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White House - When Diplomats Pay Their Respects

( Originally Published 1908 )

ONE of the most important duties of a President and his wife is that of receiving the accredited Ministers and Ambassadors representing foreign nations and rulers. Every courtesy is paid to these diplomats from abroad ; an ambassador being entitled to the courtesies which would be paid to the Kings, Queens or Presidents whom they represent. They are always present at the great New Year's reception, and a special reception is given to the Diplomatic Corps as a body, at the White House, once during each winter.

On the occasions when the diplomats from the whole world come to the White House in full dress, we are told that newly appointed doorkeepers and attendants get quite bewildered and dazed by the magnificent array of uniforms and sometimes make amusing mistakes in identifying the different ministers. A lady asked one of them the nationality of a certain diplomat in superb attire.

"That, madam, is the Austrian Minister from Australia," was the reply.

Receiving a Newly Arrived Foreign Envoy

When a new minister comes to Washington he announces his arrival to the Secretary of State, who arranges as soon as possible for his formal presentation to the President, the minister and his suite being always accompanied and introduced by the Secretary of State on this occasion.

As an illustration of the ceremony attending the reception of a new foreign diplomat by a President of the United States, we may cite the case of the presentation of the new Ambassador from Mexico, Señor Enrique Creel, by President Roosevelt, in the last year of Mr. Roosevelt's Administration. In the first place, a White House carriage was sent to the Mexican Embassy to convey Señor Creel to the Executive Mansion, where President Roosevelt received him in the Blue Parlor. An account of the proceeding published at the time states that the Ambassador, speaking in Spanish, made a few formal remarks. He expressed his feeling of appreciation that he had been honored by his government in being made its representative to this country and spoke of his high personal regard for the people of the United States.

In reply, President Roosevelt spoke of his gratification to welcome the Ambassador and of his regret because of the ill-health of his predecessor. The President assured the Ambassador of the good-will of this country toward Mexico, and said that Señor Creel would have the cooperation of the United States in his mission of bringing the two countries closer together.

In concluding his remarks the President requested the Ambassador to convey to the President of Mexico the wishes of the President, expressed for himself as well as for the Government and the people, for his personal well-being and for the happiness and good fortune of his country and countrymen.

One very notable predecessor of Señor Creel, by the way, was Señor Romero, who for many years represented Mexico at our National Capital. Señor Romero was a man of high ability in many spheres. His official life dated back to the 50'S, and for nearly half a century he knew all the prominent men who made history at Washington. Between General Grant and Señor . Romero there existed a warm. friendship, and the Mexican Minister was among the first to go to General Grant's aid, when financial trouble overtook hint.

Receiving the First Foreign Minister

In connection with the reception of foreign diplomats by the President of the United States, it is of interest to note the plans made by President George Washington for the elaborate ceremony attending the presentation of the first Foreign Minister ever sent to this country. The following is the official copy of the formalities "to be observed in introducing M. Gérard, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Court of France,"1778:

"At the time he is to receive his audience, the two members of Congress (who are to act as his escort) shall again wait upon him in a coach belonging to the States ; and the person first named of the two shall return with the Minister Plenipotentiary or Envoy in the coach, giving the Minister the right hand, and placing himself on his left, with the other member on the front seat. When the Minister Plenipotentiary or Envoy is arrived at the door of the Congress Hall, he shall be introduced to his chair by the two members, who shall stand at his left hand. Then the member first named shall present and announce him to the President and the House; whereupon he shall bow to the President and the Congress, and they to him. He and the President shall again bow unto each other, and be seated, after which the House shall sit down. Having spoken and been answered the Minister and President shall bow to each other, at which time the House shall bow, and then he shall be conducted home in the manner in which he was brought to the House."

Annual Grand Reception to the Diplomatic Corps

There are only two occasions, it is recorded, when one can see the diplomats in a body, and in their full glory on New Year's Day, and at the annual reception given them by the President, when all the Ambassadors and Ministers, attended by their respective secretaries, military attachés, etc., appear in full court dress. "It is a very splendid and imposing sight"—the gorgeous uniforms, the gold lace, the glittering orders and decorations with their brilliant ribbons, and the beautiful, picturesque costumes of the Chinese and Koreans. "The Blue Room at the White House looks like a scene on the stage as the corps diplomatic files in, headed by ranking Ambassador, each member making a queer little bow to the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, all bringing their heels together with a jerk and a click as they bend forward and shake hands. The most democratic of American citizens is fascinated in spite of himself as his eye takes in the gorgeous mass of color."

To this information, Waldon Fawcett, a wellknown Washington correspondent adds that the special reception which the President tenders annually to the Diplomatic Corps, brings out the showiest court costumes in the wardrobes of the distinguished foreigners.

Mr. Fawcett then proceeds to describe the brilliant uniforms worn by the foreign diplomats at these receptions, with details as follows:

"The representatives of our sister republic, France, are provided with far more imposing court-dress than are the officials in the diplomatic service of the United States. The French Ambassador, who was here in McKinley's time, and all the members of his staff who served in Washington during the Spanish-American War, were adorned with the superb decoration of the Order of Isabella, presented by the Queen Regent of Spain in acknowledgment of their good offices in effecting peace.

"Dazzling as are the uniforms of the Europeans, and the diplomats from South and Central America, however, they were outshone in a measure by the elaborate attire of the courtiers from the Orient. At the head of this contingent stands Wu Ting Fang, the famous Chinese Minister. His favorite garment for State ceremonials in a dress of purple silk, trimmed with white fur, over which he wears a heavy silken, fur-trimmed cloak. His costume represents the acme of magnificence in one direction, just as the British Ambassador's coat of scarlet, with gold collar, frogs and slashes, does in another. A distinguishing characteristic of Minister Wu's costume is an immense diamond which he wears in the front of his silk turban. The able representative of the Celestial Empire tells most humorously of his fright when on one occasion he missed the precious stone, only to discover after a terrified search that he had reversed his turban in donning it. The members of the Chinese Legation are the only servitors of the nations at Washington who do not carry the regulation dress-sword."

Annual Dinner for the Envoys of All Nations

A dinner is given at least once every season to the representatives of all nations, at the White House. One such dinner given in Cleveland's term, one typical of all such occasions, is described in the press of that day :

"The company was unusually large, even for a dinner to the Diplomatic Corps. But the occurrence of particular interest was the presence of the wife of the Minister of China. It was the first time in the history of the Chinese Legation at Washington that the wife of a Minister has crossed the threshold of the White House. A week ago Mme. Yang Yu called privately on Mrs. Cleveland, to whom she was presented by Mrs. Gresham. This evening she made her début, so to speak, in official society. To say that her personal appearance and bearing were something of a revelation would best express the interest and admiration which the fair young celestial excited in the other guests. Mme. Yang Yu apparently is not more than twenty. She has a tall slender figure, delicate regular features, clear, olive complexion, a bright color in her cheeks, and large, lustrous dark eyes. Added to this are a grace and youthful dignity. Altogether Mrs. Yang Yu is a beautiful woman. It is plain that the minister is proud of his young wife, and that he enjoyed the admiration she received this evening."

Visit of the First Japanese Embassy

One of the greatest events of President Buchanan's administration, in connection with the diplomatic corps at Washington, was the arrival in Washington of the first Japanese Embassy and the reception of its members by the Chief Executive. This occurred in 186o, in May, and marked the beginning of the diplomatic relations between the United States and japan which have since continued on an uninterrupted friendly basis.

The Ambassadors made their headquarters at Willard's Hotel, where they remained for thirty days. All the members of the Embassy were of very high rank in the realm of the Mikado. They numbered in all about sixty, and brought a great many presents of value to the President.

These distinguished Japanese nobles and gentlemen, on the day of their presentation to the President, were escorted to the White House by soldiers, sailors, marines and police, the members of the Embassy riding in carriages provided by Congress. May 17 was the date of their presentation which took place in the East Room and in the presence of a large assemblage of distinguished officials of the Government.

In their eagerness to see the strangely garbed Envoys, both ladies and gentlemen climbed on tables and chairs. The Washington correspondents sent out messages telling of the remarkable ceremonies of that day, in which occur these statements :

"At an early hour of the morning several Japanese officials, accompanied by one of the Commissioners made their appearance at the White House, and asked to be put in possession of the apartments assigned to them, which was accordingly done, and they remained there until the arrival of the Ambassadors and suite. When the latter arrived, they were ushered into the Blue Room, the subordinate officials into the Red Room, and . the servants, fifty in number, ranged themselves in the most perfect military order. When the folding-doors of the East Room opened, the view down the hall was picturesque in the extreme.

"On their first presentation they regarded themselves as the immediate representatives of the Tycoon, and approached the President in profound silence, bowing three times as they advanced, and after pausing a moment retired, with a like number of bows and passed again into the Blue Room. After an interval they again appeared, but this time in the character of Ambassadors, bearing with them the autograph letter of the Tycoon to the President and advancing again, with three bows as before, they presented the letter.

"When the Ambassadors had finally retired, and the folding-doors had been closed, an interesting ceremony took place in the ordinary reception-room of the White House, which, at the request of the Ambassadors, was made strictly private. They had requested to be presented to Miss Lane and the ladies of the Cabinet. These ladies were assembled accordingly and the Ambassadors were presented to each of them in turn."

In speaking of the matter, President Buchanan himself said :

"They never speak to me without calling me Emperor and his Majesty, and are the most particular people about what they should do. Everything was written down for them, stating the course they were to take, the number of bows they were to make, and all that, before they left Japan. `They can't understand me at all. You know they were here in front to hear the band on Saturday. Well, I went down the steps to speak to some of my friends that I saw, and they could not understand that at all To think that I Emperor of the United States should go down among and shake hands with the people astonished them wonderfully. Oh no ! they couldn't understand that at all, so unlike anything in their country. They take notes of everything. They've got down a long description of how I looked when they had the reception, and everything they've seen nothing escapes them. They're always sketching and taking notes of things. They're very proud, too, I can see ; they bow very low, but they wont do more than is prescribed for them in their instructions."

Korean and Turkish Diplomats at the White House When the Koreans arrived in Washington during President Arthur's Administration they created a great sensation, especially at evening parties at the White House, where they "appeared in tall hats with steeple crowns like old Mother Hubbards, and they stood in line against the wall in the White House, like a row of wooden images with perfectly immovable, expressionless faces."

At the diplomatic receptions at the White House the most conspicuous Court uniform is sometimes that of the Turkish Minister. It is heavily embroidered with gold, and with it the Minister wears the national fez. Socially the Turkish Minister usually is popular, whoever he may be, and is seen at all the smart functions. He entertains after the fashion of a bachelor, and his dinners and little suppers have an original flavor that is attractive. He has little resemblance to the conventional idea of a Turk, but is a cosmopolite of broad education and sympathies.

A Famous Russian Minister and His American Wife

One of the most conspicuous figures in diplomatic circles in Washington, for many years, was the Russian Minister, Monsieur Bodisco. He married a young American girl named Harriet Williams, who, as Madame Bodisco, was for twenty-five years the leading figure in all social events at the White House. At the time of her marriage to the Russian Envoy, Madame Bodisco was only sixteen.

Mrs. Fremont, daughter of Senator Benton, of Missouri, an eye-witness of the wedding of the distinguished Russian and the young American girl (the bride lived in Georgetown, D. C.)—wrote several descriptions of the ceremony, in one of which she says that Monsieur Bodisco "had an eye to theatrical effect on all occasions and particularly so on the occasion of his wedding." Mrs. Fremont was something more than eye-witness at that ceremony ; she was one of the bridesmaids, though herself only fourteen years of age at the time. President Van Buren attended the wedding and gave the bride away. The President subsequently gave a dinner at the White House in honor of the bride and groom, which dinner is described by Mrs. Fremont in lively style, thus :

"Here again Bodisco prepared his tableau. He gave us our directions, and our little procession crossed that windy hall into the drawing-room. Mr. Van Buren had it, later, somewhat protected by the glass screens that now extend across, but many a cold was taken there after wraps were laid aside.

"We were grouped either side of the bride, our bright white dresses serving as margin and setting to the central figure. This night her dress was of pale green velvet, its long train having a border of embroidery in gold thread not brighter than her yellow hair, and pearls and emeralds were her ornaments.

"Mr. Van Buren brought over from London a fine chef, and his dinners were as good and delicate as possible; but his was a formal household—none of the large hospitality of General Jackson, who held it as `the People's House', and himself as their steward ; and still less of the `open-house' of the Tyler régime, where there were many young people who kept to their informal cheery Virginia ways.

"Mr. Van Buren had great tact and knew how to make each person show to advantage. He was also very witty, though he controlled this, knowing its danger to a man in public life."

In President Buchanan's Administration, Madame Bodisco, being now a widow, married a British Army Captain, President Buchanan being present at the ceremony, as described in the chapter on "Brides of the White House."



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