Henry Shelton Sanford - Career


Sanford began diplomatic work in 1847, when he was named the Secretary of the American legation to St. Petersburg. In 1848, he was named acting Secretary to the American Legation in Frankfurt. President Zachary Taylor then appointed him to the same post in Paris, where he would remain from 1849 to 1854, the last year of which after a promotion to chargé d'affaires.

President Abraham Lincoln appointed him as Minister to Belgium in 1861. There, apart from preventing Confederate recognition, he signed a number of significant agreements, including the Scheldt Treaties, concerning import duties and the capitalization of the Scheldt dues (1863), a naturalization treaty, and a consular convention including a trademark article supplemental to the commercial treaty of 1858.

In addition, Sanford co-ordinated northern secret service operations during the Civil War, arranged for the purchase of war materials for the Union, and delivered a message from Secretary of State William H. Steward to Giuseppe Garibaldi, offering the Italian patriot a Union command.

After the Civil War he bought an orange grove in St. Augustine, Florida, from John Hay, who had been one of President Lincoln's secretaries and later served as U.S. Secretary of State. It was the beginning of a large investment in the state. The St. Augustine grove was later developed as a real estate subdivision in the northern part of the city's historic Lincolnville neighborhood. It includes a Sanford Street as a permanent memory of its origins.

He was nominated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 as U.S. Minister to Spain. His Senate confirmation, which was long discussed, was tabled due solely on the grounds that he was unwilling to move to Spain. As soon as President Grant appointed General Daniel Sickles U.S. Minister to Spain, he resigned his post at Belgium.

In 1870, Sanford paid $18,400 to former Confederate General Joseph Finegan to acquire his extensive land holdings along Lake Monroe and founded the city of Sanford, Florida. He founded an orange plantation at Lake Monroe that offered some promise to revive his flagging fortunes, but it did not prove profitable in the long term. In fact he poured quite a bit of precious capital into land speculation and town building in Florida in the hopes of turning around a family economy that spent far more than it took in, but with no success. The commitment of his time and resources to cashing in on the postbellum Florida land boom was a miserable failure in the end. His wife was so disgruntled with his booster schemes that she lamented in a letter to her husband that Florida was "a vampire that... sucked the repose & the beauty & the dignity & cheerfulness out of our lives." Sanford had numerous other business interests, some in the Congo after his work for Belgium, but none were profitable.

The Belgian King Leopold II used Sanford to convince Henry Morton Stanley to explore the Congo basin for Belgium in 1878. He then hired Sanford in 1883 as his envoy to the United States to try to gain American recognition for his colony in Congo.

In 1886, Sanford organized at Brussels and dispatched to the Congo and its tributaries the Sanford Exploring Expedition for the purpose of scientific and commercial discovery and for the opening up of an interior trade. His steamboats "Florida" and "New York" were the first commercial steamers to penetrate the waters of the upper Congo. Sanford employed Roger Casement from September 1886 to February 1888 on the Expedition, working on river transports. His project did not prosper partly because the Congo State was becoming increasingly restrictive in its attitude to other commercial interests.

Sanford remained loyal to the Belgian king until 1889, when serving as the American representative at Leopold’s Anti-Slavery Conference, Leopold betrayed his earlier free trade plans for the Congo and asked for the imposition of customs duties so as to aid the destruction of slavery in the Congo.

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