Francis Bowes Sayre

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Francis Bowes Sayre

Francis Bowes Sayre (1885-1972) was an American law teacher and public official. He was responsible for negotiating the treaties with European powers which ended extraterritoriality in Thailand.

Francis Sayre was born on April 30, 1885, in South Bethlehem, Pa., the son of Robert Heysham Sayre (1824-1907), a civil engineer and official of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. He graduated from Williams College in 1909 and from the Harvard Law School in 1912. Theodore Roosevelt assisted in obtaining his first job, as a deputy assistant to the district attorney of New York County. He married Jessie Woodrow Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, in a White House ceremony in 1913.

Offered a position as instructor in government and assistant to the president of Williams College, Sayre returned there in 1914 and then went back to the Harvard Law School in 1917 to study for the doctorate in jurisprudence, which he received in 1918. He remained on the Harvard faculty until 1934, teaching international, maritime, and criminal law, and taught the first course on labor law offered in any law school.

When Eldon James, third in a series of Harvard law professors to serve as adviser in foreign affairs to the government of Siam, returned to Cambridge in 1923, Sayre was chosen to succeed him and went to Bangkok intending to serve only a year. He went at a time when decades-long negotiations to end the unequal treaties of the previous century were stalled. Sayre gave new direction to discussions with the French in Bangkok and, on suggesting that more rapid progress could be made by negotiating with the European powers directly, he took charge of treaty negotiations in Europe in 1924-1925.

Against considerable obstacles, treaties with 10 nations were concluded which ended extraterritoriality and lifted restrictions on Thai import duties. A superbly effective and principled negotiator, Sayre was entitled Phya Kalyan Maitri and appointed permanent minister plenipotentiary and Siam's representative on the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Returning to Harvard as a full professor, Sayre again entered public service as Massachusetts state commissioner of correction in 1932 and then, in 1933, as an assistant secretary of state in charge of the negotiation of trade agreements in the first Roosevelt administration. Serving also as chairman of the interdepartmental commission on the Philippines, he was appointed U.S. high commissioner to the Philippines in 1939 and was evacuated by submarine in 1942.

Sayre became diplomatic adviser to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (1944-1947) and then U.S. representative on the Trusteeship Council of the UN (1947-1952), of which he was the first president. In 1952-1954 he was the personal representative in Japan of the presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, service in which his high Christian ideals were more explicitly but no less strongly expressed than in his more public appointments. Sayre died in Washington, D.C., on March 29, 1972.

Further Reading

Sayre's autobiography, Glad Adventure (1957), is an unusually lively and expressive self-portrait. His views on international trade are in his The Way Forward: The American Trade Agreements Program (1939). For background information on Sayre as assistant secretary of state see Samuel Flagg Bemis, ed., The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy, vols. 12 and 13 by Julius W. Pratt (1964). □

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Francis Bowes Sayre

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