Messersmith, George S. (George Strausser), 1883-1960

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The career of George Strausser Messersmith explodes the myth of the diplomat as "cookie pusher." Although he enjoyed social life, and he and Mrs. Messersmith entertained frequently, he was also a hard worker, spending long hours at his desk every day.

Born in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania in 1883, Messersmith spent his early years in Pennsylvania, and after graduating from Keystone State Normal School in 1900, he studied at Delaware College, now the University of Delaware. For several years he held various positions as teacher and administrator in the Delaware school systems. In 1914 he married Marion Lee Mustard, and in the same year he entered the Foreign Service.

His first assignment was to a consular post in Fort Erie, Canada, where Messersmith said there was so little to do that he spent most of his time studying the Foreign Service regulations. On leaving the post in 1916, he recommended that the consulate there be closed as there was no real need for it, and his recommendation was accepted. He spent the years of World War I as Consul at Curacao in the Netherlands West Indies, where he discovered a secret German code, which enabled authorities in the United States to arrest and deport a number of enemy agents. From 1919 to 1928 Messersmith served first as Consul then as Consul General in Antwerp. From there he was sent to Buenos Aires as Consul General, thence to Berlin as Consul General in 1930. In 1934 he was named Minister to Austria, a post he held until 1937, when he was called back to America to serve as Assistant Secretary of State, with the specific duty of reorganizing the administration of the State Department, and he is said to have "streamlined" the Department. In 1940 he was posted as Ambassador to Cuba, where he remained until the end of 1941, when he was the President's choice for Ambassador to Mexico. At the end of World War II, relations between Argentina and the United States were strained, and it was the decision of President Truman and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes early in 1946 to send Messersmith to Buenos Aires as Ambassador, with expressed charge of improving relations between the two countries, and bringing Argentina into line with the other American republics. After completing his mission there in 1947, Messersmith retired from the Foreign Service. His administrative abilities having been recognized, he was offered the position of Chairman of the Board of Mexican Light and Power Company, and served successfully in that capacity until his retirement from the Company in 1955. He died in Mexico in 1960.

It may be safely said that, with the exception of Germany, each country in which Messersmith served was on better terms with the United States when he left than when he arrived. Even in Germany, the Nazis respected him because he stood his ground with them, although it was reported that Hitler "frothed at the mouth" when Messersmith's name was mentioned. As frankly as he spoke to various Nazi officials, it is significant that he was able to remain on speaking terms with them, for it was necessary to deal with them in order to protect American interests. It was said of Sumner Welles that he knew five languages well, but could hold his tongue in all fo them. Messersmith certainly knew four languages well, and held his tongue in none of them, unless it was the better part of diplomacy to do so.

At his several posts in Latin America, Messersmith was a staunch supporter of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy," and a believer in the importance of hemisphere solidarity. While recognizing that his first duty was to his won government, he was sensitive to the rights and needs of the countries to which he was posted and insisted on their fair treatment. He felt that although the United States should take the lead in inter-American affairs, she should do so unobtrusively, and not appear to carry a "big stick."

In the matter of career diplomats as opposed to political appointees, Messersmith usually favored the career man. He recognized, however, the occasional necessity for the appointment of other than career Foreign Service officers, when someone with special abilities was needed, and there was no one available within the Service, but he was unalterably opposed to awarding ambassadorships to pay off political debts.

A keen observer, Messersmith reported in detail on events and conditions as he saw them. His colleagues in the State Department sometimes complained of the length of his letters and despatches, but they all agreed on the usefulness of his reports. During the early years of the Hitler regime, he predicted with great accuracy the course of events in Europe unless Hitler and the Nazi Party were overthrown before they acquired greater power. He even said, "It is better to fight a small war now than a catastrophic one later," and because of the statement was accused of being a war-monger. His observations and comments on the character and ability of many of the people with whom he came in contact are very illuminating. One's first impression on reading Messersmith's letters and despatches is that he is somewhat pompous and pedantic, but occasionally his warmth shows through. Certainly he had many friends who not only admired him but regarded him with affection, from Roosevelt and Cordell Hull, to ex-King Carol of Rumania, to Adolf, a messenger in the American legation in Austria. His sympathy for the Jewish people during their persecution was as obvious as his hatred of the Nazis, and he helped when it was possible. It is said that many people who are alive today owe their lives to Messersmith.

During his lifetime, Messersmith exerted a definite influence on world affairs. His opinion and advice on many questions were sought and usually accepted, but, it must be admitted, he did not always wait to be asked. Perhaps future historians will recognize his contributions and accord him the place in history he must certainly deserves.

Biographical note written by Ruth Alford, May 1973.

From the guide to the George S. Messersmith papers, 1907-1955, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf George S. Messersmith papers, 1907-1955 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
creatorOf Messersmith, George S., 1883-. Letter, 1939, Nov. 14, Washington, D. C., to Merrill Moore. Brown University, John Hay Library
referencedIn George S. Messersmith papers, 1907-1955 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
referencedIn Henderson, Loy W. (Loy Wesley), 1892-1986. Papers, 1918-1978 (bulk 1938-1957). Library of Congress
referencedIn Armstrong, Hamilton Fish, 1893-1973. Hamilton Fish Armstrong papers, 1893-1973 (bulk 1916-1973). Princeton University Library
referencedIn John Flournoy Montgomery papers, 1933-1939 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Wiley, John C. (John Cooper), 1893-1967. Papers, 1898-1967. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Arthur Bliss Lane papers, 1904-1957 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library.
referencedIn Martha Lipmann Collection, 1927-1980, bulk 1936-1942 Leo Baeck Institute Archives
referencedIn Papers, 1876-1960 Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Burlingham, Charles Culp, 1858-1959. Papers of Charles C. Burlingham, 1876-1960 (inclusive), 1920-1958 (bulk). Harvard Law School Library, HLS Library
referencedIn Lane, Arthur Bliss, 1894-1956. Arthur Bliss Lane papers, 1904-1957 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Oswald Garrison Villard papers, 1872-1949. Houghton Library.
referencedIn New York Times Company records. Arthur Hays Sulzberger papers, 1823-1999 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Long, Breckinridge, 1881-1958. Breckinridge Long papers, 1486-1948 (bulk 1910-1948). Library of Congress
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library.
referencedIn Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations. 1716 - 1994. Moving Images Relating to International Relations with Mexico. 1944 - 1978. U.S. and Mexico Sign Treaty for Mutual Use of Rivers' Waters
referencedIn Henderson, Loy W. (Loy Wesley), 1892-1986. Papers of Loy W. Henderson, 1918-1984 (bulk 1938-1957). Library of Congress
referencedIn Breckinridge Long Papers, 1486-1948, (bulk 1910-1948) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Montgomery, John Flournoy, 1878-1954. John Flournoy Montgomery papers, 1933-1939 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Bullitt, William C. (William Christian), 1891-1967. William C. Bullitt papers, 1813-1998 (inclusive), 1909-1967 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn Loy W. Henderson Papers, 1918-1984, (bulk 1938-1957) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Harrison, Leland, 1883-1951. Papers of Leland Harrison, 1915-1947 (bulk 1918-1921). Library of Congress
referencedIn Hamilton Fish Armstrong Papers, 1893-1973, 1916-1973 Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections.Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Public Policy Papers.
referencedIn Wayne C. Taylor Papers, 1927-1960, 1940-1955 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Latin America
Argentina
Germany
Austria
Cuba
Europe
United States
Mexico
Subject
Statesmen--United States--Correspondence
National socialism--History
Church and state--Germany
Jews--Persecutions
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1883-10-03

Death 1960-01-29

English

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