FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 4, 2006
Contact: Carol Anne Baker, Media Relations Specialist
(804) 342-9665 email:
VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY EXPLORES
VIRGINIANS' ROLE IN SHAPING WORLD POLITICS
Virginia's Diplomats on display February 4–July 30, 2006
Richmond, VA – In the history of U.S. foreign policy, many Virginians have represented American interests overseas. Virginia's Diplomats explores the careers of thirty-one of them.
Included are Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, John Young Mason, Thomas Nelson Page, Alexander W. Weddell, Edward R. Stettinius, Walter S. Robertson, and David K. E. Bruce. Objects and letters from the Virginia Historical Society, as well as loans from Monticello, the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library, the College of William and Mary, the National Portrait Gallery, the Department of State, and other institutions, will illustrate the changing role played by Virginia's diplomats in the arena of world politics and commerce. Also included are gifts to ambassadors from foreign governments and objects collected abroad by the diplomats themselves.
Virginia's Diplomats chronologically highlights significant events throughout American history while examining the impact of diplomacy—especially that which involved Virginians—on world history. Expansion for young America was limited beyond the Mississippi River by Spain and France. A desire to control the Mississippi and thus trade in the Gulf of Mexico led some to advocate the purchase or conquest of New Orleans. But in the end, New Orleans—and indeed all of the Louisiana Territory—was purchased with the help of Virginian James Monroe, who was sent to France by Thomas Jefferson to negotiate with Napoleon. An early diplomatic move by the new United States included recognition of newly independent Latin American countries. This was done to secure free trade as those countries broke free from the Spanish empire.
Virginian president James Monroe left his diplomatic mark—and his name—on the world with the Monroe Doctrine. This message essentially informed the powers of the Old World that the American continents were no longer open to European colonization and that any effort to extend European political influence into the New World would be considered by the U. S. as "dangerous to our peace and safety." This was important as the first—though certainly not the last—assertion that the United States would supervise not only its own foreign policy, but also hemispheric relations. The court suit and ceremonial rapier worn by Monroe as minister to France are among the featured objects on display.
Later, the concept of Manifest Destiny would lead America to annex a newly independent Texas and to instigate a war with Mexico. Virginian Nicholas Trist negotiated the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 to end that war and secure the newly conquered territories. Its provisions called for Mexico to cede 55% of its territory (present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Nevada and Utah) in exchange for fifteen million dollars in compensation for war-related damage to Mexican property. Virginia's Diplomats features the pen set used to sign this treaty. During World War I, Germany's offer to help Mexico re-take the American southwest was an important factor that persuaded Congress and Virginia-born president Woodrow Wilson to join the war on the side of the Allies.
During America's Civil War, it was important for the Union to keep foreign countries, especially Britain and France, from recognizing or giving aid to the Confederate States of America. Union troops boarded the British vessel Trent in order to detain two Confederate agents—including Virginian James M. Mason. That occurrence almost led the Union into a simultaneous war with Britain, an event that would have significantly changed the course of American history.
Other events, such as the Spanish-American War (and subsequent acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Philippines), both world wars, the Cold War, and the War on Terror find many Virginians at the forefront of global politics. Virginia's Diplomats examines these political figures and their roles in shaping world history. Educational programming for this exhibition includes gallery walks on March 8 and June 7, a Banner Lecture May 23, and a three-lecture subscription series at Virginia House co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Richmond. This exhibition was made possible with funding from the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Changing Exhibition Fund and the Walter S. Robertson Exhibition Fund. Virginia's Diplomats will be on display in the Olsson Family Gallery through July 30, 2006.
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience,
a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric
times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am - 5pm
and Sunday 1pm - 5pm (Museum Galleries only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries
only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour
information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit