Andrew Patrick on Jesse Jackson, the US consul in WWI Aleppo who found himself on the front line between humanitarian rescue and American capital.

Andrew is Associate Professor of History at Tennessee State University.

In December of 1914 the US Consul at Aleppo, Jesse Jackson, wrote an uncharacteristically impolite letter to the executives of the Northern Aluminum Company (later Alcan). In response to an inquiry about doing business in the region, Jackson wrote that “it is incomprehensible to the writer how you could expect to do business here in the circumstances.” “There is no possible way,” he continued, “in which this could be done for the moment as any sagacious business man should know.”[1] It is clear why Jackson was annoyed at this seemingly oblivious request. In the tense atmosphere of late 1914, Jackson’s days were filled with getting desperate British and French citizens out of the empire, as well as channeling relief funds to distressed American citizens and institutions in the region. How, Jackson implied, could Northern Aluminum be so ignorant of world events and waste his time with such a request?

Letters like these continued to arrive during the war, yet Jackson’s responses became more diplomatic, despite the pressures of his wartime existence in Syria. A Boston wool importer, for example, requested Jackson’s help in July of 1915. His firm was hoping to resume, and perhaps even increase, wool imports from Aleppo, proposing to send a ship to an Ottoman port to pick up “a complete cargo.”[2] Jackson, who was in the midst of aiding Armenian refugees at this point, replied that the “French Government had imposed a blockade against the Syrian coast,” thus it would be necessary to “make representations thru [sic] government channels to the French Government granting the desired permission,” and then seek consent from Ottoman officials.[4] He noted to a different wool importer that American liquorice root magnates, MacAndrews & Forbes, had successfully made an arrangement like this.[5]

Jackson had begun to understand what was happening. From early on, American firms viewed the war as an opportunity to step into the breach created by the absence of British and French companies in markets like the Ottoman Empire.

A prime example of this was Standard Oil of New York, which took advantage of the absence of its British-based rivals by continuing to explore and seek concessions for potential oil reserves in the region through 1915.[6] In 1916, Jackson had his Vice Consul Lorenzo Manachy write a report about the trade prospects in his region. Manachy, owner of an import/export firm himself, began the report by stating that “everyone in this country is now turning his eyes towards the United States of America for future business” because “it will take some time before the European continent will be in a position to supply the products it used to sell freely to the Near East.” “An excellent and exceptional opportunity,” he continued, “is now offered to American manufacturers to secure a strong foothold in this market.” He further called for the establishment of American banks in the region, along with the launching of direct American-owned steamship lines and an increase in “commercial travelers” to bring samples of their products.[7]

Scholars have rarely explored this aspect of the war: As the United States watched Europe descend into violence, American businessmen were concurrently scouring the globe to take advantage of the situation. Without European competition, “the field was clear for American capital and manufactured exports.”[8] American companies, abetted by their government’s passing of export-enhancing legislation which lifted restrictions on finance and rejuvenated the US merchant marine, met with success in the face of reduced competition. In 1915-16, for example, American exports to South America nearly doubled and exports to Asia grew even more.[9] Although trade with the Ottoman Empire did not expand during the war largely because of the numerous hindrances to Atlantic and Mediterranean trade, the US government and US manufacturers were poised to fight for the markets of a region that had long been dominated by their European competitors.

These developments were part of the preamble to America’s business-focused participation at Lausanne. After the war, the United States had prolonged disputes with Britain and France over business dealings in the occupied Ottoman lands. At Lausanne, the head of the American delegation, Richard Washburn Child, opened the official American participation in the conference by arguing that a “stable peace” in the region depended on the “equality of economic opportunity” in Turkey.[10] His statement was part of a grander American declaration of intent. Opening the markets of the Middle East for American participation was a component of United States economic expansion and taking a stand at Lausanne was one way to ensure that this occurred. Although the US still had a difficult path to becoming a major player in the region, Lausanne made it clear that this was their goal.


[1] Jesse B. Jackson to Northern Aluminum Company, 1 Dec. 1914. Records of Foreign Service Consular Posts, Aleppo (RG 84, UD 81), Box 6, 865.1. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland (hereafter NA-Aleppo).

[2] Ayres, Bridges & Company to Jackson, 28 July 1915, Box 12, 862.2, NA-Aleppo.

[3] Jackson to Ayres, Bridges & Company, 11 Oct. 1915, Box 12, 862.2, NA-Aleppo.

[4] Jackson to George Harrington, 29 Dec. 1915, Box 12, 862.2, NA-Aleppo.

[5] Andrew Patrick, “Standard Oil in the Ottoman Lands, 1913-1928,” working paper.

[6] Lorenzo Y. Manachy, “Trade Prospects for American Manufacturers in the District of Aleppo, Syria, after the General War,” 12 Dec. 1916, Box 16, 610, NA-Aleppo.

[7] Jeffry A. Frieden, Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), p. 131.

[8] Burton I. Kaufman, Efficiency and Expansion: Foreign Trade Organization in the Wilson Administration, 1913-1921 (London: Praeger, 1974), pp. 91-142. Statistics on 132. See also [1] [9] Katherine C. Epstein, “The Conundrum of American Power in the Age of World War I,” Modern American History,2/3 (2019): 345-365.

[9] Katherine C. Epstein, “The Conundrum of American Power in the Age of World War I,” Modern American History,2/3 (2019): 345-365.

[10] Conference on Near Eastern Affairs, Lausanne, 1922-1923: Records of Proceedings and Draft Terms of Peace (London: H.M.S.O., 1923), pp. 92-93. Accessed on

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