Robert Lansing (October 17, 1864 – October 30, 1928) served in the position of Legal Advisor to the State Department at the outbreak of World War I where he vigorously advocated against Britain's policy of blockade and in favor of the principles of freedom of the seas and the rights of neutral nations. He then served as United States Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson between 1915 and 1920. He was nominated to the office after William Jennings Bryan's resignation. He negotiated the Lansing-Ishii Agreement with Japan in 1917 and was a member of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at Paris in 1919.
Born in Watertown, New York, he graduated from Amherst College in 1886 and was admitted to the bar in 1889. From then until 1907 he was a member of the law firm of Lansing & Lansing at Watertown. An authority on international law, he served as associate counsel for the United States, in the Bering Sea Arbitration in 1892-93, as counsel for the United States Bering Sea Claims Commission in 1896-97, as solicitor for the government before the Alaskan Boundary Tribunal in 1903, as counsel for the North Atlantic Fisheries in the Arbitration at The Hague in 1909-10, and as agent of the United States in the American and British Arbitration in 1912-14. In 1914 Lansing was appointed by President Wilson counselor to the State Department.
Lansing advocated "benevolent neutrality" in World War I, and eventually American participation. Following the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on 7 May 1915 by the German submarine U-20, Lansing backed Woodrow Wilson in issuing three notes of protest to the German government issued on 13 May, 9 June, and 21 July. William Jennings Bryan resigned as Secretary of State following Wilson's second note, in which Wilson rejected the German arguments that the British blockade was illegal; was a cruel and deadly attack on innocent civilians; and that the Lusitania had been carrying munitions. Bryan considered the note too provocative and resigned in protest after failing to moderate it, to be replaced as Secretary of State by Lansing, who later said in his memoirs that following the tragedy he always had the "conviction that we would ultimately become the ally of Britain".