Hugh Gibson


Photo: Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress; LC-H25- 43883-BD [P&P]

American diplomat. He was born in Los ­Angeles as the son of Francis and Mary Simons Gibson – his father was a banker and businessman, while his mother was a teacher. After his father’s untimely death in 1901, Gibson’s mother sold the family estate and took her son on a tour of Europe. In 1907. Hugh Gibson graduated from the Institute of Political Science in Paris. A year later, he joined the diplomatic service and spent time in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, as secretary of the US embassy. In the following years, he worked in diplomatic missions in London, Havana and Brussels, also alongside important figures in American diplomacy and the military.

Since 1918 he served as First Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in ­Paris, and in this role he assisted Herbert Hoover in the ­food­ aid operation ­for war-ravaged Europe. As part of this effort, in 1919 he took part in an Allied mission to the successor states of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy­. ­In the same year, on Hoover’s recommendation, he was promoted to the position of minister plenipotentiary in Poland, which he held until 1924 (his activity in this role is documented in the book An American in Warsaw, Polish edition 2018).

In the following years he headed US diplomatic missions in Bern (1924–27) and to the League of Nations (in 1924), as well as in Brussels (1927–33), Rio de Janeiro (1933–37) and again in Brussels (1937–38). In the 1920s and 1930s he participated in several rounds of disarmament negotiations in Geneva. In addition to his diplomatic work, he pursued an academic career, receiving doctoral degrees in diplomacy and political science (1928, Catholic University of Louvain) and law (1930, Free ­University of ­Brussels; 1931, Yale University).­ He retired in 1938 after refusing to become ambassador to Nazi Germany. During World War II, he again became involved in aid missions to Eastern Europe, including the Hoover effort.

Gibson was known for his extraordinary sense of humor, ­breaking the rigid conventions of the diplomatic world. He authored several books, including A Journal from Our Legation in Belgium (1919) and The Basis of Lasting Peace (1945), written with Herbert Hoover.


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1917: Hugh Simons Gibson (first right) among members of the Belgian mission to the United States and American officials. Photo: Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress; LC-H261- 8951 [P&P]

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Warsaw, October 29, 1922: Hugh Simons Gibson at the unveiling of the Monument of Gratitude to America. Photo: Hoover Institution Archives

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Early to mid-1920s: Hugh Simons Gibson. Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress; LC-B2- 5867-12 [P&P]

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Washington, DC, early to mid-1920s: Hugh Simons Gibson with his wife Mary at the White House. Photo: Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress; LC-H27- A-4169 [P&P]

American liaison

[Paris] November 17, 1918

[…] In the morning […] Walter [Lippmann] phoned that he had a man just in from Galicia with good information of the sort we wanted. I bad him bring the wanderer to lunch and he came up before noon with Voska and his prize, a little man named Rose who has been in Poland for some years. […]

It was a long story. […] He [Rose] says the only hope for Poland and the countries similarly situated is to rush in Polish and Czech troops to form a nucleus of organization around which decent elements can gather. He is also anxious that American troops should be sent in as a concrete evidence that we support them. I asked him to prepare a memorandum setting forth just what practical steps should be taken and this he has promised to do at once. I also asked him to tell what he could about food and political conditions.

Vienna, January 8, 1919

[…] Our Polish Lt., whom I ran into in the corridor of the Sacher [Hotel] tells me that there has been a serious coup d’etat at Warsaw and that all communication with Cracow has been out. He has been trying to get messages through in order to arrange for the train of the British Mission. The uprising was led by a cousin of his who has been arrested. The uncle of both of them, the Prince Archbishop of Cracow, has held a thanksgiving service for the failure of the uprising headed by his own nephew. Some family. […]

Prague, January 26, 1919

[…] On the last Thursday, four Allied officers, French, British, Italian and Lt. [Arthur] Voska for the Americans, appeared at Karwin in Silesia and ordered the Polish Commander on behalf of the to withdraw his forces within the space of two hours. If the ultimatum was not complied with, Czech troops were to attack. The Polish Commander replied that he could not take any action in the matter without orders from Warsaw but that he would immediately communicate with Warsaw by telephone and make a reply. Within one hour and a half, although no reply was received from Warsaw, the Czech troops advanced, attacked and drove out the Poles, killing some and taking a number of prisoners. As soon as the occupation had been effected a proclamation, copy of which is attached, was posted in Karwin, signed by the officers, including Voska, proclaiming to the inhabitants the necessity for the occupation of the coal regions by the Czechs and urging the people to obey the new Czech Government.

On hearing of these developments on Thursday night, Paderewski asked the members of the Missions in Warsaw to proceed to Karwin and inquire into the matter. […] After some parley with the Czechs and some rather lively repartee, they were allowed to cross the lines by daylight on Saturday and interviews the officers who had issued the ultimatum.

On being questioned as to the authority under which they had acted, the French, British and Italian officers said that they had taken their orders from the Czecho-Slovak War Office, under which they were assigned. […] Both the French and American representative are to all intents and purposes Czechs and the Polish Commander made the somewhat justifiable mistake of thinking they were Czechis officers in Allied uniforms. He accordingly so reported to Warsaw and Paderewski had replied that he should “meet violence with violence” and arrest those people for transportation to Warsaw. Rather loose orders were issued and Captain Karmazin, a perfectly innocent bystander, was pulled out of his room in Karwin and marched through the streets to Polish headquarters, after which there were no apologies. […]

[Paris] April 23, 1919

[…] Paderewski stated that he felt the most difficult questions for Poland from now on were her economic problems and that he was anxious for a good American financial advisor to tackle the currency and exchange questions, etc. […]

In the course of the evening in talking of the feeling in Poland toward the President, Paderewski told of a village now in dispute between the Poles and Czechs which had raised a fund and sent the Priest and an old peasant all the way to Paris just so that they might look upon the President and go back and tell the villagers about it. […] […] These old boys had come to the Crillon and asked to see him, that they had explained to him how the money for their trip had been raised by popular subscription, and that they desired to but look at the President so that they might return home and rejoice the hearts of all the merry villagers. He was greatly touched and had taken the matter up with the President who immediately asked to have them sent up to see him. […] Once they got in the room with the President, each of them took him firmly by the hand and stroked it while they filled him up with a carefully rehearsed lot of talk to the effect that their villages should belong to the Poles instead of to the Czechs. It was a very shrewd and clever way of doing it, as if they had asked to see the President to discuss this matter he would certainly have referred them to somebody in the Peace Commission, but there was no escape for him once they got it. He was touched and amused and sent for Mrs. Wilson to come and talk to the old men. They gained their point for he promised to look into the special claims of their own villages and when they go home they will be real heroes.

We talked of the possibility of an agreement of some sort between the Poles and Czechs in regard to the Teschen territory. Paderewski said that such an agreement might be possible if some time were allowed in which to arrange it. He said that both sides had such high feeling in regard to the matter that any decision reached by the Peace Conference or by mutual agreement would cause popular uproar and possibly trouble and that it was very desirable that no decision be announced for some time to come.

source: Hoover Institution Archives, Register of the Hugh Gibson papers, boxes 68–70 (selected by Vivian Hux Reed).