Select language:

Alexander Bodisko, the wisest and the most popular diplomat

 /  / Russkiy Mir Foundation / Publications / Alexander Bodisko, the wisest and the most popular diplomat

Alexander Bodisko, the wisest and the most popular diplomat


Editor’s office of the Russkiy Mir Portal

Washington, the 19th century. Photo credit:

The wise statesmen of Russia always know how to choose their foreign envoys,” one of American newspapers wrote about Alexander Bodisko, the Russian ambassador to the United States, in 1851. His tenure lasted for 17 years, the record term. He was respected so much that the American Congress paused its work for the day of his funeral, which was the unprecedented event.

On the Day of Diplomat, Anatoly Antonov, the ambassador of the Russian Federation, laid a wreath at the grave of Alexander Bodisko, the Russian diplomat from the mid-19th century buried at the cemetery in Washington. According to the ambassador, there are many lessons to be learned from his predecessor. He did a lot to ensure that our relations with the United States of America were full fledged, added Anatoly Antonov.

Destiny of the Russian diplomat, whose pinnacle in the career was position of envoy to the United States, where he died, is interesting and prominent in many aspects. He was born in St. Petersburg in 1786, in the family of the director of the Moscow Assignation Bank, bestowed to the nobility. He was admitted to the diplomatic service rather early, being a member of the collegium of foreign affairs. Moreover, his two younger brothers were involved in the Decembrist revolt on Senatskaya Square. However career of the elder brother was not affected; and it could be divided into two roughly equal periods – the Swedish and the American ones.

In 1837, having served as the Russian consul general in Stockholm for 20 years, Alexander Bodisko was appointed as the envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the United States. It is believed that there came a point marking beginning of the rise in diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia. Russian sailors and engineers were sent to the United States to explore the Russia modernization model which Nicholas I had come up with. And such American experts as agronomists, doctors, and engineers, also received an invitation to come to Russia, where they built telegraph lines, grew tobacco, and even treated the Emperor's teeth.

As the ambassador, Alexander Bodisko urged the imperial government to maintain ties with the United States as Russias traditional ally and the only one real and reliable political friend (a definition by Alexander Bodisko). He also persistently suggested Nicholas I to join efforts with the United States and divide the territory of Upper California and San Francisco Bay between Russia and the US. However, Karl Nesselrode, then Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire, did not support such position.

The Russian ambassador to the United States enjoyed unquestioned authority with his colleagues, ambassadors from other states, who often came to him for advice, as well as the local establishment. Thus, a Philadelphia newspaper wrote that the Russian diplomat had "genuinely American common sense as to foresight and intuition ... He will decently put his sovereigns interest into practice, but will not be hostile to our country."

North America, 19th Century website cites a quotation of another American edition, that highly appreciated activities of the Russian ambassador. One of Philadelphia newspapers emphasized the high professionalism of the Russian minister. According to the journalist, he was in the United States for a long time and suited his position of responsibility well; having a captivating personality, he enjoyed high reputation in Washington. The newspaper noted: Who occupies the largest house, treats with the best dinners, and hosts magnificent balls? Long story short, who entertains more often and better than others in Washington? The unanimous answer is: the Russian minister ... The wise statesmen of Russia always know how to choose their foreign envoys; and through their present minister in Washington, they have mainly social and, therefore, a certain political influence outside the US cabinet...

Alexander Bodisko managed to establish true trust-based relations with the American president back then and his administration. Every week he hosted magnificent receptions in his house; and those belonging to American elite dreamt of being invited there.

Alexander Bodiskos wife (No pictures of the ambassador survived till today)

Such attitude was greatly facilitated by the fact that the ambassador was married to an American woman. Moreover, in certain way the story behind their marriage was also unusual. Alexander Bodisko was a 54 years old widower, but all of the sudden he fell in love with a 16 years old young lady; her name was Harriet Bill Williams. Their wedding, which became the major event in the high society, was attended by Martin Van Buren, then US President.
Alexander Bodisko met with his darling by chance. He organized a dance party for his young nephews, but one of the girls did not receive an invitation for some reason and was very upset. Bodisko, a gallant man, went to offer apologies to the young lady in person. And their meeting turned out to be fateful - he fell in love at first sight. To be honest, the middle-aged ambassador had to aspire to the hand of his fiancée for quite a while since her family was initially against such an unequal marriage. However seeing that their daughter was favoring the man, her parents accepted and blessed the marriage. And it was happy and rather fertile - in 14 years of marriage the Bodiskos had six children. Time and again they visited together St. Petersburg, where the young spouse was introduced to the Emperor. Interestingly enough, as remembered by a contemporary witness, she really enjoyed living at the royal court and admitted that she would not want to return to her homeland at all.

In 1854, the Russian Envoy Extraordinary died. The Congress sessions were paused for a day due to the funeral of Alexander Bodisko. It was a sign of respect for him and the "friendly" government, being, as it was noted at the report for the Russian Chancellor, the unprecedented event in the US parliamentary history. All cabinet members led by the American president, found it necessary to attend the funeral ceremony in person. As the Washington press wrote, the entire elite wanted to say final goodbye "to the wisest and the most popular diplomat." And very soon Alexander Bodiskos legacy again served Russia well: during the Crimean War, many Americans, first of all doctors, went to Russia as volunteers.

Photo credit:

The house where Alexander Bodisko lived has survived. It is called Bodisko House. According to Anatoly Antonov, John Kerry, the former Secretary of State under President Obama, lives there today.

New publications

The world famous tenor Alessandro Safina recorded Blue Eternity, a song by Muslim Magomayev, in Italian, turning it into an international hit. 1.5 million Internet users watched the music in three weeks. Comments of admiration were left in Russian, Italian, English, Turkish and many other languages. The tenor, who performed with Jose Carreras and recorded songs for Hollywood musicals, told us what attracted him to Russia.
Last week, the Orthodox villages of Uganda, a small photography exhibition, was opened at Lomonosov MSU. It was arranged following an ethnographic expedition by the University. Quite a few Orthodox believers in this African country make from 4 to 6% of the population. Few people know about the even more surprising phenomenon - the Ugandan Old Believers, who have been parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rites Church since 2012.
Can a modest, law-abiding history teacher become the main threat for national security of a European country? Easily! If she lives in Lithuania, makes no secret of her love for Russian language and culture and - oh, dear God! - her photo with Dmitry Medvedev was noticed in the Internet
The International Year of Indigenous Languages declared by the United Nations has come at the rather favorable for the Veps language period. Scholars studying it, as well as Vepsian writers and journalists have in unison proclaimed this time to be its renaissance. In the 1990s there was a boon accompanied by financial and administrative investments; and its benefits cannot be underestimated: dictionaries and text books have been published, Vepsian cultural centers and classes have been opened, newspapers, web-sites and TV channels have been operating in the Veps language. And just as important is the fact that young people come to learn the Veps language, including Russian youth.
What is the future of Russian language in Central Asia? This question is still open and the prospects are rather unclear. According to the 1989 census, 80% of the inhabitants of Soviet Union spoke Russian. In 2019, everything changed dramatically. More than half of residents throughout Central Asia (except Kazakhstan) do not speak Russian.
Tatiana Leskova is a great-granddaughter of Nikolai Leskov and the only direct descendant of the great Russian writer. A native of Paris, she has been living in Rio de Janeiro for over 70 years. Tatyana Leskova, an outstanding ballerina and choreographer, stood at the origins of South American ballet; and you can find names of Balanchine, Massine, Fokin, Baronova, Lepeshinskaya and other prominent figures of world ballet on the pages of her memoirs.
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine** started reviewing the controversial bill On ensuring functioning of Ukrainian as the state language in the second reading. Its authors believe that development of Ukrainian language as original language of the titular nation to be the main task in effort to strengthen national identity of the Ukrainians and preserve national culture, traditions, customs, and historical memory of the Ukrainian nation. It sounds nicely, but what's there behind the façade?
This year marks 65th anniversary since Russia joined UNESCO. Before her official visit to Russia, Audrey Azoulay, the Director General of the UNESCO, spoke about priority activities and future of this largest international organization.