Thursday, January 28, 2010

Present at the Creation

In a long and distinguished career as a French diplomat, Jacques Leprette occupied a number of important posts, most notably as his country's ambassador to the United Nations (1976–82) and to the European Community (1982–85). His papers in the archives document important aspects of French foreign policy in this period; they also record Leprette's intimate knowledge of American society, a product of his lengthy stay in the United States as a junior official with the French embassy in Washington.

Among the materials in the collection, however, it was a document from the earliest part of his career that seemed to have been singled out by Leprette as an item of special significance: an original draft of the treaty establishing the Council of Europe, signed in London in May 1949. Leprette was part of the French delegation at the London conference that negotiated the treaty and subsequently served as a counselor at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The draft in the Leprette papers has handwritten corrections to the French version of the treaty, as well the signatures of the various heads of delegations present at the council’s creation, including Ernest Bevin from the United Kingdom and Robert Schuman, from France. Given the document’s intrinsic value as an artifact and the subsequent importance of the Council of Europe in the story of European integration, it was decided to give it special treatment so that it could be both preserved and shown to visitors to the archives. Among the staff of the archives, such presentation items are known informally as “treasures”; it was nice to be able to add something to this select category.

The archives’ Preservation Department designed and made a portfolio to house the treaty draft. The portfolio encapsulated the draft and a photo depicting the treaty’s signing. The resulting whole allows the items to be easily presented and also protects them from any possible harm.

The Leprette papers contain other documents relating to the Council of Europe, including transcripts of proceedings held during the first years of the council’s existence. The Council of Europe went on to establish the European Court
of Human Rights and continues to play an important role in promoting cooperation among its member states in the areas of common legal standards and democratic governance.

Photograph depicting the signing ceremony for the founding treaty of the Council of Europe, London, May 5, 1949, Jacques Leprette Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Last page of draft of Council of Europe treaty, with the signature of Ernest Bevin, the British representative, Jacques Leprette Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Cover of special presentation folder for Council of Europe treaty, Jacques Leprette Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Expanded view of presentation folder, showing encapsulated photograph and treaty, Jacques Leprette Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Off the Record" and the Archival Record

It's no secret that Herbert Hoover talked to Commonwealth Club audiences at nine "off- the-record" events between 1936 and 1947. He also gave four formal speeches at the club, most of which were published. But wouldn't it be interesting to know what he said off the record?

Those talks consisted of informal question-and-answer sessions at the club’s dinner meetings. Only club members and their male guests could attend; all understood that Hoover was not to be quoted. The press was not invited, and the events were not recorded. Hoover "felt that second-hand statements of such informal opinions as he proposed to give were never satisfactory either to the one quoted or the one informed," as one reporter who was shut out of the 1936 event explained the blackout. This is where the Commonwealth Club records at the Hoover Archives come into the picture. Could they contain accounts of Hoover's comments?

The club's files certainly indicate that the conversational dinner meetings with Hoover were a big hit. Seven hundred and sixty-six people attended the 1936 dinner; another two hundred were turned away (the next most popular dinner meeting of that year, the club's annual evening of literature and music, drew just 233 people). Some of the other dinners with Hoover had even more attendees, peaking at 875 in 1947.

The club used a form to evaluate its speakers; one doting evaluator wrote of Hoover's 1945 appearance, "Tops in every way--Everybody said, 'What an evening!'" Not to be outdone, the same evaluator wrote of Hoover's next talk, "Probably the most successful meeting the Club ever held." Apparently Hoover was entertaining as well as knowledgeable; under the checkbox for "Humor" on the form, another evaluator checked "Yes" and then underlined it for good measure.

The club provided Hoover with a list of prospective questions a day or two in advance. A couple lists of questions have been preserved, but they are far too numerous to have all been covered in the ninety or so available minutes. Among those for 1945 were Can Europe feed herself this winter? What is the future of synthetic rubber? Will there be an effort to internationalize the Suez and Panama Canals?

Food for the dinner meeting was an issue in 1945. A note in the files indicates that it was 95 percent likely that the entrée would be fish (mutton was the alternative) but that nearly all fish, except salmon, as well as poultry and mutton, were only available on the black market. (It was hoped that barracuda or sea bass would be off the black market by the time of Hoover's talk.)

That's about all we know; because the club honored Hoover’s terms, we don't know what he said. Unfortunately, it's the kind of archival dead end that researchers often encounter in their work.

Announcement of Hoover's "off-the-record" talk for August 7, 1947. The Commonwealth, August 4, 1947 (box 624), Commonwealth Club of California records, Hoover Institution Archives.