Oscar S. Straus: Henry Ward Beecher Letter to Grover Cleveland
Oscar S. Straus (1850-1926) was the youngest of Lazarus and Sara Straus’ four children; Isidor, Hermine, Nathan and Oscar. His career as a public servant has been well documented. He was America’s two-time Minister to Constantinople and Ambassador to Turkey. He was Secretary of Commerce and Labor. He served under four presidents; Democratic and Republican. Although many Jews have served as ambassadors and cabinet members, Oscar S. Straus was the first Jew to ever serve in these roles. Throughout his very public professional life, Oscar S. Straus consistently advocated political reform; seeing it as an issue of morality rather than politics. He campaigned for the use of arbitration to resolve differences between politicians, labor leaders and unions, and nations. He was supporter of the Monroe Doctrine and an advisor to all the United States presidents beginning with Grover Cleveland until his own death in 1926. Known best for his public service, Oscar S. Straus’ service to the people and nations of the world goes far beyond his ministry, ambassadorship and cabinet posts. This letter was written by Henry Ward Beecher, an American religious figure and social reformer, to President Grover Cleveland to recommend Oscar S. Straus for the position of Minister to Turkey.
July 12th, 1887
Dear Mr. President
Some of our best citizens are solicitous for the appointment of Oscar Straus as Minister to Turkey. Of his fitness there is a general consent that he is personally, and in attainments, eminently excellent.
But I am interested in another quality – the fact that he is a Hebrew. The bitter prejudice against Jews, which obtains in many parts of Europe, ought not to receive any countenance in America. It is because he is a Jew that I would urge his appointment as a fit recognition of this remarkable people, who are becoming large contributors to American prosperity, and whose intelligence, morality, and large liberality in public measures for the welfare of society, deserve and should receive from the hands of our government some such recognition.
Is it not, also, a duty to set forth, in this quiet, but effectual method, the genius of American government? – which has under its fostering care people of all civilized nations, and which treats them without regard to civil, religious, or race peculiarities as common citizens? We send Danes to Denmark, Germans to Germany. We reject no man because he is a Frenchman. Why should we not make a crowning testimony of the genius of our people by sending a Hebrew to Turkey? The ignorance and superstition of medieval Europe may account for the prejudices of that Dark Age. But how a Christian in our day can turn from a Jew, I cannot imagine. Christianity itself suckled at the bosom of Judaism. Our roots are in the Old Testament. We are Jews ourselves gone to blossom and fruit. Christianity is Judaism in evolution, and it would seem strange for the seed to turn against the stock on which it was grown.
Henry Ward Beecher
“Oscar Straus – Minister to Constantinople, 1887 – 1888” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 2 No. 2 (New York: August 1994); pp. 4-8.
“Oscar Solomon Straus – Minister to Constantinople, Letters 1888 – 1888” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 3 No. 1 (New York: February 1995); pp. 2-5.
“Oscar Solomon Straus - Lawyer, Author, Merchant, Philanthropist” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 5 No. 1 (New York: August 2003); pp. 1-7.
Source: The Straus Historical Society