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Charles R. Crane and Wilsonian Progressivism


Zacharie Leclair

This book presents a study of the career of Charles R. Crane, a central player in President Woodrow Wilson’s entourage. In the wake of the U.S. intervention in the Great War, Crane participated in important diplomatic and fact-finding missions. Leclair follows Crane through revolutionary Russia and on the Western front, in the emerging countries born out of the Ottoman Empire, and then in postwar China. In the process, Leclair’s book offers original insights into some of the major domestic and international decisions that define Wilson’s presidency and its legacy in the history of the United States and of international relations, most notably Wilson’s motivation and effort to bring about a new world order under American political and moral leadership. Leclair convincingly portrays Crane as a proponent of the principle of self-determination –one, indeed, whose aversion to colonialism predated Wilson’s international vision as formulated in his Fourteen Points. While a convergence of reform interest and humanitarian concerns brought Crane and Wilson together on some of the most complex issues of the time, Crane’s vision –propelled by a genuine philanthropic commitment—adds substance to what has largely been derided as empty Wilsonian idealism. The thematic structure of this book, the quality of its narration, and the wealth of information it contains, are added elements that make it an excellent contribution to the field of U.S. history. It could be used as a an assigned reading in college or university courses, especially in advanced American history, American Political thought and international relations courses.

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Chapter 4. “Godfather of Czechoslovakia”: Charles R. Crane and the “New Central Europe,” 1917–1918


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Crane, a Friend of Small (Slavic) Nations

Charles Crane was, in his time, rightly considered a friend of Russia, especially starting in 1917. His fascination with Russia also extended to the Slavic world in general and he lamented its subjugation by the Central Powers. The Slavic peoples of Central Europe and of the Balkans, particularly the Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, and Bulgarians, had awakened in Crane a sense of urgency in regard to forming autonomous homelands in the wake of the collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman imperial systems. At the beginning of World War I in 1914, Crane who had long supported Bohemian, Bulgarian, and Serbian nationalist groups, increased his contribution by publishing anti-imperialist journals and supporting patriotic and Slavophile artists and intellectuals.

With a clique of Slavophile friends among whom featured many former Root Mission members and followers like Samuel Harper, Cyrus H. McCormick, Jr., and John R. Mott, Crane led what he informally called the “American Friends of a New Middle Europe.”1 Together, they relayed information to American government officials and to Wilson himself (owing to the president’s friendship with Crane), organized fundraisers, wrote newspaper commentaries, and ← 135 | 136 → acted as efficient intermediaries between Slavic nationalist leaders and various political circles. They even became involved with official diplomacy and made themselves informal advisors to American decision-makers.

Crane believed...

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