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In His Own Words: Avoiding an International Incident

Sep 16, 2013

As special ambassador of the United States at the funeral of King Edward VII, Theodore Roosevelt may have used his American common sense and disdain for pomp to avoid an international incident.

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to David Gray

Detail, Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to David Gray, October 5, 1911, MS Am 1454.24, Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University. Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. For reproduction or publication permission, contact the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library.

“But next morning when at eight o’clock, in evening dress, I turned up at the palace to go to Windsor, I found Pichon waiting for me more angry than ever. He was to go in the same carriage with me; and, walking hastily up, and his voice shaking, he pointed out the very gorgeous looking carriage in which we were to go and said that it was an outrage, that all the royalties had glass coaches and we did not. As I had never heard of a glass coach excepting in connection with Cinderella, I was less impressed by the omission than he was; and he continued that ‘ces Chinois’ were put ahead of us. To this I answered that any people dressed as gorgeously as ‘ces Chinois’ ought to go ahead of us; but he responded that it was not a laughing matter. Then he added that ‘ce Perse’ had been put in with us, pointing out a Persian prince of the blood royal, a deprecatory, inoffensive-looking Levantine of Parisian education, who was obviously ill at ease, but whom Pichon insisted upon regarding as somebody who wanted to be offensive. At this moment our coach drove up, and Pichon bounced into it. I supposed he had gotten in to take the right-hand rear seat; as to which I was totally indifferent, for my experience at the White House had given me a horror of squabbles over precedence, and the one thing upon which I had insisted with our ambassadors was that I should sit or walk or stand whenever any of my hosts wished me to. But Pichon was scrupulous in giving me precedence, although I have no idea whether I was entitled to it or not. He sat on the left rear seat himself, stretched his arm across the right seat and motioned me to get in so that ‘ce Perse’ should not himself take the place of honor! Accordingly I got in, and the unfortunate Persian followed, looking about as unaggressive as a rabbit in a cage with two boa constrictors. As soon as we had started, Pichon’s feelings overcame him again, and he pointed out the fact that we were following ‘toutes ces petites royantes’ even ‘le roi du Portugal.’ I then spoke to him seriously, and said that in my judgment France and the United States were so important that it was of no earthly consequence whether their representatives went before or behind the representatives of utterly insignificant little states like Portugal, and that I thought it a great mistake to make a fuss about it, because it showed a lack of self-confidence. He shook his head, and said that in Europe they regarded these things as of real importance, and that if I would not join him in a protest he would make one on his own account. I answered that I very earnestly hoped he would not make a row at a funeral (my French failed me at this point, and I tried alternately ‘funeraille’ and ‘pomp funebre’) that it would be sure to have a bad effect, and that if he was discontented the proper thing to do was to wait until the coronation and then have France stipulate in advance how her special ambassador should rank. He asked if I would join in such a proposal; and I answered that in the first place I should not be special ambassador, and in the next place that if I were I most emphatically would not care a rap where I was placed any more than I did at the moment, for I was merely trying on behalf of the American people to show in courteous fashion their sympathy for the British people, that I wanted to do whatever the British people wished done, and did not in the least care where I was placed. I also told him to wait and see how we were treated at Windsor Castle, for I believed he would find that every effort would be made to be more than attentive to us. Sure enough, after the funeral, when we had lunch at Windsor Castle, I was at the King’s table and he was at the queen’s. I think my advice had a sedative effect; it certainly prevented any public explosion.”

Posted by Grant Carlson on Sep 16, 2013 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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