Richard Olney (American National Biography)

Gerald G. Eggert, "Olney, Richard,” American National Biography Online, February 2000,
Upon the death of Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham in 1895, Cleveland promoted Olney to that post. Neither Olney's manner nor his temperament was well suited to the norms of international diplomacy. He issued ultimatums and made demands on sovereign nations much as if they were opponents in litigation. He told the Spanish minister that if a frequently deferred claim of the United States was not paid, he would urge the president to lay the matter before Congress, implying that a resort to force might follow.

Most notorious was his similar ultimatum to Great Britain demanding submission of the long-standing boundary dispute between British Guiana and Venezuela to arbitration by the United States. Charging that Britain's claim violated the Monroe Doctrine, he asserted that the "infinite resources" and "isolated position" of the United States rendered it "master of the situation and practically invulnerable as against any or all other powers." When the deadline for replying passed, Olney helped Cleveland draft a message to Congress, asking for authority to draw the proper boundary line and if necessary to use armed force to uphold it. Britain subsequently accepted arbitration, and the war fever precipitated by the message died down. Although his initiation of the crisis needlessly risked war, his subsequent handling of the affair contributed to a reasonable settlement.
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