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Russia in 1905: The View from the American Embassy

  • Eugene P. Trani

Extract

GeorgeVonLengerkeMeyer learned, not at all happily, that he was to be American Ambassador to St. Petersburg. This was a disappointment to himself and his family, for President Theodore Roosevelt had earlier suggested that Meyer be sent to Paris. And St. Petersburg seemed a long way off — in distance, time, culture, and atmosphere — from Paris. Nevertheless Meyer recognized that the appointment was a presidential compliment. For almost a year the President had been working to end the bloody war that had begun with the Japanese attack on the Russian naval base at Port Arthur on February 8, 1904, and had surprisingly resulted in one Japanese victory after another. Roosevelt had urged peace throughout the conflict. He quickly saw the necessity of a first-class ambassador in St. Petersburg to replace Robert S. McCormick, the Chicago businessman who was a political asset but a diplomatic failure.

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1 George von Lengerke Meyer Diary, January 7, 1905, Meyer MSS, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.G. Parts of the Meyer correspondence appear in Howe, M.A. DeWolfe, George von Lengerke Meyer (New York, 1920). Some of Meyer's reports to Washington are also included in microfilm. Reels 62–65, U.S. Dispatches from U.S. Ministers to Russia, 1808–1906, Record Group No. 59, National Archives, Washington, D.C., and appear in Foreign Relations of the United States: 1905 (Washington, 1906).

2 Meyer Diary, January 8, 1905, Meyer MSS LC: see also Meyer to Henry Cabot Lodge, January 7, 1905, Lodge MSS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

3 Meyer Diary, January 21, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

4 Meyer to TTieodore Roosevelt, January 28, 1905, Roosevelt MSS, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. It must be noted that Meyer seemed to use “socialist,” “revolutionist,” and other such terms loosely, even after arrival in St. Petersburg. An examination of his correspondence reveals a tendency to divide antigovernment feelings into two groups — the “revolutionists” and the “reformers.” It is doubtful that Meyer came to understand the differences between the Social Revolutionists and the Social Democrats (both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks). If he did, it is not discussed in his correspondence to Washington. He did, of course, see the great difference between these parties on one hand, and the Kadets and Octobrists, which he seemed to group together as those calling for gradual reform within a monarchical form of government. The distinction in his mind, then, was between those who favored reforms while keeping the monarchy, and those who wanted revolution that would tear down the government. It was not surprising that he would divide society into such groups, for the same distinction existed in the United States. There were such government officials as Roosevelt, Lodge, Elihu Root, and Meyer himself. These men were motivated by noblesse oblige to better the life of the average citizen by gradual change, evolution not revolution. It was this type of official that Nicholas needed in his government. The United States also had its revolutionists. Meyer was not unique in his superficial understanding of the differences of the opposition groups.

Meyer's lack of understanding of the differences of the groups working against Nicholas II was illustrated by a dispatch sent on December 18, 1905, to Secretary of State Root. Meyer wrote: “I have the honor to report that the whole of the Russian society appears to have become divided into three parties: the Monarchial, the Constitutional-Democratic, (consisting chiefly of the educated Russian people), and the Social-Democratic, (the working classes and their leaders).” Meyer to Root, December 18, 1905, Microfilm Reel 65, U.S. Dispatches from U.S. Ministers to Russia, 1808–1906, Record Group No. 59, National Archives. For McCormick's report to Secretary of State John Hay on January 31, 1905, describing Bloody Sunday, see Askew, William G., “An American View of Bloody Sunday,” Russian Review, XI (01, 1952).

5 Meyer to TR, January 28, 1905, TR MSS LC.

6 Meyer Diary, February 18, 1905, Meyer MSS LC; and Meyer to TR, February 21, 1905, TR MSS LC. For Witte's side of his relationship with Nicholas, there is, of course, Sergei Witte, Vospommaniia (2 vols. Berlin, 1922; reissued in 3 vols., Moscow, 1960).

7 Meyer to TR, April 13, 1905, TR MSS LC.

8 Meyer to J. Morris Meredith, April 10, 1905, Meyer MSS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. Meyer's reports were typical of the reports sent to the home government by the diplomats in St. Petersburg, and their significance rests in their general representation of the opinion of the diplomatic community in the Russian capital. When Meyer's information was incorrect, it was usually because the situation was not really understood by the diplomats. The home governments, of course, acted on this information. Also the reports represented the observations of foreigners on the events of 1905.

9 For the story of the fleet, see Hough, Richard, The Fleet That Had to Die (New York, 1958).

10 Meyer to TR, April 13, 1905, TR MSS LC.

11 Meyer Diary, April 16, 1905, Meyer MSS LC; and Meyer to Meredith, April 16, 1905, and Meyer to Thomas Meyer, April 16, 1905, Meyer MSS MHS.

12 Meyer to TR, April 24, 1905, TR MSS LC. This is not to suggest that Meyer had uncovered the whole story, for he had obviously missed the connection between Gapon and the government and misunderstood the reasons for the assassination of the Grand Duke Sergei. This does not, nonetheless, minimize the memo's importance, for this was the generally accepted story and influenced action on the part of the foreign governments.

13 Meyer to TR, April 24, 1905, TR MSS LG.

14 Meyer to TR, May 1, 1905, TR MSS LG.

15 Meyer to TR, May 5, 1905, TR MSS LC; and Meyer to Lodge, May 6, 1905, Lodge MSS MHS.

16 Meyer to TR, May 10, 1905, and May 16, 1905, TR MSS LC.

17 Meyer to John Hay, May 23, 1905, Hay MSS, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

18 See Ascher, A., “The Coming Storm: The Austro-Hungarian Embassy on Russia's Internal Crisis, 1902–1906,” Survey: A Journal of Soviet and East European Studies, Number LIII (10, 1964). Another good account about foreign observers is Girault, René, “La révolution russe de 1905 d'après quelques témoignages français,” Revue historique, Volume CCXXX (0709, 1963). Maurice Bompard, the French Ambassador, shared much of Meyer's and Aehrenthal's feelings about the Russian government, even though the French were allied with the Russians. Bompard's feelings are illustrated in the above article, as well as in his own work, Mon Ambassade en Russe, 1903–1908 (Paris, 1937), and in his correspondence back to Paris, which appears in Documents diplomatiques français (Paris, 1930–1959), especially Part 2, Volumes 6, 7, and 8.

19 Meyer Diary, May 31, 1905, and June 1, 1905, Meyer MSS LC: see also Meyer to Hay, May 31, 1905, Hay MSS LC; Meyer to Meredith, June 1, 1905, Meyer MSS MHS; Meyer to TR, June 5, 1905, TR MSS LC.

20 Meyer Diary, June 7, 1905, Meyer MSS L C; and Meyer to TR, June 9, 1905, T R MSS LC.

21 See Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sbornik diplomaticheskikh dokumentov kasaiushchikhsia peregovorov mezhdu Rossieiu i laponieiu o zakliuchenii mirnago dogovora 24 maia – 3 oktiabria (St. Petersburg, 1906), for the Russian correspondence. A discussion of the difficulties appears in Trani, Eugene, The Treaty of Portsmouth: An Adventure in American Diplomacy (Lexington, Ky., is forthcoming, Spring, 1969).

12 Meyer to TR, June 18, 1905, TR MSS LC; and Meyer to Hay, June 21, 1905, Hay MSS LC.

23 Meyer to TR, July 1, 1905, TR MSS LC.

24 Meyer to TR, July 8, 1905, TR MSS LC.

25 Meyer Diary, July 21, 27, and 30, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

26 Meyer to TR, August 1, 1905, TR MSS LC.

27 Meyer Diary, August 3, 1905, Meyer MSS LC; and Meyer to wife, August 5, 1905, Meyer MSS MHS.

28 Meyer to TR, August 9, 1905, T R MSS LC.

29 Meyer Diary, August 17, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

30 For the Russian side of the negotiations see Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sbornik diplomaticheskikh dokumentov kasaiushchikhsia peregovorov mezhdu Rossieiu i Iaponieiu o zakliuchenii mirnago dogovora 24 maia – 3 oktiabria (St. Petersburg, 1906). There are also protocols of the peace conference — Protokoly portsmutskoi mirnoi konferentsii i tekst dogovora mezhdu Rossieiu i Iaponieiu (St. Petersburg, 1906). For the Japanese side, see Gaimusho, , Komura Gaikoshi (2 vols., Tokyo, 1953), as well as the microfilms of the Japanese Foreign Ministry Archives, which are at the Library of Congress. The films are indexed in Uyehara, Cecil H., Checklist of Archives in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo, Japan, 1868–1945 (Washington, 1954).

31 Meyer to TR, August 25, 1905, TR MSS LC.

32 Meyer to TR, August 25, 1905, TR MSS LC; and Meyer Diary, August 23, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

33 Meyer to wife, August 31, 1905, Meyer MSS MHS.

34 Meyer to TR, September 8, 1905, TR MSS LC.

35 Hardinge to Sanderson, October 8, 1905, British Public Records Office, Foreign Office, 65/1703, as cited in Harcave, Sidney, First Blood: The Russian Revolution of 1905 (New York, 1964), p. 169. The Harcave book is a good general treatment of the revolution. For other Hardinge correspondence, see Gooch, G. P. and Temperley, Harold, British Documents on the Origins of the War: 1898–1914 (London, 19261938), especially Volume IV — The Anglo- Russian Rapprochement: 1903–1907 (London 1929). Further British comment on affairs in Russia, showing the similarity of the views of Meyer and the British representatives, can be found in the letters of Spring Rice to Roosevelt, which are in the TR MSS. Portions of these letters are quoted in Gwynn, Stephen, The Letters and Friendships of Sir Cecil Spring Rice (2 vols., London, 1929).

36 Meyer Diary, October 25, 1905, Meyer MSS LC; and Spencer Eddy, Chargé in St. Petersburg, to Elihu Root, October 29, 1905, Microfilm Reel 64, U.S. Dispatches from U.S. Ministers to Russia, 1808–1906, Record Group No. 59, National Archives.

37 TR to Meyer, November 6, 1905, as noted in Meyer Diary, November 6, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

38 TR to Meyer, November 9, 1905, Meyer MSS MHS; and Meyer Diary, November 13, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

39 Meyer Diary, December 2, and 5, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

40 Meyer Diary, December 11, 1905, Meyer MSS LC; and Meyer to Lodge, December 12, 1905, Lodge MSS MHS.

41 Meyer to Lodge, December 12, 1905, Lodge MSS MHS.

42 Meyer to Lodge, December 12, 1905, Lodge MSS MHS. Meyer's lack of faith in Witte's ability was shared by other diplomats, especially Aehrenthal, who became involved in an anti-Witte conspiracy. Aehrenthal's feelings toward Witte were intense, for he felt Witte was determined to destroy the traditional form of the Russian government. See Heilbronner, Hans, “An Anti-Witte Diplomatic Conspiracy, 1905–1906: The Schwaneback Memorandum,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Volume XIV (09, 1966).

43 Meyer to Lodge, December 12, 1905, Lodge MSS MHS.

44 Meyer Diary, December 13 and 15, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

45 Meyer Diary, December 16 and 17, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

46 Meyer Diary, December 18, 19, and 20, 1905, Meyer MSS LC; and Meyer to wife, December 19, 1905, Meyer MSS MHS.

47 Meyer to TR, December 20, 1905, TR MSS LC.

48 Meyer to TR, December 20, 1905, TR MSS LC.

49 Meyer Diary, December 21, 22, and 23, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

50 Meyer Diary, December 24, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

51 Meyer to wife, December 27, 1905, Meyer MSS MHS; and Meyer Diary, December 26, 27, and 28, 1905, Meyer MSS LC.

52 Meyer to wife, December 30, 1905, Meyer MSS MHS.

53 Meyer to Root, December 30, 1905, Root MSS, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

54 Meyer to Root, December 30, 1905, Root MSS LC.

55 Meyer Diary, January 1, 1906, Meyer MSS LC.

56 For the German reports from St. Petersburg, see Lepsius, J., Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, A., and Thimme, F., Die Grosse Politik der Europäischen Kabinette, 1871–1914 (40 vols., Berlin, 19221927), especially Volume XIX — Der Russisch-Japanische Krieg (Parts 1 and 2) (Berlin, 1927).

Russia in 1905: The View from the American Embassy

  • Eugene P. Trani

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