Assistant Solicitor of State
J. Reuben Clark’s public service began on 5 September 1906, when he was appointed Assistant Solicitor of State by Elihu Root, then Secretary of State in the Theodore Roosevelt administration. The Solicitor of State was James Brown Scott, Clark’s professor at Columbia Law School. Clark was 35.
Clark’s first task was “to study the interrelated legal problems of citizenship, expatriation, and the protection of citizens abroad.”[ref]Frank W. Fox, J. Reuben Clark: The Public Years (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 1980),47.[/ref] This study led to the Citizenship Act of 1907. Clark’s work in the department was extensive, varying from preparing documents for Secretary Root to rule on a diplomatically sensitive extradition case to dealing with the long-running Atlantic fisheries dispute.
While serving as Assistant Solicitor, Clark was appointed assistant professor of law at George Washington University where he taught until 1908.
Solicitor of State
As would mark J. Reuben Clark’s public career in the years to come, he was often left to “manage the shop.” Scott disliked administration, but apparently loved to travel. This apparent dereliction by Scott resulted in his being promoted sideways as solicitor of arbitrations and paved the way for Clark’s appointment to Solicitor of State, a position he had been virtually been filling for some time.
While in this position, serving under Secretary Philander Chase Knox, the term dollar diplomacy was coined. Defined as “a program for exercising American influence in the world without resorting to force,”[ref]Fox, J. Reuben Clark, 89.[/ref] dollar diplomacy was warmly embraced by J. Reuben Clark who extended its scope to include American sovereignty:
The fundamental principle is that no nation must under any pretext whatsoever be permitted to occupy, or acquire the right to occupy or establish on American republican territory, or acquire any interests or privileges which would ripen into any such right, any naval base or naval coaling station or any other foothold of any kind or description within striking distance of either end of the Panama Canal.[ref]Fox, J. Reuben Clark,919.[/ref]
With this policy underpinning negotiations, Clark worked on a new and successful Japanese-American treaty. But it was not all smooth sailing. Secretary Knox turned his attention to China, with Clark’s help successfully negotiating major financial projects with the Manchu government between 1909 and 1911, but in late 1911 the Chinese revolution caused concern for Americans living in China, and it became necessary that dollar diplomacy not close the door on military intervention if needed to protect sovereignty. In the event it was not needed at that time.
Equally, relations with Central America were fraught with legal nightmares, from which the Solicitor surely felt he would never wake up. And again, Clark was consulted about the legalities of military intervention, first regarding Nicaragua, and then Mexico, a country that would occupy his time for many more years to come. It was during this conflict with Mexico that Clark was called upon to “devise a document that would fulfill all of the necessary political, legal, and diplomatic requirements [for an invasion of Mexico] while at the same time salvaging as much as possible of his own doctrine of noninvolvement. The result was the Right to Protect Citizens in Foreign Countries by Landing Forces, one of the ablest and most influential papers of his entire career.[ref]Fox, J. Reuben Clark, 195–6.[/ref]
American-British Claims Commission
In 1913, J. Reuben Clark left the Solicitor’s office to become general counsel to the American-British Claims Commission; a year later, because of political wrangling caused by the change of government, his assignment was changed to special counsel. Soon after, Clark left Washington to revitalize his law practice.
General Claims Commission
In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Clark to the General Claims Commission (United States and Mexico). “The General Claims Commission (Mexico and United States) was constituted under the terms of the General Claims Convention signed Sept. 8, 1923, in Washington D.C. by the United States of America and the United Mexican States. The convention, which took effect on March 1, 1924, was intended to improve relations between the countries by forming a commission to settle claims arising after July 4, 1868, “against one government by nationals of the other for losses or damages suffered by such nationals or their properties” and “for losses or damages originating from acts of officials or others acting for either government and resulting in injustice.” Excluded from the jurisdiction of the General Claims Commission were cases stemming from events related to revolutions or disturbed conditions in Mexico. (The Special Claims Commission was formed to address claims arising from events which occurred between November 20, 1910, and May 31, 1920).”[ref] See http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utlac/00024/lac-00024.html retrieved 14 October 2011.[/ref]
Undersecretary of State
In 1928 Clark was appointed undersecretary of State to Frank Kellogg (see entries on Clark Memorandum and Ambassador to Mexico)
Ambassador to Mexico
J. Reuben Clark was appointed Ambassador of the United States to Mexico by President Herbert Hoover on 3 October 1931 (see entry on Ambassador to Mexico). He served as Ambassador until 1933 when he returned to Utah, leaving Washington politics to serve his Church.