Incidentally, all the old criticism of Sir Edward Grey seems to have been forgotten. You hear nothing but praise of him now. I am told that he spoke his impromptu speech last night with great fire and at once left the House. His speech has caused a greater stir than the Irish rebellion, showing that every Englishman feels that Sir Edward said precisely what every man feels.
The Germans have apparently overdone and overworked their premature peace efforts and have made things worse for them. They've overplayed their hand.
In fact, I see no end of the war. The Allies are not going to quit prematurely. They won't even discuss the subject yet with one another, and the Germans, by their peace-talk of the sort that they inspire, simply postpone the day when the Allies will take the subject up.
All the while, too, the Allies work closer and closer together. They'll soon be doing even their diplomatic work with neutrals, as a unit—England and France as one nation, and (on great subjects) Russia and Italy also with them.
I've talked lately not only with Sir Edward but with nearly half the other members of the Cabinet, and they are all keyed up to the same tune. The press of both parties, too, are (for once) wholly agreed: Liberal and Conservative papers alike hold the same war-creed.
WALTER H. PAGE.
Before leaving for Washington Page discussed the situation personally with Sir Edward Grey and Lord Bryce. He has left memoranda of both interviews.
Notes of a Private and Informal Conversation with Sir Edward Grey, at his residence, on July 27, 1916, when I called to say good-bye before sailing on leave to the United States
... Sir Edward Grey went on to say quite frankly that two thoughts expressed in a speech by the President some months ago had had a very serious influence on British opinion. One thought was that the causes or objects of the war were of no concern to him, and the other was his (at least implied) endorsement of "the freedom of the seas," which the President did not define. Concerning the first thought, he understood of course that a neutral President could not say that he favoured one side or the other: everybody understood that and nobody expected him to take sides. But when the President said that the objects of the war did not concern him, that was taken by British public opinion as meaning a condemnation of the British cause, and it produced deep feeling.
Concerning the "freedom of the seas," he believed that the first use of the phrase was made by Colonel House (on his return from one of his visits to Berlin), but the public now regarded it as a German invention and it meant to the British mind a policy which would render British supremacy at sea of little value in time of war; and public opinion resented this. He knew perfectly well that at a convenient time new rules must be made governing the conduct of war at sea and on the land, too. But the German idea of "the freedom of the seas" ("freedom" was needed on land also) is repulsive to the British mind.
He mentioned these things because they had produced in many minds an unwillingness, he feared, to use the good offices of the President whenever any mediatorial service might be done by a neutral. The tendency of these remarks was certainly in that direction. Yet Sir Edward carefully abstained from expressing such an unwillingness on his own part, and the inference from his tone and manner, as well as from his habitual attitude, is that he feels no unwillingness to use the President's good office, if occasion should arise.
I asked what he meant by "mediatorial"—the President's offering his services or good offices on his own initiative? He said—No, not that. But the Germans might express to the President their willingness or even their definite wish to have an armistice, on certain terms, to discuss conditions of peace coupled with an intimation that he might sound the Allies. He did not expect the President to act on his own initiative, but at the request or at least at the suggestion of the German Government, he might conceivably sound the Allies—especially, he added, "since I am informed that the notion is wide-spread in America that the war will end inconclusively—as a draw." He smiled and remarked, as an aside, that he didn't think that this notion was held by any considerable group of people in any other country, certainly not in Great Britain.
In further talk on this subject he said that none of the Allies could mention peace or discuss peace till France should express such a wish; for it is the very vitals of France that have received and are receiving the shock of such an assault as was never before launched against any nation. Unless France was ready to quit, none of France's Allies could mention peace, and France showed no mood to quit. Least of all could the English make or receive any such suggestion at least till her new great army had done its best; for until lately the severest fighting had not been done by the British, whose army had practically been held in reserve. There had for a long time been a perfect understanding between Joffre and Haig—that the English would wait to begin their offensive till the moment arrived when it best suited the French.
The impression that I got from this part of the conversation was that Sir Edward hoped that I might convey to the President (as, of course, he could not) Sir Edward's idea of the effect of these parts of the President's speech on feeling in England toward him. Nowhere in the conversation did he make any request of me. Any one, overhearing it, might have supposed it to be a conversation between two men, with no object beyond expressing their views. But, of course, he hoped and meant that I should, in my own way, make known to the President what he said. He did not say that the President's good offices, when the time should come, would be unwelcome to him or to his government; and he meant, I am sure, to convey only the fear that by these assertions the President had planted an objection to his good offices in a large section of British opinion.
Among the conditions of peace that Sir Edward himself personally would like to see imposed (he had not yet discussed the subject with any of his colleagues in the Government) was this: that the German Government should agree to submit to an impartial (neutral) commission or court the question, Who began the war and who is responsible for it? The German Chancellor and other high German officials have put it about and continue to put it about that England is responsible, and doubtless the German people at least believe it. All the governments concerned must (this is his idea) submit to the tribunal all its documents and other evidence bearing on the subject; and of course the finding of the tribunal must be published.
Then he talked a good deal about the idea that lies behind the League for Enforcing Peace—in a sympathetic mood. He went on to point out how such a league—with force behind it—would at any one of three stages have prevented this war—(1) When England proposed a conference to France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, all agreed to it but Germany. Germany alone prevented a discussion. If the League to Enforce Peace had included England, France, Italy, and Russia—there would have been no war; for Germany would have seen at once that they would all be against her. (2) Later, when the Czar sent the Kaiser a personal telegram proposing to submit their differences to some tribunal, a League to Enforce Peace would have prevented war. And (3) when the question of the invasion of Belgium came up, every signatory to the treaty guaranteeing Belgium's integrity gave assurance of keeping the treaty—but Germany, and Germany gave an evasive answer. A league would again have prevented a war—or put all the military force of all its members against Germany.
Throughout the conversation, which lasted about an hour, Sir Edward said more than once, as he has often said to me, that he hoped we should be able to keep the friction between our governments at the minimum. He would regard it as the greatest calamity if the ill-feeling that various events have stirred up in sections of public opinion on each side should increase or should become permanent. His constant wish and effort were to lessen and if possible to remove all misunderstandings.
* * * * *
Lord Bryce was one of the Englishmen with whom Page was especially inclined to discuss pending problems.
Notes on a conversation with Lord Bryce, July 31, 1916
Lord Bryce spoke of the President's declaration that we were not concerned with the causes or objects of the war and he said that that remark had caused much talk—all, as he thought, on a misunderstanding of Mr. Wilson's meaning. "He meant, I take it, only that he did not propose at that time to discuss the causes or the objects of the war; and it is a pity that his sentence was capable of being interpreted to mean something else; and the sentence was published and discussed here apart from its context—a most unfair proceeding. I can imagine that the President and his friends may be much annoyed by this improper interpretation."
I remarked that the body of the speech in which this remark occurred might have been written in Downing Street, so friendly was it to the Allies.
"Quite, quite," said he.
This was at dinner, Lady Bryce and Mrs. Page and he and I only being present.
When he and I went into the library he talked more than an hour.
"And what about this blacklist?" he asked. I told him. He had been in France for a week and did not know just what had been done. He said that that seemed to him a mistake. "The Government doesn't know America—neither does the British public. Neither does the American Government (no American government) know the British. Hence your government writes too many notes—all governments are likely to write too many notes. Everybody gets tired of seeing them and they lose their effect."
He mentioned the blockade and said that it had become quite effective—wonderfully effective, in fact; and he implied that he did not see why we now failed to recognize it. Our refusal to recognize it had caused and doubtless is now causing such ill-feeling as exists in England.
Then he talked long about peace and how it would probably be arranged. He judged, from letters that he receives from the United States as well as from Americans who come over here, that there was an expectation in America that the President would be called in at the peace settlement and that some persons even expected him to offer mediation. He did not see how that could be. He knew no precedent for such a proceeding. The President might, of course, on the definite request of either side, make a definite inquiry of the other side; but such a course would be, in effect, merely the transmission of an inquiry.
But after peace was made and the time came to set up a League for Enforcing Peace, or some such machinery, of course the United States would be and would have to be a party to that if it were to succeed. He reminded me that a little group of men here, of whom he was one, early in the war sketched substantially the same plan that the American League to Enforce Peace has worked out. It had not seemed advisable to have any general public discussion of it in England till the war should end: nobody had time now to give to it.
As he knew no precedent for belligerents to call in a third party when they met to end a war, so he knew no precedent for any outside government to protest against the invasion of a country by a Power that had signed a treaty to guarantee the integrity of the invaded country—no precedent, that is to say, for the United States to protest against the invasion of Belgium. "That precedent," I said, "was found in Hysteria."
Lord Bryce, who had just returned from a visit to the British headquarters in France, hardly dared hope for the end of the war till next year; and the intervening time between now and the end would be a time, he feared, of renewed atrocities and increasing hatred. He cited the killing of Captain Fryatt of the Brussels and the forcible deportation of young women from Lille and other towns in the provinces of France occupied by the Germans.
The most definite idea that he had touching American-British relations was the fear that the anti-British feeling in the United States would become stronger and would outlast the war. "It is organized," he said. "The disaffected Germans and the disaffected Irish are interested in keeping it up." He asked what effect I thought the Presidential campaign would have on this feeling. He seemed to have a fear that somehow the campaign would give an occasion for stirring it up even more.
"Good-bye. Give my regards to all my American friends; and I'm proud to say there are a good many of them."
* * * * *
One episode that was greatly stirring both Great Britain and the United States at this time was the trial of Sir Roger Casement, the Irish leader who had left Wilhelmshaven for Ireland in a German submarine and who had been captured at Tralee in the act of landing arms and munitions for an Irish insurrection. Casement's subsequent trial and conviction on a charge of high treason had inspired a movement in his favour from Irish-Americans, the final outcome of which was that the Senate, in early August, passed a resolution asking the British Government for clemency and stipulating that this resolution should be presented to the Foreign Office. Page was then on the ocean bound for the United States and the delicate task of presenting this document to Sir Edward Grey fell upon Mr. Laughlin, who was now Charge d'affaires. Mr. Laughlin is a diplomat of great experience, but this responsibility at first seemed to be something of a poser even for him. He had received explicit instructions from Washington to present this resolution, and the one thing above all which a diplomatic officer must do is to carry out the orders of his government, but Mr. Laughlin well knew that, should he present this paper in the usual manner, the Foreign Secretary might decline to receive it; he might regard it as an interference with matters that exclusively concerned the sovereign state. Mr. Laughlin, however, has a technique all his own, and, in accordance with this, he asked for an interview with Sir Edward Grey to discuss a matter of routine business. However, the Charge d'affaires carried the Casement resolution tucked away in an inside pocket when he made his call.
Like Mr. Page, Mr. Laughlin was on the friendliest terms with Sir Edward Grey, and, after the particular piece of business had been transacted, the two men, as usual, fell into casual conversation. Casement then loomed large in the daily press, and the activities of the American Senate had likewise caused some commotion in London. In round-about fashion Mr. Laughlin was able to lead Sir Edward to make some reference to the Casement case.
"I see the Senate has passed a resolution asking clemency," said the Foreign Secretary—exactly the remark which the American wished to elicit.
"Yes," was the reply. "By the way, I happen to have a copy of the resolution with me. May I give it to you?"
"Yes, I should like to have it."
The Foreign Secretary read it over with deliberation.
"This is a very interesting document," he said, when he had finished. "Would you have any objection if I showed it to the Prime Minister?"
Of course that was precisely what Mr. Laughlin did wish, and he replied that this was the desire of his government. The purpose of his visit had been accomplished, and he was able to cable Washington that its instructions had been carried out and that the Casement resolution had been presented to the British Government. Simultaneously with his communication, however, he reported also that the execution of Roger Casement had taken place. In fact, it was being carried out at the time of the interview. This incident lends point to Page's memorandum of the last interview which he had before leaving England.
* * * * *
August 1st. I lunched with Mr. Asquith. One does not usually bring away much from his conversations, and he did not say much to-day worth recording. But he showed a very eager interest in the Presidential campaign, and he confessed that he felt some anxiety about the anti-British feeling in the United States. This led him to tell me that he could not in good conscience interfere with Casement's execution, in spite of the shoals of telegrams that he was receiving from the United States. This man, said he, visited Irish prisoners in German camps and tried to seduce them to take up arms against Great Britain—their own country. When they refused, the Germans removed them to the worst places in their Empire and, as a result, some of them died. Then Casement came to Ireland in a German man-of-war (a submarine) accompanied by a ship loaded with guns. "In all good conscience to my country and to my responsibilities I cannot interfere." He hoped that thoughtful opinion in the United States would see this whole matter in a fair and just way.
I asked him about anti-American feeling in Great Britain. He said: "Do not let that unduly disturb you. At bottom we understand you. At bottom the two people surely understand one another and have unbreakable bonds of sympathy. No serious breach is conceivable." He went on quite earnestly: "Mr. Page, after any policy or plan is thought out on its merits my next thought always is how it may affect our relations with the United States. That is always a fundamental consideration."
I ventured to say that if he would keep our relations smooth on the surface, I'd guarantee their stability at the bottom. It's the surface that rolls high at times, and the danger is there. Keep the surface smooth and the bottom will take care of itself.
Then he asked about Mexico, as he usually has when I have talked with him. I gave him as good a report as I could, reminding him of the great change in the attitude of all Latin-America caused by the President's patient policy with Mexico. When he said, "Mexico is a bad problem," I couldn't resist the impulse to reply: "When Mexico troubles you, think of—Ireland. As there are persons in England who concern themselves with Mexico, so there are persons in the United States who concern themselves about Ireland. Ireland and Mexico have each given trouble for two centuries. Yet these people talk about them as if they could remove all trouble in a month."
"Quite true," he said, and smiled himself into silence. Then he talked about more or less frivolous subjects; and, as always, he asked about Mr. Bryan and Mr. Roosevelt, "alike now, I suppose, in their present obscure plight." I told him I was going from his house to the House of Lords to see Sir Edward Grey metamorphosed into Viscount Grey of Fallodon.
"The very stupidest of the many stupid ceremonies that we have," said he—very truly.
He spoke of my "onerous duties" and so on and so on—tut, tut! talk that gets nowhere. But he did say, quite sincerely, I think, that my frankness called forth frankness and avoided misunderstanding; for he has said that to other people about me.
Such is the Prime Minister of Great Britain in this supreme crisis in English history, a remarkable man, of an abnormally quick mind, pretty nearly a great man, but now a spent force, at once nimble and weary. History may call him Great. If it do, he will owe this judgment to the war, with the conduct of which his name will be forever associated.
Mr. and Mrs. Page's homecoming was a tragedy. They sailed from Liverpool on August 3rd, and reached New York on the evening of August 11th. But sad news awaited them upon the dock. About two months previously their youngest son, Frank, had been married to Miss Katherine Sefton, of Auburn, N.Y., and the young couple had settled down in Garden City, Long Island. That was the summer when the epidemic of infantile paralysis swept over the larger part of the United States. The young bride was stricken; the case was unusually rapid and unusually severe; at the moment of the Pages' arrival, they were informed that there was practically no hope; and Mrs. Frank Page died at two o'clock on the afternoon of the following day. The Pages had always been a particularly united and happy family; this was the first time that they had suffered from any domestic sorrow of this kind, and the Ambassador was so affected that it was with difficulty that he could summon himself for the task that lay ahead.
In a few days, however, he left for Washington. He has himself described his experience at the Capital in words that must inevitably take their place in history. To appreciate properly the picture which Page gives, it must be remembered that the city and the officialdom which he portrays are the same city and the same men who six months afterward declared war on Germany. When Page reached Washington, the Presidential campaign was in full swing, with Mr. Wilson as the Democratic candidate and Mr. Charles E. Hughes as the Republican. But another crisis was absorbing the nation's attention: the railway unions, comprising practically all the 2,000,000 railway employees in the United States, were threatening to strike—ostensibly for an eight-hour day, in reality for higher wages.
Mr. Page's memorandum of his visit to Washington in August, 1916
The President was very courteous to me, in his way. He invited me to luncheon the day after I arrived. Present: the President, Mrs. Wilson, Miss Bones, Tom Bolling, his brother-in-law, and I. The conversation was general and in the main jocular. Not a word about England, not a word about a foreign policy or foreign relations.
He explained that the threatened railway strike engaged his whole mind. I asked to have a talk with him when his mind should be free. Would I not go off and rest and come back?—I preferred to do my minor errands with the Department, but I should hold myself at his convenience and at his command.
Two weeks passed. Another invitation to lunch. Sharp, the Ambassador to France, had arrived. He, too, was invited. Present: the President, Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Wallace, the Misses Smith of New Orleans, Miss Bones, Sharp, and I. Not one word about foreign affairs.
After luncheon, the whole party drove to the Capitol, where the President addressed Congress on the strike, proposing legislation to prevent it and to forestall similar strikes. It is a simple ceremony and somewhat impressive. The Senators occupy the front seats in the House, the Speaker presides and the President of the Senate sits on his right. An escorting committee is sent out to bring the President in. He walks to the clerk's or reader's desk below the presiding officer's, turns and shakes hands with them both and then proceeds to read his speech, very clearly and audibly. Some passages were applauded. When he had done, he again shook hands with the presiding officer and went out, preceded and followed by the White House escort. I sat in the Presidential (or diplomatic?) gallery with the White House party, higgledy-piggledy.
The speech ended, the President drove to the White House with his escort in his car. The crowds in the corridors and about the doors waited and crowded to see Mrs. Wilson, quite respectful but without order or discipline. We had to push our way through them. Now and then a policeman at a distance would yell loudly, "Make way there!"
When we reached the White House, I asked the doorman if the President had arrived.
"Does he expect me to go in and say good-bye?"
Thus he had no idea of talking with me now, if ever. Not at lunch nor after did he suggest a conversation about American-British affairs or say anything about my seeing him again.
This threatened strike does hold his whole mind—bothers him greatly. It seems doubtful if he can avert a general strike. The Republicans are trying "to put him in a political hole," and they say he, too, is playing politics. Whoever be to blame for it, it is true that politics is in the game. Nobody seems to foresee who will make capital out of it. Surely I can't.
There's no social sense at the White House. The President has at his table family connections only—and they say few or no distinguished men and women are invited, except the regular notables at the set dinners—the diplomatic, the judiciary, and the like. His table is his private family affair—nothing more. It is very hard to understand why so intellectual a man doesn't have notable men about him. It's the college professor's village habit, I dare say. But it's a great misfortune. This is one way in which Mr. Wilson shuts out the world and lives too much alone, feeding only on knowledge and subjects that he has already acquired and not getting new views or fresh suggestions from men and women.
He sees almost nobody except members of Congress for whom he sends for special conferences, and he usually sees these in his office. The railroad presidents and men he met in formal conference—no social touch.
A member of his Cabinet told me that Mr. Wilson had shown confidence in him, given him a wide range of action in his own Department and that he relies on his judgment. This Cabinet member of course attends the routine state dinners and receptions, as a matter of required duty. But as for any social recognition of his existence—he had never received a hint or nod. Nor does any member of the Cabinet (except, no doubt, Mr. McAdoo, his son-in-law). There is no social sense nor reason in this. In fact, it works to a very decided disadvantage to the President and to the Nation.
By the way, that a notable man in our educational life could form such a habit does not speak well for our educational life.
What an unspeakably lamentable loss of opportunity! This is the more remarkable and lamentable because the President is a charming personality, an uncommonly good talker, a man who could easily make personal friends of all the world. He does his own thinking, untouched by other men's ideas. He receives nothing from the outside. His domestic life is spent with his own, nobody else, except House occasionally. His contact with his own Cabinet is a business man's contact with his business associates and kind—at his office.
He declined to see Cameron Forbes on his return from the Philippines.
The sadness of this mistake!
Another result is—the President doesn't hear the frank truth about the men about him. He gives nobody a chance to tell him. Hence he has several heavy encumbrances in his official family.
The influence of this lone-hand way of playing the game extends very far. The members of the Cabinet do not seem to have the habit of frankness with one another. Each lives and works in a water-tight compartment. I sat at luncheon (at a hotel) with Lansing, Secretary of State; Lane, Secretary of the Interior; Gregory, Attorney-General; Baker, Secretary of War; Daniels, Secretary of the Navy; and Sharp, Ambassador to France; and all the talk was jocular or semi-jocular, and personal—mere cheap chaff. Not a question was asked either of the Ambassador to France or of the Ambassador to Great Britain about the war or about our foreign relations. The war wasn't mentioned. Sharp and I might have come from Bungtown and Jonesville and not from France and England. We were not encouraged to talk—the local personal joke held the time and conversation. This astounding fact must be the result of this lone-hand, water-tight compartment method and—of the neutrality suppression of men. The Vice-President confessed to his neighbour at a Gridiron dinner that he had read none of the White Papers, or Orange Papers, etc., of the belligerent governments—confessed this with pride—lest he should form an opinion and cease to be neutral! Miss X, a member of the President's household, said to Mrs. Y, the day we lunched there, that she had made a remark privately to Sharp showing her admiration of the French.
"Was that a violation of neutrality?" she asked in all seriousness.
I can see it in no other way but this: the President suppressed free thought and free speech when he insisted upon personal neutrality. He held back the deliberate and spontaneous thought and speech of the people except the pro-Germans, who saw their chance and improved it! The mass of the American people found themselves forbidden to think or talk, and this forbidding had a sufficient effect to make them take refuge in indifference. It's the President's job. He's our leader. He'll attend to this matter. We must not embarrass him. On this easy cushion of non-responsibility the great masses fell back at their intellectual and moral ease—softened, isolated, lulled.
That wasn't leadership in a democracy. Right here is the President's vast failure. From it there is now no escape unless the Germans commit more submarine crimes. They have kept the United States for their own exploiting after the war. They have thus had a real triumph of us.
I have talked in Washington with few men who showed any clear conception of the difference between the Germans and the British. To the minds of these people and high Government officials, German and English are alike foreign nations who are now foolishly engaged in war. Two of the men who look upon the thing differently are Houston and Logan Waller Page. In fact, there is no realization of the war in Washington. Secretary Houston has a proper perspective of the situation. He would have done precisely what I recommended—paved the way for claims and let the English take their course. "International law" is no strict code and it's all shot to pieces anyhow.
The Secretary [of State] betrayed not the slightest curiosity about our relations with Great Britain. I saw him several times—(1) in his office; (2) at his house; (3) at the French Ambassador's; (4) at Wallace's; (5) at his office; (6) at Crozier's—this during my first stay in Washington. The only remark he made was that I'd find a different atmosphere in Washington from the atmosphere in London. Truly. All the rest of his talk was about "cases." Would I see Senator Owen? Would I see Congressman Sherley? Would I take up this "case" and that? His mind ran on "cases."
Well, at Y's, when I was almost in despair, I rammed down him a sort of general statement of the situation as I saw it; at least, I made a start. But soon he stopped me and ran off at a tangent on some historical statement I had made, showing that his mind was not at all on the real subject, the large subject. When I returned to Washington, and he had read my interviews with Grey, Asquith, and Bryce, and my own statement, he still said nothing, but he ceased to talk of "cases." At my final interview he said that he had had difficulty in preventing Congress from making the retaliatory resolution mandatory. He had tried to keep it back till the very end of the session, etc.
This does not quite correspond with what the President told me—that the State Department asked for this retaliatory resolution.
I made specific suggestions in my statement to the President and to Lansing. They have (yet) said nothing about them. I fancy they will not. I have found nowhere any policy—only "cases."
I proposed to Baker and Daniels that they send a General and an Admiral as attaches to London. They both agreed. Daniels later told me that Baker mentioned it to the President and he "stepped on the suggestion with both feet." I did not bring it up. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, both General McClellan (or Sheridan?) and General Forsythe were sent to the German Army. Our military ideas have shrunk since then!
I find at this date (a month before the Presidential election), the greatest tangle and uncertainty of political opinion that I have ever observed in our country. The President, in spite of his unparalleled leadership and authority in domestic policy, is by no means certain of election. He has the open hostility of the Germans—all very well, if he had got the fruits of a real hostility to them; but they have, in many ways, directed his foreign policy. He has lost the silent confidence of many men upon whose conscience this great question weighs heavily. If he be defeated he will owe his defeat to the loss of confidence in his leadership on this great subject. His opponent has put forth no clear-cut opinion. He plays a silent game on the German "issue." Yet he will command the support of many patriotic men merely as a lack of confidence in the President.
Nor do I see any end of the results of this fundamental error. In the economic and political readjustment of the world we shall be "out of the game," in any event—unless we are yet forced into the war by Hughes's election or by the renewal of the indiscriminate use of submarines by the Germans.
There is a great lesson in this lamentable failure of the President really to lead the Nation. The United States stands for democracy and free opinion as it stands for nothing else and as no other nation stands for it. Now when democracy and free opinion are at stake as they have not before been, we take a "neutral" stand—we throw away our very birthright. We may talk of "humanity" all we like: we have missed the largest chance that ever came to help the large cause that brought us into being as a Nation....
And the people, sitting on the comfortable seats of neutrality upon which the President has pushed them back, are grateful for Peace, not having taken the trouble to think out what Peace has cost us and cost the world—except so many as have felt the uncomfortable stirrings of the national conscience.
There is not a man in our State Department or in our Government who has ever met any prominent statesmen in any European Government—except the third Assistant Secretary of State, who has no authority in forming policies; there is not a man who knows the atmosphere of Europe. Yet when I proposed that one of the under Secretaries should go to England on a visit of a few weeks for observation, the objection arose that such a visit would not be "neutral."
The extraordinary feature of this experience was that Page had been officially summoned home, presumably to discuss the European situation, and that neither the President nor the State Department apparently had the slightest interest in his visit.
"The President," Page wrote to Mr. Laughlin, "dominates the whole show in a most extraordinary way. The men about him (and he sees them only on 'business') are very nearly all very, very small fry, or worse—the narrowest twopenny lot I've ever come across. He has no real companions. Nobody talks to him freely and frankly. I've never known quite such a condition in American life." Perhaps the President had no desire to discuss inconvenient matters with his Ambassador to Great Britain, but Page was certainly determined to have an interview with the President. "I'm not going back to London," he wrote Mr. Laughlin, "till the President has said something to me or at least till I have said something to him. I am now going down to Garden City and New York till the President send for me; or, if he do not send for me, I'm going to his house and sit on his front steps till he come out!" Page had brought from England one of the medals which the Germans had struck in honour of the Lusitania sinking, and one reason why he particularly wished to see the President alone was to show him this memento.
Another reason was that in early September Page had received important news from London concerning the move which Germany was making for peace and the attitude of Great Britain in this matter. The several plans which Germany had had under consideration had now taken the form of a definite determination to ask for an armistice before winter set in. A letter from Mr. Laughlin, Charge d'affaires in Page's absence, tells the story.
From Irwin Laughlin
Embassy of the United States of America. London, August 30, 1916.
DEAR MR. PAGE:
For some little time past I have heard persistent rumours, which indeed are more than rumours, since they have come from important sources, of an approaching movement by Germany toward an early armistice. They have been so circumstantial and so closely connected—in prospect—with the President, that I have examined them with particular attention and I shall try to give you the results, and my conclusions, with the recommendation that you take the matter up directly with the President and the Secretary of State. I have been a little at a loss to decide how to communicate what I have learned to the Government in Washington, for the present conditions make it impossible to set down what I want to say in an official despatch, but the fortunate accident of your being in the United States gives me the safe opportunity I want, and so I send my information to you, and by the pouch, as time is of less importance than secrecy.
There seems to be no doubt that Germany is casting about for an opportunity to effect an armistice, if possible before the winter closes in. She hopes it may result in peace—a peace more or less favourable to her, of course—but even if such a result should fail of accomplishment she would have gained a breathing space; have secured an opportunity to improve her strategic position in a military sense, perhaps by shortening her line in Flanders: have stiffened the resistance of her people; and probably have influenced a certain body of neutral opinion not only in her favour but against her antagonists.
I shall not try to mention the various sources from which the threads that compose this fabric have been drawn, but I finally fastened on X of the Admiralty as a man with whom I could talk profitably and confidentially, and he told me positively that his information showed that Germany was looking in the direction I have indicated, and that she would soon approach the President on the subject—even if she had not already taken the first steps toward preparing her advance to him.
I asked X if he thought it well for me to broach the subject to Lord Grey and he suggested that I first consult Y, which I did. The latter seemed very wary at the outset, but he warmed up at last and in the course of the conversation told me he had reliable information that when Bethmann-Hollweg went to Munich just before the beginning of the allied offensive in the west in June he told the King of Bavaria that he was confident the Allies would be obliged to begin overtures for peace next October; adding that if they didn't Germany would have to do so. The King, it appears, asked him how Germany could approach the Allies if it proved to be advisable and he replied: "Through our good friend Wilson."
I asked Y if the King of Spain's good offices would not be enlisted jointly with those of the President in attempting to arrange an armistice, but he thought not, and said that the King of Spain was very well aware that the Allies would not consider anything short of definite peace proposals from Germany and that His Majesty knew the moment for them had not arrived. I then finally asked him point blank if he thought the Germans would approach the President for an armistice, and, if so, when. He said he was inclined to think they might do so perhaps about October. On my asking him if he was disposed to let me communicate his opinion privately to the Government in Washington he replied after some hesitation that he had no objection, but he quickly added that I must make it clear at the same time that the British Government would not listen to any such proposals.
These conversations took place during the course of last week, and on Sunday—the 27th—I invited the Spanish Ambassador to luncheon at Tangley when I was able to get him to confirm what Y had said of his Sovereign's attitude and opinions.
I may mention for what it is worth that on Hoover's last trip to Germany he was told by Bullock, of the Philadelphia Ledger, that Zimmermann of the Berlin Foreign Office had told him that the Germans had intended in June to take steps for an armistice which were prevented by the preparations for the allied offensive in the west.
Y was very emphatic in what he said of the attitude of his government and the British people toward continuing the war to an absolutely conclusive end, and I was much impressed. He said among other things that the execution of Captain Fryatt had had a markedly perceptible effect in hardening British public opinion against Germany and fixing the determination to fight to a relentless finish. This corresponds exactly with my own observations.
I leave this letter entirely in your hands. You will know what use to make of it. It is meant as an official communication in everything but the usual form from which I have departed for reasons I need not explain further.
I look forward eagerly to your return,
Very sincerely yours,
Page waited five weeks before he succeeded in obtaining his interview with Mr. Wilson.
To the President
The New Willard, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, September 21, 1916.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
While I am waiting for a convenient time to come when you will see me for a conference and report, I send you notes on conversations with Lord Grey and Lord Bryce. They are, in effect, though of course not in form, messages to you.
The situation between our government and Great Britain seems to me most alarming; and (let me add) easily removable, if I can get the ear of anybody in authority. But I find here only an atmosphere of suspicion—unwarranted by facts and easily dissipated by straight and simple friendly methods. I am sure of this.
I have, besides, a most important and confidential message for you from the British Government which they prefer should be orally delivered.
And I have written out a statement of my own study of the situation and of certain proposals which, I think, if they commend themselves to you, will go far to remove this dangerous tension. I hope to go over them with you at your convenience.
WALTER H. PAGE.
The situation was alarming for more reasons than the determination of Germany to force the peace issue. The State Department was especially irritated at this time over the blockade. Among the "trade advisers" there was a conviction, which all Page's explanations had not destroyed, that Great Britain was using the blockade as a means of destroying American commerce and securing America's customers for herself. Great Britain's regulations on the blacklist and "bunker coal" had intensified this feeling. In both these latter questions Page regarded the British actions as tactless and unjust; he had had many sharp discussions at the Foreign Office concerning them, but had not made much headway in his efforts to obtain their abandonment. The purpose of the "blacklist" was to strike at neutral firms with German affiliations which were trading with Germany. The Trading with the Enemy Act provided that such firms could not trade with Great Britain; that British vessels must refuse to accept their cargoes, and that any neutral ship which accepted such cargoes would be denied bunker coal at British ports. Under this law the Ministry of Blockade issued a "blacklist" of more than 1,000 proscribed exporting houses in the United States. So great was the indignation against this boycott in the United States that Congress, in early September, had passed a retaliatory act; this gave the President the authority at any time to place an embargo upon the exports to the United States of countries which discriminated against American firms and also to deny clearance to ships which refused to accept American cargoes. The two countries indeed seemed to be hastening toward a crisis.
Page's urgent letter to Mr. Wilson brought a telegram from Mr. Tumulty inviting the Ambassador to spend the next evening and night with the President at Shadow Lawn, the seaside house on the New Jersey coast in which Mr. Wilson was spending the summer. Mr. Wilson received his old friend with great courtesy and listened quietly and with apparent interest to all that he had to say. The written statement to which Page refers in his letter told the story of Anglo-American relations from the time of the Panama tolls repeal up to the time of Page's visit to Shadow Lawn. Quotations have already been made from it in preceding chapters, and the ideas which it contains have abundantly appeared in letters already printed. The document was an eloquent plea for American cooeperation with the Allies—for the dismissal of Bernstorff, for the adoption of a manly attitude toward Germany, and for the vindication of a high type of Americanism.
Page showed the President the Lusitania medal, but that did not especially impress him. "The President said to me," wrote Page in reference to this visit, "that when the war began he and all the men he met were in hearty sympathy with the Allies; but that now the sentiment toward England had greatly changed. He saw no one who was not vexed and irritated by the arbitrary English course. That is, I fear, true—that he sees no one but has a complaint. So does the Secretary of State, and the Trade Bureau and all the rest in Washington. But in Boston, in New York, and in the South and in Auburn, N.Y., I saw no one whose sympathy with the Allies had undergone any fundamental change. I saw men who felt vexed at such an act as the blacklist, but that was merely vexation, not a fundamental change of feeling. Of course, there came to see me men who had 'cases.' Now these are the only kind of men, I fear, whom the Government at Washington sees—these and the members of Congress whom the Germans have scared or have 'put up' to scare the Government—who are 'twisting the lion's tail,' in a word."
"The President said," wrote Page immediately after coming from Shadow Lawn, "Tell those gentlemen for me'—and then followed a homily to the effect that a damage done to any American citizen is a damage to him, etc. He described the war as a result of many causes, some of long origin. He spoke of England's having the earth and of Germany wanting it. Of course, he said, the German system is directly opposed to everything American. But I do not gather that he thought that this carried any very great moral reprehensibility.
"He said that he wouldn't do anything with the retaliatory act till after election lest it might seem that he was playing politics. But he hinted that if there were continued provocation afterward (in case he were elected) he would. He added that one of the worst provocations was the long English delay in answering our Notes. Was this delay due to fear or shame? He evidently felt that such a delay showed contempt. He spoke of the Bryan treaty. But on no question had the British 'locked horns' with us—on no question had they come to a clear issue so that the matter might be referred to the Commission."
Page delivered his oral message about the German determination to obtain an armistice. This was to the effect that Great Britain would not grant it. Page intimated that Britain would be offended if the President proposed it.
"If an armistice, no," answered Mr. Wilson. "That's a military matter and is none of my business. But if they propose an armistice looking toward peace—yes, I shall be glad."
The experience was an exceedingly trying one for both men. The discussion showed how far apart were the President and his Ambassador on practically every issue connected with the crisis. Naturally the President's reference to the causes of the war—that there were many causes, some of them of long persistence, and that Great Britain's domination of the "earth" was one of them—conflicted with the judgment of a man who attributed the origin of the struggle to German aggression. The President's statement that American sympathy for the Allies had now changed to irritation, and the tolerant attitude toward Germany which Mr. Wilson displayed, affected Page with the profoundest discouragement. The President's intimation that he would advance Germany's request for an armistice, if it looked toward peace—this in reply to Page's message that Great Britain would not receive such a proposal in a kindly spirit—seemed to lay the basis of further misunderstandings. The interview was a disheartening one for Page. Many people whom the Ambassador met in the course of this visit still retain memories of his fervour in what had now become with him a sacred cause. With many friends and officials he discussed the European situation almost like a man inspired. The present writer recalls two long conversations with Page at this time: the recollection of his brilliant verbal portraiture, his description of the determination of Englishmen, his admiration for the heroic sacrifice of Englishwomen, remain as about the most vivid memories of a life-time. And now the Ambassador had brought this same eloquence to the President's ear at Shadow Lawn. It was in this interview that Page had hoped to show Mr. Wilson the real merits of the situation, and persuade him to adopt the course to which the national honour and safety pointed; he talked long and eloquently, painting the whole European tragedy with that intensity and readiness of utterance and that moral conviction which had so moved all others with whom he had come into contact during this memorable visit to the United States; but Mr. Wilson was utterly cold, utterly unresponsive, interested only in ending the war. The talk lasted for a whole morning; its nature may be assumed from the many letters already printed; but Page's voice, when it attempted to fire the conscience of the President, proved as ineffective as his pen. However, there was nothing rasping or contentious about the interview. The two men discussed everything with the utmost calmness and without the slightest indications of ill-nature. Both men had in mind their long association, both inevitably recalled the hopes with which they had begun their official relationship three years before, at that time neither having the faintest intimation of the tremendous problems that were to draw them asunder. Mr. Wilson at this meeting did not impress his Ambassador as a perverse character, but as an extremely pathetic one. Page came away with no vexation or anger, but with a real feeling for a much suffering and a much perplexed statesman. The fact that the President's life was so solitary, and that he seemed to be so completely out of touch with men and with the living thoughts of the world, appealed strongly to Page's sympathies. "I think he is the loneliest man I have ever known," Page remarked to his son Frank after coming away from this visit.
Page felt this at the time, for, as he rose to say good-bye to the President, he put his hand upon his shoulder. At this Mr. Wilson's eyes filled with tears and he gave Page an affectionate good-bye. The two men never met again.
[Footnote 38: This is quoted from a hitherto unpublished despatch of Bernstorff's to Berlin which is found among Page's papers.]
[Footnote 39: The China case was a kind of Trent case reversed. In 1861 the American ship San Jacinto stopped the British vessel Trent and took off Mason and Slidell, Confederate commissioners to Great Britain. Similarly a British ship, in 1916, stopped an American ship, the China, and removed several German subjects. As the British quickly saw the analogy, and made suitable amends, the old excitement over the Trent was not duplicated in the recent war.]
[Footnote 40: See Chapter XIII, page 434.]
[Footnote 41: Mr. Forbes had been Governor-General of the Philippines from 1909 to 1913. His work had been extraordinarily successful.]
[Footnote 42: Secretary of Agriculture.]
[Footnote 43: In charge of government road building, a distant relative of the Ambassador.]
[Footnote 44: Major General William Crozier, U.S.A., Chief of Ordnance.]
[Footnote 45: See Chapter XIX, pages 160-164.]
[Footnote 46: It was General Sheridan.]
[Footnote 47: See Chapter XIX, pages 160 and 164.]
[Footnote 48: The treaty between the United States and Great Britain, adopted through the urgency of Mr. Bryan, providing for the arbitration of disputes between the two countries.]
"PEACE WITHOUT VICTORY"
"Of one thing I am sure," Page wrote to his wife from Washington, while waiting to see President Wilson. "We wish to come home March 4th at midnight and to go about our proper business. There's nothing here that I would for the world be mixed up with. As soon as I can escape with dignity I shall make my bow and exit.... But I am not unhappy or hopeless for the long run. They'll find out the truth some day, paying, I fear, a heavy penalty for delay. But the visit here has confirmed me in our previous conclusions—that if we can carry the load until March 4th, midnight, we shall be grateful that we have pulled through."
Soon after President Wilson's reelection, therefore, Page sent his resignation to Washington. The above quotation shows that he intended this to be more than a "courtesy resignation," a term traditionally applied to the kind of leave-takings which Ambassadors usually send on the formation of a new administration, or at the beginning of a new Presidential term, for the purpose of giving the President the opportunity of reorganizing his official family. Page believed that his work in London had been finished, that he had done everything in his power to make Mr. Wilson see the situation in its true light and that he had not succeeded. He therefore wished to give up his post and come home. This explains the fact that his resignation did not consist of the half dozen perfunctory lines which most diplomatic officers find sufficient on such an occasion, but took the form of a review of the reasons why the United States should align itself on the side of the Allies.
To the President
London, November 24, 1916.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
We have all known for many years that the rich and populous and organized states in which the big cities are do not constitute the political United States. But, I confess, I hardly expected so soon to see this fact proclaimed at the ballot-box. To me that's the surprise of the election. And your popular majority as well as your clear majority in the Electoral College is a great personal triumph for you. And you have remade the ancient and demoralized Democratic party. Four years ago it consisted of a protest and of the wreck wrought by Mr. Bryan's long captaincy. This rebirth, with a popular majority, is an historical achievement—of your own.
You have relaid the foundation and reset the pillars of a party that may enjoy a long supremacy for domestic reasons. Now, if you will permit me to say so, from my somewhat distant view (four years make a long period of absence) the big party task is to build up a clearer and more positive foreign policy. We are in the world and we've got to choose what active part we shall play in it—I fear rather quickly. I have the conviction, as you know, that this whole round globe now hangs as a ripe apple for our plucking, if we use the right ladder while the chance lasts. I do not mean that we want or could get the apple for ourselves, but that we can see to it that it is put to proper uses. What we have to do, in my judgment, is to go back to our political fathers for our clue. If my longtime memory be good, they were sure that their establishment of a great free Republic would soon be imitated by European peoples—that democracies would take the place of autocracies in all so-called civilized countries; for that was the form that the fight took in their day against organized Privilege. But for one reason or another—in our life-time partly because we chose so completely to isolate ourselves—the democratic idea took root in Europe with disappointing slowness. It is, for instance, now perhaps for the first time, in a thoroughgoing way, within sight in this Kingdom. The dream of the American Fathers, therefore, is not yet come true. They fought against organized Privilege exerted from over the sea. In principle it is the same fight that we have made, in our domestic field, during recent decades. Now the same fight has come on a far larger scale than men ever dreamed of before.
It isn't, therefore, for merely doctrinal reasons that we are concerned for the spread of democracy nor merely because a democracy is the only scheme of organization yet wrought out that keeps the door of opportunity open and invites all men to their fullest development. But we are interested in it because under no other system can the world be made an even reasonably safe place to live in. For only autocracies wage aggressive wars. Aggressive autocracies, especially military autocracies, must be softened down by peace (and they have never been so softened) or destroyed by war. The All-Highest doctrine of Germany to-day is the same as the Taxation-without-Representation of George III—only more virulent, stronger, and farther-reaching. Only by its end can the German people recover and build up their character and take the permanent place in the world that they—thus changed—will be entitled to. They will either reduce Europe to the vassalage of a military autocracy, which may then overrun the whole world or drench it in blood, or they must through stages of Liberalism work their way toward some approach to a democracy; and there is no doubt which event is impending. The Liberal idea will win this struggle, and Europe will be out of danger of a general assault on free institutions till some other autocracy which has a military caste try the same Napoleonic game. The defeat of Germany, therefore, will make for the spread of the doctrine of our Fathers and our doctrine yet.
An interesting book might be made of concrete evidences of the natural antipathy that the present German autocracy has for successful democracy and hence for us. A new instance has just come to me. My son, Arthur, who succeeded to most of my activities at home, has been over here for a month and he has just come from a visit to France. In Paris he had a long conversation with Delcasse, who told him that the Kaiser himself once made a proposal to him to join in producing "the complete isolation" of the United States. What the Kaiser meant was that if the great Powers of Europe would hold off, he would put the Monroe Doctrine to the test and smash it.
The great tide of the world will, by reason of the war, now flow toward democracy—at present, alas! a tide of blood. For a century democracies and Liberal governments have kept themselves too much isolated, trusting prematurely and too simply to international law and treaties and Hague conventions. These things have never been respected, except as springs to catch woodcock, where the Divine Right held sway. The outgrowing or the overthrow of the Divine Right is a condition precedent to the effectiveness of international law and treaties.
It has seemed to me, looking at the subject only with reference to our country's duty and safety, that somehow and at some early time our championship of democracy must lead us to redeclare our faith and to show that we believe in our historic creed. Then we may escape falling away from the Liberal forces of the Old World and escape the suspicion of indifference to the great scheme of government which was set up by our fathers' giving their blood for it. I see no other way for us to take the best and biggest opportunity that has ever come to prove true to our faith as well as to secure our own safety and the safety of the world. Only some sort of active and open identification with the Allies can put us in effective protest against the assassins of the Armenians and the assassins of Belgium, Poland, and Serbia, and in a friendly attitude to the German people themselves, as distinguished from their military rulers. This is the attitude surely that our fathers would have wished us to take—and would have expected us to take—and that our children will be proud of us for taking; for it is our proper historic attitude, whether looked at from the past or looked back at from the future. There can be no historic approval of neutrality for years, while the world is bleeding to death.
The complete severance of relations, diplomatic at first and later possibly economic as well, with the Turks and the Germans, would probably not cost us a man in battle nor any considerable treasure; for the moral effect of withdrawing even our formal approval of their conduct—at least our passive acquiescence—would be—that the Germans would see that practically all the Liberal world stands against their system, and the war would end before we should need to or could put an army in the field. The Liberal Germans are themselves beginning to see that it is not they, but the German system, that is the object of attack because it is the dangerous thing in the world. Maximilian Harden presents this view in his Berlin paper. He says in effect that Germany must get rid of its predatory feudalism. That was all that was the matter with George III.
Among the practical results of such action by us would, I believe, be the following:
1. The early ending of the war and the saving of, perhaps, millions of lives and of incalculable treasure;
2. The establishment in Germany of some form of more liberal government;
3. A league to enforce peace, ready-made, under our guidance—i.e., the Allies and ourselves;
4. The sympathetic cooeperation and the moral force of every Allied Government in dealing with Mexico:
5. The acceptance—and even documentary approval—of every Allied Government of the Monroe Doctrine;
6. The warding off and no doubt the final prevention of danger from Japan, and, most of all, the impressive and memorable spectacle of our Great Democracy thus putting an end to this colossal crime, merely from the impulse and necessity to keep our own ideals and to lead the world right on. We should do for Europe on a large scale essentially what we did for Cuba on a small scale and thereby usher in a new era in human history.
I write thus freely, Mr. President, because at no time can I write in any other way and because I am sure that all these things can quickly be brought to pass under your strong leadership. The United States would stand, as no other nation has ever stood in the world—predominant and unselfish—on the highest ideals ever reached in human government. It is a vision as splendid as the Holy Grael. Nor have I a shadow of doubt of the eager and faithful following of our people, who would thereby reestablish once for all our weakened nationality. We are made of the stuff that our Fathers were made of.
And I write this now for the additional reason that I am within sight of the early end of my service here. When you called me I answered, not only because you did me great honour and laid a definite patriotic duty on me, but because also of my personal loyalty to you and my pride in helping forward the great principles in which we both believe. But I understood then (and I am sure the subject lay in your mind in the same way) that my service would be for four years at the most. I made all my arrangements, professional and domestic, on this supposition. I shall, therefore, be ready to lay down my work here on March 4th or as soon thereafter as meets your pleasure.
I am more than proud of the confidence that you have shown in me. To it I am indebted for the opportunity I have had to give such public service to my country as I could, as well as for the most profitable experience of my life. A proper and sympathetic understanding between the two English-speaking worlds seems to me the most important duty of far-seeing men in either country. It has taken such a profound hold on me that I shall, in whatever way I can, work for its complete realization as long as I can work for anything.
I am, Mr. President, most faithfully and gratefully yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
This letter was written at a time when President Wilson was exerting his best energies to bring about peace. The Presidential campaign had caused him to postpone these efforts, for he believed that neither Germany nor Great Britain could take seriously the activities of a President whose own political position was insecure. At the time Page's letter was received, the President was thinking only of a peace based upon a stalemate; it was then his apparent conviction that both sides to the struggle were about equally in the wrong and that a decisive victory of either would not be a good thing for the world. Yet it is interesting to compare this letter with the famous speech which the President made six months afterward when he asked Congress to declare the existence of a state of war with Germany. Practically all the important reasons which Mr. Wilson then advanced for this declaration are found in Page's letter of the preceding November. That autocracies are a constant menace to world peace, that the United States owes it to its democratic tradition to take up arms against the enemy of free government, that in doing this, it was not making war upon the German people, but upon its imperialistic masters—these were the arguments which Page laid before the President in his letter of resignation, and these were the leading ideas in Mr. Wilson's address of April 2nd. There are even sentences in Page's communication which seem to foreshadow Mr. Wilson's assertion that "The world must be made safe for democracy." This letter in itself sufficiently makes it clear that Page's correspondence, irritating in its later phases as it may have been, strongly influenced Mr. Wilson in his final determination on war.
On one point, indeed, Colonel House afterward called the Ambassador to account. When America was preparing to raise armies by the millions and to spend its treasure by the billions, he reminded Page of his statement that the severance of diplomatic relations "would probably not cost us a man in battle nor any considerable treasure." Page's statement in this November letter merely reiterated a conviction which for more than a year he had been forcing upon the President and Colonel House—that the dismissal of Bernstorff would not necessarily imply war with Germany, but that it would in itself be enough to bring the war to an end. On this point Page never changed his mind, as is evident from the letter which he wrote to Colonel House when this matter was called to his attention:
To Edward M. House
London, June 29, 1917.
MY DEAR HOUSE:
I never put any particular value on my own prophecies nor on anybody else's. I have therefore no pride as a prophet. Yet I do think that I hit it off accurately a year or a year and a half ago when I said that we could then have ended the war without any appreciable cost. And these are my reasons:
If we had then come in and absolutely prevented supplies from reaching Germany, as we are now about to do, the war would then have been much sooner ended than it can now be ended:
(1) Our supplies enabled her to go on.
(2) She got time in this way to build her great submarine fleet. She went at it the day she promised the President to reform.
(3) She got time and strength to overrun Rumania whence she got food and oil; and continues to get it.
(4) During this time Russia fell down as a military force and gave her more time, more armies for France and more supplies. Russian guns have been sold to the Germans.
If a year and a half ago we had starved her out, it would have been over before any of these things happened. This delay is what will cost us billions and billions and men and men.
And it cost us one thing more. During the neutrality period we were as eager to get goods to the little neutral states which were in large measure undoubtedly bound to Germany as we are now eager to keep them out. Grey, who was and is our best friend, and who was unwilling to quarrel with us more than he was obliged to, was thrown out of office and his career ended because the blockade, owing to his consideration for us, was not tight enough. Our delay caused his fall.
But most of all, it gave the Germans time (and to some extent material) to build their present fleet of submarines. They were at work on them all the while and according to the best opinion here they continue to build them faster than the British destroy them; and the submarines are destroying more merchant ships than all the shipbuilding docks of all the world are now turning out. This is the most serious aspect of the war—by far the most serious. I am trying to get our Government to send over hundreds of improvised destroyers—armed tugs, yachts, etc., etc. Admiral Sims and the British Admiralty have fears that unless such help come the full fruits of the war may never be gathered by the Allies—that some sort of a compromise peace may have to be made.
It is, therefore, true that the year and a half we waited after the Lusitania will prove to be the most costly year and a half in our history; and for once at least my old prophecy was quite a good guess. But that water has flowed over the dam and it is worth mentioning now only because you challenged me....
That part of Page's letter which refers to his retirement had a curious history. It was practically a resignation and therefore called for an immediate reply, but Mr. Wilson did not even acknowledge its receipt. For two months the Ambassador was left in the dark as to the attitude of Washington. Finally, in the latter part of January, 1917, Page wrote urgently to Mr. Lansing, asking him to bring the matter to the President's attention. On February 5, 1917, Mr. Lansing's reply was received. "The President," he said, "under extreme pressure of the present situation, has been unable to consider your communication in regard to your resignation. He desires me to inform you that he hopes that, at the present time, you will not press to be relieved from service; that he realizes that he is asking you to make a personal sacrifice, but he believes that you will appreciate the importance, in the crisis which has developed, that no change should be made. I hardly need to add my personal hope that you will put aside any thought of resigning your post for the present."
At this time, of course, any idea of retiring was out of the question. The President had dismissed Bernstorff and there was every likelihood that the country would soon be at war. Page would have regarded his retirement at this crisis as little less than the desertion of his post. Moreover, since Mr. Wilson had adopted the policy which the Ambassador had been urging for nearly two years, and had sent Bernstorff home, any logical excuse that may have existed for his resignation existed no longer. Mr. Wilson had now adopted a course which Page could enthusiastically support.
"I am happy to serve here at any sacrifice"—such was his reply to Mr. Lansing—"until after the end of the war, and I am making my arrangements to stay for this period."
The months that intervened between the Presidential election and the declaration of war were especially difficult for the American Embassy in London. Page had informed the President, in the course of his interview of September 22nd, how unfavourably Great Britain regarded his efforts in the direction of peace; he had in fact delivered a message from the Foreign Office that any Presidential attempt to "mediate" would be rejected by the Allies. Yet his earnest representation on this point had produced no effect upon Mr. Wilson. The pressure which Germany was bringing to bear upon Washington was apparently irresistible. Count Bernstorff's memoirs, with their accompanying documents, have revealed the intensity of the German efforts during this period; the most startling fact revealed by the German Ambassador is that the Kaiser, on October 9th, notified the President, almost in so many words, that, unless he promptly moved in the direction of peace, the German Government "would be forced to regain the freedom of action which it has reserved to itself in the note of May 4th last." It is unlikely that the annals of diplomacy contain many documents so cool and insolent as this one. It was a notification from the Kaiser to the President that the so-called "Sussex pledge" was not regarded as an unconditional one by the Imperial Government; that it was given merely to furnish Mr. Wilson an opportunity to bring the war to an end; and that unless the Presidential attempt to accomplish this were successful, there would be a resumption of the indiscriminate submarine campaign. The curious developments of the next two months are now a familiar story. Possibly because the British Government had notified him, through Page, that his proffer of mediation would be unacceptable, Mr. Wilson moved cautiously and slowly, and Germany became impatient. The successful campaign against Rumania, resulting in the capture of Bucharest on December 6th, and the new vista which it opened to Germany of large food supplies, strengthened the Teutonic purpose. Perhaps Germany, with her characteristic lack of finesse, imagined that her own open efforts would lend emphasis to Mr. Wilson's pacific exertions. At any rate, on December 12th, just as Mr. Wilson was preparing to launch his own campaign for mediation, Germany herself approached her enemies with a proposal for a peace conference. A few days afterward Page, as the representative of Germany, called at the Foreign Office to deliver the large white envelope which contained the Kaiser's "peace proposal." In delivering this to Lord Robert Cecil, who was acting as Foreign Secretary in the temporary absence of Mr. Balfour, Page emphasized the fact that the American Government entirely disassociated itself from its contents and that he was acting merely in his capacity of "German Ambassador." Two communications from Lord Robert to Sir Cecil Spring Rice, British Ambassador at Washington, tell the story and also reveal that it was almost impossible for Page, even when engaged in an official proceeding, to conceal his contempt for the whole enterprise:
Lord R. Cecil to Sir C. Spring Rice
December 18, 1916.
The American Ambassador came to see me this morning and presented to me the German note containing what is called in it the "offer of peace." He explained that he did so on instructions of his Government as representing the German Government, and not in any way as representing their own opinions. He also explained that the note must be regarded as coming from the four Central Powers, and as being addressed to all the Entente Powers who were represented by the United States.
He then read to me a telegram from his Government, but declined to leave me a copy of it. The first part of the telegram explained that the Government of the United States would deeply appreciate a confidential intimation of the response to be made to the German note and that they would themselves have certain representations to make to the Entente Powers, to which they urgently begged the closest consideration. The telegram went on to explain that the Government of the United States had had it in mind for some time past to make such representations on behalf of neutral nations and humanity, and that it must not be thought that they were prompted by the Governments of the Central Powers. They wished us to understand that the note of the Central Powers created a good opportunity for making the American representations, but was not the cause of such representations being made.
I replied that I could of course say nothing to him on such an important matter without consulting my colleagues.
I am, etc.,
Lord R. Cecil to Sir C. Spring Rice
19 December, 1916.
The American Ambassador came to see me this afternoon.
I asked him whether he could tell me why his government were anxious to have confidential information as to the nature of our response to the German peace note. He replied that he did not know, but he imagined it was to enable them to frame the representations of which he had spoken to me.
I then told him that we had asked the French to draft a reply, and that it would then be considered by the Allies, and in all probability an identic note would be presented in answer to the German note. I thought it probable that we should express our view that it was impossible to deal with the German offer, since it contained no specific proposals.
He said that he quite understood this, and that we should in fact reply that it was an offer "to buy a pig in a poke" which we were not prepared to accept. He added that he thought his Government would fully anticipate a reply in this sense, and he himself obviously approved it.
Then, speaking quite seriously, he said that he had heard people in London treating the German offer with derision, but that no doubt the belligerent governments would treat it seriously.
I said that it was certainly a serious thing, and no doubt would be treated seriously.
I asked him if he knew what would be contained in the proposed representations from his government.
He said that he did not; but as he understood that they were to be made to all the belligerents, he did not think that they could be much more than a pious aspiration for peace; since that was the only thing that was equally applicable to the Germans and to us.
As he was leaving he suggested that the German note might be published in our press.
I am, etc.,
This so-called German "peace proposal" began with the statement that the war "had been forced" upon Germany, contained the usual reference to the military might of the Central Powers, and declared that the Fatherland was fighting for "the honour and liberty of national evolution." It is therefore not surprising that Lord Robert received it somewhat sardonically, especially as the communication contained no specific proposals, but merely a vague suggestion of "negotiations." But another spectacular performance now drove the German manoeuvre out of everybody's mind. That President Wilson resented this German interference with his own plans is well known; he did not drop them, however, but on December 18th, he sent his long-contemplated peace communication to all the warring Powers. His appeal took the form of asking that they state the objects for which they were fighting, the Presidential belief evidently being that, if they did this, a common meeting ground might possibly be found. The suggestion that the Allied war aims were not public property, despite the fact that British statesmen had been broadly proclaiming them for three years, caused a momentary irritation in England, but this was not a serious matter, especially as the British Cabinet quickly saw that this request gave them a position of advantage over Germany, which had always refused to make public the terms on which it would end the war. The main substance in this Presidential approach, therefore, would have produced no ill-feeling; as usual, it was a few parenthetical phrases—phrases which were not essential to the main argument—which set the allied countries seething with indignation. The President, this section of his note ran, "takes the liberty of calling attention to the fact that the objects which the statesmen of the belligerents on both sides have in mind in this war, are virtually the same, as stated in general terms to their own people and to the world. Each side desires to make the rights and privileges of weak peoples and small states as secure against aggression and denial in the future as the rights and privileges of the great and powerful states now at war." This idea was elaborated in several sentences of a similar strain, the general purport of the whole passage being that there was little to choose between the combatants, inasmuch as both were apparently fighting for about the same things. Mr. Wilson's purpose in this paragraph is not obscure; he was making his long expected appearance as a mediator, and he evidently believed that it was essential to this role that he should not seem to be prejudiced in favour of either side, but should hold the balance impartially between them.
It is true that a minute reading indicates that Mr. Wilson was merely quoting, or attempting to paraphrase, the statements of the leaders of both sides, but there is such a thing as quoting with approval, and no explanation could convince the British public that the ruler of the greatest neutral nation had not declared that the Allies and the Central Powers stood morally upon the same level. The popular indignation which this caused in Great Britain was so intense that it alarmed the British authorities. The publication of this note in the British press was withheld for several hours, in order to give the Government an opportunity to control the expression of editorial opinion; otherwise it was feared that this would be so unrestrained in its bitterness that relations with the United States might be imperilled. The messages which the London correspondents were permitted to send to the United States were carefully censored for the same reason. The dispatch sent by the Associated Press was the product of a long struggle between the Foreign Office and its London correspondent. The representatives spent half an hour considering whether the American correspondents could cable their country that the note had been received in England with "surprise and irritation." After much discussion it was decided that "irritation" could not be used, and the message of the Associated Press, after undergoing this careful editing by the Foreign Office, was a weak and ridiculous description of the high state of excitement which prevailed in Great Britain. The fact that the British Foreign Office should have given all this trouble over the expressions sent to American newspapers and should even have spent half an hour debating whether a particular word should be used, almost pathetically illustrates the great care taken by the British Government not to influence American opinion against the Allies.
The Government took the same precautions with its own press in England. When the note was finally released the Foreign Office explicitly directed the London newspapers to comment with the utmost caution and in no case to question the President's sincerity. Most of them acquiesced in these instructions by maintaining silence. There was only one London newspaper, the Westminster Gazette, which made even a faint-hearted attempt to explain away the President's statement. From the first day of the war the British people had declared that President Wilson did not understand the issues at stake; and they now declared that this note confirmed their worst forebodings. The comments of the man-in-the-street were unprintable, but more serious than these was the impression which Mr. Wilson's dubious remarks made upon those Englishmen who had always been especially friendly to the United States and who had even defended the President in previous crises. Lord Bryce, who had accepted philosophically the Presidential statement that the United States was not "concerned with the causes" of the war, could not regard so indulgently this latest judgment of Great Britain and Germany. "Bryce came to see me in a state of great depression," wrote Page. "He has sent Mr. Wilson a personal letter on this matter." Northcliffe commanded his newspapers, the Times and the Daily Mail, to discuss the note in a judicial spirit, but he himself told Mr. Page that "everybody is as angry as hell." When someone attempted to discuss the Wilson note with Mr. Asquith, he brushed the subject away with a despairing gesture. "Don't talk to me about it," he said. "It is most disheartening." But the one man in England who was perhaps the most affected was King George. A man who had attended luncheon at Buckingham Palace on December 21st gave Page a description of the royal distress. The King, expressing his surprise and dismay that Mr. Wilson should think that Englishmen were fighting for the same things in this war as the Germans, broke down.
The world only now understands the dreadful prospect which was opening before Europe at the moment when this Presidential note added a new cause for general despondency. Rumania had collapsed, the first inkling of the Russian revolution had been obtained, the British well knew that the submarine warfare was to be resumed, and British finances were also in a desperate plight. More and more it was becoming evident to the British statesmen that they needed the intervention of the United States. This is the reason why they could not destroy the chances of American help by taking official offense even at what Page, in a communication to the Secretary of State, did not hesitate to call President Wilson's "insulting words"; and hence their determination to silence the press and to give no outward expression of what they felt. Page's interview with Lord Robert Cecil on December 26th, while the Presidential communication was lying on his desk, discloses the real emotions of Englishmen. Apparently Page's frank cables concerning the reception of this paragraph had caused a certain interest in the State Department; at least the Ambassador was instructed to call at the Foreign Office and explain that the interpretation which had been commonly put upon the President's words was not the one which he had intended. At the same time Page was instructed to request the British Foreign Office, in case its reply were "favourable," not to publish it, but to communicate it secretly to the American Government. The purpose of this request is a little obscure; possibly it was the President's plan to use such a favourable reply to force Germany likewise to display an acquiescent mood. The object of Page's call was to present this disclaimer.
Lord Robert Cecil, the son of the late Lord Salisbury,—that same Lord Salisbury whose combats with Secretary Blaine and Secretary Olney form piquant chapters in British-American history—is one of the most able and respected of British statesmen. In his earlier life Lord Salisbury had been somewhat overbearing in his attitude toward the United States; in his later years, however, perhaps owing to the influence of his nephew, Mr. Balfour, his manner had changed. In his attitude toward the United States Lord Robert Cecil reflected only the later phases of his father's career. To this country and to its peaceful ideals he had always been extremely sympathetic, and to Page especially he had never manifested anything but cordiality. Yet it was evident, as Page came into his office this morning, that to Lord Robert, as to every member of the Government, the President's note, with its equivocal phrases, had been a terrible shock. His manner was extremely courteous, as always, but he made no attempt to conceal his feelings. Ordinarily Lord Robert did not wear his emotions on the surface; but he took occasion on this visit to tell Page how greatly the President's communication had grieved him.
"The President," he said, "has seemed to pass judgment on the allied cause by putting it on the same level as the German. I am deeply hurt."
Page conveyed Mr. Lansing's message that no such inference was justified. But this was not reassuring.
"Moreover," Lord Robert added, "there is one sentence in the note—that in which the President says that the position of neutrals is becoming intolerable—that seems almost a veiled threat."
Page hastened to assure Lord Robert that no threat was intended.
Lord Robert's manner became increasingly serious.
"There is nothing that the American Government or any other human power can do," he remarked slowly and solemnly, "which will bring this war to a close before the Allies have spent their utmost force to secure a victory. A failure to secure such a victory will leave the world at the mercy of the most arrogant and the bloodiest tyranny that has ever been organized. It is far better to die in an effort to defeat that tyranny than to perish under its success."
On any occasion Lord Robert is an impressive or at least a striking and unusual figure; he is tall, lank, and ungainly, almost Lincolnesque in the carelessness of his apparel and the exceeding awkwardness of his postures and manners. His angular features, sharp nose, pale face, and dark hair suggest the strain of ascetism, almost of fanaticism, which runs in the present generation of his family. And the deep sincerity and power of his words on this occasion made an impression which Page never forgot; they transformed the British statesman into an eloquent, almost an heroic figure. If we are to understand the full tragedy of this moment we must remember that, incredible as it now seems, there was a fear in British officialdom that the United States might not only not pursue a course favourable to the Allies, but that it might even throw its support to Germany. The fear, of course, was baseless; any suggestion of such a policy in the United States would have destroyed any official who had brought it forward; but Lord Robert knew and Page knew that there were insidious influences at work at that time, both in the United States and in Great Britain, which looked in this direction. A group of Americans, whom Page used to refer to as "peace spies," were associated with English pacifists, for the purpose of bringing about peace on almost any terms. These "peace spies" had worked out a programme all their own. The purpose was to compel Great Britain to accept the German terms for ending the war. Unless she did accept them, then it was intended that the American Government should place an embargo on the shipment of foodstuffs and munitions to the Allies. There is little question that the United States, by taking such action, could have ended the war almost instantaneously. Should the food of her people and the great quantities of munitions which were coming from this country be suddenly cut off, there is little likelihood that Great Britain could have long survived. The possibility that an embargo might shut out these supplies had hung over the heads of British statesmen ever since the war began; they knew that the possession of this mighty power made the United States the potential dictator of events; and the fear that it might be used had never ceased to influence their thoughts or their actions. Even while this interview was taking place, certain anti-British forces in the United States, such as Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia, were urging action of this kind.
"I have always been almost a Pacifist," Lord Robert continued. "No man has ever hated war worse than I. No man has ever had a more earnest faith that war can be abolished. But European civilization has been murderously assaulted and there is nothing now to do but to defeat this desperate enemy or to perish in the effort. I had hoped that the United States understood what is at stake."
Lord Robert went on:
"I will go so far as to say that if the United States will come into the war it will decide which will win, freedom or organized tyranny. If the United States shall help the Germans, civilization will perish and it will be necessary to build it up slowly again—if indeed it will ever appear again. If the United States will help the Allies, civilization will triumph."
As to the proposal that the British terms should be conveyed confidentially to Mr. Wilson, Lord Robert said that that would be a difficult thing to do. The President's note had been published, and it therefore seemed necessary that the reply should also be given to the press. This was the procedure that was ultimately adopted.
* * * * *
Startling as was the sensation caused by the President's December note, it was mild compared with that which was now to come. Page naturally sent prompt reports of all these conversations to the President and likewise kept him completely informed as to the state of public feeling, but his best exertions apparently did not immediately affect the Wilson policy. The overwhelming fact is that the President's mind was fixed on a determination to compel the warring powers to make peace and in this way to keep the United States out of the conflict. Even the disturbance caused by his note of December 18th did not make him pause in this peace campaign. To that note the British sent a manly and definite reply, drafted by Mr. Balfour, giving in detail precisely the terms upon which the Allies would compose their differences with the Central Powers. The Germans sent a reply consisting of ten or a dozen lines, which did not give their terms, but merely asked again for a conference. Events were now moving with the utmost rapidity. On January 9th, a council of German military chieftains was held at Pless; in this it was decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. On January 16th the Zimmermann-Mexico telegram was intercepted; this informed Bernstorff, among other things, that this decision had been made. On January 16th, at nine o'clock in the morning, the American Embassy in London began receiving a long cipher despatch from Washington. The preamble announced that the despatch contained a copy of an address which the President proposed to deliver before the Senate "in a few days." Page was directed to have copies of the address "secretly prepared" and to hand them to the British Foreign Office and to newspapers of the type of the Nation, the Daily News, and the Manchester Guardian—all three newspapers well known for their Pacifist tendencies. As the speech approached its end, this sentence appeared: "It must be a peace without victory." The words greatly puzzled the secretary in charge, for they seemed almost meaningless. Suspecting that an error had been made in transmission, the secretary directed the code room to cable Washington for a verification of the cipher groups. Very soon the answer was received; there had been no mistake; the Presidential words were precisely those which had been first received: "Peace without victory." The slips were then taken to Page, who read the document, especially these fateful syllables, with a consternation which he made no effort to conceal. He immediately wrote a cable to President Wilson, telling him of the deplorable effect this sentence would produce and imploring him to cut it out of his speech—with what success the world now knows.
An astonishing feature of this episode is that Page had recently explained to the Foreign Office, in obedience to instructions from Washington, that Mr. Wilson's December note should not be interpreted as placing the Allies and the Central Powers on the same moral level. Now Mr. Wilson, in this "peace without victory" phrase, had repeated practically the same idea in another form. On the day the speech was received at the Embassy, about a week before it was delivered in the Senate, Page made the following memorandum:
The President's address to the Senate, which was received to-day (January 16th), shows that he thinks he can play peace-maker. He does not at all understand, (or, if he do, so much the worse for him) that the Entente Powers, especially Great Britain and France, cannot make "peace without victory." If they do, they will become vassals of Germany. In a word, the President does not know the Germans; and he is, unconsciously, under their influence in his thought. His speech plays into their hands.
This address will give great offense in England, since it puts each side in the war on the same moral level.
I immediately saw the grave danger to our relations with Great Britain by the Peace-without-Victory plan; and I telegraphed the President, venturing to advise him to omit that phrase—with no result.
Afterward Page added this to the above:
Compare this Senate speech with his speech in April calling for war: Just when and how did the President come to see the true nature of the German? What made him change from Peace-Maker to War-Maker? The Zimmermann telegram, or the February U-boat renewal of warfare? Had he been so credulous as to believe the German promise? This promise had been continuously and repeatedly broken.
Or was it the pressure of public opinion, the growing impatience of the people that pushed him in?
This distressing peace-move—utterly out of touch with the facts of the origin of the war or of its conduct or of the mood and necessities of Great Britain—a remote, academic deliverance, while Great Britain and France were fighting for their very lives—made a profoundly dejected feeling; and it made my place and work more uncomfortable than ever. "Peace without victory" brought us to the very depths of European disfavour.
[Footnote 49: "My Three Years in America," by Count Bernstorff, p. 294.]
[Footnote 50: This narrative is based upon memoranda made by Page.]
[Footnote 51: It was delivered and published on January 22nd.]
THE UNITED STATES AT WAR
The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3, 1917. The occasion was a memorable one in the American Embassy in London, not unrelieved by a touch of the ridiculous. All day long a nervous and rather weary company had waited in the Ambassador's room for the decisive word from Washington. Mr. and Mrs. Page, Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin, Mr. Shoecraft, the Ambassador's secretary, sat there hour after hour, hardly speaking to one another in their tense excitement, waiting for the news that would inform them that Bernstorff's course had been run and that their country had taken its decision on the side of the Allies. Finally, at nine o'clock in the evening, the front door bell rang. Mr. Shoecraft excitedly left the room; half way downstairs he met Admiral William Reginald Hall, the head of the British Naval Intelligence, who was hurrying up to the Ambassador. Admiral Hall, as he spied Mr. Shoecraft, stopped abruptly and uttered just two words:
He then went into the Ambassador's room and read a secret code message which he had just received from Captain Gaunt, the British naval attache at Washington. It was as follows: