United States Passport 1902 issued at the Embassy in London
Joseph H. Choate (1832-1917), a diplomat and lawyer
Joseph H. Choate (1832-1917), a diplomat and lawyer, was considered the quintessential New Englander, though much of his life was spent in New York City at the apogee of America’s Gilded Age. As a partner in a successful law practice there, Choate was involved in some of the country’s most publicized legal cases during the latter decades of the nineteenth century. President William McKinley named him U.S. ambassador to Great Britain in 1899, where he proved himself a skilled diplomat.
Served Six Years as Ambassador
In 1899 Choate was appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James, one of the most coveted of all diplomatic postings, by President McKinley. The appointment aroused an outcry from some Irish-Americans, and one journal termed it “a cruel insult” on the part of McKinley. Choate met both Queen Victoria and her successor, Edward VII. His six years in London were marked by several notable diplomatic achievements, including the settling of a boundary dispute between the United States and Canada over the Alaska Territory. The contested area was near to the gold discoveries of the Klondike in the mid-1890s, and a Joint High Commission in 1898 had failed to reach agreement. A new tribunal was called, consisting of three English jurists and three American counterparts, and Canada was initially confident that Britain would support its claims. Thanks to Choate’s work, however, Britain decided that maintaining good relations with the United States was paramount, and the 1903 ruling decided in favor of the American claims.
Choate was also a vital part of settling preliminary negotiations over a planned Panama Canal. The United States desired full control, but the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, between United States and Great Britain, specified that any canal built through the Central American isthmus would be jointly controlled by both nations. U.S. Secretary of State John Hay directed Choate to nullify the terms of that treaty by securing Britain’s acquiescence to the American promise that the canal would give ships of all nations free and open passage. Choate also helped with Hay’s “Open Door” policy regarding freedom of trade in China. Some European powers were against it, since they had made their own agreements with the Chinese government, but the American ambassador secured Great Britain’s acceptance of the free trade agreement.
The Library of Congress keeps Joseph Hodges Choate papers.