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National Affairs: Sofa Soliloquies

7 minute read

One morning last week in the President’s office the Governor-General of Canada, resplendent in a deep blue uniform bedizened with silver braid, stood before a gathering of Washington correspondents.

The lean, 61-year-old Scotsman, now Lord Tweedsmuir but until two years ago just plain John Buchan, writer of history, biography and light-hearted adventure tales,” hastened to explain that a tinsel uniform was not his customary garb, then to say that he had asked to see the press in hope that some of the War correspondents whom he had known 20 years ago when he was serving as the British Director of Information in France might be among them. Were there any such? The newshawks looked at one another.

It was 10 a. m. and only the junior members of the press corps had turned out. Wasn’t there one War correspondent among them? Finally a hand went up. It was that of the President’s press secretary, ”Steve” Early.

After this embarrassing incident the juniors did their best to engage Lord Tweedsmuir’s interest. Had he yet had any conversations of public interest with the President? Goodness, no! Under the Canadian constitution the Governor-General has no part in politics, can no more touch on public matters than his master George VI, whose personal representative he is.

At this point Franklin Roosevelt, who had been sitting in his chair beaming upon press and Canada, quietly put in a word. Of course, he said, there could be no official talk, but if he and the Governor-General sat on a White House sofa, there was nothing in any constitution which could stop them from soliloquizing on international affairs. And neither of them was deaf.

The Insignificance. As an official visit without any official purpose, Lord Tweeds-muir’s stop in Washington was a kaleidoscope of glittering but insignificant formalities. The Governor-General had come with his aides-de-camp and his wife with her lady-in-waiting, Mrs. George Pape. They were met at the Canadian border by Richard Southgate, chief of the State Department’s Division of Protocol, and by additional military and naval aides supplied by the U. S. They were met again at Washington’s Union Station by Secretary of State Hull, by the U. S. Minister to Canada, by the Canadian Minister and the British Ambassador, by General Craig, Admiral Leahy, Major General Holcomb, ranking officers of the Army, Navy and the Marine Corps, by detachments of sailors and marines drawn up in the station, by the Army Band playing The Star Spangled Banner, 0 Canada, and America or God Save the King.

They drove to the White House behind a troop of cavalry and were welcomed by President & Mrs. Roosevelt in the White House portico. They had an official reception in the Blue Room, tea in the Red Room, an unofficial dinner.*

The day of Lord Tweedsmuir’s press conference, they drove to Fort Myer for a cavalry review (21 guns), laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, were lunched in state by Secretary Hull at the dignified Sulgrave Club, voyaged aboard the Presidential yacht Potomac to Mt. Vernon where they were met by President &Mrs. Roosevelt, saw the tomb and house of Washington, were guests at a state dinner at the White House.

On the third day they reviewed the midshipmen at Annapolis (21 guns). The Governor-General attended a luncheon given by British Ambassador Sir Ronald Lindsay (while Lady Tweedsmuir was the luncheon guest of Madam Secretary Perkins), went to the Capitol, heard some of Vice President Garner’s most risible stories, addressed the U. S. Senate and shook the hands of all its members, did it all over again in the House, returned to the White House for tea, said goodby, took his lady to dinner at the Canadian Legation as guest of Sir Herbert Marler, then tumbled into a Pullman bed to sleep the hard-earned sleep of the distinguished all the way back to the Canadian border under State Department escort.

Apology, When Lord Tweedsmuir stood before the U. S. Senate, he made an apology: “I remember in my own country on the Scottish border there was an old minister who once a month thought it his duty to deliver a sermon upon the terrors of hell, when he sternly dangled his congregation over the abyss; but being a humane man, he liked to finish on a gentler note. He used to conclude thus: ‘Of course, my friends, ye understand that the Almighty is compelled to do things in His official capacity that He would scorn to do as a private individual.’ “I am in the unfortunate position now of having no private capacity, but only an official one. I am unable to express my views upon any public question of any real importance—at least not for publication.”

So saying he proceeded to cement international good will by a few kind words and topical references. “We [Canada & the U. S.] have the same definition of what constitutes greatness and goodness in human character. . . . We give our admiration and affection to the same type of leadership. Will anyone deny that your great men and our great men are singularly alike at bottom?

“In the second place, we and you have the same task before us. I am especially interested in Canada to discover that nearly all our problems are paralleled by yours. We have the same economic problems. Senators, I cannot imagine a greater bond between two nations than that they should engage in the same tasks and for the same purposes.”

The Significance. These sidewise compliments to his host not only served to endear the Governor-General to the President, but to show how much Franklin Roosevelt had already endeared himself to Lord Tweedsmuir. It is safe to say that John Buchan as a politician who began his public career as private secretary to Lord Milner in South Africa, and served eight years as a British M. P., had met no more persuasive politician, than Franklin Roosevelt, or as a literary man, no more engaging listener. The result of the Governor-General’s visit is, therefore, that when Britons of the world assemble next month for their Coronation, there will be not one but two gentlemen present — Lord Tweedsmuir as well as Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King — who have recently visited the White House and are ready to tell the Empire what a fine fellow Franklin Roosevelt is, ready to put in a good word for the great peace plan of which the President vaguely dreams.

At his next press conference after the Governor-General’s departure, the President hastened to pooh-pooh any immediate Peace Plan. His denial quashed rumors that he was going to spring on the world this week (the 20th anniversary of U. S. entry into the War) a proposal for a general disarmament conference. But observers had no doubt that he was still looking for 1) a practical world peace plan; 2) a favorable moment to spring it.

*Such history and biography as Montrose, Sir Walter Scott, Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, A History of the Great War, novels such as Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast and best-selling The Thirty-Nine Steps. *At which one of the guests was Katharine Cornell, to whom Mrs. Roosevelt presented the Chi Omega “Achievement Award”(medal).

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