Interesting Historical Notes

FY 2003 Performance and Accountability Report
Bureau of Resource Management
December 2003

Seward's Abortive Initiative

At the beginning of President Lincoln's Administration in April 1861, the new Secretary of State, William H. Seward of New York, proposed to end domestic political strife over the all-consuming question of slavery by pursuing an active foreign policy, one that might lead to declarations of war against France or Spain, thus uniting domestic factions against a foreign threat. Seward even volunteered himself as the principal prosecutor of such a policy. The President tactfully rebuffed this extraordinary proposal. Thereafter, Seward, subordinated himself to the President and served him loyally and effectively.

The Hulsemann-Webster Exchange

In 1850 the Austrian charge in Washington, the Chevalier Hulsemann, who strenuously objected to supposed American interference in the domestic affairs of Hungary, communicated an insulting message to the Department of State. His Government, he stated, had "deemed it proper to preserve a conciliatory deportment making ample allowance for the ignorance of the Cabinet of Washington on the subject of Hungarian affairs and its disposition to give credence to the mendacious rumors which are propagated by the American press."

To this statement Secretary of State Daniel Webster replied in kind: "Nothing will deter either the Government or the people of the United States from... forming and expressing their own opinions freely and at all times upon the great political events which may transpire among the civilized nations of the earth. Their own institutions stand upon the broadest principles of civil liberty; and believing those principles... to be... in fact the only principles of government which meet the demands of the present enlightened age, the President has perceived with great satisfaction that in the constitution recently introduced into the Austrian Empire many of these great principles are recognized and applied."

Diplomacy's Best Deal

In 1803, two U.S. diplomats, American Minister to France Robert Livingston and Special Negotiator James Monroe, concluded the largest real estate transaction ever when they secured the entire territory of Louisiana for the United States. Although Livingston and Monroe exceeded the orders of President Thomas Jefferson—and their spending limit—the deal was too good to pass up. As Livingston reported, the French Treasury Secretary urged him to "Consider...the importance of having no neighbors to dispute you, no war to dread." The Americans did, and two weeks later on April 30, 1803, the French agreed to sell the entire territory for the bargain price of $15 million.

Diplomacy and the Telegraph

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, diplomatic reports to and from our missions abroad moved at the pace of ships crossing the ocean. But everything changed the following year with the completion of the transatlantic cable linking the United States and Europe. Just a few months later, the Department of State established a telegraphic office to handle the important new messages. Although diplomats learned to write more concisely, the Department warned that it was expensive and not to be used "except when justified by the importance and urgency of the case..." Diplomats took the message to heart and trimmed their prose accordingly. In 1881, the U.S. Minister to Russia, John W. Foster, earned the distinction of sending the shortest diplomatic dispatch. "Emperor Dead," he wrote. No one since has crafted a more concise cable.