Robert Lansing


Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress, LC-B2- 4817-9 [P&P]

American lawyer and diplomat, US Secretary of State (1915–20). He was born in Watertown, New York, to ­a family belonging to the local establishment, as the son of John Lansing and Maria Lay Dodge. He graduated from the prestigious Amherst College in 1886 and began practicing law three years later. In 1890, he married Eleanor ­Foster – daughter of Secretary of State John Watson Foster and sister-in-law of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

From 1889 to 1907, he worked in his own law firm, Lansing ­& Lansing. As a recognized expert in international law, ­he represented the United States in numerous arbitration proceedings. He also played an important role in establishing the American Society of International Law (1906) and founding the American Journal of International Law (1907).

In 1914 Lansing began working as a legal advisor in the State Department, while a year later he became the Secretary of State. In 1919 he was a member of the American delegation to the . Because of ­political differences with President Woodrow Wilson (including over the importance of establishing the League of Nations), Lansing was not among the key figures shaping the American negotiating position. In 1920 President Wilson forced him to resign, accusing him of usurping ­presidential prerogatives during his illness. After leaving the State Department, Lansing returned to the practice of law. He wrote two books on the Paris negotiations The Big Four and Others at the Peace Conference (1921) and The Peace Negotiations: A Personal Narrative (1921).


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July 23, 1919: Robert Lansing. Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress, LC-B2- 4976-13 [P&P]

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Washington, DC, April 22, 1917 - Robert Lansing (right) and Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Minister. Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress, LC-B2- 4190-14 [P&P]

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Robert Lansing (fourth from the left) as Secretary of State among politicians, diplomats and military officers. Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress, LC-B2- 4190-9 [P&P]

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1917: Robert Lansing at his desk. Photo: Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress, LC-H261- 6733 [P&P]

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Paris, December 18, 1918: Left to right: Colonel Edward Mandell House (advisor to the U.S. President), Robert Lansing (Secretary of State), Woodrow Wilson (U.S. President), Henry White (diplomat), General Tasker Howard Bliss. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-80161

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1917: Secretary of State Robert Lansing at work. Source: National Archives at College Park

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First half of December 1918: Robert Lansing and his wife on a ship en route to Paris. Source: National Archives at College Park

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Paris, December 16, 1918: Secretary of State Robert Lansing accompanied by military officers and diplomats. Source: National Archives at College Park

My meeting with the pianist and the statesman

Among the statesmen who assembled in Paris […] to formulate the terms of peace to be imposed on the defeated Powers of Central Europe, Ignace Jan Paderewski, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Premier of the new-born Republic of Poland, was a notable figure, not only because of his personality, but because he represented a country which, through its fortitude and faith in spite of the inconceivable agonies which its people endured during the war, had won back its national life and independence torn from it over a hundred years ago by the greed and jealousies of the two Central Powers and Russia. […]

My original impression was not one of a complimentary nature in view of the task which he had undertaken in behalf of his country. It was due undoubtedly to the fact that he was a great pianist, the greatest, I believe, of his generation. I felt that his artistic temperament, his passionate devotion to music, his intense emotions, and his reputed eccentricities indicated a lack of the qualities of mind which made it possible for him to deal with the intricate political problems which it would be necessary to solve in the restoration of Polish independence and the revival of Polish sovereignty.

When the famous musician came to see me in my office at the Department of State, as he did on many occasions after the United States had entered the war, for the purpose of pleading the cause of his country and of obtaining consent to the recruiting of a Polish army in the United States, I could not avoid the thought that his emotions were leading him into a path which he was wholly unsuited to follow. […] My feeling was that I had to deal with one given over to extravagant ideals, to the visions and fantasies of a person controlled by his emotional impulses rather than by his reason and the actualities of life. […]

This was my early impression of Mr. Paderewski. It was only with time and with a fuller knowledge of the man that I learned how wrong this impression was and how completely I had failed to estimate correctly his attainments and his real mental strength. […]

My second impression – and it is the impression that I still hold – was that Ignace Paderewski was a greater statesman than he was a musician, that he was an able and tactful leader of his countrymen and a sagacious diplomat, and that his emotional temperament, while it intensified his patriotic zeal and his spirit of self-sacrifice, never controlled or adversely affected the soundness of his judgment or his practical point of view.

The first direct evidence of his capacity as a leader which impressed me was his successful effort to unite the jealous and bickering Polish factions in the United States and to obtain their common acceptance of the authority of the National Polish Council in Paris. […] I am convinced that Mr. Paderewski was the only Pole who could have overcome this menace to the cause of Poland, a menace since it seriously impaired the possibility of the recognition of the National Council at Paris by the Allies. His powers of persuasion, which seemed to spring at once into being with his entry upon a political career, his enthusiastic confidence in the resurrection of Poland as an independent state, and his entire freedom from personal ambition made him the one man about whom the Poles, regardless of faction, appeared to be willing to rally. […]

From the time that Mr. Paderewski assumed a commanding position in the affairs of Poland my early impression of him began to change. […]

If I had needed further proofs to induce me to revise my impression of the Polish leader who had done so much for his country in connection with the Polish movement in the United States, where his patriotic fervor was a constant inspiration to his countrymen, his subsequent conduct in Warsaw and Paris would have been all-sufficient for that purpose. Without change in the simplicity and frankness of his nature or in his unaffected geniality, he showed a poise of character in dealing with subjects vital to the future of Poland, a conservative judgment, and a calm and unexcitable manner of discussing matters of difference, which gave weight to his words and added greatly to his influence as a negotiator. […]

How fitting it was that Mr. Paderewski should be the one to sign, in behalf of Poland, the treaty that broke the shackles which she had worn so long and which proclaimed to all the world that Polish independence was an accomplished fact. Imagine, if you can, the thoughts and emotions of the eminent Pole as he advanced to the table in the center of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles and affixed his signature to the document that bore witness to the triumph of the cause to which he had given his all. The 28th of June, 1919, was a great day to the delegates of the assembled nations, but it was the greatest in the life of Ignace Paderewski.

What Mr. Paderewski has done for Poland will cause eternal gratitude. What he gave up for Poland will cause widespread regret. His response to the cry of his country suffering in the throes of its rebirth is one of the finest examples of true patriotism that an historian has ever had the privilege to chronicle. His career is one which deserves to be remembered not only by his countrymen, for whom he did so much, but by every man, to whom love of country and loyalty to a great cause stand forth as the noblest attributes of human character. […]

In addition to the attraction of his personality there was an increasing admiration and respect for the man as a leader of public thought and as a diplomat who would not resort to deceit or intrigue in seeking to obtain his ends, however laudable those ends might be or however strong the temptation to use any means to attain them. Honesty of means as well as honesty of purpose was evident in his conduct as a negotiator. If he misstated a fact, one felt instinctively that it was the result of incomplete knowledge or erroneous information, and was not an intentional suppression or perversion of the truth. Confidence in his integrity was the natural consequence of acquaintance and intercourse with Mr. Paderewski, and it was the universality of this confidence that made him so influential with the delegates to the Peace Conference.

source: Lansing, Robert. “The Big Four and Others of the Peace Conference”, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921.