Breck Trowbridge, the President of the Society of American Philhellenes, wrote an interesting letter on behalf of his organisation to Charles E.Hughes, the US Secretary of State on April 24, 1922 urging the recognition of Constantine’s regime and to further develop US trade with Greece and the Near East. This organization based in New York City included T.Tileston Wells, Vice President and Edward L.Tilton, Secretary and Treasurer as its other members.
This letter must be placed within the context of the decisions of the Paris Conference of March 22-26, 1922 where the major European powers-Great Britain, France and Italy- attempted to find a peaceful solution to the Greek-Turkish conflict. They worked towards an armistice and the eventual evacuation of the Greek army from Asia Minor. Greece also faced serious internal economic problems.
The letter strongly argued that the United States should recognize the Royalist Government irrespective of the attitudes and actions of Britain and France. The Royalists had restored the banking system and that commercial activity had resumed and increased. It was the decision of Greek voters to elect the government of their own choice without external interference from major powers. Unfortunately the author fails to mention the serious economic problems experienced by Greece in 1922. The Greek Government failed to raise a private loan on the London finance market in order to be able to continue financing its war campaign in Asia Minor. Furthermore Greek Finance Minister Petros Protopapadakis told the Greek Parliament in early April 1922 that the nation’s finances were in a perilous state. As Louis P. Cassimatis states in his book titled American Influence in Greece 1917-1929 that “ he [Protopapadakis] proposed a controversial plan of plan of funding fiduciary currency by literally forcing the Greek people to lend their government a portion of their cash holdings.” This became known as the Greek forced loan that created problems for American commerce and Americans domiciled in Greece.
An important part of the letter contended the development and expansion of US trade opportunities with Greece as Greek-Americans still maintained close ties with Greece and with the Smyrna territory. The author also saw the value of American educational and charitable institutions in Greece and the Near East. He stated: -
“... that we have no interests in Greece and Asia Minor. On the contrary, however, we have there more institutions, both educational and charitable, than any other country, except possibly England. Our commercial interests are important, our exports and imports if not as great as those of France and Italy combined are far greater than those of either one of these countries. The desire of the Greek people is to do business with the United States.”
Maybe the author was hoping that the United States would replace Britain’s commercial dominance in Greece. Alternatively the operation of US educational and charitable organisations was another way of further strengthening Greco-American ties.
It should be noted that major US companies such as Standard Oil Company, McAndrew and Forbes and principal tobacco companies operated in Smyrna.
Another aspect of Greek-American ties with the mother country and Smyrna was that it would make it easier for American manufactures to be accepted by Greek consumers. The author cites the examples of American farming equipment, steel rails and canned foods. He mentioned: -
“ This is because there are some three or four hundred Greeks who have lived in this country. They speak English. They love this country, its ways, its ideas and its methods. There are vast opportunities for reciprocal business.
These thousands of Americanized Greeks have created a wide demand for American goods. Whereas, in other parts of the Orient, the wooden plough and primitive harrow are still in use, in countries under Greek rule the American tractor and American implements and machinery are now employed and everywhere in demand.
They wish our steel rails and our locomotives, our motors and trucks, our boats and shoes, our good cotton goods, our canned foods, besides countless smaller articles to which these thousands of Greeks have become accustomed which in the United States and for which they are self constituted advance agents.”
Cassimatis mentions that “ the total trade between [Greece and United States] increased from $5,000,000 in 1914 to $51,000,000 for the calendar year of 1921-an increase of more than 1,000 per cent.” The American Consul General in Smyrna George Horton also mentioned that American agricultural implements and automobiles were imported into the Smyrna region.
The author saw the Greeks as an important people of the Near East and pays tribute to them. He stated: -
“ The Greeks are the merchants, bankers and manufacturers of the East. They are the most highly educated, the most intelligent, the most progressive people of the East and they are the best administrators. Theirs is only the merchant marine among the nations of the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Obviously a Greek merchant marine could also play its part in expanding the volume of trade between the US and Greece and the Near East. Moreover Greek businessmen in Smyrna, Egypt and Constantinople were multi-lingual whose language skills would be of great importance for US firms seeking to do business in Greece, Turkey and the Middle East.
The author tried to show that he had nothing personally to gain from all this and he again praised the Greeks. He says
“ My only personal interest in this matter is that of an archaeologist. I know Greece intimately, having walked from one end of the country to the other. My desire to help them is quite disinterested and based upon an enthusiasm for a Christian people who in just one century have risen from a state of bondage to become the most enlightened, progressive and cultivated people of the Near East.”
In the final paragraph of this letter, Trowbridge was critical of the United States Government because “We have refused until now refused to recognize their present Government, but I believe that this is an injustice and that the time has come when it is proper for this country to act independently of England and France in this matter, Can I have your co-operation?”
Regrettably the State Department ignored this letter, as it did not wish to antagonize Britain and her allied partners.
In conclusion the State Department did not recognise Constantine’s regime but saw the importance of expanding US trade with Greece and the Near East. The tone of the letter is remarkably pro-Royalist and one wonders whether the Greek Royalists in the United States backed the Society of the American Philhellenes.
Stavros T Stavridis Historical Researcher National Center for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia, (email@example.com)