The Imperial Season: America's Capital in the Time of the First Ambassadors, 1893-1918
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This story of the young city of Washington coming up in the international scene is populated with presidents, foreign diplomats, civil servants, architects, artists, and influential hosts and hostesses who were enamored of the idea of world power but had little idea of the responsibilities involved.
Between the Spanish American War and World War I, the thrill of America's new international role held the nation's capital in rapture. Visionaries gravitated to Washington and sought to make it the glorious equal to the great European capitals of the day. Remains of the period still define Washington--the monuments and great civic buildings on the Mall as well as the private mansions built on the avenues that now serve as embassies.
The first surge of America's world power led to profound changes in diplomacy, and a vibrant official life in Washington, DC, naturally followed. In the twenty-five year period that William Seale terms the "imperial season," a host of characters molded the city in the image of a great world capital. Some of the characters are well known, from presidents to John Hay and Uncle Joe Cannon, and some relatively unknown, from diplomat Alvey Adee to hostess Minnie Townsend and feminist Inez Milholland. The Imperial Season is a unique social history that defines a little explored period of American history that left an indelible mark on our nation's capital.
officials. They realized that their power might well grow from the respect they were shown. It was clear to them that the government sphere was the place to make their mark most effectively. The high objective they set, and to which officials of their organization raised eyebrows in disbelief, was to seek an amendment to the Constitution. The plan was to speak loudly and be heard, not to speak harshly and be dismissed. And though their approach served them well at times, their work was not done.
other apparent disregard for protocol, the ex-president was an amazing performer. The world looked on, delighted with the diversion he provided. Roosevelt returned to the United States in rip-roaring form, appearing in public frequently, a parody of what he had been as president but full of political commentary. Even an attempted assassination did not slow him down. In the presidential election of 1912 the Republicans ran Taft, the Democrats ran Woodrow Wilson, and Roosevelt styled himself the
president’s speech, Ambassador Spring-Rice was there: “I shall never forget a rainy evening in April when I drove down to the Capitol. The Capitol was illuminated from below—white against a black sky. United States troops were collected round it, not for a parade, but for defense—and necessary—and the President came down. I sat on the floor of Congress. The President came in, and in a perfectly calm, deliberate voice he recited word by word, deed by deed, what Germany had done. At the end he
Papers, Library of Congress; Peter Bridges, “Three Great Civil Servants: William Hunter, Alvey Augustus Adee, and Wilbur J. Carr,” lecture, Bacon House Foundation, Washington, DC, October 11, 2005, copy in author’s collection. 27. Author in conversation with Katherine Woodrow Kirkland, May 1981; see also Seale, The President’s House, 85. Eleven: The World at Last 1. Count Bernstorff, My Three Years in America (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), 35–36. 2. Constantin Dumba, Memoirs of
exhaustion, too kind to order him thrown out, as Grover Cleveland certainly would have done. Roosevelt, a close friend of Captain Mahan’s philosophy about naval power, was eager for the United States to express itself as a world power. In just which war did not much matter, but he looked forward to one. Ten or so days after the Maine sank, when the secretary of the navy was at the dentist and out of the office, Assistant Roosevelt wired the United States Asiatic Fleet, harbored in Hong Kong,