Francis and the Bolsheviks

Copyright 1994, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

The year 1917 was a turning point in Russian history, a watershed year in which the past was broken with and a new course was set. In that year the Romanov dynasty came to its downfall, and after a brief experiment with democracy the Bolsheviks seized power and established the Communist dictatorship that would rule in some form or another until the end of 1991. With all these changes came powerful changes in the way that the United States viewed Russia. During that watershed year people saw powerful possibilities, which they would later regard as having been inadequately grasped. Part of the blame for that they placed upon the American Ambassador to Russia during the period.

That man was David Rowland Francis, a businessman and politician from Missouri. Through hard work and assiduous saving he had built up a respectable business as a grain merchant. He then married the daughter of a railroad builder, solidifying his position in society. Their marriage produced six sons. His political career began when he was elected president of the Merchants' Exchange. From there he went on to be elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and his star was on the rise.1

Francis went on to be elected mayor of St. Louis and then governor of Missouri. Afterward he returned to business, but was appointed Secretary of the Interior under Cleveland. The title of "Governor" stuck with him long after he completed his term of office. Edgar Sisson, in his own memoirs One Hundred Red Days (1931), would later recall how people in the Embassy would use that title rather than the more formal "Ambassador" when addressing Francis in social situations.2

Physically Francis was a tall, blond man who had aged well by the time of his appointment as ambassador.3 However it was his quaint old-time American personal habits that would stick in the memories of other members of the diplomatic corps and become part of the legend that surrounded him. In particular, his chewing tobacco and his brass spittoon always figure largely in stories of him. Francis was an inveterate tobacco chewer and could spit great distances with superb aim.4 He also was fond of his whiskey, and loved to play poker, characteristics that would later be used by historians to demonstrate his unsuitability for the post of ambassador on the grounds that he lacked the necessary polish.5 Sisson refers to having played cards with the ambassador the day before the American Embassy staff fled Petrograd for Vologda after the collapse of the Eastern Front.6

Francis was sixty-five in 1916 when he accepted the post of ambassador to Russia. Although he had served well in many domestic posts and had plenty of experience with American politics, Francis had very little experience in diplomacy or to do with Russia. He himself admitted that his knowledge of Russia was quite sketchy.7 In order for him to function with any resemblence of effectiveness in this situation, it would be essential for him to have an excellent support staff. In particular he would need someone who had the extensive experience and knowledge base that he so plainly lacked. Charles R. Crane, a campaign supporter of Wilson and his personal advisor on Russia, suggested Samuel N. Harper as personal advisor to him when he first went to Russia.8 Harper was a professor of Russian at the University of Chicago and could therefore be relied upon to have the necessary background to adequately interpret the situation in Russia.9

Problems began to crop up almost immediately after Francis' appointment. On the way to Russia he struck up a friendship with one Madame Matilda de Cram, a suspected German agent. It is quite tempting to try to make something scandalous out of their relationship, especially since there is evidence that his relationship with his wife was a rather cool one and this may have been why she did not accompany him to Russia.10 However, on account of Francis' advanced age at the time and the strong evidence of his devotion to home and family as seen in his frequent loving letters to his sons, it is unlikely that there was any physical component to their relationship. Also the idea of an affair doesn't square with the other evidence of his character and his traditional values of country and capitalism. Perhaps he wasn't a particularly devoted husband, but his Victorian values would have kept him a dutiful one.

Even without questions about his faithfulness to his marriage vows, the business element of their relationship alone was enough to arouse anger, due to the sensitive nature of the matters Francis was dealing with. More than once Madame de Cram was permitted into areas of the Embassy where codes were done and secrets were handled. Apparently Francis even went so far as to permit her to read sensitive materials that passed through his hands. Finally the American military attachˇ at the time, General William V. Judson, decided that action had to be taken and showed Francis hard evidence that she was in the pay of the German government. In spite of this, Francis refused to break off his relationship with her.11 No doubt the hard feelings that this incident created would later contribute to the later difficulties between Francis and Judson over issues of how to deal with the Bolsheviks when they came into power.

When the February Revolution ousted the Tsar and replaced the Romanov autocracy with a democratic Provisional Government under Kerensky, Francis decided that the United States should take the initiative and establish dipomatic relations with the new government. On March 18, 1917, six days after the Tsar had been ousted, he cabled to the Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, giving an account of the revolution and requesting the authority to recognize the Provisional Government.12 As it turned out, the American recognition of the Provisional Government came only four hours before the British and French recognitions. Even so, Francis mentioned in his 19 April telegram to Lansing that he had received a large number of letters expressing gratitude for the rapid American recognition of the Provisional Government.13 Ever afterward, Francis was quite proud that he had been instrumental in the rapid recognition of the fledgling democracy in Russia, although he was greatly disappointed that it was not able to hold its grip on power.

Francis' interest in the development of democracy in Russia did not stop with getting American recognition of the Provisional Government. He also took a keen interest in such matters as the labor unions and believed that developing a relationship with American labor unions would help them develop the respectable foundation that would enable them to be a solid part of the new democratic Russia. On April 2, 1917, Francis delivered a telegram from Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, to the St. Petersburg soviet to P. N. Milyukov.14 In doing so, he believed that he was helping them become more stable and more like the labor unions of America.

In dealing with the rapidly changing political situation of Russia between the February and October Revolutions, Francis' lack of background knowledge about the Russian political scene becomes pitifully obvious. Because he had no comprehension of the various kinds of Russian revolutionary socialists and their political positions, he tended to lump them all together under whatever label came immediately handy to his mind at the time.15 Because he didn't understand their positions, he wasn't able to understand what was going on in the political arena, which affected everything that he was involved in. His reports to the State Department became necessarily vague and unhelpful. His consuls in Petrograd and Moscow, North Winship and Madden Summers, were sending detailed reports back, but they were sending these reports by diplomatic pouch so that they became outdated in the time necessary to transport them back to America.16

Francis' personality and American political convictions also did not serve him well to be an objective observer of the political situation in Russia. Culture-bound in the manner typical of the American gentleman of his era, he carried with him his unshakeable conviction of an absolute standard of right and wrong in the political arena, based upon the political experience of America.17 Thus he saw everything through the lens of American political theories and concepts. To him, the finest form of government was an American-style republic, and he believed that the Russian people would naturally embrace this form of government now that they were freed of the tyranny of the Tsar. Therefore any group or organization that would take the Russian people away from such a form of government must necessarily be an evil execrescence, not a natural product of the Russian political scene.

Shocking incidents were not long in coming. On April 22, 1917, word came to the American Embassy that a group of anarchists planned to make an attack on the embassy as a protest over a death sentence handed down to one "Muni" in San Francisco. Although confused since he had heard nothing of anyone by that name being sentenced to death, Francis took a gun and prepared to defend the embassy against all comers. However the mob never arrived, having been headed off en route.18 Francis would later learn that the incident had been caused by news of a death sentence handed down for a bombing incident by a labor leader named Mooney who had turned terrorist.19

Francis mistook Boshevik discipline for weakness when Lenin didn't sieze power in the July 17, 1917, incident.20 Thus he was relieved that the crisis seemed to be averted and that the Russian people would continue to follow the straight and narrow path towards an American-style democratic government. Later, when the Bolsheviks did come into power and he saw all the things that they did, he began to feel that the Provisional Government had failed to deal sternly enough with them by driving Lenin and his followers to flee to Finland, and that they should have been shot as traitors instead.21 Certainly that would have dealt with any possibility of them causing more such trouble, but of course at the time that it happened there was no way to know what the Bolsheviks would later do.

Francis also failed to understand that the Provisional Government wasn't the real power in Petrograd. Instead the city was really under the control of the Petrograd Soviet, a rowdy body that represented workers and soldiers. Its Executive Committee was in control of the factories and the garrisons and thus had the power to actually accomplish things, something that the Provisional Government lacked.22 Since he didn't really understand how important they were, he made no efforts to understand what they were doing or what they stood for. However it is doubtful that he would have considered trying to deal with them even if he had understood the Petrograd Soviet's importance. After all, the Provisional Government was supposed to be the legitimate authority, and Francis would probably have seen the Petrograd Soviet as a rival that needed to be firmly dealt with by the Provisional Government rather than an additional factor that he needed to include in his plans.

Because he lacked understanding of what was really going on and where the lines of power were really running, Francis could not act effectively. The actions he did take were based upon a faulty understanding of what was going on around him and thus often proved to be a waste of effort. Yet he continued to try to take the actions that he beleived would be the most useful in bringing Russia to some sort of stable government that the US could work with. He delivered an ultimatum to Miliukov and Guchkov, warning them to curtail the protest parades and demonstrate that they were in control of the situation or the United States might decide to begin attatching strings to the foreign aid.23

He also had no real understanding of who and what the Bolsheviks were. In a conversation with Kerensky, he asked whether Lenin and Trotsky were Jews. Kerensky answered that he had grown up with Lenin and was in his father's house when the police searched for Lenin's older brother, who was wanted for his attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander III. Kerensky assured Francis that Lenin was of full Russian blood.24 However, many of Lenin's biographers have stated that Lenin's father was a Chuvash, a member of a Turkic tribe that settled in that area, and his mother was ethnically German.

Francis was shocked to see the methods of the Bolsheviks. The violence of their methods shook his worldview to its very foundations, to the point that his mind simply couldn't deal with it and prevented any further comprehension of them. As early as May 1, 1917, his letter to his son Perry shows his disturbance at learning that Lenin was going about making speeches telling people to kill property-owners who wouldn't share the wealth.25 And when the Bolsheviks actually came into power, he had an even bigger shock to his world-view coming. These people didn't just talk about committing violence. They acted on their talk. The day after the Bolsheviks took power, the first evidence of their brutality began to appear. Francis was clearly shocked to hear accounts of how the ministers of the fallen Provisional Government were threatened with execution after being captured by the revolutionaries in the storming of the Winter Palace.26 In Francis' view, one simply did not do such things to one's opponents after defeating them. One did not even threaten such things in jest. But of course his views of how a change of government ought to be handled had been conditioned by the long tradition of orderly succession of American Presidents. No matter how bitterly a campaign might be conducted, no matter how many suspicions of dishonesty might be held about the election process, no President who had beaten the incumbent would even think of joking about having his predecessor executed. Yet here was clear evidence that the Bolsheviks thought nothing of setting the captured ministers of the Provisional Government up to be executed and rescuing them at the last moment. Francis wasn't even sure that the Bolsheviks had just been joking when they threatened the ministers with execution. And the thought that they might actually have carried out their threat if clearer heads at higher levels in their organization hadn't prevailed was even more terrifying.

To make matters worse, their violence didn't stop with mere jests and threats of executions. All throughout November of 1917 the streets ran red with blood as the Bolsheviks slew anyone they thought to be a threat to their own power. Francis soon received reports of the slaying of the Junkers (military cadets) on sight without warning, something which he deplored as a barbaric brutality in his letter to Secretary of State Lansing.27 Madden Summers, the Consul-General in Moscow, sent Francis a letter on November 24, 1917, reporting similar slaughters of students in Moscow and theorizing that the Bolsheviks had them confused with the Cadet (Constitutional Democrat) Party and thought they were political rivals.28 But the students in the military academy were not the only victims of such violence at the hands of the Bolsheviks. At about the same time Francis sent a letter to Summers relating cruelties that he Bolsheviks had committed on captives they had taken from the Vladimir School, which was apparently not a military academy but a civil training school.29

Even people on the streets soon became the victims of this great bloodletting. In a letter to his son Perry, dated November 26, 1917, Francis related the story of how a postal clerk was murdered and eighty-two thousand rubles were stolen from a post office. By this time he had received so many accounts of senseless murders that he no longer was evens hocked to hear it and merely said that he hoped the perpetrator was caught and brought to justice. Only as he was writing the letter did he realize and comment upon how he had gotten hardened by all the slaughter.30 Years later, when he was safely back in America writing his memoirs, the violence and bloodshed remained one of the central horrors of the Bolshevik revolution, which he regarded as the greatest evidence that they were a threat to all civilization. In the concluding chapters of his memoirs he deplored the way in which human life was cheapened in Russia after the Revolution and casual murders became commonplace. As an example he related the story of the street justice that was meted out to a man who was accused of having stolen a woman's pocketbook. When the woman then discovered that she was mistaken in her accusation, the same crowd then turned on her as well.31 To Francis, brought up under the rule of law and taking it for granted, this was something so horrifying that it could scarcely be believed.

Horrified by this sort of violence, which was amply in evidence in the chaos of the October Revolution, Francis contemplated fleeing the country almost immediately after the Bolsheviks came to power.32 However he believed that he had a duty to remain in the country as long as possible. Reconciling his desire to flee to safety with his obligations, he began to regard US military intervention as the best possible solution. When told of Bolshevik atrocities, he immediately responded that 50,000 to 100,000 troops should be sent to take Petrograd and Moscow and restore order.33 Of course what he meant by order was a democratic government along American lines.

His disgust for the Bolsheviks soon transformed into contempt and he began hurling epithets such as "foul monster" at them. By July he was referring to the Bolsheviks as a rotting corpse. Halliday suggests that Francis possessed an egotistical and truculent character which grew more and more important in his desire for intervention. Certainly the longer things went, the more Francis began to regard the Bolsheviks as dangerously belligerant and to desire an intervention that would involve considerable force.34 When he was writing his memoirs, after having returned safely to America, he stated that Bolshevism would send humanity back to the dark ages of barbarism if it were to be allowed to dominate the world.35

If Francis couldn't deal with the Bolsheviks' methods, he was even less able to handle their ideology. This business about abolishing private property was so foreign to his capitalist soul than he simply couldn't believe that anyone could actually believe such a thing. Foster Rhea Dulles commented on how Francis simply couldn't deal with the reality of Lenin and Trotsky's beliefs and came to conclude that those "impossible" beliefs were simply a cover for treachery.36 That was an idea that he could handle -- cover up their dirty deeds with an outrageous ideology. But if they were planning to betray Russia, who were they betraying it to?

Given that the United States was then embroiled in World War I, that answer came simply and quickly to hand -- Germany. Francis had already been warned that the Tsar's court was riddled with German spies and sympathizers, so the notion was already in his head that the Germans had treachery afoot in Russia.37 Lenin and his followers had to be German agents, bankrolled by dirty old Kaiser Bill and his wicked imperialistic military leaders, Hindenburg and Ludendorff. And the fact that Lenin and his closest followers had passed through Germany on their way from Swiss exile back to Russia served only to support that idea. Why else would the German authorities have permitted these political agitators to pass through their territory, except as secret agents under their ultimate control, doing their bidding and serving the long-range schemes of Imperial Germany? And what would those aims be, save to get Russia to conclude a separate peace and drop out of the War so that Germany could shift the armies of the Eastern Front to the West? Everything fit the mentality of the time, and gave Francis a far more comfortable conclusion than dealing with the possibility that Lenin and Trotsky might actually believe this Marxism nonsense and actually be planning to put it into force in Russia. In his memoirs Francis stated that he formed the opinion in early 1917 when Lenin had just come from Switzerland. In a letter from this period to his son, David Jr., he wrote that he thought Lenin was in the pay of the Germans and that the government thought so as well. However it is difficult to tell from the context whether he meant the American government or the Provisional Government.38

Francis was so intellectually committed to the idea that the Russian people wanted to stay in the war and see the Germans defeated that he simply couldn't believe anything else. In his meetings with various Russians he had come to the conclusion that they hated the Germans so intensely that they would prosecute the war to its bitter end and would never accept anything less than a German surrender.39 In the early days of the Provisional Government his optimism was so intense that he saw even setbacks such as the defeat of whole armies as being positive things that would stiffen the will of the Russian people to the fight.40

But as it became increasingly more obvious that the heart of the Russian people was no longer committed to winning the War, Francis couldn't believe it. His intellectual and emotional committment to the idea that the Russians would stay in had become too great for him to look at the situation and admit that the Russians had become sick of the war and wanted nothing more than to get out of something that the Tsar's government had gotten them into. So Lenin became a handy scapegoat to pin the blame for this loss of will upon.41 He had to be the one who was sapping the Russian people's will with his speeches. This only strengthened Francis' belief that the Bolsheviks had to be working for the interests of the Germans. In his memoirs, Francis stated numerous times that Lenin was a German agent working with German funds and that he worked heavily on demoralizing the Russian army in order to get them to demand a separate peace.42 In one place he did qualify it with the remark that Lenin did want a worldwide social revolution and would have taken anyone's money to get it, but this appears to be hindsight based upon his later experiences with the reality of Bolshevik rule rather than representing his views at the time Lenin was first agitating.43

Francis even suspected that Count von Mirbach, the German ambassador to Russia, was influencing or even controlling Lenin and the Soviets.44 After all, if the Bolsheviks were working for German interests, it made sense in a nasty sort of way that the German ambassador would be passing instructions along for them, since the Germans would want their agents in Russia to be under their control and working for their interests. And who would be the most likely German agent to be doing that but the German ambassador, who would have a great deal of personal freedom by virtue of the diplomatic immunity his status granted him.

It is also possible that Francis got the seed of his ideas that the Bolsheviks were working for the Germans from the gossip of the Tsarist Generals and millionaires with whom he frequently met. For whatever reason, he was certain that they were a passing phase that would soon blow over, which meant that he had yet another big disillusionment coming when they didn't just quietly disappear, but instead took power.

Certainly Francis wasn't the only American in Russia at the time who thought that the Bolsheviks were working for the Germans. His views on that subject were shared by Edgar Sisson, who was in many other was his rival or even enemy. In his own memoirs Sisson commented on how Lenin firmly denied being a German spy without the subject ever being brought up by anyone else, during a meeting in the early days of January, 1918. Sisson concluded that Lenin must have been taking German money, since he would never have brought it up otherwise.45 When Francis talked with Sisson in February of 1918, he reported with complete confidence that Lenin and Trotsky were agents of the Germans.46 When Francis was leaving Petrograd for Vologda, he told Sisson to stop making so many obvious investigations of the connections between the Germans and the Bolsheviks because Trotsky knew about them and was apparently taking offense. However Sisson discounted that as a bluff, telling himself that there was no way that Trotsky could possibly know about his investigations.47

What was the truth about these allegations, which were put forward not only by Francis but by many other Americans during that period? Certainly there is ample evidence that the Germans did take an active interest in spreading anti-war propaganda in Russia and made considerable use of groups such as the Bolsheviks.48 After World War I was over, General Max Hoffmann, Chief of Staff for the Eastern Front, made a public statement in which he says he used Lenin as a tool to break the Russian front, but that he never foresaw what a threat the Bolsheviks would prove to be and that he would never have used them if he had known.49 German archives captured in World War II revealed that the Bolsheviks did get German money in the beginning. However the Germans ceased to transfer any more money to the Bolsheviks after July of 1917.50 Perhaps the Germans decided to write off the Bolsheviks as a failure after the attempted revolution in July failed and Lenin had to flee to Finland. It is doubtful that Lenin and Trotsky were in the pay of the Germans by the time they actually took power in November of 1917.

But whatever history has proved about the matter since that time, it was the things that Francis believed to be true at the time which shaped his actions during this critical period. And as American Ambassador he had a number of areas in which he was acting. First, he was acting in relation to the Russians and the various people and groups which claimed to be leading them. Secondly, he was acting in relation to the various other Americans present in Russia at the time, particularly the members of the diplomatic staff and the various other Americans on mission not connected with the State Department, such as Robins and Sisson. And finally he was acting in relation with his superiors, sending messages back to Washington for Secretary of State Lansing and President Wilson. And all those actions were shaped by his belief that the Bolsheviks were in the pay of the Germans and therefore were working for a nation that was now an enemy of the United States that he served.

By the time of the "Glorious" October Revolution (which took place on November 7 of the Gregorian Calendar used in the West), Francis already had his opinions of the Bolsheviks already firmly formed and there was no doubt in his mind as to which side his sympathies belonged. During the "storming" of the Winter Palace, he enabled Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky to escape in a car from the American Embassy.51 Many accounts of this manage to give the impression that the Americans went out of their way to send Kerensky the car, often with grave danger to their own position relative to the Bolsheviks. However Francis' memoirs paint a picture of a much more passive role on the part of the Americans. By his own account, he had no direct involvement in letting Kerensky have the car, and merely approved of his subordinates' granting the car to Kerensky and requested that no one outside the Embassy be told of the incident. Instead Kerensky was the one who came to the Embassy and virtually commandeered the car, which belonged to Secretary Whitehouse, in order to go to the front. After some resistance from Whitehouse, the request was finally granted and the American flag remained on the car primarily due to Whitehouse's oversight rather than any deliberate intent to deceive the Bolsheviks into thinking that the car contained Americans on official Embassy business.52 Since falsehoods and mis-recollections tend to magnify rather than diminish one's own role in actions that are likely to be regarded as heroic, it is likely that Francis' own account is the correct ones and the more dramatic ones are products of romantic imagination.

Francis did later give his recommendation that Kerensky should be allowed to enter the United States.53 However that would only come when it became obvious that there was no way that the Bolsheviks could be dislodged from their position of power.

However he was not able to help the other ministers of the Provisional Government, who were held by the Bolsheviks in the Fortress of Saint Peter and Saint Paul under considerable duress. When Mme. Terestchenko, mother of former Minister of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Terestchenko, asked Francis to intercede on their behalf, he refused. Francis explained to her that anything he might do would only make matters worse instead of better, and therefore it would be best for them to let matters work themselves out.54

On the day of the Bolshevik revolution he also ignored Trotsky's announcement of the formation of the Soviet government and invitation to recognize it.55 As far as Francis was concerned, the Soviet government was a monstrosity that did not represent the interests of the Russian people and therefore the US should stick by the Provisional Government, which he regarded as representing the twin goods of representitive government and a free market economy. Therefore he would have nothing to do with these interlopers and wait until the Russian people forced them out so that the Provisional Government could return and continue on its path toward a stable democratic government.

As the days went by and it became increasingly obvious that the Bolshevik regime established by Lenin and his cronies was digging in for the long haul, Francis decided that more drastic action was merited. On November 19 he appealed directly to the people of Russia, telling them not to submit themselves to the authority of the Bolshevisks.56 In his address to the Russian people he recalled how the United States had welcomed the formation of the Provisional Government and even extended credit to the new government in the interests of furthering the development of democracy in Russia. He then called for the Russian people to stop their fratricidal conflicts and return to the business of defeating Germany, warning that the internal strife was being stirred up by Imperial agents.57

Francis' address may well have demonstrated his political naivete and his ethnocentric belief that the Russian people were at heart just as freedom-loving as any American. But it also demonstrated his straightforward character and his deep-set belief that American-style democracy was the finest form of government, which all people would rush to embrace if only the obstacles of ignorance and tyranny could be removed from their path.

In December, when the Bolsheviks issued a number of decrees abolishing private property and establishing other economic principles of socialism as law, Francis led the other Allied ambassadors in protesting them.58 However Francis was regarded by his subordinates as having no coherent policy toward the Russians. Near the end of 1917 Judson wrote a letter to Francis urging him to develop a broad Russian policy. In it he did refer to German influence running unchecked among the Russians because a lack of American influence.59 In time Judson, Robins and Thompson grew fed up with Francis' steadfast refusal to deal with the Bolsheviks and his oppsition to their own attempts to form some kind of working relationship with them. Deciding that something had to be changed, they sought to have Francis ousted from his position as ambassador. However the State Department backed Francis and pulled Judson on December 15.60 This infighting made the mess even worse for Francis, since he now couldn't co-ordinate the efforts of his subordinates. Finally Robins, who was head of the American Red Cross mission and therefore not strictly under Francis' authority, developed a working relationship with Lenin and Trotsky. The problems within the embassy were excaberated by problems of communications with Washington DC, which left both Francis and the State Department in the dark as to just what was going on.61

At about that same time, the Constituent Assembly went through its brief life. The Constituent Assembly, made up of representatives elected by the people of Russia, was supposed to have worked out a permanent government to succeed the Provisional Government. The opening of the Constituent Assembly was to have taken place on January 17, 1918 (January 4, Old Style), and Francis wanted the Diplomatic Corps to attend the opening session as a symbol of Allied interest in the future of democracy in Russia. However the other ambassadors refused to attend, saying that they had not been invited and did not want to intrude. Not wanting to go alone, Francis decided not to go. Later he would regret that decision, wondering if they could have influenced things for the better had they attended instead.62 The first and only session was an unpleasant one, finally adjourned when a drunken sailor who was supposed to be guarding the building threatened to turn out the lights if they didn't leave so he could go to bed. The next morning, the deputies returned to find the building surrounded and were told that the Constituent Assembly had been dissolved and they no longer had any official position. Francis deplored the way in which the Bolsheviks and their thugs had managed to derail the move toward democratic government.63

Not long after they took power, the Bolsheviks initiated peace negotiations with the Germans. To Francis this was the ultimate betrayal, both of American interests and what he perceived as the "real desires" of the Russian people. And of course it was proof positive that the Bolsheviks had been in the pay of the Germans all along. Francis decided to try to fight it as much as he could. In a letter to his son, dated February 23, 1918, he declared his intention to encourage any rebellion that the Russian people might raise against whatever separate peace the Bolsheviks might conclude with the Germans.64

Yet when it came to taking real, solid action, Francis failed. When Trotsky sent him a message asking for help, he did nothing. Instead of denying aid outright, he ignored the message. He also refused to give the Bolsheviks a clear answer on the position America would take on the Allied intervention when it was first starting with some Japanese landings and American forces hadn't gotten involved yet.65

MacGowan informed Francis that the Bolsheviks were arming large numbers of German and Austrian prisoners of war to fight against the Whites. This solidified Francis' determination to have no further dealings with the Soviet government.66

Meanwhile the Soviets were also attempting to disarm a group of Czech soldiers who had become trapped within Russia and who wanted to travel across Siberia to join the Allied forces on the Western Front. In a letter to his son, Francis wrote that he planned to do anything within his abilities to prevent the disarming of those Czech soldiers.67 No doubt he suspected that the Soviets were planning some foul treachery. By that time Francis was to the point where he was ready to suspect the Soviets of anything, and believed that no perfidity was beyond their capacity.

By the end of February, things were getting so messy that Francis no longer believed that Petrograd was safe from the advances of the Germans. He was afraid that the Germans might capture him and take him hostage in an attempt to obtain the release of German prisoners held by the United States. However Francis did not want to leave Russia entirely, feeling that he still had obligations to the Russian people. So he decided to move the embassy staff to Vologda, a town in the hinterland where two major rail lines intersected.68 The preperations were finished and they left in the morning on February 27, arriving in Vologda about twenty-six hours later. Two days after that Francis sent a message to the State Department saying that he would remain in Vologda as long as he was safe there.69

Although Francis was fiercely opposed to the Bolsheviks on principle, he got along quite well with the Bolsheviks in Vologda, which made the matter of settling in and running the embassy there much simpler.70 There he remained for a time, leaving only to visit Moscow briefly to speak at the funeral of Consul-General Summers, who died on May 5, believing that he had been poisoned by the Germans but actually suffering from stress produced by overwork. At the time Francis was still recovering from an illness of his own that had sapped his strength.71 On July 4, 1918 he made a formal message to the Russian people encouraging them to organize against the encroachments of the Germans.72

In July of 1918 the Bolsheviks tried to lure the diplomats to come to Moscow, where their government offices were installed by now. Georgi Chicherin, Commissar for Foreign Affairs, warned Francis that they were in danger in Vologda and they would be better protected in Moscow.73 However Francis saw through their plans and outwitted them. Of course the main reason Chicherin cited for their being in danger was the recent assassination of Count von Mirbach, whom Francis already had pegged as the Bolsheviks' German handler.74 So it may have not been any great intellectual feat for Francis to see through the Bolshevik attempt and decide that they should not move. To Francis way of thinking, the assassination of Mirbach was the work of some true Russian patriot, who would of course never harm the Allied ambassadors who had Russia's best interests at heart. However he did decide not to remain in Vologda any longer. Along with the British and French embassies, he moved his staff from Vologda to Archangel on July 25. However it was in Bolshevik hands when they arrived, so they went to Kandalaksha, which the British held. In two weeks the situation had stabilized enough that they were able to move to Archangel.75

By that time Francis had begun to develop severe health problems, of a nature that the old gentleman refused to elaborate upon. No doubt they were something of a sort that a Victorian gentleman such as himself would consider inappropriate for open discussion. His illness kept him bedridden, but the doctors that examined him refused to perform the operation that he needed, in spite of his own requests that they do so.76 In spite of his deteriorating health, which apparently caused him a considerable amount of pain, Francis took an active interest in Chaikovsky's government in Archangel.77 N. V. Chaikovsky had overthrown the Bolsheviks who had been holding Archangel, and then established his own Sovreign Government of the Northern Region. Francis noted that Chaikovsky had lived for some time in the United States, where he had attempted to start his own religious movement, and that he welcomed the American forces that began landing there not long after the ambassador's arrival.78

However all was not well, and on September 5 a naval officer by the name of Chaplin attempted a coup against Chaikovsky, kidnapping certain ministers he regarded as socialists. On September 6 Francis was informed of Chaplin's revolution. Astonishment overcoming his dignity, he exclaimed "The hell you say? Who pulled it off?" Then, once he had calmed himself, he called for verification of the situation and arranged to talk with Chaplin.79 As the political situation began to get more messy in Archangel, Francis decided that action had to be taken. He issued reprimands to both Chaikovsky and Chaplin.80

In the midst of all this chaos, having to move again and again while his illness continued to bear down upon him, Francis grew more and more frustrated with what he began to perceive as a hopeless situation. By the time he was finally evacuated from Archangel, his thoughts were occupied with the idea of an American intervention.81

Francis' belief that the Bolsheviks were in the pay of the Germans also influenced his relations with the other Americans in Russia. Because he disapproved of any attempts on the part of any American to establish a relationship with the Bolsheviks, he immediately came into conflict with certain members of his staff who were talking with various Bolshevik leaders. One of the most important of these was General Judson, with whom he already had a standing conflict over the issue of Madame de Cram. When Judson went to talk with Trotsky, Francis' patience with him ran out.

Francis grew more and more hostile towards Judson after the talk with Trotsky. He refused to permit Judson to see any of the cables between the Embassy and Washington, which Judson believed would enable him to have a better understanding of the situation and thus advise the War Depatment.82 This conflict fed the other problems between Judson and Francis which ultimately led to Judson's replacement.

Raymond Robins of the Red Cross mission was also making his own contacts with the Bolsheviks. However he was not directly under Francis' supervision, so it was more difficult for Francis to give him orders.

Near the end of 1917 Francis realized that the Bolsheviks were in control and in to stay. Swallowing his pride, he decided to overlook the way in which Robins was flouting the State Department's non-intercourse order, which forbade American personnel from having anything to do with the Bolshevik leaders.83 He finally decided that having regular contact with Smolny was more useful than keeping strictly to the letter of the State Department's directives. Here Francis compromised his firmly-held beliefs in the interest of pragmatism, an unusual thing for him.

After the State Department had Judson recalled and refused to open formal relations with the Bolsheviks, Raymond Robins tried to tender his resignation. However Francis refused it and told him not to abruptly cut off his visits to Smolny.84 By this time he had come to appreciate the contact and the information about Bolshevik activities that it produced. And having Robins do it was a convenient way to get the information without getting his hands dirty.

Francis was having other problems with his subordinates. It has been beleived that Francis' negotiations with Robins, Ruggles and Riggs were actually a screen to mask his efforts in raising an army to oust the Bolsheviks.85 He also had trouble with Sisson, who was acting as though he were the ambassador instead of Francis.

He also had trouble with the commissions that came to deal with various problems in Russia. In particular he came into conflict with Captain William B. Webster of the American Red Cross mission to study the prisoner-of-war situation in Siberia. Francis held Webster's judgement in deep distrust. He had come to believe that the "commission" was hoodwinked.86

In February of 1918, when the Bolsheviks signed the Brest-Litovsk agreement with the Germans, Francis prepared to retreat eastward. He was certain that the Germans would come pouring in at any time and wanted to get his people out of the way before it happened. Believing the Bolsheviks incapable of accomplishing anything of substance, he called for an Allied intervention.87

During all this turmoil, Francis was in communication with his superiors in Washington, particularly Secretary of State Lansing, his direct superior. And of course his messages were affected at least in some part by his belief that the Bolsheviks were working for the Germans, although not to the same degree as were his actions in relation to persons immediately present in Russia.

In April of 1917 Francis telegraphed the State Department that Lenin was making violent speeches. However he assumed that the Provisional Government would soon deport him and the problem would be taken care of. This was the first mention Francis made of Lenin in his official correspondence.88

Francis was soon warning Lansing of how the Bolsheviks were using President Wilson's words about "peace without victory" to support their own plans for a separate peace with the Germans. He also voiced his suspicions that the Bolsheviks were working for the Germans.89

Francis also suggested to Washington that Gompers and other prominent US labor leaders could help the Bolsheviks become more reasonable.90 This of course led to the message that Gompers sent to the labor leaders of Petrograd, which Francis gave to Milyukov.

As the situation deteriorated over the months after the February Revolution and the Provisional Government's control over the military steadily eroded, Francis began to become more concerned that something had to be done to protect their position. He observed the conservative coup led by General Lavr Kornilov with interest, apparently thinking that it could help to restore order if it succeeded. Francis was quite disappointed when the Kornilov faction fell apart and began to propose the idea of an armed intervention. On November 6, 1917, he asked Lansing about the possibility of sending US divisions into Russia to help stabilize the Provisional Government.91 Of course the very next day the Bolsheviks seized control of the government, ousting Kerensky and the rest of the Provisional Government, changing the situation so completely that Francis' request was regarded as no longer being relevant by the State Department.

On November 10 Francis sent another message to Lansing, telling him not to make any further loans to Russia now that the Bolsheviks were in control.92 He didn't want any more American funds falling into the hands of the Bolsheviks and bankrolling their murderous, anti-democratic activities. And of course if the Bolsheviks were working for the Germans he certainly didn't want American money going to the hands of people who were working for a nation that the United States was fighting.

On November 26 Francis cabled Lansing in reference to the growing talk of a separate peace between the Bolshevik government and Germany. He suggested a recommendation that the Soviet government insist that any separate peace be conditioned on the opposing armies stay at status quo.93 This would mean that the Germans would not be able to remove their troops from the Eastern Front and use them to reinforce the Western Front.

On March 8, 1918, Robins arrived at Vologda. Eighty-nine hours later Francis transmitted the Soviet inquiry regarding aid against the Germans to Washington. He also ignored the provisional Soviet acceptance of the Allied landings in Murmansk.94

On March 5, the Russians made an inquiry of the US. The response did not come until March 14, the day of the opening of the Fourth Congress of Soviets. The response contained a short note from President Wilson, dated March 11. Although it didn't offer any aid, it did give a sort of quasi-recognition to the Soviet government.95

At first the US government was friendly with the Bolsheviks. Wilson seemed to see them as a voice of the people and mentioned them in his Fourteen Points. The real questions that drove a wedge between them was the problem of Russia's war debts, which the Bolsheviks repudiated as something that the Tsar had accrued and which was therefore not their problem.96

As things got worse, Francis became more and more determined that American military intervention was the best way to sort out the situation. Francis advocated intervention in spite of opposition by Felix Cole, one of his subordinates.97

On May 2, 1918 Francis telegraphed the State Department and confirmed that he opposed recognition of the Bolshevik government and that he believed that this was the proper course to take.98

On August 27 Francis wrote a letter to the Secretary of State referring to the menace of the Bolsheviks being inspired and directed by Germany. He also vastly extended Wilson's orders, turning a limited intervention into a broad-based one that he hoped would be able to oust the Bolshevik government.99 He still believed, as he would until his dying day, that American-style democracy was the finest form of government, one that the Russian people would embrace if only it weren't for those beastly Bolsheviks getting in the way and seizing power. If only he could remove the Bolsheviks through American military intervention, the Russians would understand what they really wanted and be able to develop a working American-style democracy that would give them all the benefits of peace and prosperity that he had enjoyed in America.

During September communications with Lansing broke down. Neither one seemed to be understanding what the other one was trying to say. Francis finally concluded that the State Department was giving him the go-ahead in spite of what it was telling him.100

In October he wrote a letter to the State Department stating that German officers were directing the Bolshevik resistance to the Allied intervention.101 By this time he was certain that the Bolsheviks were being run by the Germans, and his deteriorating health may have lead to some of his confusion, since it would seem rather strange that the Germans, by this time in dire straits on the Western Front, would take such a great concern in keeping the Bolsheviks in power.

While he was in Archangel, Francis sparred with the British commander of intervention forces.102 He suspected that the English were trying to replace Germany as Russia's main trading partner and that they were going to use dirty tricks in order to accomplish that end. He made many complaints about this to Washington.103 However Francis had long believed that the English had these plans. As early as August 14, 1916 he wrote a letter stating hs suspicions that the English wanted to take over trade with Russia and expressing his desire that the United States should take that place instead.104

Even after he left Russia in order to receive treatment for the illness that had debilitated him, Francis continued his fight for extensive military intervention in order to secure the overthrow of the Bolshevik government. In January and February of 1919 Francis did his best to get in touch with Wilson. His own plan was for 150,000 troops from the US, Britain and France to occupy Petrograd and announce free elections for the Russian people. According to him, they could then watch Lenin and Trotsky come tumbling down.105 However Francis was never able to get in contact with Wilson.

After he had successfully recovered from his operation, Francis requested that he be able to go back to Russia and continue to work as ambassador. However the American government did not act on his request, although they did not accept his resignation either when he tendered it.106 At the time he wrote his memoirs his resignation still had not been accepted. For that reason he withheld publication of his memoirs until President Harding finally accepted his resignation in 1921.107

According to one Soviet source, America was still seen as friendly as long as Francis remained in Russia. The Russians truly came to regard America as an enemy when Francis left the country and US troops started landing in Siberia.108 So it seems that Francis was held in at least some respect among the Russians.

The image of the Bolsheviks as being German agents was not an idea unique to Francis. Far from it, many Americans thought it to be the case. A cartoon that appeared in the New York Herald showed the Russian bear in chains, led by a nose ring by Kaiser Wilhelm II and by Trotsky who carried a bag marked "Thirty Pieces" (a Judas reference). The caption in Filene's Americans and the Soviet Experiment notes that this was a favorite American view of Brest-Litovsk.109 Edgar Sisson wrote a lengthy report entitled "The German-Bolshevik Conspiracy," which was published by the Committee on Public Information in October of 1918 and contained documents alledging to prove that the Bolsheviks were working for the Germans. A fascimile copy of it is reprinted in Sisson's memoirs, One Hundred Red Days.110 Sivachev and Yakovlev suggest that the idea of the Bolsheviks being German agents was nothing more than propaganda to justify the intervention.111


  1. Jamie H. Cockfield, editor. Dollars and Diplomacy. (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1981) Pp. 5-6
  2. Edgar Sisson, One Hundred Red Days, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931) P 29
  3. ibid.
  4. E. M. Halliday, The Ignorant Armies (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958) pp. 19-20
  5. David Fogelsong, "A Missouri Democrat in Revolutionary Russia" Gateway Heritage (v. 13, Winter 1992) P. 25
  6. Sisson, P. 214
  7. Fogelsong, P. 25
  8. William Appleman Williams, American-Russian Relations 1781-1947. (New York: Rinehart & Co, Inc. 1952) p. 87
  9. Fogelsong, P. 31
  10. Cockfield, ed. P. 31
  11. Williams, Pp. 113-114
  12. David R. Francis, Russia from the American Embassy April, 1916-November, 1918. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1921) P. 90-91
  13. Nikolai V. Sivachev and Nikolai N. Yakovlev, Russia and the United States. tr. by Olga Adler Titelbaum (Chicago: Unviersity of Chicago Press 1979) p. 28
  14. Sivachev and Yakolev, p 29
  15. Max M. Laserson The American Impact on Russia 1784-1917, Diplomatic and Ideological, (New York: Collier 1950) pp. 499-500
  16. John Lewis Gaddis, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 1978) p 65
  17. Peter G. Filene, Americans and the Soviet Experiment, 1917-1933, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1967) p. 16
  18. Francis, P. 101
  19. Francis, P. 105
  20. Williams. P 93-94
  21. Francis, P. 143
  22. Gaddis, P. 59
  23. Williams, P. 92
  24. Francis, P. 104
  25. Francis, P. 106
  26. Franics, P. 181
  27. Francis, P. 184
  28. Francis, P. 191
  29. Francis, P. 187
  30. Francis, P. 188-189
  31. Francis, P. 330
  32. Gary K. Pranger, David R. Francis and Russian-American Relations, 1916-1918, (MA Thesis at Illinois State University, 1980) P 108
  33. Halliday, P 47
  34. Halliday, P. 20
  35. Francis, P. ix
  36. Laserson, P 499
  37. Francis, P. 5
  38. Francis, P. 113
  39. Pranger, P. 28
  40. Christopher Lasch, American Liberals and the Russian Revolution, (New York: Columbia University Press 1962) P. 45
  41. Williams, P. 92
  42. Francis, P. 135
  43. Francis, P. 226
  44. Pranger, P. 116
  45. Sisson, P. 214
  46. Williams, P. 136
  47. Sisson, P. 214
  48. Z. A. B. Zeman, editor Germany and the Revolution in Russia, 1915-1918 (London: Oxford University Press, 1958) Pp. 3, 35, 55.
  49. quoted in Francis, P. 222. Francis incorrectly gives Hoffmann's first name as "William," but the title of Chief of Staff for the Eastern Front clearly points to Max Hoffmann.
  50. Robert V. Daniels, Russia: The Roots of Confrontation. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1985) P. 127
  51. Daniels, P. 112
  52. Francis, P. 180-181
  53. Francis, P. 194
  54. Francis, P. 182
  55. Robert Paul Browder, The Origins of Soviet-American Diplomacy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1953) P. 3
  56. Sivachev and Yakovlev, P. 49
  57. Francis, P. 173-177
  58. Francis, P. 297
  59. Williams, P. 120
  60. Lasch, P. 70
  61. Gaddis, P. 68-69
  62. Francis, P. 203
  63. Francis, P. 205
  64. Michael Sayers and Albert E.Kahn, The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War against Soviet Russia (Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1946) P. 28
  65. Browder, P. 6
  66. Williams, P. 142-143
  67. Sayers and Kahn, P. 55
  68. Francis, P. 234
  69. Francis, P. 236
  70. Francis, P. 238
  71. Francis, P. 238
  72. Francis, Pp. 241-243
  73. James Bunyan, Intervention, Civil War and Communism in Russia: April to December 1918 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 1936) P. 136-137
  74. Francis, P. 245
  75. Halliday, P. 26
  76. Francis, Pp. 290-291
  77. Halliday, P. 40
  78. Francis, P. 266
  79. Ibid.
  80. Halliday, P. 42
  81. Pranger, P. 125
  82. Williams, P. 116
  83. Williams, P. 120
  84. Sayers and Kahn, P. 18-19
  85. Williams, P. 137
  86. John F. N. Bradley, Allied Intervention in Russia, (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984) P. 53
  87. Williams, P. 133
  88. Gaddis, P. 65-66
  89. Arno J. Mayer, Political Origins of the New Diplomacy 1917-1918, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959) P. 78
  90. Mayer, P. 84
  91. Sivachev and Yakovlev, Pp. 30-31
  92. Sivachev and Yakovlev, P. 49
  93. Mayer, P. 271-272
  94. Williams, P. 140
  95. Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1990) P. 602
  96. Pipes, P. 600-601
  97. Halliday, P. 20-21
  98. Sayers and Kahn, P. 31
  99. Halliday, P. 45
  100. Halliday, P. 45-46
  101. Francis, P. 284
  102. Halliday, P. 77
  103. Pranger, P. 29-30
  104. Francis, P. 24
  105. Halliday, P. 163-164
  106. Francis, P. v
  107. Francis, P. 345
  108. Browder, P. 9
  109. Filene, P. 8
  110. Sisson, Pp. 459+ (these pages are unnumbered)
  111. Sivachev and Yakovlev, P. 44

Copyright 1994, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

This paper was originally written for a class in Russian History, taught by Professor Donald Davis, Illinois State University.


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