Absence of external challenges following the American Civil War reduced diplomatic activity, but resulted in a period of increasing professionalism in foreign affairs. The number of diplomatic posts grew slowly. The professional Civil Service, established in 1883, was used to staff the State Department, but not diplomatic posts abroad.
This period saw major expansion of U.S. trade, territory, and overseas involvement, especially in Asia and Latin America.
Following the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898, U.S. diplomats concluded treaties that afforded the United States new international powers. The United States gained a naval base on the shore of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba , which it still has. The United States, through the Platt Amendment received the right to intervene in Cuban affairs as well as full control over the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam. That was also the year in which the United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands.
After years of negotiations and false starts, and after helping Panama break away from Colombia, the United States concluded a treaty with Panama in 1903 to build the Panama Canal, thus increasing U.S. involvement in both Latin America and the Pacific. Secretary of State John Hay and the Department of State played a prominent role in the canal project.
Despite the expansion of trade and annexation of overseas territories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, isolationism grew. Some xenophobic Americans even regarded their representatives abroad as subversive; “working our ruin,” one congressman said, “by creating a desire for foreign customs and foreign follies.” These suspicions had roots before the Civil War and would return later in the McCarthy period.
FRANCIS BRET HARTE (1836-1902)
A number of distinguished U.S. authors including James Russell Lowell, Washington Irving, Stephen Vincent Benét, James Fenimore Cooper, and Nathaniel Hawthorne held diplomatic or consular posts.
Bret Harte, the author of “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” and “Tennessee’s Partner,” classic stories of the American West in the gold rush and frontier mining camp days, went to Washington in I 876 to seek employment as an overseas consul. He hoped to earn enough to support himself and his family and still have time to write.
Harte was sent to Krefeld, Germany, in 1878 thinking he was to be the consul, but discovered that he was only a commercial agent in a larger consular district. As there were no travel allowances, per diem, or dependent allotments for consular employees, his family remained behind and never joined him during his consular career. He suffered continually from the damp climate of Krefeld and was delighted to be appointed as consul in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1 880. Glasgow was an important post with a large export trade, from which Harte sent the State Department extensive reports on all sorts of subjects. However, he also traveled frequently to London to lecture and write. Finally, in I 885 he was replaced, as some said, for “inattention to duty.” He returned to live in London for the next 17 years, until his death in 1902.