John W. Foster was an American politician,
diplomat, journalist, and U.S. Secretary of State
Foster was also a veteran of the American
Civil War, a respected lawyer specializing
in international law, and author of several
books detailing his many years of diplomatic
service. Following his brief stint as
Secretary of State, he served as an influential
advisor to the Chinese during the Sino-Japanese
war of 1894-95. He was responsible for drafting
the Treaty of Shimonoseki which ended the war,
ceded Taiwan (Formosa) and other territories
to Japan, and brought formal Chinese recognition
of Korea's independence.
John W. Foster
Biographical fast facts
Full or original name at birth: John Watson Foster
Date and place of birth: March 2, 1836, Petersburg, Pike County,
Indiana, U.S.A. *
Date and place of death: November 15, 1917, Washington, D.C.
Wife: Mary Parke McFerson (m. September 1859 - November 15, 1917) (his death)
Wedding took place at the Glendale Female Seminary, in Glendale, Ohio.
Daughters: Edith Foster and Eleanor Foster
Father: Matthew Watson Foster (1800-1863)
Mother: Eleanor Johnson (d. 1849)
Note: Sarah Kazar was John's stepmother.
Burial site: Oak Hill Cemetery, Evansville, Indiana, U.S.A.
Error corrections or clarifications
* John Watson Foster was not born in "Evansville, Indiana"
as a few sources erroneously report. He
was born in Petersburg, Pike County, Indiana,
and later raised in Evansville, Indiana,
where the Foster family moved in 1839.
NOTE: John Foster Dulles was not John's
son as a couple of sources mistakenly claim.
Dulles, who served as U.S. Secretary of State
in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's cabinet,
was actually his grandson. John Foster Dulles
was the son of John's eldest daughter Edith Foster.
Biography - Selected writing credits
Matthew Watson Foster immigrated to the U.S. from
England at age twelve. In 1819, he put down roots
in Pike County, Indiana, and became one of the
earliest merchants in that county. He initially
lived on a rural 80-acre parcel before moving
into Petersburg, Indiana. John Watson Foster was
Eleanor and Matthew's third child, born March 2nd,
1836. In 1839, the young family moved to bustling
Evansville, Indiana, where Matthew ran a thriving
general store and was later elected probate judge.
The Foster family grew to include eight kids
before John's mother died in 1849, while
assisting victims of a riverboat disaster.
After a second marriage, the family would
eventually grow to include a total of ten children.
John Foster was a gifted and scholarly student throughout
his schooling and was valedictorian of his 1855 Indiana
It was after he established his law practice in Evansville,
Indiana at age 21 that he became heavily involved in civic
affairs. John was an ardent abolitionist and was a tireless
worker in the presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln.
John W. Foster served with distinction in the Union army
during the American Civil War. Commissioned a Major in the
25th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, he was a key participant
in the Battle of Shiloh and was later assigned to assist
General Ambrose Burnside. He rose to the rank of Colonel
before commanding the 65th Indiana Volunteer Mounted
Infantry, then moved on to the 136th Regiment. He
ultimately attained the rank of brigadier general.
Following his military service, he invested in, and was
editor of the Evansville Daily Journal. His prominence
within the Republican Party continued to grow, and led
to his being named Chairman of the Indiana Republican
State Committee. John W. Foster's career as a diplomat
began in 1873 as the U.S. representative to Mexico.
He held the position until 1880 when he was dispatched
to Russia for a brief stint as U.S. representative to
that nation. He was next appointed U.S. Minister to
Spain in 1883, and served in that position until 1885.
Foster was a highly-regarded diplomat and international
relations attorney, and is actually considered by some
to be America's first professional U.S. diplomat.
When Secretary of State James G. Blaine abruptly resigned
in 1892, Foster was quickly named U.S. Secretary of State
during President Benjamin Harrison's Administration. He
spent a great deal of his time working toward the annexation
of Hawaii, and issues related to Cuba and Puerto Rico.
One of his greatest achievements occurred after he'd left
public office. The former Secretary of State was instrumental
in drafting the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which brought the
Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95 to an end. In addition to
bringing peace between China and Japan, the 1895 treaty
was notable for China's recognition of the independence of
Korea and their relinquishment of Taiwan (Formosa) and other
Throughout the 1890s he was a trusted legal consultant on
matters of international law and ran a flourishing international
law practice in Washington. During those years he maintained
a residence at 323 18th Street N.W., Washington, D.C., and a
summer home in Henderson Harbor, New York. Ambassador Foster
was frequently called on to utilize his global contacts to
settle territorial disputes, and negotiate reciprocity trade
agreements between governments. He also held important posts
with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the
American Red Cross, and helped found the American Society of
Though his mind remained sharp, his health declined sharply in
his final months. He died November 15th, 1917, at the age of 81.
Some of his grandchildren went on to illustrious careers in
the public sector as well. They include, John Foster Dulles,
who later served as U.S. Secretary of State in President Dwight
D. Eisenhower's administration, as well as Allen W. Dulles,
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Eleanor
Lansing Dulles, an economist, author and State Department
Indiana University (graduated 1855, as valedictorian)
Harvard University Law School
Lawyer (admitted to the bar 1857)
Postmaster of Evansville, Indiana (1869-73)
U.S. Minister to Mexico (1873-80)
U.S. Minister to Russia (1880-81)
U.S. Minister to Spain (1883-85)
U.S. Secretary of State (1892-93)
Selected writing credits: Biographical Sketch of Matthew W. Foster, 1800-1863 (1896) A Century of American Diplomacy, 1776-1876 (1900) American Diplomacy in the Orient (1903) Arbitration and the Hague Court (1904) The Practice of Diplomacy (1906) Diplomatic Memoirs (1909)
The most in-depth of more than two dozen sources
consulted in preparing this profile, was the 1981 biography,
John W. Foster: Politics and Diplomacy in the Imperial
Era, 1873-1917, by Michael J. Devine.
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