Stephen Latchford

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Stephen Latchford
250 px
Stephen Latchford in 1960
Born (1883-02-04)February 4, 1883
Annapolis Junction, Maryland, USA
Died October 1, 1974(1974-10-01) (aged 91)
Vienna, Virginia, USA
Alma mater Washington College of Law
Occupation U.S. Diplomat, Lawyer, Aviation Law Expert
Employer United States Foreign Service, U.S. State Department
Known for American expert on air laws
Spouse(s) Marie Leola Spalding

Stephen Latchford (February 4, 1883 – October 1, 1974) was a United States diplomat, lawyer and one of America's earliest experts in aviation law. A federal government employee, Latchford started as a clerk working in the Panama Canal Zone. For the next forty years, he rose through the ranks of the U.S. Foreign Service to become one of its most senior members.

During the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s he had a major influence on the role of aviation in America and was a main contributor in the development of international air laws. He served as a government adviser on air law during World War II and played a crucial role in preparation and planning for the Marshall Plan.

Latchford is best known for being one of the principal aviation experts during the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman and for his extensive work in the American Section of the International Technical Committee of Aerial Legal Experts, commonly known as CITEJA (an abbreviation taken from the initials for its French name, Comité International Technique d'Experts Juridiques Aérien.)

Childhood and early life

File:Working Boys' Home.jpg
The Maulsby Working Boys' House in Washington, D.C., 1935

Stephen Latchford was born on February 4, 1883 to George G. Latchford, a B&O Railroad operator in Annapolis Junction, Maryland, and his wife, Miranda. He received his early education at public schools in Annapolis Junction, but never attended high school. As a young teenager, he left home and went to Washington, D.C. to find work.

His first job was at a tobacco store close to the Capitol Building, where he earned $4 a week. During his early years in D.C., he lived with other young boys at the Maulsby Working Boy's Home, a loose combination of a foster/children's home. Latchford became a member of the Home's debating team, the Working Boys Literary and Debating Club.

At age 18, he learned to use a typewriter and started working as a clerk in commercial houses. In March 1901, his father died while visiting in Washington.

Latchford then worked as a typewriter and stenographer in law offices from 1904 to 1905. He also attended a business college in Washington.

Panama Canal work

In 1905 Latchford took the civil service examination and after passing it applied for a job at the Isthmian Canal Commission which he obtained.

An article published in the Washington Post on September 23, 1906, quotes the superintendent of the Working Boys Home, Mrs. Stuart, as she describes the day that became a turning point in the young man's life:

"One of the boys we are most proud of is Stephen Latchford, a boy who was earning $4 a week when he came to the home. He studies at night, and after some time he took the civil service examination. One day a cablegram came to the home, and I smiled over the mistake, knowing that someone else of his name was intended. Nevertheless, so long as it did bear his name, I sent it around to his place of work for him to see. At night he came swinging up the steps, and I asked him if it wasn't curious that a cablegram to someone having his very name had been sent to him; but he laughed excitedly and told me that it was for him - that it was an appointment to a government clerkship at Panama at $1,500 a year. And that is where my dear boy is this minute, doing better every day."

For the next six years (1905-1911), Latchford worked as a clerk in the Panama Canal Zone.

Early State Department career

Upon returning to the United States in 1911, Latchford transferred on August 19, 1911 to the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Bureau. He later moved to the Division of Latin-American Affairs as it expanded and performed clerical tasks on diplomatic and consular correspondence on matters relating to Mexico, Central America, Panama, South America, and the West Indies.

By 1915, he was working at the Division of Mexican Affairs as a clerk, where he was promoted as a clerk to 'Class One'; in 1916, to 'Class Two'; and in 1918, to "Class Three'.

State Department lawyer

Determined to expand his educational boundaries and to support his small family, Latchford decided to attend university and study law. He took a course in commercial law from the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Soon afterwards, he applied to the Washington College of Law. He was initially rejected as he had not completed high school. He then studied at night and in his free time and, after passing the equivalency test, was accepted as a student.

He received his Bachelors in Law degree (LL.B.) from the Washington College of Law in 1920 and was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia in October of that year. In 1921, also from the Washington College of Law, he received his Master in Law degree (LL.M.).

Latchford moved to the Office of the Solicitor and began a quick rise through its ranks. On November 1, 1923 he was promoted to an Assistant Solicitor and six months later, on July 1, 1924, became a member of the State Department's Scientific and Professional Service. On February 1, 1926, he was named 'Assistant to the Solicitor' and held the title for the next two years.

Aviation expert and the CITEJA

Latchford continued to rise systematically through the State Department ranks. On October 1, 1928, he was promoted to Grade Four (Full Professional). On February 1, 1929, he was promoted again to a 'Technical Assistant', specializing in legal affairs and on June 1 of that same year, moved to the Department's 'Treaty Division'. Consequently, he became a Grade Five professional (Senior Professional). On November 28, 1934, he was named 'Divisional Assistant', receiving a professional rank of Grade Six (Principal Professional). By that time, Latchford's law ambitions began turning towards a different, more esoteric field still early in its development: aviation law.

By the late 1920s, as aviation expanded and special laws became necessary for its growth and development, the International Technical Committee of Aerial Legal Experts (CITEJA) was founded in Paris in 1926 by a resolution adopted at the First International Conference of Private Air Law and was tasked with the establishment of an organized and uniform set of laws that would later be the basis of air laws worldwide.

Initially, the United States began sending only unofficial advisers to CITEJA meetings, and therefore lacked a great deal of influence in the committee’s affairs. For a long period, CITEJA was the only aviation committee where the United States was even represented.

However, by the mid-1930s, and specifically in 1934, the United States government took on a more active role in dealing with the CITEJA. With Latchford's appointment as a member of the American Section at the CITEJA, things began to change. Having an experienced State Department diplomat and legal expert to help manage the American mission at the CITEJA, the U.S. adopted an ever greater role in global aviation conferences and affairs in the years leading up to the Second World War. It was under Latchford’s leadership that air laws in America were shaped. Being one of the first American government officials to be directly involved in the CITEJA and its efforts towards the unification of international air law, he would later be regarded as one of America’s earliest experts of aviation law.

Latchford was also a member of the State Department's Committee on International Civil Aviation from 1935 to 1938. During the time, he also served as Assistant Executive Secretary at the Interdepartmental Committee on International Civil Aviation. Over the years, he worked with airline entrepreneur Juan Trippe, President and Founder of Pan American Airways, as the two collaborated to develop and create a code of practical and viable air laws. Latchford was instrumental to the State Department efforts that propelled Pan American to become one of the world's most prominent airlines of the twentieth century.

Latchford began attending international meetings of the CITEJA and led a number of U.S. delegations to the CITEJA himself. He served as chairman of U.S. delegations to CITEJA sessions held in the Hague, Netherlands in 1935; Paris, France in 1936; Bern, Switzerland in 1936; Bucharest, Romania in 1937; Paris in 1937; and Brussels, Belgium in 1938. In June 1937, he was detailed to Dublin, Ireland to complete a series of negotiations for an air navigation agreement between the United States and Ireland. He also served as a U.S. representative at the United States-Canada Aviation Conference held at Washington, D.C. in 1938 and again in Ottawa in 1939.

President Roosevelt, in March 1938, appointed Latchford the State Department’s "Expert on Air Laws" and promoted him to Chairman of the American Section at the International Technical Committee of Aerial Legal Experts. Latchford remained in his capacity as Chairman of the American Section throughout CITEJA’s existence; representing the United States for nearly a decade until CITEJA's dismantlement in the late 1940s.

On August 19, 1938, Latchford was named the Chief of the State Department's Aviation Section. As his authority grew at the State Department, he did not personally attend all of CITEJA's session, but whenever he did, he did so as chairman of the United States' delegation.

Latchford developed extensive knowledge in maritime law as it overlapped in many aspects with aviation law and in recognition for his accomplishments, President Roosevelt named him Vice Chairman of the American Delegation to the 4th International Conference on Private Air Law held at Brussels, Belgium in 1938. The conference was the last of the international conference on private air law before the outbreak of WWII and afterwards and produced a number of resolutions that ultimately led to the unification of both aviation and maritime laws on key issues.

On January 21, 1936, Latchford addressed the Federal Bar Association at the University Club in Washington, giving a speech entitled "Codification of Private International Air Law".

Late career and retirement

Latchford served once as President of the Panama Canal Society of Washington. He worked on the Marshall Plan, acting as a legal adviser.

The arrival of World War II marked a new chapter in aviation. Aviation exploded at an unimaginable rate and its experts faced an unprecedented test. It was the first time that aviation played a major role in the war's proceedings. As an aviation expert, Latchford worked closely with Secretary Cordell Hull, as his legal advisor on matter relating to aviation. On March 18, 1943, with the war raging on, Latchford's authority at the State Department amplified as he was promoted to Grade 7 as a Head Professional and named ‘Advisor of Air Law'. He also took part in the Permanent American Aeronautical Commission meeting as a member in the United States Commission in 1944.

At the historic 1944 Chicago Convention, in which 52 states and 190 parties took part in and which shaped the role of aviation worldwide, Latchford served as an adviser to the United States delegation. He was the mastermind behind the first draft on the convention on international civil aviation that was adopted by the Chicago Conference. Among the conference’s most significant outcomes was the formation of the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO). The Chicago Convention furthermore led to the establishment of what would become the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the United Nations that exists to this day.

On November 8, 1946, Latchford became the State Department’s ‘Aviation Advisor'. He was crucial in the creation of a single air law and his contributions to the field of aviation laws through his work with the CITEJA, the Provisional International Civil Aviation Committee (PICAO), State Department aviation committees, the International Conferences on Private Air Law, and other organizations and agencies during the period preceding the Second World War were enormous.

Although the work of the CITEJA was generally limited during the war, a few conferences did take place with the support of the French government. Latchford was by then functioning as a legal advisor to newly appointed Secretary George Marshall and assisted in the launching of the Marshall Plan. He, in particular, worked the legal angle, thus allowing for the shipment of American aid to devastated European nations after the defeat of Germany in 1945.

Soon after the end of the Second World War in 1946, members of the CITEJA convened in Paris to discuss the effect of the war and its predicaments and the future of the organization. Latchford personally traveled to Paris to head the U.S. delegation to the meeting, the first time since he had been appointed Chairman of the CITEJA’s American Section. During the war, he had remained in Washington, leading American involvement in CITEJA “behind the scenes”. Nonetheless, for the most part of CITEJA’s existence, the American Section was usually headed by Latchford.

On July 30, 1948, Latchford retired at the age of 65 after working nearly four decades at the State Department.

Late life and death

Latchford's health began worsening in late 1974 and was finally placed under the care of a nursery home. On October 1, 1974, Latchford died at the age of 91. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington beside his daughter and wife.

Personal life

Latchford married Marie Leola Spalding, the daughter of Basil William Spalding, a Confederate Civil War hero from Southern Maryland. Together the couple had five children.

See also