Theodore Roosevelt Schools the Department of State, 1908

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

In December 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Department of State a letter in which he admonished that agency for preparing a set of remarks for his use in greeting a foreign visitor that were “fatuous and absurd.”

In 1908, China sent Tang Shao-yi to the United States as a Special Envoy. His mission was to carry the thanks of the Chinese Emperor for the return of a portion of the Boxer indemnity, levied on China as payment for damages during the Boxer Rebellion, and to inquire into various American administrative methods, particularly to study the currency question. Tang departed from China in late September and was expected to arrive in Washington in December, where he planned to stay for several months. Between the dates of departure and arrival in Washington, the Emperor and the Empress Dowager of China died.

Diplomatic protocol demanded that the Special Envoy present his credentials to the President during a ceremony at which both men would make appropriate comments. At the time, the Department of State handled protocol matters, including the preparation of such comments, on behalf of the White House. President Roosevelt was not happy with the remarks drafted for him by the Department of State and prepared his own.[1] Subsequent to the ceremonial visit, the President sent the Department the following letter:

President Theodore Roosevelt to the Department of State, December 2, 1908, file 2413/201-202, 1906-1910 Numerical File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, U.S. National Archives.  Available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M862 roll 242 and online (images 629-632).

In response, Third Assistant Secretary of State Huntington Wilson sent the following letter and explanation to Secretary of State Elihu Root:

Third Assistant Secretary Huntington Wilson to Secretary of State Elihu Root, December 4, 1908, file 2413/203, 1906-1910 Numerical File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, U.S. National Archives.  Available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M862 roll 242 and online (images 642-645).

The final words on this exchange are found in a memorandum signed by Secretary Root. It reads:

The communications from the President of December 2d and from Mr. Wilson of December 4, 1908, have been answered orally, and they will be filed without further action.[2]


Sources:

[1] The texts of the statements prepared by the Department of State and by President Roosevelt are respectively in Numerical File 2413/194-196 and 2413/201-202, both available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M862 roll 242 and online (NAID 19323330), (images 611 and 636-638).

[2] Secretary of State Elihu Root, Memorandum, December 7, 1908, file 2413/203, 1906-1910 Numerical File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, U.S. National Archives.  Available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M862 roll 242 and online (NAID 19323330), (image 641).

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2 Responses to Theodore Roosevelt Schools the Department of State, 1908

  1. Peter Bridges says:

    What is curious about the letter from the President, and the explanation given thereafter by Huntington Wilson, the Third Assistant Secretary of State, is that Alvey Adee did not get into the act. Adee had been the Second Assistant Secretary since 1886 and was the heart of the Department–and Teddy Roosevelt liked him. Perhaps Adee was out sick; I doubt he was on vacation; he always took his vacation in summer, doing long bicycle trips in Europe.

    Like

  2. Daria Labinsky says:

    TR was apparently a fan of Plain Language.

    Like

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