Diplomacy Stories

Flags of the US - American Polish exhibit
Poles and Americans: A Centennial of Friendship
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America played an important role in Poland’s regaining its independence following World War I. On January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson, inspired by the Polish statesman and virtuoso Ignacy Jan Paderewski, announced his famous “Fourteen Points” before a joint session of Congress. Today, the U.S.-Poland partnership is expressed in many concrete ways, from the Warsaw Process to promote peace and security in the Middle East, to mutual defense cooperation, to strengthening commerce and trade links and enhancing energy security.

Fittingly, 2019 marks the centennial of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Poland and the United States. To celebrate this unique anniversary, a panel display presented by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland – “Poles and Americans: A Centennial of Friendship” – is on view in the Spotlight on Diplomacy corner at the National Museum of American Diplomacy. Showcasing a brief overview of both past and current diplomatic relations between our two countries, the display is viewable until October 4th, 2019, and is open to the public between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (visitors must pass through a security screening).

Passport, Diplomacy Center, Rufus King
Piracy and Passports: How American merchants protected themselves from capture and enslavement
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May 13 marks the 218th anniversary of President Thomas Jefferson ordering U.S. naval vessels to stop Barbary interference with American trade in the Mediterranean. Jefferson’s decision to use force against the Barbary nations of Algiers and Tripoli (semi-autonomous Ottoman Empire states) came after 15 years of negotiations and the Americans’ refusal to continue paying monetary tribute as the price for trading unmolested.

Prior to the early 1780s, American merchants enjoyed trading wheat, flour, and pickled fish throughout the Mediterranean in return for wine and salt under the protection of the British navy. Once the colonies won their independence, they lost this protection and fell prey to Barbary pirates lying in wait at the mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar. These “pirates” — as the western world called them — were actually corsairs or privateers. Pirates are rogue actors not beholden to any nation and operate illegally, while corsairs are ship owners who work for and split their profits with the head of government. But to Americans, who believed firmly in free trade, the kidnapping of sailors and theft of ships was nothing less than piracy. Unfortunately, without a navy to protect private shipping, there was nothing American merchants could do except to try and negotiate treaties agreeing to pay enormous sums of money. U.S. diplomats accomplished such treaties with Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis in 1796 and 1797. The diplomats agreed to pay ransom for 89 American sailors (some which had been held for 11 years) and a yearly tribute amounting to about 16 percent of the entire appropriated U.S. budget.

The years following these initial treaties were a tense period for American merchants and sailors, especially those who had been previously captured. If their ship fell into the hands of Barbary corsairs, they would need to prove their American identity, which a passport could provide. Before 1941, the United States did not require its citizens to carry a passport for travel except during wartime, making passports from the late 18th century/early 19th century extremely rare.

Rufus King, then American minister to Great Britain, issued this 1798 passport to David Hinckley, a wealthy Boston merchant who traveled frequently to London on business. It is the oldest in our extensive collection and also one of the more intriguing. Barbary corsairs had captured David Hinckley in the early 1790s, enslaving him into hard labor for two years until diplomats secured his freedom through ransom. In 1798, Hinckley ensured he had an official U.S. government passport on his person to prove he was an American citizen and protected under the 1796 and 1797 treaties.

Passports would not, however, provide protection if nations broke treaties. The United States government quickly fell behind on its payments and the Barbary States resumed piracy around 1800. But unlike the 1780s, the United States had built a navy and Thomas Jefferson was ready to use it in defense of American trade without tribute. The First and Second Barbary Wars (1801-1805 & 1815) concluded favorably for the United States and diplomats drew up new treaties declaring that none of the nations would show any “favor or privilege in navigation or commerce” to any particular country. And cautious traders, like David Hinckley, could now travel more safely in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, with or without passport in hand.

Crowd of soldiers walk by citizens in a black and white photo with Austrian Alps in background
Medal of Freedom
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The Consulate General had its windows and doors blown in or out several times, and all of us had narrow escapes, but no one was actually hit, a miracle in view of the thousands of flying and rocket bombs directed our way. We owe our lives to Divine intervention and to the efficiency of the 50th American Anti-Aircraft Brigade under the able command of Brigadier General Clare H. Armstrong.

James H. Keeley, quoted in Foreign Service Journal, September 1945

a bronze medal on a gray background

James H. Keeley, American Civilian, for exceptionally meritorious achievement which aided the United States in the prosecution of the war against the enemy in Continental Europe, as United States Consul-General, Antwerp, Belgium, from 7 November 1944 to 30 March 1945. He contributed greatly to the maintaining of security and the averting of panic among the civilian population of Antwerp. His successful efforts greatly aided the war effort and reflect high credit upon him. 29 Nov 1945

May 8th is celebrated in Europe and in the United States as Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day. On this day in 1945, the Allied forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, paving the way for the end of World War II.

During the war, the port of Antwerp, Belgium was crucial for logistical support for Allied forces. On October 12, 1944, Nazi forces commenced V-bomb attacks on both Antwerp and London. Known as Vergeltungswaffe (vengeance weapon), V-bombs were imprecise and killed almost exclusively civilians. By March 1945, more V-bombs had fallen on greater Antwerp than London.

The V-bomb attacks in Antwerp killed more than 3,400 civilians and 700 allied service personnel. In almost six months of terror, there were just 12 days when no bombs fell.

During this entire time, Foreign Service Officer James H. Keeley bravely served as Consul General at U.S. Consulate Antwerp. For his successful efforts during wartime, President Truman awarded him this Medal of Freedom in 1945. Keeley is credited as contributing “…greatly to the maintaining of security and the averting of panic among the civilian population of Antwerp.” Keeley also gave credit to the bravery and endurance of the local Belgian consulate staff who did not leave the post.

Patti Morton stands smiling next to Diplomacy Center Mary Kane
Director’s Note: A Conversation with “Pistol Packin’ Patti”
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Patti Morton (right) is presented with a Meritorious Step Increase award by Chief of Mission Hank Cohen in Kinshasa, 1968. Morton received this award for the excellent quality of her work as post security officer, which she took on in addition to her regular duties as secretary to the Administrative Counselor.

Patti Morton (1935 – 2019), pictured right, is presented with a Meritorious Step Increase award by Chief of Mission Hank Cohen in Kinshasa, 1968. Morton received this award for the excellent quality of her work as post security officer, which she took on in addition to her regular duties as secretary to the Administrative Counselor.

“When I think of being the first woman security officer, what I think of most is I hope I have done the best job I can, and that it will be easier for those who follow.”

– Patricia Anne (Patti) Morton (1935 – 2019), first female Department of State Special Agent

Being the first female special agent, Patti Morton was very aware of the legacy she would leave for women.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Patricia Anne (Patti) Morton,  the first female Diplomatic Security special agent at the State Department.  Recruited as a special agent in 1972, Morton had previously served as a Foreign Service Staff Officer at several diplomatic posts and had received a commendation for her security work in Kinshasa. Patti generously has donated several artifacts to the National Museum of American Diplomacy museum that illustrate her remarkable career.

At the time she was recruited, Diplomatic Security did not issue gun holsters that could be worn practically by a woman. She found her own solution for carrying her DS-issued .357 Magnum revolver by using this dark blue clutch, which she has donated to the Diplomacy Center museum. Morton pointed out how tricky it was to quickly draw her pistol from a clutch when the need arose. While serving as a special agent, she earned the title “Pistol Packin’ Patti.”

Patti served at U.S. Embassy Saigon as the first female Regional Security Officer. Her duties included supervising the Marine security guards who guarded the embassy. The Marines gave her a camouflage uniform (including a matching elastic hair band) to wear the first time they took her to the shooting range, wanting her to fit in. Though she admitted not knowing where she learned to shoot a gun, she became known for being an excellent shot.

While in Vietnam, she wrote the post’s evacuation plan, which was significant as it was put to use during the fall of Saigon in April 1975 and the ultimate evacuation and closure of the embassy. To her surprise, she was told to evacuate Saigon a few weeks before the city fell. She had to leave without any of her household effects, which were never returned to her.  

In her work as a Regional Security Officer, Patti often led security training sessions and briefings for embassy staff and family members. Patti used these cars to train people at post on defensive driving techniques. If someone was being hijacked or robbed, she showed them how to hit the right points of the cars using these cars as examples. It helped not only the drivers, but also the riders who could give instructions to the drivers on what to do. She said that she would often train the wives of ambassadors, and when the Ambassador’s found out, they started coming to her sessions too. In 2016, she donated this set of toy cars to the Diplomacy Center museum.

In her work as a special agent, Patti also used objects to “show and tell” about security measures. She donated to the Diplomacy Center museum a section of bullet-proof glass with an embedded bullet that was stopped by the protective glass. It was given to her at a post to use as an example in her future travels to other U.S. posts abroad and in training sessions about security measures.  

Back in Washington, she served on protective details for visiting dignitaries. She shared her experience escorting Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly on a visit to the U.S. For formal events, an agent on security detail needed to dress the part. Male special agents were able to rent tuxedos and then charge the cost of their rentals to the office. Since dresses could not be rented, Patti had to purchase formal dresses with her own money so that she could fulfill her duty. She donated two of these dresses to the Diplomacy Center museum. She developed a strong relationship of trust with Grace Kelly during her visit. Upon her departure, Kelly gave her an autographed photo and a clutch – which she admitted was too small to hold a pistol – as a token of appreciation for the protection given by Pistol Packin’ Patti. This clutch was among the items donated to the Diplomacy Center museum.  

Morton shared a number of the challenges that she faced being the first female agent, including the lack of support she would get from some people of her colleagues, specifically the secretarial staff.  She shared the story of having to type all of her documents, memos, and instructions herself, even those that were hundreds of pages, because the secretaries would not do it for her.  

Being the first female special agent, she was very aware of the legacy she would leave for women.  She told us that she would always adapt and make the best with what was available. She had her champions as well as her detractors – she knew that her work was always being watched and evaluated.

Reflecting upon being the first female Department of State Special Agent, Patti said, “When I think of being the first woman security officer, what I think of most is I hope I have done the best job I can, and that it will be easier for those who follow.”

A young H.W. Bush with Nixon at his side swears over the Bible
In Memoriam: George Herbert Walker Bush (1924-2018): Veteran, Statesman, Diplomat
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On November 30, 2018 former President George Herbert Walker Bush died at age 94. A distinguished Navy pilot in World War II, former President Bush lived an accomplished life, serving his nation in various capacities, including: President, Vice President, Director of the Central Investigative Agency, Member of both the House and Senate, and as a diplomat, serving as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Head of U.S. Liaison Office in China. In addition to serving his nation, Bush was a businessman and humanitarian.

In George W. Bush’s “41: A Portrait of My Father,” the former president remembers his father’s incredible sense of connecting with people. Uncommon during the time, H.W. Bush made personal courtesy calls on fellow ambassadors in New York—practicing person-to-person diplomacy and building relationships that proved essential during his presidency. “He was down to earth and direct,” his son remembers, “and people liked him for it.”

George H.W. Bush signs a piece of the Berlin Wall

Today, the National Museum of American Diplomacy in Washington, D.C. is home to the Signature Segment of the Berlin Wall. This 13-foot high, nearly three ton piece of the wall has been signed by 27 leaders who played a significant role in advancing German reunification. They include U.S. President George H. W. Bush, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and Polish labor union leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lech Walesa, among others. Leipzig artist Michael Fischer-Art painted this segment, depicting protesters during that city’s own “Peaceful Revolution” demonstrations in 1988-89. Fischer-Art had created many of the original banners protesters carried as they chanted, “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the People”), “Freiheit” (“Freedom”), and other pro-democracy messages.

Inaugurated as President of the United States in January 1989, Bush entered office at a period of change in the world; the fall of the Berlin Wall came early in his presidency, and the collapse of the Soviet Union came in 1991.  Looking back, former Secretary of State James Baker commented, “one of President Bush’s outstanding traits has been his humility, and particularly his insistence after the Iron Curtain fell that Americans not gloat about our victory in the decades-long Cold War against the Soviet empire. In 1989, after all, the president still had further business to do with Soviet leaders even as their country was rapidly imploding.  Included on his checklist were nuclear arms reductions, which were later accomplished and have played a critical role in maintaining world peace.” Baker, who was in office when the wall came down in 1989, added: “Time and again, President Bush demanded that we not dance on the ruins of the Berlin Wall. He simply wouldn’t hear of it.”

His previous diplomatic experience as the Ambassador to the United Nations came in handy when, as president, he received word that Iraqi forces had crossed into Kuwait. In the first five days after the invasion, Bush personally telephoned international leaders on at least forty-eight occasions—from the White House, while in-flight aboard Air Force One (where he called King Hussein of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt on the first day of the crisis), and from Camp David. Bush also immediately called Thomas Pickering, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He instructed Pickering that he wanted the United Nations to respond swiftly to the invasion. From the outset, Bush viewed the crisis not as a regional Arab-to-Arab dispute, but as something larger. Bush “was keenly aware that this would be the first post–Cold War test of the Security Council in crisis.” While most U.S. presidents had warily turned to the United Nations in an international crisis, Bush’s immediate call to the United Nations paid dividends. On the day of the invasion, the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 660 by a 14–0 vote, demanding that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait. Significantly, the Soviet Union and China did not veto the resolution despite the fact that Iraq had been an ally and a recipient of Soviet military aid in the past. Bush’s decision to involve the United Nations served as a foundation for his strategy of “coercive diplomacy” — using limited force as a negotiating tactic — over the next five months. Having served as U.N. ambassador meant that he understood both the institution’s limits and strengths and had confidence in its diplomatic mechanisms.

On a lighter note, Bush was known as the “Original Sock Diplomat.”  Bush has an assortment of colorful, graphic pairs suited to every occasion. He wore red, white and blue striped numbers to the White House for the unveiling of his son’s official portrait in 2012; Bill Clinton socks to a meeting with Mr. Clinton; and socks from a company started by a man with Down Syndrome on World Down Syndrome Day. Often, the 41st president tweeted about his socks. His affinity for them became even more obvious after he began to use a wheelchair, as his ankles were exposed. He was laid to rest in gray socks patterned with fighter planes flying in formation, and it’s not just because of his service as a naval aviator. It was because, as he wrote of himself in a 2014 fundraising email for the Republican National Committee, “I’m a self-proclaimed sock man. The louder, the brighter, the crazier the pattern — the better.” The week of his passing, a veritable outpouring of creative hosiery appeared on social media and on the streets and in schools, all in honor of Mr. Bush, himself a famous practitioner of the art of sock diplomacy. Business owners encouraged employees to wear socks with lighthearted designs, students were urged to get creative, and a hashtag was created, #SocksforBush.

In this piece, the Diplomacy Center honors former President Bush’s service to the nation and the world.

Celebrating 20 Years of U.S.-Slovenian Collaboration on Humanitarian Demining Efforts
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On September 28th, the Embassy of Slovenia and the Diplomacy Center celebrated 20 years of American support for the Slovenian government-led nonprofit organization ITF Enhancing Human Security (ITF). ITF is dedicated to reducing threats from landmines and other explosive remnants of war and to facilitating safety and long-term development in conflict-affected communities.

President Borut Pahor of Slovenia, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Elisabeth Millard gave remarks followed by a reception. The event was accompanied by a photo exhibit of ITF’s work around the world displayed in the Diplomacy Center from September 24 through October 1.

ITF was formed in 1998 to help Bosnia and Herzegovina implement the Dayton Peace Agreement.  Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Slovenian Foreign Minister Boris Frlec agreed to its establishment as a key component of the peace settlement, placing the war torn region on the road to recovery by clearing landmines and assisting landmine survivors in the wake of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.

With the early support of the United States, ITF has grown over the past 20 years to operate in 31 countries around the world, clearing of more than 139 million square meters of mine-affected land, protecting civilians in fragile and recovering states, and opening a path to stability and prosperity.

African American History Month
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These African American pioneers shaped American history. Read on to discover more about trailblazing ambassadors, influential activists, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

U.S. diplomat, Olympic athlete, United States Army Air Forces WWII veteran, and University of Colorado Boulder grad David Bolen had an incredible career. As ambassador to East Germany in 1977, Bolen was the first African American Ambassador to a country behind the Iron Curtain. He also served as Ambassador to U.S. Embassy Gaborone, Botswana, and was accredited to U.S. Embassy Lesotho, and U.S. Embassy Swaziland at the same time.

Clifton Wharton Sr. was the first career African American diplomat to rise to the rank of ambassador. He was among a handful of early African Americans to enter the Foreign Service in the 1920’s. In 1958, he was the first African American to head a U.S. mission in a European country (Romania). He became Ambassador to Norway in 1961. Wharton, a Boston University graduate, served at the U.S. Department of State for over 40 years.

In 1965, Patricia Roberts Harris made history as the first female African American Ambassador when she was appointed Ambassador to Luxembourg. Throughout her impressive career, Harris continued to achieve many firsts. Following her diplomatic career, she served as the first African American dean of a U.S. law school at Howard University. She also became the first African American woman to hold a cabinet position when she served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1977.

Ralph Bunche was the first African American and the first U.S. diplomat awarded awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his ceaseless negotiation of an Arab-Israeli truce in 1949. He was a renowned educator and civil rights activist who participated in the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King.

Meet Edith Sampson, a pioneer who led a career of firsts and inspired many! Sampson was the first African American delegate appointed to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. She was the first woman to receive a Master of Law degree from Loyola University and the first African American woman in U.S. history to be elected by popular vote as a judge.

From runaway slave to heroic abolitionist, Douglass also made his mark as a U.S. diplomat. In this letter, Douglass wrote Secretary of State James Blaine officially accepting his appointment as Consul General to Haiti and Chargé d’Affaires to the Dominican Republic.




Ida Gibbs Hunt was a diplomat’s daughter and a citizen diplomat who worked with black intellectual W.E.B. DuBois and organized the Pan African Congresses of the 1920s. Her 1923 speech “The Colored Races and the League of Nations” wowed audiences across London. Ida married William Henry Hunt, one of the few African American diplomats. Hunt, born a slave, served in Liberia, France, Madagascar, and Guadeloupe.