Attempted Assassination of a U.S. Ambassador, 1921

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

The murder of U.S. diplomats overseas is usually considered a modern phenomenon – a result of increased terrorist activities beginning in the 1960s.  While some American diplomats were murdered overseas earlier, John Mein, then U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, was the first sitting American Ambassador to be killed overseas.  He died on August 28, 1968, during an attempted kidnapping by leftist guerillas.  Since then, the following American ambassadors have died at the hands of others overseas: Cleo Noel (1973), Rodger Davies (1974), Francis Meloy (1976), Adolph Dubs (1979), Arnold Raphel (1988), and J. Christopher Stevens (2012).

An even earlier attempt on the life of an American ambassador took place in 1921.  On October 19, a bomb exploded in the bedroom of U.S. ambassador to France Myron T. Herrick.  Herrick had taken his post in July and at the time of the attempt on his life, he was on his second tour as American ambassador to France.  He previously served from April 1912 to November 1914.

This was not the first time somebody tried to kill Herrick.  Trained as a lawyer, he worked as a banker and businessman before entering politics as a Republican.  He served as governor of Ohio from 1904 to 1906.  In November 1893, Herrick was shot at during an attempted bank robbery.  The assailant was never caught.

On October 19, Ambassador Herrick attended a reception for General John J. Pershing, who had commanded U.S. forces in Europe during World War I.  After the reception, he returned to his home in Paris.  Herrick described what happened next in the following telegram, which arrived in the Department of State at 9:10 PM.

recounts the package bomb rec'd after attending a reception for Gen Pershing
Telegram from Ambassador Herrick to Secretary of State Hughes, Oct 19, 1921 (NAID 302021)

The next day, the Department responded with the following telegram.

I heartily congratulate you on your  fortunate escape
Telegram from American Embassy, Paris to Ambassador Herrick, Oct 20, 1921 (NAID 302021)

As requested, the Department also informed the ambassador’s son, Parmelee Herrick.  In addition, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes sent a note and copy of the Ambassador’s telegram to President Harding.   He wrote: “It appears from his message that the account in the newspapers this morning is substantially correct, and there is no doubt but that the Ambassador had a very narrow escape.  It was a dastardly attempt and I am thankful that no lives were lost.”  The President replied with the following note.

I hope Mr Herricks more or less sensitive nervous state is not further impaired by this shocking experience
Letter from President Harding to Secretary of State Hughes, Oct 20, 1921 (NAID 302021)

The culprit was never caught.

Ambassador Herrick, hugely popular in France, continued at his post in Paris for many years.  In late March 1929, while walking in the funeral procession of Maréchal Ferdinand Foch, Herrick caught a cold which proved fatal.  He died at his post on March 31, 1929.


Sources:

  • 1910-29 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State
    • U.S. Embassy Paris to Department of State, Telegram 604, October 19, 1921
    • Department of State to U.S. Embassy Paris, Telegram 477, October 20, 1921
    • Department of State to Parmelee Herrick, October 20, 1921
    • Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes to The President, October 20, 1921
      • all file 123H43/86;
    • President Warren G. Harding to The Secretary of State, October 20, 1921, file 123H43/88
  • For a discussion of Ambassador Herrick’s actions to assist Americans in Europe on the outbreak of World War I, see “Views From the Embassy: The Role of the U.S. Diplomatic Community in France, 1914.”

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