son of Robert Chariton Reid and
Marion Whitelaw Ronalds, a daughter of the ancient Clan Ronalds of
Scotland. His ancestors, both paternal and maternal, were purely Scottish;
his grandfather, a rigid Covenanter, came from the Lowlands of Scotland to
Kentucky about the end of the eighteenth century. From there he crossed
the Ohio River and bought several hundred acres of land on what is now the
site of the city of Cincinnati. He obtained the franchise of a ferry
across the river, which he was required to operate on Sunday as well as on
the other days of the week; but rather than break the Sabbath, he resold
the land and removed to Green County, and later became one of the founders
of the town of Xenia. His grandson, White-law Reid, was raised in that
town and educated in the Academy. In 1853, he entered Miami University and
was graduated in 1856 with honours in science. The following fall he
became Principal of a graded school at South Charleston, Ohio. In 1857 he
purchased the Xenia News, and for three years was its editor. He
supported Abraham Lincoln for the Presidential nomination, and was elected
from Ohio as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. After Mr.
Lincolnís election in 1860, he went to Columbus, Ohio, as a legislative
correspondent. He wrote daily letters for the Cincinnati Gazette,
Cincinnati Times and the Cleveland Herald. At the outbreak of
the Civil War, he accompanied General George B. McClellan as war
correspondent of the Gazette, and was made a volunteer aide-de-camp
with the rank of captain. Then began his Agate, one of the most
brilliant and authentic series of letters in the history of American
military correspondence. In the spring of 1862, Mr. Reid went to
Washington, to become a newspaper correspondent, and there he made many
friends. For three years he was Librarian of the House of Representatives,
and at the same time acted as clerk to the military committee of the
House. Soon after the murder of President Lincoln, Mr. Reid made an
extended journey in the South and became interested in cotton raising. He
bought 2,000 acres and employed three hundred negroes. On his return North
he wrote After the Waróa Southern Tour, also Ohio in the War.
In the summer of 1868, Horace Greeley influenced him to become
associate editor of the New York Tribune, and the next year he was
made managing-editor. When Mr. Greeley was nominated for the Presidency,
Mr. Reid became editor-in-chief of the Tribune, and soon after the
death of Mr. Greeley Mr. Reid became printer, publisher and circulation
manager all in one. In 1881, President Garfield asked Mr. Reid to
represent the United States as Minister to Germanyóan appointment he
declined, as he had done four years before, when President Hayes offered
the same position to him in 1877. In 1889, President Harrison offered Mr.
Reid the place of a Minister to France, which he accepted. During his
service in France, he rendered valuable service to both countries,
especially in removing the prohibition of American pork from the French
market, which had been barred for eleven years. In 1892, Mr. Reid, after
four years of useful service, resigned.
On his return to New York, he was
called upon to be the Chairman of the New York State Republican
Convention; and on June 10, at the Republican National Convention, which
met at Minneapolis, he nominated Benjamin Harrison as President, and Mr.
Reid was nominated Vice-President by acclamation. He took the leading part
in the campaign. His speeches were aggressive and effective and he was
graciously received everywhere with popular interest, but the Republican
party was overwhelmingly defeated.
Mr. Reidís health was so impaired by
the work of the campaign that he was obliged to take things easy. He made
protracted visits to the Orient and the South, but later was able to
resume his editorial work on the Tribune.
In 1896, Mr. Reid was appointed
Special Ambassador of the United States at the Diamond Jubilee of Queen
Victoria. At the close of the war with Spain, President McKinley appointed
him to be one of the five American commissioners to negotiate at Paris a
treaty of peace, which was concluded December, 1898, satisfactorily to
both countries. President Roosevelt appointed Mr. Reid, in 1902, as
a special Ambassador at the coronation of King Edward VII.
At the beginning of Mr. Rooseveltís
second term, he appointed Mr. Reid Ambassador to Great Britain, and in
1909 he was retained by President Taft. He did estimable service between
Great Britain and the United States in the final fixing of the Maine and
New Brunswick boundary line, and in the North Atlantic fishing dispute.
While in Great Britain, he was constantly in demand to give public
addresses, and nowhere was he more respected and loved than in Scotland.
The death of Ambassador Reid at Dorchester House, London, December 15,
1912, at the age of seventy-five, after an illness of two weeks, was
deeply felt in Great Britain, France and the United States. The King, the
Queen, President Taft, diplomats, bankers, editors, educators, and
public-spirited men in both countries spoke of him as a man who had set an
example of industry and patriotic service which would be an inspiration
for his countrymen. Though born of humble parents, he fought his way up to
the top with remarkable grit.
Joseph H. Choate, former Ambassador
to the Court of St. James and Mr. Reidís predecessor in that post, said:
"The news of the untimely death in London of our distinguished Ambassador,
Mr. Whitelaw Reid, will be received on both sides of the Atlantic with
profound regret. Since the early days of the Civil War, when he won his
spurs as a war correspondent, he had been a prominent and distinguished
figure in our social and public life.
"As editor and proprietor of the
Tribune, which he had made a most formidable and powerful factor in
our political life; as Chancellor of the Board of Regents of the
University of New York, as minister for four years to France; as one of
the negotiators of peace with Spain after our Cuban war; as special
ambassador on several occasions to Great Britain, as the Republican
candidate for Vice-President with Harrison in 1892, and finally as an
Ambassador to Great Britain for a longer term than any of his
predecessors, except Richard Rush, he had become and was at the time of
his death one of the best qualified and useful of our public servants.
"From the day that he arrived in
London, in June, 1905, until his death he was among the foremost of the
men in diplomatic life from whatever country. His skill and tact, his wide
and varied experience in public and political questions, his high
character and suavity of manner enabled him to meet and successfully to
treat the successive important questions that arose between the two
countries, so that we can hardly recall a single ripple of discord during
"His unbounded hospitality while in
office, extended alike to the men and women of both countries, was a
subject of general interest and comment in both. But he lived abroad as he
did at home, on the same scale and in the same style as his ample means
warranted. But it has not in the least made it impossible or difficult for
his successor, whoever he may be and of however moderate means, to fill
the great office with distinction and dignity, as Frank-. lin did in
France and Lowell and Bayard, men of very moderate fortunes, did before
"Mr. Reidís literary talents were of
a high order, and his style finished and refined, enabling him to deliver
admirable addresses in all parts of Great Britain which commanded approval
and exercised good influences both there and at home.
"It had been evident to his friends
for some time that his health had been steadily declining, but we had
hoped that he would have lived to finish his term with that of the
administration of President Taft, on which he reflected so much honour and
credit abroad. To the very last his high ambition, his intense tenacity of
purpose and unfailing sense of duty enabled him to discharge with fidelity
the duties of his great office."
Memorial services were held in
honour of Mr. Reid in Westminster Abbey and New York, and as a special
mark of honour his body was brought to New York on board a British
Mr. Reid was the author of several
popular and scholarly publications. In 1878 he was elected for life a
Regent of the University of New York State. He was a Christian and a
member of the Presbyterian church, and of many social organizations in New
York. Degrees were conferred upon him by the Universities of Miami, New
York, Princeton, Cambridge, England, and St. Andrews, Scotland. Oxford
gave him, in 1907, the degree of D. C. L., which he greatly appreciated.
Mr. Reid married, in 1881, Miss
Elizabeth Mills, daughter of Darius Ogden Mills. They had two children:
Ogden Mills Reid, a graduate of Yale, and of the law department, who later
became Managing Editor of the Tribune and President of the
corporation. The daughter, Miss Jean Reid, married, in 1908, the Hon. John
Hubert Ward, a brother of the Earl of Dudley.
Mr. and Mrs. Reid maintained their
residences in America: in New York, White Plains and in the Adirondacks.