Poland Celebrates the Sesquicentennial of U.S. Independence, 1926: Part I

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In 1926, the United States marked the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a major celebration. Surprisingly, so, too, did Poland. That country itself had regained its independence only in 1918, with significant U.S. support. Polish efforts to celebrate U.S. independence culminated in October of 1926 with the presentation to President Calvin Coolidge of over 100 volumes of greetings from the people of Poland and a gold medal.

The story, however, began earlier in the year. On June 22, 1926, U.S. Minister to Poland John B. Stetson, Jr., sent the following telegram to the Department of State.[1]

Telegram 71 from the U.S. Legation in Poland

In response, the Department prepared and sent a statement from Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg:

     The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of American Independence recalls to the American people the sympathy and aid extended by sons of Poland to the struggling colonies.  The remembrance of this friendship has ever remained fresh in the hearts of the American people, and the names of Kosciuszko and Pulaski are household words, familiar to every child in the land. The ideals of liberty that animated these heroic men are the common heritage of America and Poland, and have kept alive that spirit of freedom which has culminated in the rebirth of a great nation.

It is the sincere and earnest wish of the Government and the people of this country that the Polish nation may continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty and prosperity, to which it is entitled by the sacrifices of the past and whose safeguards in the future are the children of today.[2]

On July 6, Minister Stetson prepared a long despatch reporting on the Fourth of July celebrations in Poland.[3] The following are key extracts from that report:

    The preparations for a very widespread demonstration of friendship for [the] United States were started some months ago by the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw. By their intervention and by dint of much labour on their part about a hundred and ten volumes of signatures were collected from different parts of the county: . . . .  These signatures were assembled . . . and illustrated by local artists. They are really very beautiful pieces of work.  There are volumes of signatures of high school children and others of children in the primary schools. In all it is estimated that nearly five million signatures have been collected.

In addition to this a very beautiful medal of commemoration was struck with the face of Kosciuszko and Pulaski on one side and Washington on the other. A copy in gold will be presented to the President of [the] United States . . . .

The Polish-American Society joined with the City of Warsaw in a joint ceremony of commemoration of the Fourth at noon. The President of Poland, all of the members of the Cabinet except Pilsudski who sent his excuses . . . , the officers of the city, practically all the diplomatic corps not on leave, the officers of the Polish-American Society and prominent members of the business world and of society were present.

. . .

The ceremony was very impressive, and a band played the national anthem of the United States and of Poland. After the speeches the President of the Republic and I reviewed a parade in which several regiments of troops and representatives of various organizations, including school children, participated.

. . .

Altogether, I was much surprised at the enthusiasm shown and the fine sentiments expressed. Every Pole is grateful to President Wilson for being the first statesman during the war to suggest the reconstitution of the Polish nation as an independent country. They are also grateful to the Red Cross, the YMCA, and to the Hoover relief not only during the World War but during the war against the Bolsheviks. Perhaps the feeling of gratitude is greatest towards the Red Cross although in army circles the YMCA is gratefully remembered . . . .

Stetson’s report also mentioned his participation in earlier programs at the University of Krakow and the University of Lwow, the visit of a large number of school children to the legation on the Sunday before the Fourth, and his attendance at the Warsaw Synagogue for a thanksgiving service. He reported, too, that several other cities had invited him to attend ceremonies on the Fourth, too. Because he could not attend multiple events in widely-separated cities, subordinate officers went in his stead: Frederick Hibbard went to Poznan, Stanley Hawks attended ceremonies in Krakow, and Ronald Allen went to Lodz.[4]

Although the despatch does not mention it, the enclosures to that report indicate that Minister Stetson participated in a four-hour program sponsored by the Polish Radio Corporation and broadcast on July 3. During the program, among the numerous presentations, Stetson made a brief speech as did a representative of the children of Poland. The following are the schedule for that broadcast and the texts of Stetson’s speech and that of the youngster who spoke:

860c.415[10.enc 1
Program for Radio Broadcast

860c.415[10.enc 2
Minister Stetson’s Speech

Next: Visit to the White House

[1] U.S. Legation Poland to Department of State, Telegram 71, June 22, 1926, file 860c.415/3, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State (NAID 302021) . All the records cited herein are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1197 roll 16.

[2] Department of State to U.S. Legation Poland, Telegram 37, June 30, 1926, file 860c.415/3, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[3] U.S. Legation Poland to Department of State, Despatch 509, July 6, 1926, file 860c.415/10, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[4] Reports by Hibbard, Hawks, and Allen are enclosed with Stetson’s despatch.

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