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Did He Violate the President’s Instructions?
Chapter 2 of Foreign Vistas: Stories from a Life in the Foreign Service

by William Sommers


For all his erudition and proven ability for analysis, he had not learned the three simple rules for public officeholders:1. Don’t write indignant letters to your employer unless you plan to quit;

2. Don’t offer to resign unless you expect to do so; and

3. If you must write an indignant letter, do it three times: burn the first two and write the last one on wax paper.



There were other, more immediate concerns that held John Lothrop Motley’s attention during his tenure as US minister in Vienna during Abraham Lincoln’s time. At first, he got along reasonably well with Secretary of State William H. Seward, and received praise from the Secretary for incisive and helpful political analysis. But Mr. Motley chafed under many of the rules of officialdom. He was especially critical of Mr. Seward’s policy of publishing a compendium of dispatches as a permanent record of the administration of foreign affairs. This now-enshrined practice began under Secretary Seward in 1861; not all ministers or consuls abroad were pleased with the idea.

Mr. Motley expressed his feeling on the policy in a letter to James Russell Lowell: “Since Seward instituted this system (which between you and me I don’t at all fancy) of publishing annually the dispatches from the State Department one is obliged to write the most perfectly circumspect and idiotic trash. If I ever have any facts or comments at all worth reading to make, these letters are always marked private. If they ever did get into print, which Heaven forbid—they might be tolerably worth reading but would cost me my place. To be useful to the government you must of course tell the truth, governments would be confounded asses if they thought it necessary to blab everything it confidentially learns to the whole world.”

John Lothrop Motley

He was not the only critic of Mr. Seward’s system. Opposition to it became so clamorous that the project was dropped in 1869, right after Mr. Seward left the State Department. Cool heads prevailed, however, and publication was resumed in 1870. But, like the Congressional Record, the publication now undergoes a great deal of expurgation. The time lapse between the date of the dispatch and the date of publication has also allowed a cooling of feeling, with a better perspective on events.

Because of the rumblings of nationalism, wars and rumors of wars that surfaced in Vienna, Mr. Motley and his staff acted as clearinghouses for all kinds of wild adventurers and soldiers of fortune. During the first years of the Civil War, he daily received requests from Austrian military officers to serve in the US Army. While the requests were not accepted, they were forwarded to Washington so that, as Mr. Motley put it; “…the archives will contain this fine testimony of their desire to serve the starry banner.”

At about this time, in a kind of role reversal, there arose la affairé Canisius. Mr. Canisius was the American consul in Vienna and, while he ostensibly was one of Mr. Motley’s staff, he operated independently and reported directly to the Secretary in Washington. Guiseppe Garibaldi, the Italian freedom fighter, had just been captured by the Italian government, which was under the thumb of the Austrians. Mr. Canisius, for inexplicable reasons, sent a message to him asking that he give his services to the US Government. The flamboyant Garibaldi, not wishing to miss the opportunity to wave his red shirt, replied that as soon as he was released he would fight for the “great American Republic of which I am a citizen and which today fights for universal freedom.” The Austrian government, which saw Mr. Garibaldi as the symbol of rebellion, insurrection and danger to all existing institutions, was more than a little upset. Mr. Canisius was quickly informed by Mr. Seward that his commission as consul was withdrawn, because the task he undertook was really one for the minister to decide upon, not a consul. He added that American foreign policy, at least at that time, was one of abstinence in all domestic affairs. But Mr. Canisius appealed to Mr. Seward that, if his commission were lost, it would put him and his wife and children out on the streets of Vienna. The Italian king, though regretting the imprudence of Mr. Canisius’ action, asked the Secretary to show leniency. While bereft of a formal grievance procedure and unrepresented by any professional association, Mr. Canisius nonetheless carried the day, and Mr. Seward restored his commission.

Of more serious import was the intervention of Louis Napoleon in Mexico. The French puppet, Archduke Maximillian von Hapsburg, and his wife Carlotta (remembered in the United States for many years as the film actors Brian Aherne and Bette Davis, who portrayed them) were battling for French control of Mexican volunteers. While all these machinations were in progress, Mr. Motley had been carefully instructed by Mr. Seward not to engage in any official or political discussion on the Mexican question. Mr. Motley followed orders and struck the subject from his calendar. However, when the Franco-Mexican gambit began to go down the tube, French troops were withdrawn and the Austrians made noises to send in some 4,000 “volunteers” to help the besieged archduke.

The US minister to France had reported to Mr. Seward that some 10,000 Austrian troops were ready to embark for Mexico; Mr. Motley, however, said the whole enterprise lacked popular support, and only 600 volunteers had been identified and arrangements were yet to be made for their sailing to Mexico. Mr. Seward told Mr. Motley to file a strong protest with the Austrian government, and to ask for his passport if any Austrian troops left for Mexico. Mr. Motley was also told to inform the Austrians that the United States felt the former had not been frank with the United States, and that it was thought to be in alliance with France to establish a European foothold in Mexico.

The whole affair irked Mr. Motley to no end. He was upset that Secretary Seward had put more credence in the report of the minister to France than in his own on the troop strength issue. Mr. Motley was also frazzled by the fact that Mr. Seward, having told him previously to stay away from discussing the Mexican crisis with the Austrians, now ordered him to say that the latter had deceived the United States. In his not unusual practice of one-upmanship, Mr. Motley wrote to Mr. Seward: “…the Austrian government has been perfectly sincere towards the United States in this matter and every other way since I have been here…. As I consider frankness and sincerity the best rule in diplomacy, I have decided to request Mensdorff, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to read this dispatch before I send it.” Nevertheless, Mr. Motley followed orders and delivered a formal protest to the Austrian government. The Austrians responded favorably and no troops were sent. While the handling of the affair does Mr. Motley credit, it did not increase his ratings in the Department, a condition not unknown by many a modern ambassador.

Upon President Lincoln’s assassination, the Austrian government expressed its condolences and asked Mr. Motley to give a memorial talk at the ceremony of commemoration. In a letter to his friend, the Duchess of Argyll, Mr. Motley grieved that “I cannot trust myself to speak of President Lincoln for I am afraid of possible exaggeration…. I am very glad that you admire the inaugural address of last March. The children in every American school ought to be made to learn it by heart. ‘With malice toward none, with charity to all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in’— these words should be his epitaph and who in the long roll of the world’s rulers has deserved nobler one?”

Still, Mr. Motley was uneasy. The accession of Andrew Johnson to the presidency would mean the end of the minister’s stay in Vienna. He returned to his original patron, Senator Charles Sumner, relating all the important reasons why he should be retained:

he had paid a year’s house rent in advance, his historical research would be interrupted and, like the salesman in 76 Trombones, he knew the territory: “I feel I can rely upon your friendship and good offices to help me maintain my post here as I could of old…”

And indeed, all seemed well. But the beginning of the end came via a confidential note in December from the Secretary—a note that was to topple the minister, damage his reputation and cause ripples of anguish and bitterness to the end of his days. When this was coupled with the impending disaster in England, Mr. Motley was not to recover.

Secretary Seward’s note contained an accusation by one George McCrackin, the gist of which was that Mr. Motley, like many other ministers and consuls abroad, was opposed to the new President, and that he expressed that opposition “in so open a manner as to astonish Americans and leave a very bad impression on Europeans.” The letter went on to say that Mr. Motley was openly heard to express his disdain for democracy, that he considered the English gentleman the model of human perfection and that he believed Secretary Seward was hopelessly degraded. Secretary Seward asked Mr. Motley to deny or confirm the allegations.

Mr. Motley was shocked by the accusations—wounded that they would even be tolerated by the President and the Secretary, and shattered that he was held in such low esteem in the Department that he had been required to reply. Here Mr. Motley made a great error in tactics that was indicative of the darker side of his nature, namely, an almost paranoiac feeling that his great talents and efforts had never been appreciated as they should have been. It put him too often in a desperately defensive posture, from which he would charge his adversary by using his only weapon—savagely-aimed and brilliant mortar shells of prose. Stung by a rereading of Seward’s note, Mr. Motley sent out a long dispatch in reply that recounted his position on all the accusations made by Mr. McCrackin, outlining his differences but passionately denying his disrespect for anyone, and reiterating his dedication to democracy and to the United States. At the peak of this well-written, lengthy piece of justification, Mr. Motley mounted a high horse of indignation and concluded with an offer to resign. For all his erudition and proven ability for analysis, he had not learned the three simple rules for public officeholders: 1. Don’t write indignant letters to your employer unless you plan to quit; 2. Don’t offer to resign unless you expect to do so; and 3. If you must write an indignant letter, do it three times: burn the first two and write the last one on wax paper.

On the other hand, Mr. Motley may also have been victimized by the distrust and suspicion biding up around the new President, over which he had no control. President Johnson was shaken by the dissertion of key Republicans, and he began to doubt even his closest advisers. He sensed a growing hostility to both his policies and his person. The McCrackin letter, harkening to a long and still widely-held belief that diplomats are “cookie pushers” and “striped pants sycophants” who disdain the vulgarity of politics, hit a resonant note with Mr. Johnson; the President wanted to fire the culprits, regardless of the unproven charges or the injustices inflicted upon the accused. This was a response which has never been entirely absent from the American political scene. The Secretary, on the other hand, did not believe he should be less concerned about the President’s feeling for the dignity of his office than did the President. His note, though out of the blue, did give the ministers and consuls thus accused the right of reply. And Mr. Seward never asked anyone to resign.

The President apparently told Mr. Seward to “let Motley go,” but Mr. Seward instead wrote to Mr. Motley and, ignoring the latter’s reproaches, accepted Mr. Motley’s explanation, asking that “in the absence of any consideration of public policy requiring your resignation, it is thought proper to leave the matter to your free and deliberate choice. You will please inform me, therefore, whether it is your desire that your resignation should be considered absolute.” To Mr. Seward’s surprise, President Johnson, upon being told of the message sent, disapproved of it and “in spite of my efforts to change his opinion, insisted upon Motley’s resignation being accepted.” Mr. Seward had to scurry around and finally had the message stopped at London, in consequence of which Mr. Motley never knew that, so far as Mr. Seward was concerned, his explanation had been accepted. President Johnson then sent to the Senate the nomination of a person to replace Mr. Motley.

The action prompted a howl from the Senate, voiced by Mr. Sumner, who by now had become one of Mr. Johnson’s chief antagonists. The Senate requested to see the correspondence between Mr. Seward and Mr. Motley. The Senate then backed Mr. Motley, and advised the President that the position of minister should be left vacant unless it could be once again offered to Mr. Motley. This was unacceptable to President Johnson. Mr. Seward, on May 4, 1867—eight months after the McCrackin accusations had ben sent to Mr. Motley—told the minister that his resignation had been accepted, and that since no successor had been nominated, he was to leave the affairs of the legation in the hands of the Secretary, who was made an interim chargé d’affaires. Mr. Motley left Vienna on July 1, 1867, shaken by the events and bitter over the results.

It was a bollix of the first order. Mr. Motley never did receive public acknowledgement that the Department had accepted his explanation, even though the Senate had seen the version of the intercepted message. To Mr. Motley, this meant that “all men either in the United States or in Austria would have the right to believe that the charges against me were true and that the United States government had found it necessary to leave the mission vacant rather than to confide the public interest any longer in my hands.”

And what of Mr. McCrackin? Was he a paid informer sent abroad to keep his eyes and ears open and report on what the American representatives were saying? Or was he a disgruntled office-seeker who took his vengeance in a form he knew would reap results? No one knows for sure, and as a mystery to be unraveled, it could easily find its place in Masterpiece Theatre or Murder She Wrote, for the McCrackin letter fell just short of manslaughter in its damage to the diplomatic career of John Lothrop Motley. Yet Mr. Motley, too, shares some of the blame—if only because his hauteur and highly-developed but overly sensitive image of himself allowed him to be trapped into offering an eager President the resignation he may have already decided upon.

Mr. Motley and his family went first to Switzerland for some well-deserved “R&R,” then on to England, where he delivered the concluding volumes of hisHistory of the United Netherlands to the publishers. In June 1868 he returned to Boston. The new “history,” unlikeThe Rise of the Dutch Republic, was not a best-seller. Nevertheless, it was reprinted twice in Mr. Motley’s lifetime, and it established a more firm footing in scholarship than had its more popular predecessor.

When President Johnson was succeeded by Ulysses Grant, Senator Sumner’s influence, diminished during the former’s regime, was again on the upswing. But not as high as it had been in the past. Both President Grant and the new Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, resisted Mr. Sumner’s persistence in trying to secure appointments for people from Massachusetts. But the two were not always successful. Eventually, Mr. Sumner got them both to agree to appoint Mr. Motley to the Court of St. James, a ministerial post only recently vacated by one Reverdy Johnson. As Mr. Sumner’s biography notes, the Senator was particularly pleased “…since it was at once a deserved tribute to a distinguised man of letters and a vindication of Motely from the charges Seward had levelled against him in Vienna….”

To paraphrase one of Peter Arno’s cartoon characters, “the British situation seems fraught with peril.” And so it was. Although the war was over, the memory of England’s behavior toward the Union during the war could not be easily erased. Frictions focused on the so-called Alabama claims, which were really a package of claims against England for the help she had given the Confederacy, especially in the building and outfitting of ships that caused immense damage to Union shipping. Some progress had been made under Mr. Motley’s predecessor, Reverdy Johnson, in resolving the claims. A convention was actually signed, but the British press attacked it, and the Senate refused it. The Grant administration wanted to renew the negotiations, but absent the rancor and feverish partisanship that had fouled the settlement. There were indications the British foreign secretary was of an equal mind. Consequently, the new Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, was put to great pains to instruct Mr. Motley how and what to do under these delicate circumstances.

But if the foreign policy circumstances were touchy, the domestic quarrel between the executive and the legislature was bitter. The debacle of the Johnson administration had encouraged the rise of legislative control over the executive. In foreign policy the increasingly belligerent Senator Sumner, smarting under the Johnson administration’s war on the Senate, attempted to assert himself as an adjunct Secretary of State. Mr. Fish, a long-time personal friend of the senator, recognized the initial importance of dealing with him. Mr. Fish was, nevertheless, perched in the lily pads, waiting to strike. And the unwary Motley was to provide the bait.

Mr. Sumner got in the first blow. Early in 1869, just after Mr. Motley’s appointment but before had had left for England, Mr. Sumner regaled the Senate with an outrageous outburst against the British. He charged that the queen’s proclamation of 1861, giving the Confederacy status as a belligerent, had extended the Civil War by two years, and had added billions of dollars to the cost of the war for the United States. He proposed that proper reparations could be effected only if England gave the United States the provinces of Canada! The speech shattered the calm under which Mr. Grant and Mr. Fish had hoped to work out an agreeable solution to the claims. And it came from the English government, from the prime minister on down. Mr. Sumner’s ill-chosen blast complicated even more the role that Mr. Motley was supposed to play in serving both the President and the Secretary of State while beholden to the Senator who was his staunch support and sponsor. Mr. Sumner’s biographer goes even further: “Vaguely Motley was aware that there might be a conflict between his loyalty to Sumner and his duty to the State Department, but with characteristic impatience he brushed aside the difficulty, confident that his brilliance, charm, and literary grace could overcome any problem.” Such, however, was not to be the case.

The first issue which arose, even before Mr. Motley sailed for the Court of St. James, centered on what his instructions were to be. Mr. Fish, new to foreign affairs and new to the State Department, was up to his earlobes in appointments, policy conferences and a thousand other miniscule matters that demanded his immediate attention during these opening days of the Grant administration. He had no time to draft the instructions. Mr. Sumner proposed that Mr. Motley draft a statement that Mr. Fish could review. Mr. Fish, with great misgivings, agreed. There followed a comic series of drafts, negations, redrafts, arguments and counter arguments—until at long last the document was brought forth. But the process had brought each side to an emotional breaking point. Mr. Sumner, after visiting with the Secretary at his home, talked over the “instructions” until the wee hours and, pausing on the doorstep for one more thrust, he raised his voice so loudly that Mr. Fish finally admonished him: “Sumner, you roar like the bull of Basham; if we don’t adjourn now the police will be after us. During all this scurrying over drafts and redrafts, Mr. Motley sifted through the Departmental archives and compiled a detailed list of every recorded affront, illegality and offensive speech made by British sea captains during the Civil War. Such heavy research did not bode well for a “peaceful” encounter.

Added to this was a message sent by the British foreign minister to the British ambassador in the United States, which ended with the declaration: “…if Mr. Motley, instructed by Mr. Sumner, thinks he can bully us or, as we are told he expects to do, set the working classes of England against the aristocratic advocates of the South in the recent civil war, he will find himself miserably and deservedly mistaken…” A more savvy diplomat, made privy to all the hocus pocus that cluttered the US-British diplomatic scene, might have urgently requested a quick transfer to a consulate in Rangoon, the Falkland Islands or even St. Petersburg!

Mr. Motley and his family arrived in London on June 1 and began house-hunting. In a letter to Count Bismarck, he noted that the United States “…does not provide as comfortable quarters as Prussia House in which our excellent friends, the Bernstorffs are so delightfully established. We have no Legation Hotel, and each minister, on his arrival, must provide himself as best he can.”

It was not long after this letter that Mr. Motley had a long conversation with the British foreign minister in which the matter of the Alabama claims was discussed. Mr. Motley repeated parts of Mr. Sumner’s speech while expressing the Secretary of State’s desire, and that of the President, to negotiate a more favorable settlement than the one that had been just rejected. Mt. Motley emphasized the British error in betting on the Confederacy, and the damage this had caused the North. Carried away with his own declamation, he implied that war or peace depended on the successful outcome of his mission. When the permanent secretary of the American legation, Benjamin Moran, began copying Mr. Motley’s long dispatch on the interview for transmittal to the Secretary, he noted that the summary had “more of Mr. Sumner than the President in it.”

When Washington finally got word of Mr. Motley’s interview, President Grant asked for his immediate dismissal. Mr. Fish, on the other hand, felt that, while Mr. Motley had erred, the remarks were not out of line—and that a further confrontation with Mr. Sumner over firing Mr. Motley would be disastrous at this time. Mr. Fish prevailed, and sent a warning to Mr. Motley that, while his presentation had many items in it with which both the Secretary and the President concurred, it would have been more prudent to have left out the more challenging statements. Nevertheless, for whatever reasons, Secretary Fish noted that “your general presentation and treatment of the several subjects discussed in that interview meet the approval of this Department.” Mr. Fish also informed Mr. Motley that the negotiations for the claims were henceforth to be carried on in Washington. Minister Motley, in subsequent statements said he did not find this disquieting since “it was, as I supposed, understood before my departure for England, although not publicly announced, that the so-called Alabama negotiations, whenever renewed, should be conducted in Washington. “With this settled, Mr. Motley felt he was secure. He settled down to other tasks.

Count Bismarck wrote him in September that the word from Washington hinted that US Minister Bancroft was to be withdrawn because “he does not represent America with sufficient worthiness.” Herr Bismarck disagreed. “This assertion will not be shared by anybody in Berlin as Bancroft stands in the highest esteem there with the whole intelligent population, particularly with the scientific world, is honored at court and in government circles, and has full confidence. It is known that he is our friend… If you can, do prevent him from being sacrificed.” Mr. Motley sent Herr Bismarck’s letter via the assistant secretary of the legation to “be placed before the President and Mr. Fish, Secretary of State.” Subsequently Herr Bismarck wrote that Minister Bancroft had assured the former that his position was now safe.

Mr. Motley had plenty of work. He spent long hours negotiating a new naturalization treaty, which was completed and sent to Washington for review and introduction to the Senate. For this he was warmly congratulated by Secretary Fish. He also sent reports on a range of subjects: an excellent portrait of Gladstone and an analysis of his policies, a telling description of the situation in Ireland, a review of the course of key legislation introduced into the Parliament and narratives of the events of the Franco-Prussian War. Because of his connections with Herr Bismarck, Mr. Motley was able to facilitate the reopening of communications during the siege of Paris between American minister Washburne and Washington.

But if Mr. Motley felt secure in England, his mentor, Senator Sumner, was not about to let him rest. A battle had begun between the senator and the administration over the President’s plan to annex the Dominican Republic through the Treaty of Santo Domingo. Mr. Sumner was not convinced that the treaty was anything more than an imperial land grab; even Secretary Fish had second thoughts. But, loyal to Grant, he worked hard, though unsuccessfully, to effect a compromise with Mr. Sumner. By early 1870 it became clear that Mr. Sumner’s opposition to the treaty had garnered a large following. Mr. Grant told his cabinet some weeks before a scheduled crucial note in the Senate that Republicans who failed to support his policies were not “entitled to influence in obtaining positions.” He added more pointedly that he would “not let those who opposed him be named Ministers to London, etc.” About this time, a kind of opera buffa took place among the inner circle on who would replace Mr. Motley. At first it was suggested that Secretary Fish be appointed once Mr. Motley was cashiered; the Secretary, perhaps in self-defense, suggested that Mr. Sumner be offered the post. Eventually, Senator Frelinghuysen of New Jersey was latched onto by the President. The administration was ready with its options.

The Senate voted on June 30, 1870, to reject the treaty. President Grant immediately ordered Mr. Motley’s recall and, in a dispatch dated July 1, 1870, the Secretary wrote Mr. Motley that the President wanted to make a change and offered him a chance to resign. Mr. Motley, surprised and shaken, refused, saying “…that as no reasons are given me (for) which I should resign… and as I am not conscious of having ever omitted to carry out, to the best of my ability, the policy and instructions of the President during the period of my mission, I fail to perceive why I should offer my resignation.” On July 14 President Grant sent Mr. Frelinghuysen’s name to the Senate. Although Senator Sumner once more took up the cudgels for the defense, the appointment was approved, with only three no votes and with Mr. Sumner’s abstention. On November 10, Minister Motley received his written recall, which began with the cheery sentence: “Here with you will receive a letter addressed by the President to Her Majesty the Queen announcing your recall.” From the shivering legation secretary in St. Petersburg to the vaunted minister to the Court of St. James, Mr. Motley had pursued the diplomatic life. But on November 10 1870, his public life, unceremoniously came to an abrupt end.

Controversy over the recall erupted almost immediately, and continued for years afterward. In December Mr. Motley sent a 62-page dispatch to Secretary Fish, titled “End of a Mission,” in which he protested his recall and recounted the events leading to the dispatch of November 10. The Secretary followed with an even longer rejoinder sent, not to Motley, who was no longer in an official position and hadn’t been when he had sent the dispatch, but to the chargé d’affaires, Benjamin Moran. Senator Sumner upbraided Mr. Grant and Mr. Fish on the Senate floor, then had the Senate publish all the documents related to the recall. In 1878 Oliver Wendell Holmes, a fellow Brahmin, wrote a memorial biography which was devoted to a defense of the former minister and a repudiation of his recall. John Jay, who had succeeded Mr. Motley in Vienna, published his own defense of him in 1877. Mr. Grant, after leaving the presidency, wrote a letter to the New York Herald reiterating that his reason for dismissing Mr. Motley was solely that he had failed to carry out his duties. Mr. Grant restated this charge a few years later in a Cairo interview, while he was on a world tour, concluding that he had no ill will toward Mr. Motley who “…like other estimable men, made mistakes, and Motley made a mistake which made him an improper person to hold office under me.”

It is clear that the immediate cause of Mr. Motley’s dismissal was not anything he had done nor failed to do; it was triggered by Mr. Sumner’s opposition to the treaty of Santo Domingo. The events immediately before and after the vote were too blatant to be explained otherwise. Mr. Grant was angered by Mr. Sumner’s opposition, and he struck back through Motley. But the latter’s conduct, particularly his stern speech to the British foreign minister and his subsequent handling of the report to Mr. Fish, did not help. He left himself open to the subsequent charge of failing to follow the instructions of his superiors; his actions did not coincide with the wishes of either Secretary Fish or the President that he keep a low profile on the matter of the Alabama claims. This weakened his case against the arbitrary dismissal, and fueled the later justification by Mr. Fish and Mr. Grant.

Mr. Motley’s problem was twofold. He was caught up in the struggle between Senator Sumner and Secretary Fish for the control of US foreign policy and, because of his precipitate action, became a pawn. Mr. Motley, moreover, could not separate his allegiance to Mr. Sumner as the friend who had procured him the appointment for his duty to the Secretary and the President. This split allegiance, though indefensible from an operational view, was nevertheless understandable. The Johnson administration had been a battleground between the executive and the legislature over the control of the federal government; it was a breathing legacy when Mr. Motley was appointed and the outcome was still in doubt.

Coupled with this predicament was Mr. Motley’s personal anger at the English establishment for its “intervention” in the Civil War. He already made known his frustration with the English actions when he was minister in Vienna. Moreover, his popular work, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, conveyed his feeling that liberty had to be fought for against the aristocratic establishment; that freedom was gained only in the struggle. Thus he chose, imprudently, to override his instructions and let the British establishment have both barrels—the diplomat became servant to the advocate.

Mr. Motely, notes a recent historian, “was bitterly and irreparably wounded” by the whole affair. He never returned to the United States save as a visitor, and made his home in England where his three daughters married and became British subjects. Shuttling between London and The Hague, he worked on his third— and last—major piece on Dutch history, The Life and Death of John Barneveld. The least commercially successful of his writings, this was thought by any contemporary historians to be his best. The queen of the Netherlands, a long-time friend, gave him a small house to use during his visits to The Hague. He also made frequent and extended visits to Herr Bismarck.

Mr. Motley’s wife, to whom he was very much attached and who provided strong support during all his tribulations, died in December 1874; it was as though the final bell had rung. He made a last visit to the United States the following year and, noted an observer, “…saw old and young friends all of whom were struck by his terrible grief and his sense of loss of reputation following the dismissal from the London legation.” Two years later, back in England, he suffered a stroke and died on May 29, 1877; he was buried next to his wife in Kensal Green Cemetery, just outside London.End.

From the last issue: The Witty US Minister to Vienna


William Sommers worked as a municipal administrator for many years in the United States and worked overseas advising on various local government assistance programs.  He and his wife, Joan, lived and worked in Poland, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Egypt and Hungary.  Sommers’ last overseas assignment was in Bosnia.

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