Robert Bacon

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Date: 1936
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Biography
Length: 889 words
Lexile Measure: 1060L

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About this Person
Born: July 05, 1860 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, United States
Died: May 29, 1919 in New York, New York, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Secretary of state (U.S. federal government)
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Bacon, Robert (July 5, 1860 - May 29, 1919), banker, diplomat, and soldier, came of a line of sturdy Puritans. The emigrant ancestor, Nathaniel Bacon of Stratton in Cornwall, arrived at Barnstable, Mass., in 1639. Admitted a freeman in 1646, he subsequently held several town offices of trust, was one of the seven assistants to the governor, and a member of the Council of War. His wife was Hannah, daughter of the Rev. John Mayo. Nathaniel Jr. married Sarah, daughter of Thomas Hinckley, governor of Plymouth Colony. The grandfather of Robert, Daniel Carpenter Bacon, shipped before the mast in 1809 and was in command of a ship when just over twenty. Later he was a shipowner and merchant. William Benjamin, his second son, was the father of Robert. After graduation from Harvard, he went to China as supercargo and later with his elder brother became a member of the firm of Daniel G. Bacon & Company. His second wife was Emily Crosby Low, a noted beauty. Robert Bacon, the second son of that marriage, was born at Jamaica Plain, Mass. He went to Hopkinson's School and Harvard, graduating in June 1880, the youngest man of a class which included Theodore Roosevelt, of whom he was always a devoted friend and follower. His closest friend at college was Dr. Henry Jackson, who writes of him: "He was singularly blessed by nature with a superb physique to which was added a manly beauty; he may well be chosen as a type of the perfection of manhood at its best." His superb physique placed him in a position to excel in any sport. He was a member of the freshman football team; first base and captain of the freshman baseball team; member of the University football team, and one year its captain; winner in heavy-weight sparring, 100-yard dash, and quarter-mile run; and number seven in the university crew.

After a trip around the world, he settled down to a business career with the firm of Lee, Higginson & Company, whom he left in 1883 to become a partner in the firm of E. Rollins Morse & Brother. On Oct. 10 of this same year he married Martha Waldron Cowdin of New England ancestry, but then living in New York. He remained with the Morse firm until 1894, when he accepted a partnership in J. P. Morgan & Company. Three of the most important enterprises in which Bacon took part in the latter firm are given by Dr. James Brown Scott, his biographer, as: the relief of the Government in the panic of 1895; the formation of the United States Steel Corporation in 1901, and the negotiations resulting in the Northern Securities Company. He resigned from the firm in 1903.

In July 1905, Elihu Root was offered the secretaryship of state by President Roosevelt to succeed John Hay. In carrying out his own and Hay's policies, Root needed an assistant secretary who could understand and help to execute them and he offered the position to Robert Bacon. During Root's absence at the Pan-American Conference at Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 1906 and his subsequent trip through South America, Bacon was acting secretary. Early in 1909, Root resigned and was succeeded on Jan. 27 by Bacon for the few remaining weeks of Roosevelt's administration. President Taft appointed him ambassador to France in December 1909, but he resigned in January 1912, to become Fellow of Harvard, of which he had been an Overseer. At the request of the Carnegie Endowment he made a trip to South America in 1913. His addresses on this trip were published in a volume entitled, For Better Relations with Our Latin American Neighbors: A Journey to South America (1915).

From the outbreak of the World War Bacon realized its seriousness and that ultimately the United States would be forced to take part. As early as August 1914, he sailed for France, and while Mrs. Bacon was raising funds for the "American Ambulance," he was personally helping the work and even driving an ambulance at the front. Toward the end of 1915 he made a hasty trip to the United States, where he threw himself into the campaign for preparedness and attended the military training camp at Plattsburg, N. Y., which he entered as a private. In the summer of 1916, he announced his candidacy for the United States Senate on a platform of support for the Allies and preparedness. Although not running as a candidate of the regular organization, he polled an enormous vote in the primaries (144,366 of a total of 297,739), even with the handicap of being a last-minute candidate.

In May 1917, he was commissioned a major in the quartermaster corps of the Army and sailed for France with Gen. Pershing. His military service was distinguished and as Chief of the American Military Mission at British General Headquarters his work was most valuable. Shortly before the Armistice he was promoted to be a lieutenant-colonel of infantry and left Paris for home in March 1919, a physical wreck from over-exertion and strain. On May 29 of the same year he died. Never a great man, he was of the highest type of sportsman, business man, and public servant. His entire devotion to his country, his integrity, his patriotism and sacrifices for the Allied cause were notable.


[The chief source of information is Robert Bacon. Life and Letters (1923), by James Brown Scott, an admirable and sympathetic biog. by a competent scholar and warm friend. Bacon's important papers while secretary of state and his dispatches to the department while ambassador to France may be found in Foreign Relations of the U. S., 1906-12, and in the MS. archives of the State Dept.]


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Gale Document Number: GALE|BT2310018466