Jump to content

Oscar Straus (politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Oscar Straus
Straus in 1912
3rd United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor
In office
December 17, 1906 – March 5, 1909
PresidentTheodore Roosevelt
Preceded byVictor H. Metcalf
Succeeded byCharles Nagel
United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
In office
July 1, 1887 – June 16, 1889
PresidentGrover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
Preceded bySamuel S. Cox
Succeeded bySolomon Hirsch
In office
October 15, 1898 – December 20, 1899
PresidentWilliam McKinley
Preceded byJames Angell
Succeeded byJohn Leishman
In office
October 4, 1909 – September 3, 1910
PresidentWilliam Howard Taft
Preceded byJohn Leishman
Succeeded byWilliam Rockhill
Personal details
Oscar Solomon Straus

(1850-12-23)December 23, 1850
Otterberg, Bavaria, Germany
DiedMay 3, 1926(1926-05-03) (aged 75)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Other political
Progressive "Bull Moose" (1912)
SpouseSarah Lavanburg
RelativesLazarus Straus (father)
Isidor Straus (brother)
Nathan Straus (brother)
Roger Williams Straus Jr. (grandson)
Oscar Schafer (grandson)
EducationColumbia University (BA, LLB)

Oscar Solomon Straus (December 23, 1850 – May 3, 1926) was an American politician and diplomat. He served as United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1906 to 1909, making him the first Jewish United States Cabinet Secretary.[1]

Straus also served in four presidential administrations as America's representative to the Ottoman Empire and ran for Governor of New York in 1912 as the candidate of then-former president Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive "Bull Moose" Party, in tandem with Roosevelt's own unsuccessful run for a nonconsecutive third term as president that same year.

Early life and education


Oscar Straus was born to a German Jewish family in Otterberg in the former Palatinate, then ruled by the Kingdom of Bavaria (now part of present-day Germany), the third child of Lazarus Straus (1809–1898) and his second wife, Sara (1823–1876). His siblings were Hermine Straus Kohns (1846–1922), Isidor Straus (1845–1912), and Nathan Straus (1848–1931). The family moved to the U.S. state of Georgia in 1854. The Straus family owned slaves and conducted business with other slave owners, taking several formerly enslaved people to the North with the family following the defeat of the Confederacy.[2]

At the close of the Civil War he moved to New York City where he graduated from Columbia College in 1871 and Columbia Law School in 1873. He practiced law until 1881, and then became a merchant, retaining his interest in literature.[3]

Diplomatic career


He first served as United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1887 to 1889 and again from 1898 to 1899. Upon his arrival to Constantinople, he was said to have been given a "cordial welcome".[4]

At the outbreak of the Philippine–American War in 1899,[5] Secretary of State John Hay asked Strauss to approach Sultan Abdul Hamid II to request that the Sultan write a letter to the Moro Sulu Muslims of the Sulu Sultanate telling them to submit to American suzerainty and American military rule.[6] The Sulu sultanate agreed,[7][8][9][10] with Straus writing that the "Sulu Mohammedans ... refused to join the insurrectionists and had placed themselves under the control of our army, thereby recognizing American sovereignty."[6]

President McKinley sent a personal letter of thanks to Straus and said that its accomplishment had saved the United States at least twenty thousand troops in the field."[11][12]

The Moro Rebellion then broke out in 1904 with war raging between the Americans and Moro Muslims and atrocities committed against Moro Muslim women and children such as the Moro Crater Massacre.

On January 14, 1902, he was named a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to fill the place left vacant by the death of ex-President Benjamin Harrison.[13]

Career as Secretary of Commerce and Labor and Ambassador to Ottoman Empire


In December 1906, Straus became the United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt. The position also placed him in charge of the US Bureau of Immigration. During his tenure, Straus ordered immigration inspectors to work closely with local police and the United States Secret Service to find, arrest, and deport immigrants with anarchist political beliefs under the terms of the Anarchist Exclusion Act.[14]

Straus left the Commerce Department in 1909 when William Howard Taft became president. Taft appointed him U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1909. During the Taft administration, an American strategy was to become involved in business transactions, rather than military confrontations, a policy known as Dollar Diplomacy. It failed with respect to the Ottoman Empire because of opposition from Straus, who served until 1910, and to the Ottoman vacillation under pressure from the entrenched European powers, which did not wish to see American competition. American trade remained a minor factor.[15]

In 1912, he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York on the Progressive and Independence League tickets. In 1915, he became chairman of the public service commission of New York State.[16] He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1917.[17] In 1919, he was a delegate representing the League to Enforce Peace at the Versailles Peace Conference.[18]

He was president of the American Jewish Historical Society.[16]

He is buried at Beth El Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York.



The Straus family had several influential members including Straus's grandson Roger W. Straus, Jr., who started the publishing company of Farrar, Straus and Giroux; his brother, Isidor Straus, who perished aboard the RMS Titanic in 1912, served as a representative from New York City's 15th District, and was co-owner of the department store R. H. Macy & Co. along with another brother, Nathan; and nephew Jesse Isidor Straus, confidant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ambassador to France from 1933 to 1936.

In 1882, Strauss married Sarah Lavanburg.[19] They had three children: Mildred Straus Schafer (born 1883), Aline Straus Hockstader (born 1889), and Roger Williams Straus (born 1891).[20][21]

The family's household goods from their Washington home were sold at an auction by C.G. Sloan held March 25, 26, and 27, 1909.[22]

His grandson is Oscar Schafer, Chairman emeritus of the New York Philharmonic.



Washington, D.C., commemorates the achievements of this famous Jewish-German-American statesman in the Oscar Straus Memorial.


  • The Origin of the Republican Form of Government in the United States (1886)
  • Roger Williams, the Pioneer of Religious Liberty (1894)
  • The Development of Religious Liberty in the United States (1896)
  • Reform in the Consular Service (1897)
  • United States Doctrine of Citizenship (1901)
  • Our Diplomacy with Reference to our Foreign Service (1902)
  • The American Spirit (1913)
  • Under Four Administrations, his memoirs (1922)

See also



  1. ^ "Oscar S. Straus (1906–1909): Secretary of Commerce and Labor" Archived 2011-05-23 at the Wayback Machine, Miller Center, University of Virginia
  2. ^ "Isidor Straus (1845-1912)". Immigrant Entrepreneurship. Retrieved 2022-05-23.
  3. ^ Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Straus, Oscar Solomon" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  4. ^ "OSCAR S. STRAUS IN TURKEY.; The United States Minister Cordially Greeted on His Arrival in Constantinople". The New York Times. 1898-10-23. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-06-12.
  5. ^ Idris Bal (2004). Turkish Foreign Policy in Post Cold War Era. Universal-Publishers. pp. 405–. ISBN 978-1-58112-423-1.
  6. ^ a b Kemal H. Karpat (2001). The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State. Oxford University Press. pp. 235–. ISBN 978-0-19-513618-0.
  7. ^ J. Robert Moskin (19 November 2013). American Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign Service. St. Martin's Press. pp. 204–. ISBN 978-1-250-03745-9.
  8. ^ Idris Bal (2004). Turkish Foreign Policy in Post Cold War Era. Universal-Publishers. pp. 406–. ISBN 978-1-58112-423-1.
  9. ^ Akyol, Mustafa (December 26, 2006). "Mustafa Akyol: Remembering Abdul Hamid II, a pro-American caliph". Weekly Standard – via History News Network.
  10. ^ ERASMUS (July 26, 2016). "Why European Islam's current problems might reflect a 100-year-old mistake". The Economist.
  11. ^ George Hubbard Blakeslee; Granville Stanley Hall; Harry Elmer Barnes (1915). The Journal of International Relations. Clark University. pp. 358–.
  12. ^ The Journal of Race Development. Clark University. 1915. pp. 358–.
  13. ^ Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Straus, Oscar Solomon" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  14. ^ "To Drive Anarchists Out of the Country," New York Times, March 4, 1908, pp. 1-2.
  15. ^ Naomi W. Cohen, "Ambassador Straus in Turkey, 1909-1910: A Note on Dollar Diplomacy." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 45.4 (1959) online
  16. ^ a b Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Straus, Oscar Solomon" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  17. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2023-10-19.
  18. ^ "STRAUS OFF TO CONFERENCE; Will Represent League to Enforce Peace at Paris Discussions". The New York Times. 1919-01-26. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-06-12.
  19. ^ "Oscar S. Straus, Statesman and Philanthropist, Dies". Jewish Telegraph Agency. May 4, 1926. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  20. ^ "Sarah Lavanburg Straus 1861 – 1945". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  21. ^ "Morse, Mildred Hockstader Tiny". New York Times. July 9, 2005. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  22. ^ Catalogue of valuable household furnishings, art decorations, rugs, books, etc., including the effects of Honorable Oscar S. Straus, formerly a member of President Roosevelt's cabinet. C.G. Sloan & Co.Inc. Auctioneers. 1909.

Further reading

  • Brand, Katharine E. "The Oscar S. Straus Papers." Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions 7.2 (1950): 3-6. at the Library of Congress
  • Cohen, Naomi W. A Dual Heritage: The Public Career of Oscar S. Straus (1969).
    • Cohen, Naomi W. "Ambassador Straus in Turkey, 1909-1910: A Note on Dollar Diplomacy." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 45.4 (1959): 632-642. online[dead link]
  • Medoff, Rafael, and Chaim I. Waxman. Historical Dictionary of Zionism (Routledge, 2013).
  • Strauss, L. L. "Oscar S. Straus, an Appreciation." (American Jewish Historical Society, 1950) online.
Party political offices
Preceded by
Progressive Nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Envoy to the Ottoman Empire
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor
Succeeded by