Back when presidents gave the Nobel prize the respect it deserves

Megan McArdle links to an article from the Guardian archive, reporting on the awarding of the Nobel prize to Theodore Roosevelt on Dec. 11, 1906. Let’s just say, they handled things a little differently back then: The Prize was received by Mr. Peirce, the American Minister, in the Storthing, at half-past one this afternoon. The ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
575593_091211_teddy-roosevelt2.jpg
575593_091211_teddy-roosevelt2.jpg

Megan McArdle links to an article from the Guardian archive, reporting on the awarding of the Nobel prize to Theodore Roosevelt on Dec. 11, 1906. Let's just say, they handled things a little differently back then:

The Prize was received by Mr. Peirce, the American Minister, in the Storthing, at half-past one this afternoon. The members of the Nobel Prize Committee were seated in front of Ministers. At the invitations of the President of the Storthing and the President of the Prize Committee, Mr Lövland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that the Peace Prize had been awarded to President Roosevelt, who had authorised the American Minister to receive it. [...]

"In handing the prize to the American Minister, the President asked him to take Mr. Roosevelt a greeting from the Norwegian people, and expressed the wish that Mr. Roosevelt might be able to do further work for the cause of peace in the future.

Megan McArdle links to an article from the Guardian archive, reporting on the awarding of the Nobel prize to Theodore Roosevelt on Dec. 11, 1906. Let’s just say, they handled things a little differently back then:

The Prize was received by Mr. Peirce, the American Minister, in the Storthing, at half-past one this afternoon. The members of the Nobel Prize Committee were seated in front of Ministers. At the invitations of the President of the Storthing and the President of the Prize Committee, Mr Lövland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that the Peace Prize had been awarded to President Roosevelt, who had authorised the American Minister to receive it. […]

“In handing the prize to the American Minister, the President asked him to take Mr. Roosevelt a greeting from the Norwegian people, and expressed the wish that Mr. Roosevelt might be able to do further work for the cause of peace in the future.

“Mr. Peirce, in thanking the Storthing for the award, said that any words of his were inadequate to express his deep emotion in receiving this distinguished testimony on behalf of President Roosevelt. He then read a message from President Roosevelt expressing deep thanks for the prize, and declaring that there was no gift he could appreciate more. The President adds that he has decided to use the prize to establish at Washington a permanent Industrial Peace Committee, a righteous peace in the industrial world being as important as in the world of nations.”

Roosevelt didn’t even come to pick up the award and didn’t even send a high profile representative! Herbert Peirce was a third assistant secretary of state turned envoy extraordinary to Norway. I realize that transatlantic travel was trickier back then, but I can’t help thinking from reading this and the amount of significance we attach to this prize has increased quite a bit over the years. Roosevelt was grateful for the recognition and the money, but it doesn’t seem like anyone was too worked up about it. 

If we take the award for what it is, a recognition named after a dynamite tycoon given out by a group of Norwegian politicians with a questionable track record, all the sturm and drang of the last couple months starts to seem pretty ridiculous. The only reason that we’re concerned about whether Obama has really earned this prize or whether it’s appropriate for a war president to receive it (T.R. was no pacifist either) is because we’ve given this award talismanic significance that it doesn’t really deserve. Just imagine that Obama has just won the “Parliament of Norway Prize for Extraordinary Statesmanship” then try to get emotional about it. Of course then Obama could have just had Barry B. White pick it up for him.   

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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