At the 2017 SHAFR conference, I participated in a panel entitled “The Gift of Giving? Aid and Emotion in U.S. Foreign Relations,” which united alumni of the 2012 SHAFR Summer Institute, including Institute organizers Frank Costigliola and Andy Rotter. My co-panelists included Shaul Mitelpunkt, Elisabeth Piller, and David Greenstein, and our commentator was Barbara Keys.
My contribution was titled “’The sympathies of the Consul are strongly aroused’: Contemplating US Consuls’ Out-of-pocket Aid to Americans in Distress Abroad in 1902,” and it was based on responses to a survey that the State Department conducted in early 1903. Unlike the governments of many other states, including the Great Powers, the US government did not have a public fund for assisting the return to the United States of Americans who fell into financial destitution abroad, or for short-term relief of such people. A few consuls in larger cities with significant numbers of Americans could call on private American aid societies to offer such assistance, but most consuls had to pay out of their own pocket. If they refused to pay, they risked criticism from their local hosts and the press back home.
In their responses to the survey, consuls expressed a wide variety of emotions, but frustration was perhaps the most frequently in evidence. Consuls were annoyed with the large numbers of people who came to ask for help, disrupting the routine of the office. Many who asked for help were professional fraudsters, and consuls were frustrated when they were conned, though most seemed to take that as par for the course. “Tramps” came in for particular opprobrium, and consuls expressed a range of reactions, from those who always gave tramps money to get them moving out of the district to those who refused all requests and made statements that expressed deeply held class prejudices.
I am working on an article based on this material. And since I can’t do a post without a visualization, here’s another work in progress coming out of these records: consulates with typewriters in 1903.