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Robert Lansing

Robert Lansing
42nd United States Secretary of State
In office
June 24, 1915 – February 13, 1920
President Woodrow Wilson
Preceded by William Jennings Bryan
Succeeded by Bainbridge Colby
Personal details
Born (1864-10-17)October 17, 1864
Watertown, New York, U.S.
Died October 30, 1928(1928-10-30) (aged 64)
New York City, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Eleanor Foster Lansing (1890 - 1928, his death)
Alma mater Amherst College
Profession Lawyer, politician

Robert Lansing (October 17, 1864 – October 30, 1928) was an American lawyer and Conservative Democratic[1] politician who served as Legal Advisor to the State Department at the outbreak of World War I, and then as United States Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson from 1915 to 1920. Before U.S. involvement in the war, Lansing vigorously advocated in favor of the principles of freedom of the seas and the rights of neutral nations. He later advocated U.S. participation in World War I, negotiated the Lansing–Ishii Agreement with Japan in 1917 and was a member of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at Paris in 1919.


  • Career 1
    • World War I 1.1
    • Post-World War I 1.2
  • Personal life and family 2
  • Authorship 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Lansing was born in Watertown, New York in October 1864, the son of John Lansing (1832–1907) and Maria Lay (Dodge) Lansing. He graduated from Amherst College in 1886, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1889.

From then until 1907 he was a member of the law firm of Lansing & Lansing at Watertown. An authority on international law, he served as associate counsel for the United States, in the Bering Sea Arbitration in 1892-1893, as counsel for the United States Bering Sea Claims Commission in 1896-1897, as the government's lawyer before the Alaskan Boundary Tribunal in 1903, as counsel for the North Atlantic Fisheries in the Arbitration at The Hague in 1909-1910, and as agent of the United States in the American and British Arbitration in 1912-1914. In 1914 Lansing was appointed counselor to the State Department by President Wilson.

Lansing's Secretary of State nomination

World War I

Lansing advocated "benevolent neutrality" at the start of World War I. Following the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on 7 May 1915 by the German submarine U-20, Lansing backed Woodrow Wilson in issuing three notes of protest to the German government. William Jennings Bryan resigned as Secretary of State following Wilson's second note, which Bryan considered too belligerent. Lansing replaced Bryan, and said in his memoirs that following the Lusitania tragedy he always had the "conviction that we would ultimately become the ally of Britain".

In 1916 Lansing hired a handful of men who became the State Department's first special agents in the new Bureau of Secret Intelligence. These agents were initially used to observe the activities of the Central Powers in America, and later to watch over interned German diplomats. The small group of agents hired by Lansing would eventually become the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

A few weeks before the formal end of World War I, Lansing informed the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire that since the Americans were now committed to the causes of the Czechs, Slovaks and South Slavs, the Empire's proposal to satisfy the tenth of Wilson's Fourteen Points by granting the nationalities autonomy within the Empire was no longer sufficient. Within two weeks, these new nations began to declare themselves independent and Austria-Hungary ceased to exist.

Post-World War I

In 1919, Lansing became the nominal head of the US Commission to the Paris Peace Conference. Because he did not regard the League of Nations as essential to the peace treaty, Lansing began to fall out of favor with Wilson, for whom participation in the League of Nations was a primary goal. During Wilson's stroke and illness, Lansing called the cabinet together for consultations on several occasions. In addition, he was the first cabinet member to suggest that Vice President Thomas R. Marshall assume the powers of the presidency. Edith Wilson was displeased by Lansing's independence, and requested Lansing's resignation in 1920.

After leaving office Lansing resumed practicing law. He died in New York City on October 30, 1928, and was buried at Brookside Cemetery in Watertown, New York.

Personal life and family

Eleanor Foster

In 1890, Lansing married Eleanor Foster, the daughter of Secretary of State John W. Foster.[2] Eleanor's older sister Edith was the mother of John Foster Dulles, who also became Secretary of State, Allen Welsh Dulles who served as Director of Central Intelligence, and Eleanor Lansing Dulles, an economist and high level policy analyst and advisor for the State Department.[3][4]

New York State Senator Robert Lansing (1799–1878) was his grandfather; Chancellor John Lansing, Jr. and State Treasurer Abraham G. Lansing were his great-granduncles.


Lansing was associate editor of the American Journal of International Law, and with Gary M. Jones was the author of Government: Its Origin, Growth, and Form in the United States (1902). He also wrote: The Big Four and Others at the Peace Conference, Boston (1921) and The Peace Negotiations: A Personal Narrative, Boston/New York (1921).


  1. ^
  2. ^ Biographies of the Secretaries of State: Robert LansingOffice of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, accessed 13 January 2010
  3. ^ John W. FosterInternet Accuracy Project, accessed 13 January 2011
  4. ^ Biographies of the Secretaries of State: John Watson FosterOffice of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, accessed 13 January 2011

External links

  • Robert Lansing Papers at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
  • Works by Robert Lansing at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Robert Lansing at Internet Archive
  • The Peace Negotiations: A Personal Narrative
  • Robert Lansing (1921). The Peace Negotiations: a personal narrative at Project Gutenberg
  • Robert Lansing's Gravesite
  • BBC article on DSS
  • U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Website
  • Washington Post article on DSS
  • Diplomatic Security Special Agents Association
  • Unofficial Diplomatic Security Special Agent Forum
  • Mobile Security Deployments (MSD)
  • Computer Investigations & Forensics Investigative Resource Page
  • U.S. Diplomatic Security - Office of Foreign Missions (OFM)
  •  "Lansing, Robert".  
Political offices
Preceded by
William Jennings Bryan
U.S. Secretary of State
Served under: Woodrow Wilson

1915 – 1920
Succeeded by
Frank Polk (Acting)
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