Oscar S. Straus, Statesman and Philanthropist, Dies
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Oscar S. Straus, Statesman and Philanthropist, Dies

Oscar S. Straus, American statesman and diplomat, and one of the outstanding figures in American Jewry for half a century, died suddenly Monday morning from a heart attack. Mr. Straus was in his seventy-sixth year.

Oscar Solomon Straus, who was honored by five American presidents, was twice member of the United States cabinet and was United States Ambassador to Turkey, the first Jew to hold this post. He was a colleague of President Roosevelt in the formation of the Progressive Party and in 1912 was the candidate of this party for governor of New York.

He was born December 23, 1850 and when he came to this country settled in Georgia, living at Talbotton, Ga., and in Columbus, until 1865, when he came to New York. He received the degree of Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 1871, LL.B. in 1873 and his Master’s degree in 1874. He also held degrees from Brown University, Washington and Lee, University of Pennsylvania. In 1882 he was married to Sarah Lavanburg.


He practiced law in New York from 1873 to 1881, following which he held various civic and governmental positions, being appointed Ambassador to Turkey in 1887, which post he held unti 1901. He was appointed a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in 1902 to fill the vacancy of ex-President Harrison. He was reappointed by Presidents Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson. Oscar Straus was Secretary of Commerce and Labor in the cabinet of President Roosevelt and was Ambassador to Turkey again in 1909.

He was chairman of the New York Public Service Commission in 1915 and held various positions in the National Primary League, the American Social Science Association, the National Civic Federation, the International Law Association. He was president of the New York Board of Trade and Transportation.


He was also chairman of the arbitration commission to decide the wage dispute between eastern railways and their engineers in 1902. In 1919 he was chairman of the Paris Commission of the League to Enforce Peace, and was a member of President Wilson’s second industrial conference.

Mr. Straus was the author of many works, including “The Origin of the Republican Form of Government in the United States,” “Roger Williams. the Pioneer of Religious Liberty,” “The Development of Religious Liberty in the United States,” “Reform in the Consular Service,” “United States Doctrine of Citizenship,” “Our Diplomacy with Reference to Our Foreign Service,” “The American Spirit,” and “Under Four Administrations.”

The death of Oscar S. Straus was mourned throughout the country.


“Oscar S. Straus was a man who embodied all that was finest and most exalted in American citizenship,” Mr. Louis Marshall stated. “Exceptionally versed in our national history, our constitutional principles, our traditions and tendencies, no man understood better than he the soul of America. As an historian of Roger Williams, the analyst of the controlling influences which shaped our government, and the author of a charming autobiography, he made notable contributions to our political annals. He was imbued with a broad sense of obligation to foster the public welfare and he fulfilled that duty, not intermittently, but continuously. In early manhood he retired from the legal profession, which he would have adorned, to devote himself exclusively to public affairs. His achievements in that field were impressive, both as a diplomat, as a cabinet officer, and as a member of important commissions, and in every capacity he was distinguished for his tact, learning and practical opinions. He became a publicist of international prominence and enjoyed a wide range of acquaintanceship among the most illustrious statesmen and thinkers of the world. He was loyal to the ancient faith of Israel and took an active part in dealing with the many problems which clamored for sympathetic attention and elevated constructive thought required for their solution. He was never found wanting in the hour of need. He was remarkably free from partisanship, was essentially a lover of peace and harmony, and invariably just and considerate in his conclusions. He was in every sense a builder and in no sense a destroyer. He treasured all that to him seemed morally and ethically precious, however ancient, and feared not the clash of ideas because they happened to be new. He had implicit faith in humanity and, as he deserved, enjoyed the unfailing confidence of his fellow-men, regardless of nationality, race or creed. His life was fraught with blessing, not only to his own generation, but to posterity,” Mr. Marshall stated.

“Through the death of the Hon. Oscar Straus those who had the privilege of knowing him intimately have lost a warm-hearted friend and splendid adviser; the city has lost an extraordinary citizen who took an interest in everything that pertained to the educational welfare of her people and the United States has lost a patriot of rare qualities,” declared Mr. Felix M. Warburg. “His record stands as a lasting monument of what he has striven to accomplish ever since his early days.

“He was deeply imbued with sympathetic understanding for Jews all over the world in all stations of life, and his compassionate aid was always given freely to the oppressed.

“He had a true appreciation for the beauties of Jewish literature and a special interest in such movements as tended toward the higher education of Jews. One of the last things that he did was to donate part of his extensive library to the newly established Hebrew University in Palestine.

“Others will dwell on his statesmanship and his diplomatic and literary accomplishments. Those of us who had the inestimable privilege of being numbered among his friends, feel most deeply our personal loss at this moment,” Mr. Warburg stated.