September 9

This Day in History

World War I

Sep 9, 1914:

U.S. Secretary of State Lansing demands recall of Austro-Hungarian ambassador

On September 9, 1914, in a letter written to the government of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing demands the recall of Constantin Dumba, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in Washington, D.C.

At the time, barely one month after the outbreak of World War I, the United States was neutral in the great struggle between the Allied and Central Powers, the latter of which included Austria-Hungary. Dumba, who had served as his country’s ambassador to the U.S. since May 1913, had earlier fallen out of favor with his colleagues in Washington on account of his government’s policy of offering "rehabilitation" to former Austro-Hungarian citizens living abroad who had previously fled their mandatory military service, provided they agreed to serve with the army for the duration of the war upon their return to Austria-Hungary. Despite Dumba’s diplomatic efforts, Vienna’s policy was seen by many as a violation of the U.S. policy of neutrality, which strictly forbade any U.S. citizen (no matter how long they had resided in the country) from actively taking sides in the war.

The so-called "Dumba Affair" was much more serious, and resulted in the ambassador’s dismissal by the government of President Woodrow Wilson in the fall of 1915. Lansing’s letter charged Dumba with espionage, stating that the ambassador had proposed to his government "plans to instigate strikes in American manufacturing plants engaged in the production of munitions of war." According to the secretary of state, Dumba admitted to having written a letter containing such a proposal and sending it to his own government via an American citizen, James Archibald, who was intercepted in England; the letter was handed over to the U.S. government. As a result of this treachery, Lansing stated, "Mr. Dumba is no longer acceptable to the Government of the United States as the Ambassador of his Imperial Majesty at Washington."

Upon Dumba’s return to Vienna, he was made a member of the nobility. Though the Austro-Hungarian government claimed it was honoring the former ambassador for his service in Washington under times of extreme duress, the British press went wild, claiming that Austria-Hungary was clearly rewarding him for his espionage efforts.

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