Today, the Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the drama with the Russian Minister in Washington, D.C. in December 1871.
In his third State of the Union address, President Grant commented:
“The intimate friendly relations which have so long existed between the United States and Russia continue undisturbed. The visit of the third son of the Emperor is a proof that there is no desire on the part of his Government to diminish the cordiality of those relations. The hospitable reception which has been given to the Grand Duke is a proof that on our side we share the wishes of that Government. The inexcusable course of the Russian minister at Washington rendered it necessary to ask his recall and to decline to longer receive that functionary as a diplomatic representative. It was impossible, with self-respect or with a just regard to the dignity of the country, to permit Mr. Catacazy to continue to hold intercourse with this Government after his personal abuse of Government officials, and during his persistent interferences, through various means, with the relations between the United States and other powers. In accordance with my wishes, this Government has been relieved of further intercourse with Mr. Catacazy, and the management of the affairs of the imperial legation has passed into the hands of a gentleman entirely unobjectionable.”
Two days later information was released to the newspapers.
The New York Herald printed the following:
The Correspondence Which Led to the Russian Minister’s Recall.
Interference in Our Business and Abuse of American Officials the Cause.
The Visit of Alexis and Its Bearing on the Case.
Catacazy Only “Tolerated” During the Visit at the Request of the Czar.
Washington, Dec. 6, 1871.
The President sent to the Senate today the correspondence between the State Department and the American Minister at St. Petersburg relative to the recall or Minister Catacazy.
The Senate ordered the correspondence to be printed, but while newspaper men were engaged in copying it Mr. Cameron discovered that he did not want the correspondence made public, and persuaded the Senate to revoke the order to print, though not before most of the correspondence had been copied.
The First Letter on the Subject.
Mr. Fish’s first letter to Minister Curtin is as follows:
Washington, June 10, 1871.
To A. G. Curtin, St. Petersburg:
Sir—I am directed to inform yoy that the conduct of Mr. Catacazy, the Minister of Russia here, both official and personal, has for some time past been such as materially to impair his usefulness to his own government and to render intercourse with him, for either business or social purposes, highly disagreeable. Under these circumstances the President is of opinion that the interests of both countries would be promoted, and those relations of cordiality with the government of the Czar, of the importance of which he is well aware, would be placed upon a much higher footing if the head of the Russian Legation here were to be changed. It is hoped that this intimation will be sufficient to occasion that change and to insure the restoration and the continuance of those opportunities of free and cordial official and other intercourse with the representative of the Emperor which the President earnestly desires to exist, and which have always existed, with the esteemed predecessors of the present Minister, but which Mr. Catacazy’s course of conduct has made impossible to be maintained with him. The President’s sincere desire to avoid any step which may show want of confidence for the person whom His Imperial Majesty has selected to represent the interests of his government has made him hesitate long before directing this announcement, and he deeply regrets the necessity which at length compels him to make it.
You will read this communication to Prince Gortchakoff, and furnish him with a copy if he desires it.
Your obedient servant, Hamilton Fish.
A Delay—Prince Gortchakoff Absent.
On July 17 Minister Curtin telegraphed as follows to Secretary Fish:
The Prince in Germany till October; shall I present the dispatch to Wesfmann, Adjunct Chancellor, or to the Prince.
Fish at once telegraphed to Curtin:
Present the dispatch of June 16 to Wesfmann should the Minister be absent.
Prince Grotchakoff’s Deputy Cautious.
Minister Curtin telegraphed from St. Petersburg, July 19, as follows:
Wesfmann cannot treat the dispatch very seriously. Did not take a copy. Asked me to wait the return of the Prince. Said he would not mention to the Emperor in absence of the Prince, as it might postpone the visit of the Grand Duke, which would be agreeable to those continually trying to disturb the friendship of the two countries.
Curtin Urges the Matter.
Curtin informs Fish that in accordance with instructions he had in the absence of Prince Gortchakoff, Chancellor of the Empire, formally presented the request for the recall of Catacazy to Wesfmann, who seemed to be much surprised, and treated the subject as very serious. He said the subject was too grave for his consideration, and; declined to act in the absence of Prince Gortchakoff, and did not ask for a copy of the Secretary’s ‘ dispatches. Wesfmann said he would write to the Prince on the subject, and made a memorandum of the conversation.
Fish Determined — He Wants No Delay.
Fish telegraphed to Curtin, August 18, as follows:
The hesitation and delay in complying with the request directed in the dispatch of the 16th of June occasions much disquiet and disappointment. The reason alleged is not satisfactory, as communication – with the Minister for Foreign Affairs can be reached. A decision is important before the advent of the Grand Duke, as the President cannot be expected to receive as the principal attendant of His Highness one who has been abusive of him and is personally unacceptable.
The Eagle Screams.
Assistant Secretary of State Davis on August 18 telegraphed to Curtin, urging him to receive a reply from Wesfmann. Finally,
The Russian Bear Growls and Consents.
After other correspondence Curtin received a reply in which this government was requested to tolerate Catacazy until after the presentation of the Grand Duke to the President, and to this request the government acceded, hence Catacazy ceased to represent the Russian empire after the presentation.
What It Was All Done For.
The correspondence is voluminous, including a long letter from Mr. Fish, dated November 16, sent to Mr. Curtin, circumstantially stating the reasons why Catacazy rendered himself unacceptable to this government. In this letter occur the following paragraphs:
On his arrival at Washington Catacazy gave promise of being a useful and very acceptable Minister, and made a very agreeable impression. Soon, however, he began to make himself very officious, interfering in questions not appropriately connected with his Legation, and in those pending before Congress importuning Senators and Representatives and resorting to personal interviews and solicitations unusual on the part of the representatives of other Powers accredited to this government, distasteful and annoying to the legislators thus indecorously approached, and tending to embarrass the free course of legislation on the subjects with respect to which his interference was obtruded.
Other Objectionable Proceedings.
He did not hesitate to use the newspapers of the country to influence public opinion upon questions pending before the government, and indulged in much license in his denunciation of measures and of individuals. ln his conversation he was even more severe and unrestrained, and employed abusive and vituperative language toward very many persons, including several in public positions and enjoying the respect and confidence of the community. The impropriety of a foreign Minister thus attempting to influence and to misdirect the public opinion of the country must be admitted as sufficient ground for his ceasing to be a proper agent between the government which he represents and that to which he is accredited.
The correspondence contains proofs showing the truth of the statements of the Secretary, and other matters of public interest.
Catacazy’s Last Words.
A letter from Mr. Catacazy to Secretary Fish is also contained in the correspondence as sent to the Senate, but as the Senate abruptly reconsidered the motion to have the correspondence printed, and took away the copy from which the newspapermen were industriously making their notes, the substance of it could not be obtained.
The Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of Catacazy, circa 1860.