In the mid-19th century, the United States began to take a more active role in the East – first in Istanbul, and then in Jerusalem. The appointment of consuls was often dictated by personal or partisan alliances – the spoils system – and from 1857 until the outbreak of World War I, 16 American consuls served in Jerusalem.
In a collaboration between the National Library of Israel and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, a new exhibition called “Dreams and Diplomacy in the Holy Land,” tells the fascinating story of these consuls and how they shaped the relationship between the United States and the Holy Land. The documents displayed at this exhibition are presented to the public for the first time, and they tell some riveting tales.
The first consul – Warder Cresson, was recalled even before he reached Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he presented himself as consul, divorced his American wife, converted to Judaism, and established a Jewish family in Jerusalem. Consul Victor Beauboucher, a Frenchman who volunteered to fight in the American Civil War, was not even an American citizen. Consul Selah Merrill, a scholar and theologian, devoted most of his three terms of office in the city to a tireless war against American citizens: the founders of the American Colony in Jerusalem. He suspected them of heresy, and his bitter struggle led him to go so far as disinter their dead from the cemetery on Mount Zion in order to sell the land to Germans who wanted to build a church there.