Friday, July 25, 2014

The Ambassador's Tour: George Thomas Marye and America enter the First World War

At the end of July 1914, on the outbreak of World War I, banker George Thomas Marye (1849–1933) walked into San Francisco’s temporary city hall on Market Street and took the oath of office as the new ambassador to tsarist-era Russia. Before Marye (pronounced Marie) left San Francisco on August 1 for Washington, D.C. and his subsequent relocation abroad, Emperor Nicholas II had mobilized the Russian army.

Marye’s primary duty was to negotiate a reinstatement of the Russian-American Treaty of 1832, which had formalized trade protocols existing at that time. Under President William Taft, in December 1911, the treaty was abrogated in response to a highly politicized dispute over recognition of passports held by American Jews who were trying to visit Russia.

The ambassador also found himself in the unenviable dual-role of representing Austro-Hungarian and German interests, since those countries had declared war upon Serbia—Russia’s ally—following the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo. Marye served until the end of March 1916, resigning due to poor health. On November 17 the following year, seven months after the United States entered the war, normal diplomatic relations with Russia abruptly ended.

In 1949, Helen Martha Marye Thomas gave her father’s personal effects to the California Historical Society, including this formal photographic portrait of the ambassador in full-dress uniform, made shortly after his arrival in Petrograd, as well as his insignia bestowed by Emperor Nicholas II and the letter from Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs announcing the bestowal.

Marye recounted his experiences and observations as a wartime ambassador in his published memoir, Nearing the End in Imperial Russia (London: Selwyn & Blount, 1928). He is buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

By Cheryl Maslin, Registrar, California Historical Society




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