Presidents and Diplomatic Ceremony

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

An earlier post discussed President Theodore Roosevelt’s reaction to a ceremonial statement prepared by the Department of State for his use in welcoming a special ambassador from China.  In addition to expressing his displeasure with the Department’s draft comments, Roosevelt demonstrated his clear disdain for the ceremonial niceties of formal diplomacy.  Lest readers think TR’s attitude was unique, one need only read the following small extracts from President James K. Polk’s diary entries of about 60 years before.

Polk was born in North Carolina but grew up in Tennessee when that state was the frontier.  Without previous diplomatic experience, or even real exposure to it before becoming President, he, too, had disdain for diplomatic ceremony. 

THURSDAY, 4th February, 1847.   I omitted to mention in yesterday’s diary that Mr. Calderon, the Spanish Minister, called at 12 O’Clock on yesterday, and delivered to me two letters [from his sovereign which] announced her own marriage and that of her sister.  Such matters of ceremony appear very ridiculous to an American citizen but are deemed important by the Monarchical Courts of Europe.[1]

SATURDAY, 20th May, 1848.  At 12 O’Clock to-day Mr. Crampton, acting charge de affairs of Great Brittain, called in full Court dress, & delivered to me with due solemnity a letter from the Queen announcing the birth of a princess.  Such ceremonies appear very ridiculous to a plain Republican.[2]

[1] Milo Milton Quaife, ed., The Diary of James K. Polk, Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1910, Volume II, page 367.

[2]  Milo Milton Quaife, ed., The Diary of James K. Polk, Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1910, Volume III, page 456-57.  Spelling as in original.  The reference to “Republican” is not to the political party, founded in 1854, but to the political philosophy.

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