ḤĀJI VĀŠANGTON (Washington), epithet for Ḥosaynqoli Khan Moʿtamed-al-Wezāra (later Ṣadr-al-Salṭana; b. Tehran 1265/1849, d. Tehran 1316 Š./1937; Figure 1), Persia’s first ambassador to the United States (1888–89). He was the seventh son of the ignominiously ousted Grand Vizier (Ṣadr-e aʿẓam), Mirzā Āqā Khan Nuri, Eʿtemād-al–Dawla (q.v.), and consequently spent his adolescent years (1275–81/1858-64) exiled from Tehran. His family received permission to return to the capital only after his father had died in Qom (Eqbāl, p. 414; Šaraf, pp. 1-2).
Ḥosaynqoli began his career in the Foreign Ministry (Wezārat-e Ḵāreja) under the supervision of Saʿid Khan. In 1292/1874, as an auditor (mostawfi), he headed the local Council of Reform (Majles-e tanẓimāt-e ḥasana) in Isfahan, and then continued to serve in Tehran at the Bureau of Accounting (Daftar-e estifāʾ). He performed the Hajj in 1295/1877, and thereafter became known as Ḥāji. In the Foreign Ministry, he progressed through the ranks to the position of deputy minister (moʿāwen). In 1302/1885, he received the title Moʿtamed-al-Wezāra and set out for Bombay as Persia’s General Consul in India. In 1305/1888, Nāṣer-al-Din Shah appointed him as the first Persian Special Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary to Washington. He traveled to New York with his retinue of three: W. W. Torrence (secretary), Mirzā Maḥmud Khan Širāzi (translator), and ʿAbd-al–ʿAli Khan Ājudānbāši (colleague). They landed on the West 22nd Street pier in Manhattan on Sunday 30 September 1888, and checked in at the Windsor Hotel (The New York Times, 1st and 2nd October 1888). They left New York for Washington DC, and upon arrival officially met with the Secretary of State Thomas Francis Bayard. Accompanied by the latter, Ḥosaynqoli delivered his letter of credence to President Grover Cleveland at the Executive Mansion on October 3rd, 1888 (Records, p. 1365, Mujāni, 1996b, p. 59). His assignment in the United States lasted less than a full year, but the reason for the briefness of his tenure remains unclear. Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana’s allegation that local authorities had dismissed Ḥosaynqoli Khan is not substantiated in documents published by either the Persian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the US Department of State. Eʿtemād-al–Salṭana’s caustic reproach of Ḥosaynqoli Khan (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, pp. 656, 661), lampooning him as a “lunatic,” reveals personal animus rather than impartial observation. Secondary literature (e.g., Bāmdād, Rejāl I, pp. 459–60), especially non-academic material (e.g., Ḥātami’s motion picture), has often satirized Ḥāji Vāšangton as fanatical, inept, and particularly unfit for his ambassadorial post, an image that can be dispelled in light of primary sources. For example, The New York Times reporter who interviewed him upon arrival in New York asserted that he appeared quite well-attired and, while speaking only a few words of English, he was fluent in French (The New York Times, October 1, 1888).
In his copious dispatches to Persia Ḥāji Vāšangton presented, sometimes in minute detail, information about the American political system and society (see Ghanoonparvar, pp. 240-43 for sample translations). He openly admired the Americans’ disdain for Europeans and regarded Americans as “alert, intelligent, learned, polite, and wealthy.” He stressed that all government dignitaries were “servants of the people,” an acute observation that undermined the interests of Qajar courtiers like Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana. He even insisted that “the essence of the religion of the Prophet [of Islam] is found in the United States” (Ghanoonparvar, p. 242).
Far from falling from grace on his return to Persia, the ambassador received the laudatory title Ṣadr-al-Salṭana from the Shah, and a few years later in 1310/1891 he was promoted to take charge of the Ministry of Public Welfare (Wezārat-e fawāʾed-e ʿāmma).
Idiosyncrasies not withstanding, including his frivolous poems, Ḥāji Vāšangton belonged to the group of career bureaucrats consolidated in the late Qajar period. His eventual siding with the Constitutional movement (q.v.; Eqbāl, p. 415), specifically attests to his commitment, not as a courtier but as a bureaucrat, to the advancement of Persia.
Bāmdād, Rejāl I, pp. 459-60.
ʿAbbās Eqbāl, “Naḵostin rābeṭa-ye siāsi bayn-e Irān wa Āmrikā: Moḵtaṣari az aḥwāl-e Mirzā Saʿid Ḵān Wazir-e Ḵāreja,” in Majmuʿa-ye maqālāt-e ʿAbbās-e Eqbāl-e Āštiāni, ed. S. M. Dabir-Siāqi, 1999, pp. 409-27.
Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Rūz-nāma-ye ḵāṭerāt-e Eʿte-mād-al-Salṭana, ed. Iraj Afšār, 3rd ed., Tehran, 2536 = 1356 Š./1977.
M. R. Ghanoonparvar, “Nineteenth Cen-tury Iranians in America,” in Elton L. Daniel, ed., Society and Culture in Qajar Iran, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2002, pp. 239-48.
ʿAli Ḥātami, Ḥāji Vāšangton (motion picture), Tehran, 1991. A. Mujāni, Bar-rasi-e monāsebāt-e Irān wa Āmrikā: 1851-1925, Tehran, 1996a.
Idem, Gozida-ye asnād rawābeṭ-e Irān wa Amrikā, 1851-1925, Tehran, 1375 Š./1996b.
Allan Nanes and Yonah Alexander, eds., United States and Iran: A Documentary History, Frederick, MD, 1980.
Records Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to the Congress with the Annual Message of the President, December 3rd, 1888, Part II, Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, 1968 (Originally, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1889), No. 2627 in serial set. Šaraf 60, Rajab 1305/March-April 1888, p. 1.
Abraham Yeselson, United States-Persian Diplomatic Relations, 1883-1921, New Brunswick, NJ, 1956.
Originally Published: December 15, 2002
Last Updated: March 1, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 5, pp. 553-554