Thursday, September 18, 2014

Etiquette and Protocol in Government Circles

Eleanor Roosevelt

On the Question of Rank

The question of rank and precedence has always been a touchy one in government circles, yet these apparently ridiculous or archaic rules agreed upon among the nations have a strong practical reason for their existence. In 1661 a sword battle in London between the attendants of the French and Spanish ambassadors, over whose carriage should precede the other's, brought France and Spain dangerously close to war. In 1756 a violent quarrel between the French and Russian ambassadors at a ball in London over precedence led to a duel and a serious threat of war between Russia and France. A slight to an ambassador is not a personal affront, it is an insult to his nation.
"Monday 30 September 1661 ~ This morning up by moon-shine, at 5 o’clock, to White Hall, to meet Mr. Moore at the Privy Seal, but he not being come as appointed, I went into King Street to the Red Lyon to drink my morning draft, and there I heard of a fray between the two Embassadors of Spain and France; and that, this day, being the day of the entrance of an Embassador from Sweden, they intended to fight for the precedence!" From the famous diary of Samuel Pepys
Even in the Democratic United States of America, where rank is of less importance than it is in Europe, many famous quarrels over precedence have occurred in Washington. During the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, when Miss Helen Cannon, daughter of "Uncle Joe" Cannon, a widower and Speaker of the House, demanded precedence over the wives of Senators and Representatives and was overruled, she announced that she would send regrets to further invitations to the White House if she were not given at least equal status with the wives of the members of Congress. During the Hoover administration Dolly Mann, sister and hostess of Vice-President Curtis, created a long-drawn-out controversy by her demand that she be given precedence over Alice Roosevelt Longworth, wife of speaker Nicholas Longworth. Admiral of the Navy George Dewey precipitated a similar commotion when he demanded (in vain) that he be given precedence over foreign ministers because he rated a salute of seventeen guns as compared to only fifteen for the foreign ministers.
The Bryan Times called Miss Helen Cannon, daughter of then widower and U.S. Speaker of the House, "One of the First Ladies of Official Society at National Capital" and referred to her as a "Famous Housekeeper"
Some of these controversies have brought about modifications in the orders of precedence; others have left them unchanged. Sometimes other factors have brought about modifications. The intent has always been to arrange the order of precedence in such a way as to indicate properly the degree of vested authority represented.

From Eleanor Roosevelt's 1962, "Common Sense Book of Etiquette"