Paxton Hibben

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Paxton Hibben
PPH State Dep't photo, 1909 (NARA).jpg
Birth name Paxton Pattison Hibben
Born (1880-12-05)December 5, 1880
Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Died December 5, 1928(1928-12-05) (aged 48)
New York, United States
Buried at Moscow's Novodevichiy Monastery Cemetery
Allegiance  US
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1917-1924
Rank captain
Battles/wars World War I
Other work Diplomat, journalist and author

Paxton Pattison Hibben (December 5, 1880 - December 5, 1928) had a short but eventful career as a diplomat, journalist, author and humanitarian. After graduation from college he received a diplomatic appointment and served for seven years at a number of foreign posts. He then joined the Progressive Party and assisted Theodore Roosevelt in his 1912 presidential campaign. Hibben became a roving war correspondent in World War I, reporting on military action from several European fronts. He served on a military relief commission in Armenia after the war, and went on to assist the Red Cross in its efforts to rescue children in the Russian famine of 1921-23. Hibben wrote extensively on politics and international affairs, and published books on the Russian famine, the Greek monarchy, Henry Ward Beecher and William Jennings Bryan. His untimely death at age forty-eight was honored by the Russian government with a hero's burial in a Moscow cemetery.

Early life[edit]

Paxton Hibben was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. He graduated from Princeton University with honors in 1903, then earned a law degree from Harvard. He chose a career in diplomacy, and succeeded in getting a personal endorsement from President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 for an appointment in the Diplomatic and Consular Service.[1]

Career[edit]

His first post was in St. Petersburg, where he witnessed the bloody street fighting of the 1905 Russian Revolution. The Russo-Japanese War had just ended and there were a number of Japanese prisoners of war interned in St. Petersburg. Hibben volunteered aid and comfort to them, and assisted in their repatriation. For this service the Japanese government awarded him its highest civilian medal, the Order of the Sacred Treasure, in 1906.[2] Hibben went on to serve in Mexico City, Bogotá, The Hague and Santiago, Chile.

Hibben compiled a good record in the practice of diplomacy, but a series of public indiscretions forced him to resign from the State Department in 1912. He then joined Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party campaign for the presidency, and served as the full-time director of the Progressive Service's Bureau of Education. After Roosevelt's loss in 1912, Hibben remained active in Progressive Party politics and ran in 1914 as its Congressional candidate from his home district in Indiana; he was defeated.

Journalism[edit]

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Hibben turned his hand to journalism and became a war correspondent, first for Collier's Weekly and later for the Associated Press. The AP sent him to Athens in 1915 to cover Greek politics, where he became an ally of King Constantine in his struggle to keep Greece neutral in the war. Under Allied pressure, Constantine failed and was forced into exile in a bloody coup that prompted Hibben to write a book exposing the intrigue.[3] His book was officially suppressed and did not see publication until well after the war ended.

Military career[edit]

When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, Hibben volunteered for officer training in the Army and rose to the rank of captain in the artillery. He served in France during and after the war, where his many language skills proved him useful as an interpreter in peace negotiations. In 1919 Hibben joined a military mission in Armenia to assist in relief efforts there to rescue a destitute population. He was deeply impressed with the suffering of the Armenians, and when that crisis was followed by a full-scale famine in Southwest Russia in 1921, Hibben marshaled all his resources to assist in famine relief.

After a tour of the famine region in 1921, he published an account of the dire conditions there [4] and joined an international plea to the U.S. government for help. The U.S. responded with massive shipments of food, clothing and medical supplies under the direction of the American Relief Administration (ARA), headed by Herbert Hoover, who was then Secretary of Commerce. Working with the Russian Red Cross, Hibben supplemented the ARA program with a special effort to rescue hordes of Russian children made homeless by the famine. With Hibben’s support, the Red Cross set up numerous orphanages called detskiy dom, or "detdoms", where thousands of rescued children were not only housed and fed but given schooling and job training. While the ARA was credited with overcoming the famine, Hibben was critical of its procedures, and engaged in acrimonious public debates with Hoover until the famine crisis was over in 1924.

Hibben held a tolerant view of the Bolshevik Revolution, which he saw as a legitimate social exercise on the part of the Russian people. He defended his view in public, which earned him much condemnation, particularly in the post-war period of 'Red hysteria' that prevailed in the 1920s.

In 1923 Hibben, then a captain in the army reserve, applied for promotion to colonel. This triggered a protest by some in the military, who questioned Hibben's loyalty because of his socialist politics and his friendship with the Russians. The Army ordered a board of inquiry to investigate Hibben’s record, a procedure that dragged on for two years. No credible evidence of disloyalty could be found, and the case was dismissed without a finding in 1925. Hibben retained his captain’s commission but never received the promotion to colonel. The affair drew a lot of attention in the media, which saw it as a freedom of speech issue.[5]

Social and literary involvement[edit]

Hibben's final public act was one of protest concerning the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti murder trials of the 1920s. In the summer of 1927, with Sacco and Vanzetti on death row, he joined other literary figures such as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker in mass marches in Boston, charging in vain that the convicted Italian anarchists had not gotten a fair trial.[6] The protesters, who had been forbidden to march, were arrested and booked repeatedly, and after the execution were fined and ordered to leave town.

In 1927 Hibben published a biography of Henry Ward Beecher[7] that was an instant sensation because it was the first to document the famous preacher's dark side, notably his adulterous affair with a married woman in his congregation. The original printing was widely suppressed, but the book was reprinted with critical acclaim in 1942 and again in 1974. Hibben's final work was a biography of William Jennings Bryan,[8] that had been partially written at Hibben's death and was completed by a colleague.

Death and burial[edit]

Hibben succumbed to pneumonia in New York in 1928, survived by his wife Sheila and daughter Jill. Sheila consented to the request of the Soviet government that his ashes be sent to Moscow for burial as a heroic American friend of the Russian people. Following a state funeral in Red Square in 1929, his ashes were entombed in the cemetery of Moscow's Novodevichy Convent,[9] among the literary greats of Russia.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Memorandum, T. Roosevelt to Secretary of State Root, 3/8/05. National Archives and Records Administration
  2. ^ New York Times, 3/29/22
  3. ^ Constantine I and the Greek People. Paxton Hibben, New York, Century Company, 1920.
  4. ^ Report on the Russian Famine. Paxton Hibben, New York, American Committee for the Relief of Russian Children, 1922.
  5. ^ The Nation, vol. 120, no. 3115, 3/18/25, p. 280.
  6. ^ Boston Sunday Advertiser, August 21, 1927.
  7. ^ Henry Ward Beecher: An American Portrait. Paxton Hibben, New York, George H. Doran Co., 1927; New York, The Press of the Readers Club, 1942; New York, Beekman Publishers, 1974.
  8. ^ The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan. Paxton Hibben, New York, Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1929.
  9. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, entry for Hibben, Paxton Pattison.