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Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1893, Clinton A. Decker served as part of the American Advisory Commission of Railway Experts to Russia beginning in May 1917. The Commission, led by John F. Stevens, was created by President Woodrow Wilson to assist Russia's Provisional Government by improving the Trans-Siberian and Chinese Eastern Railways. Coming to power after the February Revolution and amidst the fighting of World War I, the Provisional Government needed to supply the troops on the front to demonstrate that it was able to defend Russia from the German threat. In his memoirs John F. Stevens commented that the Commission was "at least a year too late." The Provisional Government was unable to maintain its position, and the Bolshevik Party came to power in November 1917 under V. I. Lenin. Lenin's main goal was to get Russia out of the war, which he accomplished by signing the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Commission dissolved when the Bolshevik government ended Russian involvement in World War I.
Several Commission members, including Decker, then went to Japan to await the arrival of the Russian Railway Service Corps (RRSC), an Army Reserve unit of railway experts invited by the Provisional Government to assist Russian railway operations. Stevens was to be the Director General of all the railways, but with the fall of the Provisional Government, American role in the region was ambiguous. Alarmed by Russia's withdrawal from the war, many countries, including the United States, refused to recognize the new Bolshevik government.
The Inter-Allied Technical Board was then formed under the aegis of the U.S. State Department to place the RRSC along the railway to protect Allied interests. The Board consisted of representatives from every Allied nation, with troops in Siberia at its disposal. Stevens was made president of the Board and Decker the Board's secretary. Decker returned to the United States in November 1919 and became the U.S. representative of the Technical Board in Washington, D.C. The Board dissolved after the last Allied troops left Siberia in 1922.
This collection contains personal and business correspondence and photographs of Clinton A. Decker. The majority of personal correspondence is to Decker's future wife, Gertrude V. O'Brien. The letters, arranged chronologically, describe Decker's activities as a member of the American Advisory Commission of Railway Experts to Russia and reveal Decker's perspective on revolutionary Russia from 1917 to 1919. Included are detailed descriptions of Vladivostok, Harbin, and an account of the July Riots (July Days) in Petrograd, as well as a description of the Cossacks (and one of their leaders, Grigori Semenov) and their role in the revolution. A small amount of newspaper clippings and materials related to events around Decker's experiences is also found. Most of this correspondence has been published in Mission to Russia: An American Journal (Edited by Charles J. Decker, self-published, New York: 1994).
The business correspondence focuses on John F. Stevens's work as President of the Inter-Allied Technical Board for which Decker served as secretary. This correspondence is divided into three sections. The first contains Stevens's personal business files from July 26, 1919 to November 21, 1922, arranged chronologically by outgoing correspondence. The materials range from invitations to social events from Russian, Chinese and Japanese officials to letters from American and Canadian firms asking about possible business opportunities. Also included is a letter from an ex-member of the Chinese Eastern Railway Council who was arrested in Petrograd in 1918. He, and the other members of the Council, sought compensation after their release.
The second section contains correspondence Stevens received from the American Representative to the Technical Board, C.H. Smith, from April 30, 1919 to June 8, 1921, arranged chronologically by incoming letter. Much of the correspondence discusses Japanese presence in the region and the Allies' role in the internal conflicts of Russia. Also included are several detailed accounts of disturbances along the rail line such as impounding equipment and the harassment and murder of passengers. Copies of most of the memoranda are included; however enclosures (letters/invoices/telegrams) are not included in the files.
The collection is separated into correspondence and photograph and arranged chronologically within those categories.
Charles Decker donated this collection to the Library in 1996 (ML1996-4). An additional accession of photographs, a biography, and a printed volume of Clinton Decker's letters was donated by Charles Decker in 2010 (ML2010.027).
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This collection was processed by Nancy M. Shader in 1996. Finding aid written by Nancy M. Shader in 1996.
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- Chinese Eastern Railway
- American Advisory Commission of Railway Experts to Russia
- Velikai︠a︡ Sibirskai︠a︡ magistralʹ
- Russian Railway Service Corps.
- Inter-Allied Technical Board
- Railroads -- China -- Manchuria -- History -- Sources
- Railroads--Russia (Federation)--History--Sources
- Public Policy Papers
- Finding Aid Author
- Nancy M. Shader
- Finding Aid Date
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