THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
granted representation allowances for diplo-
mats, and extended retirement benefits. By
professionalizing the State Department, the
Rogers Act opened the possibility of diplo-
matic service to a broader range of Ameri-
cans, not just the independently rich.
Congress and the Press
Despite the view of Hughes as a whis-
kered iceberg, he engaged legislators in
highly effective ways. As part of his strat-
egy for the naval conference, for instance,
Hughes persuaded President Harding
to appoint Senator Henry Cabot Lodge
(R-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations
Committee, and Senator Oscar Underwood
(D-Ala.), the Senate minority leader, to the
U.S. delegation. This avoided Woodrow Wil-
son’s mistake of excluding Congress from the
Paris Peace Conference deliberations. Only one senator voted
against the naval treaty.
In 1922 the Senate introduced a bill to unilaterally settle Ger-
many’s World War I reparations payments to the United States
using German assets seized during the war. American prefer-
ences for high tariffs, which Hughes supported, contributed to
Berlin’s repayment problems. (This was one of the few black
marks on his record.) Nevertheless, he vehemently objected to
the proposed legislation as contrary to international norms and
suggested instead creating a special commission to negotiate
repayment with Germany.
Even though establishment of such a commission did not
require Senate consultation, Hughes met with Senator William
E. Borah (R-Idaho), a leading isolationist voice in Congress, to
explain his plan, and carefully laid out the legal precedents.
Borah was convinced, and Congress did not pursue the heavy-
handed reparations legislation. As a result, the commission
reached a satisfactory agreement with Berlin.
And so it went throughout his tenure as Secretary of State.
Hughes’ willingness to consult and inform Congress was a key to
his success. By one estimate, the Senate approved all but two of
the 69 treaties submitted during Hughes’ tenure.
Another break from the pattern of the Wilson administration
was Hughes’ handling of the Washington press corps, which had
become a demanding, professionalized force crucial to win-
ning—or losing—public opinion. Whereas President Wilson and
his Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, alienated journalists with
their disdain and misleading statements,
and often worked at cross purposes with
each other in their pronouncements, Hughes
“was the most satisfactory source of interna-
tional news in the government in our time,”
wrote Fred Essary, a
who had been a fervent supporter of Wilson.
Hughes met twice a day with journal-
ists. He was candid and clear. After Harding
misstated an aspect of the Washington Naval
Conference negotiations, Hughes tasked one
of his assistants to make a verbatim report of
all foreign policy statements at White House
press briefings to ensure the administration
spoke with one voice.
A True Statesman
Whether he was championing state
regulation of public services as governor of
New York, or pressing unsuccessfully for the establishment of a
Permanent Court of International Justice as Secretary of State,
Hughes believed progress could be achieved incrementally.
He supported the gradual evolution of international behav-
ior toward “greater rationality and order.” He was skeptical of
attempts to outlaw war, considering armed conflict an unavoid-
able condition of international relations. Yet he believed war
could be limited through the development of international laws
and institutions to arbitrate disputes. In his finest moment at the
Washington Naval Conference, Hughes made a realistic assess-
ment of what was possible under the circumstances and jetti-
soned unworkable provisions—such as the inclusion of auxiliary
naval craft—to achieve a limited agreement.
Arthur Balfour, the highly respected British delegate to that
conference, called Hughes “the most dominating figure I have
ever met in public life.” The lessons of his statesmanship still
resonate nearly a century later.
Back in the 1920s, like today, the United States faced ques-
tions about its proper role in an evolving international system.
Secretary of State Hughes effectively managed the president,
Congress and public opinion to find common ground on chal-
lenging foreign policy questions. He seized opportunities to
shape a new world to America’s advantage, but he understood
progress would take years if not decades. Hughes was unusual
not only because he was capable of decisive action, but also
because he had the judgment, patience and wisdom to know
when U.S. leadership could make a difference.
E. CHICKERING AND CO. OF BOSTON/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Charles Evans Hughes, 1908.