, have provided such quarters for their repre-
sentatives, and some years ago President Cleveland
recommended to Congress a similar policy. Under the
present system the head of an American embassy or mis-
sion abroad is at a wretched disadvantage. In many
capitals he finds it at times impossible to secure a proper
furnished apartment; and, in some, very difficult to find
any suitable apartment at all, whether furnished or un-
furnished. Even if he finds proper rooms, they are fre-
quently in an unfit quarter of the town, remote from the
residences of his colleagues, from the public offices, from
everybody and everything related to his work. His term
of office being generally short, he is usually considered
a rather undesirable tenant, and is charged accordingly.
Besides this, the fitting and furnishing of such an apart-
ment is a very great burden, both as regards trouble
and expense. I have twice thus fitted and furnished a
large apartment in Berlin, and in each case this repre-
sented an expenditure of more than the salary for the
first year. Within my own knowledge, two American
ministers abroad have impoverished their families by
expenditures of this kind. But this is not the worst. The
most serious result of the existing system concerns our
country. I have elsewhere shown how, in one very im-
portant international question at St. Petersburg, our mis-
taken policy in this respect once cost the United States
a sum which would have forever put that embassy, and,
indeed, many others besides, on the very best footing.
If an American ambassador is to exercise a really strong
influence for the United States as against other nations,
he must be properly provided for as regards his resi-
dence and support, not provided for, indeed, so largely
as some representatives of other nations; for I neither
propose nor desire that the American representative shall
imitate the pomp of certain ambassadors of the greater
European powers. But he ought to be enabled to live


respectably, and to discharge his duties efficiently.
There should be, in this respect, what Thomas Jefferson
acknowledged in the Declaration of Independence as
a duty, "a decent regard for the opinions of mankind."
The present condition of things is frequently humiliat-
ing. In the greater capitals of Europe the general public
know the British, French, Austrian, Italian, and all other
important embassies or legations, except that of our
country. The American embassy or legation has no set-
tled home, is sometimes in one quarter of the town, some-
times in another, sometimes almost in an attic, sometimes
almost in a cellar, generally inadequate in its accom-
modations, and frequently unfortunate in its surround-
ings. Both my official terms at St. Petersburg showed
me that one secret of the great success of British diplo-
macy, in all parts of the world, is that especial pains are
taken regarding this point, and that, consequently, every
British embassy is the center of a wide-spread social
influence which counts for very much indeed in her politi-
cal influence. The United States, as perhaps the wealthi-
est nation in existence, a nation far-reaching in the
exercise of its foreign policy, with vast and increasing
commercial and other interests throughout the world,
should, in all substantial matters, be equally well provided
for. Take our recent relations with Turkey. We have in-
sisted on the payment of an indemnity for the destruc-
tion of American property, and we have constantly a
vast number of Americans of the very best sort, and
especially our missionaries, who have to be protected
throughout the whole of that vast empire. Each of the
other great powers provides its representative at Con-
stantinople with a residence honorable, suitable, and
within a proper inclosure for its protection; but the
American minister lives anywhere and everywhere, in
such premises, over shops and warehouses, as can be
secured, and he is liable, in case of trouble between the
two nations, to suffer personal violence and to have his
house sacked by a Turkish mob. No foreign people, and


least of all an Oriental people, can highly respect a diplo-
matic representative who, by his surroundings, seems
not to be respected by his own people. The American
Government can easily afford the expenditure needed
to provide proper houses or apartments for its entire
diplomatic corps, but it can hardly afford not to provide
these. Full provision for them would not burden any
American citizen to the amount of the half of a Boston
biscuit. Leaving matters in their present condition is, in
the long run, far more costly. I once had occasion to
consider this matter in the light of economy, and found
that the cost of the whole diplomatic service of the United
States during an entire year was only equal to the ex-
penditure in one of our recent wars during four hours ;
so that if any member of the diplomatic service should
delay a declaration of war merely for the space of a day,
he would defray the cost of the service for about six

Mr. Charles Francis Adams, by his admirable diplo-
matic dealing with the British Foreign Office at the crisis
of our Civil War, prevented the coming out of the later
Confederate cruisers to prey upon our commerce, and, in
all probability, thus averted a quarrel with Great Britain
which would have lengthened our Civil War by many
years, and doubtless have cost us hundreds of millions.

General Woodford, our recent minister at Madrid, un-
doubtedly delayed our war with Spain for several months,
and skilful diplomatic intervention brought that war to a
speedy close just as soon as our military and naval suc-
cesses made it possible.

The cases are also many where our diplomatic repre-
sentatives have quieted ill feelings which would have
done great harm to our commerce. These facts show that
the diplomatic service may well be called "The Cheap
Defense of Nations."

When, in addition to this, an American recalls such
priceless services to civilization, and to the commerce of
our country and of the world, as those rendered by Mr.


Townsend Harris while American minister in Japan, the
undoubted saving through a long series of years of many

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 32 of 54)