Archibald Cary Coolidge


Photo: The Trustees of Reservations, Archives & Research Center

American historian, librarian and diplomat. He came from the Boston elite. His father was related to President Thomas Jefferson, while his mother was the daughter of an ­industrial magnate.­ Like his parents, he graduated from Harvard University, with which he was professionally affiliated since 1883 – as a professor of history (since 1908) and long-time director of the university library (since 1910). He also pursued an academic career at European universities in France and Germany, including the Albrecht and Ludwig University in Freiburg, where he received his doctorate (in 1892).

His scholarly work included international relations ­and the history of international politics. Among other ­books, he published The United States as a World Power (1908) – which saw ten reprintings before the author’s death ­– as well as: The Origins of the Triple Alliance (1917) and Ten Years of War and Peace (1927). He is considered the founding father of Russia studies in the United States. His students included many well-known historians focusing on Eastern Europe, including Robert Howard Lord.

While at European universities, he also worked in ­American diplomacy­, including US diplomatic missions in Russia (1890–91), France (1892) and Austria-Hungary (1893). In 1917, ­he was appointed to President Woodrow Wilson’s ­group of advisors, the , as chairman of the Eastern Europe section. During the , he participated in missions to Russia, the ­successor states of the ­Austro-Hungarian monarchy and the Balkan states. In the years 1922–28, he was the first publisher of The Foreign Affairs ­magazine – the voice of the American foreign policy establishment.


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Vienna, May 1919: Archibald Cary Coolidge posing with members of his mission. Source: National Archives at College Park

Nationality and the new Europe

Everywhere in Europe today where we find two nationalities in considerable numbers in the same state, the outlook is discouraging. In Russia and Germany, the minorities have been frankly oppressed; in Austria-Hungary, the various peoples are in fierce antagonism with one another; in Belgium, the Flemish movement, however justified, has threatened the future of the kingdom; and even in Switzerland, where, thanks to a federal constitution and a splendid common patriotism and pride, representatives of three great nationalities have lived on an equal footing in such harmony as nowhere else, there has been increasing friction in the last few years between the French and the German elements. The circumstance that in the present war their respective sympathies are, as is natural, on the side of the belligerent whose language they speak, can hardly contribute to good feeling between themselves.

But granting that it would be desirable that in the Europe of the future each national group should be as far as possible self-governing, there is an obvious limit to the principle. Under modern conditions, a state, and particularly an inland state, requires a certain size for independent political and economic existence. In these days of large countries, such isolated groups as the Saxons in Transylvania, the Slovaks in North Hungary, the Wends in the Lausitz, the Basques in France and Spain, cannot be expected to exist as independent communities; indeed they have no desire to. All they ask for is certain local privileges, but it is doubtful whether these can be preserved much longer. The future seems to offer little promise to small detached minorities, however historically or culturally interesting. […]

No people, not even the Belgians, are more to be pitied in the present war than are the Poles. Not only is a great part of their country the fighting ground for huge armies and suffering terribly in the process, but they themselves, whatever their sympathies may be, are forced into the hosts on both sides and are killing one another at the behest of foreign masters. […]

It is at least some compensation that, whichever side wins, the Poles may hope for an amelioration of their present lot and perhaps the revival of a Polish state – though hardly an independent one, and not in either case with the boundaries desired by Polish patriots. If the victory goes to Germany and Austria, it is quite likely we shall witness a new kingdom of Poland as part of the federal empire of the Hapsburgs or under a Hapsburg prince. This kingdom would be made up of Galicia and of such part of Poland as could be taken away from Russia. To be sure, Germany would scarcely view the new state with favor on account of the attraction it would exercise on her own Polish subjects, and she certainly would not give up any of them for its sake. This Polish kingdom would also include a considerable disaffected element, the Ruthenian or Little Russian population of the eastern half of Galicia, which in recent years has been growing increasingly anti-Polish in spite of its Polish aristocracy.

On the other hand, Russia has promised, in the event of her success, an autonomous Poland to include and unite practically the whole Polish nation. This would mean, in addition to the strictly Polish provinces of Russia, much at least of the Polish parts of Prussia as well as western Galicia, but it would not include eastern Galicia, which would be treated as being Russian, not Polish. Such a provision would not please the Polish upper class there, nor the Poles anywhere, and probably none too well the mass of the population, for today the language of the Little Russians enjoys greater rights in Austria than it does on the Muscovite side of the frontier, where it is treated as a mere dialect of Russian proper, and suppressed as far as possible for fear it may endanger the unity of the national language. Besides that, the Little Russians in eastern Galicia belong not to the Greek Orthodox, but to the United Greek church, one which the Russian government has in the past treated as having no real right to exist. […]

But all such speculations about the future have an element of futility in them. The great conflict now raging in Europe still has surprises in store for us, and when the time comes to fix the terms of peace, the rulers and statesmen who have to formulate and to agree to them will not be as free to follow their fancies as are irresponsible map-makers. Perchance when peace is at last made, it will be based on no principles except those of common exhaustion and of beati possidentes. But the fact that the rights, the aspirations, the dreams of so many nations and interesting nationalities, large and small, are now at stake is one reason why the present gigantic struggle makes such deep appeal to the imagination and the sympathies of all of us.

source: Coolidge, Archibald Cary. “Nationality and the New Europe” [Yale Review vol. 4, 1914/1915] in: idem Ten Years of War and Peace Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927.