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The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I online

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we look upon the repudiation of a debt by a state. Whatever the
arguments by which the state may excuse itself, we never feel the
same toward it - never quite so safe about it. They say, "You are a
wonderful nation and a wonderful people. We like you. But your
Government is not a government of honour. Your honourable men do
not seem to get control." You can't measure the damage that this
does us. Whatever the United States may propose till this is fixed
and forgotten will be regarded with a certain hesitancy. They will
not fully trust the honour of our Government. They say, too, "See,
you've preached arbitration and you propose peace agreements, and
yet you will not arbitrate this: you know you are wrong, and this
attitude proves it." Whatever Mr. Hay might or could have done, he
made a bargain. The Senate ratified it. We accepted it. Whether it
were a good bargain or a bad one, we ought to keep it. The English
feeling was shown just the other week when Senator Root received an
honourary degree at Oxford. The thing that gave him fame here was
his speech on this treaty[49]. There is no end of ways in which
they show their feeling and conviction.

Now, if in the next regular session the President takes a firm
stand against the ship subsidy that this discrimination gives,
couldn't Congress be carried to repeal this discrimination? For
this economic objection also exists.

No Ambassador can do any very large constructive piece of work so
long as this suspicion of the honour of our Government exists. Sir
Edward Grey will take it up in October or November. If I could say
then that the President will exert all his influence for this
repeal - that would go far. If, when he takes it up, I can say
nothing, it will be practically useless for me to take up any other
large plan. This is the most important thing for us on the
diplomatic horizon.

To the President

Dornoch, Scotland,

September 10, 1913.


I am spending ten or more of the dog days visiting the Englishman
and the Scotchman in their proper setting - their country
homes - where they show themselves the best of hosts and reveal
their real opinions. There are, for example, in the house where I
happen to be to-day, the principals of three of the Scotch
universities, and a Member of Parliament, and an influential

They have, of course - I mean all the educated folk I meet - the most
intelligent interest in American affairs, and they have an
unbounded admiration for the American people - their energy, their
resourcefulness, their wealth, their economic power and social
independence. I think that no people ever really admired and, in a
sense, envied another people more. They know we hold the keys of
the future.

But they make a sharp distinction between our people and our
Government. They are sincere, God-fearing people who speak their
convictions. They cite Tammany, the Thaw case, Sulzer, the
Congressional lobby, and sincerely regret that a democracy does not
seem to be able to justify itself. I am constantly amazed and
sometimes dumbfounded at the profound effect that the yellow press
(including the American correspondents of the English papers) has
had upon the British mind. Here is a most serious journalistic
problem, upon which I have already begun to work seriously with
some of the editors of the better London papers. But it is more
than a journalistic problem. It becomes political. To eradicate
this impression will take years of well-planned work. I am going to
make this the subject of one of the dozen addresses that I must
deliver during the next six months - "The United States as an
Example of Honest and Honourable Government."

And everywhere - in circles the most friendly to us, and the best
informed - I receive commiseration because of the dishonourable
attitude of our Government about the Panama Canal tolls. This, I
confess, is hard to meet. We made a bargain - a solemn compact - and
we have broken it. Whether it were a good bargain or a bad one, a
silly one or a wise one; that's far from the point. Isn't it? I
confess that this bothers me. . . .

And this Canal tolls matter stands in the way of everything. It is
in their minds all the time - the minds of all parties and all
sections of opinion. They have no respect for Mr. Taft, for they
remember that he might have vetoed the bill; and they ask,
whenever they dare, what you will do about it. They hold our
Government in shame so long as this thing stands.

As for the folly of having made such a treaty - that's now passed.
As for our unwillingness to arbitrate it - that's taken as a
confession of guilt. . . .

We can command these people, this Government, this tight island,
and its world-wide empire; they honour us, they envy us, they see
the time near at hand when we shall command the capital and the
commerce of the world if we unfetter our mighty people; they wish
to keep very close to us. But they are suspicious of our Government
because, they contend, it has violated its faith. Is it so or is it

Life meantime is brimful of interest; and, despite this reflex
result of the English long-blunder with Ireland (how our sins come
home to roost), the Great Republic casts its beams across the whole
world and I was never so proud to be an American democrat, as I see
it light this hemisphere in a thousand ways.

All health and mastery to you!


The story of Sir William Tyrrell's[50] visit to the White House in
November, 1913, has already been told. On this occasion, it will be
recalled, not only was an agreement reached on Mexico, but President
Wilson also repeated the assurances already given by Colonel House on
the repeal of the tolls legislation. Now that Great Britain had accepted
the President's leadership in Mexico, the time was approaching when
President Wilson might be expected to take his promised stand on Panama
tolls. Yet it must be repeated that there had been no definite
diplomatic bargain. But Page was exerting all his efforts to establish
the best relations between the two countries on the basis of fair
dealing and mutual respect. Great Britain had shown her good faith in
the Mexican matter; now the turn of the United States had come.

_To the President_

London, 6 Grosvenor Square.

January 6, 1914.


We've travelled a long way since this Mexican trouble began - a long
way with His Majesty's Government. When your policy was first flung
at 'em, they showed at best a friendly incredulity: what! set up a
moral standard for government in Mexico? Everybody's mind was fixed
merely on the restoring of order - the safety of investments. They
thought of course our army would go down in a few weeks. I recall
that Sir Edward Grey asked me one day if you would not consult the
European governments about the successor to Huerta, speaking of it
as a problem that would come up next week. And there was also much
unofficial talk about joint intervention.

Well, they've followed a long way. They apologized for Carden
(that's what the Prime Minister's speech was); they ordered him to
be more prudent. Then the real meaning of concessions began to get
into their heads. They took up the dangers that lurked in the
Government's contract with Cowdray for oil; and they pulled Cowdray
out of Colombia and Nicaragua - granting the application of the
Monroe Doctrine to concessions that might imperil a country's
autonomy. Then Sir Edward asked me if you would not consult him
about such concessions - a long way had been travelled since his
other question! Lord Haldane made the Thanksgiving speech that I
suggested to him. And now they have transferred Carden. They've
done all we asked and more; and, more wonderful yet, they've come
to understand what we are driving at.

As this poor world goes, all this seems to me rather handsomely
done. At any rate, it's square and it's friendly.

Now in diplomacy, as in other contests, there must be give and
take; it's our turn.

If you see your way clear, it would help the Liberal Government
(which needs help) and would be much appreciated if, before
February 10th, when Parliament meets, you could say a public word
friendly to our keeping the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty - on the tolls.
You only, of course, can judge whether you would be justified in
doing so. I presume only to assure you of the most excellent effect
it would have here. If you will pardon me for taking a personal
view of it, too, I will say that such an expression would cap the
climax of the enormously heightened esteem and great respect in
which recent events and achievements have caused you to be held
here. It would put the English of all parties in the happiest
possible mood toward you for whatever subsequent dealings may await
us. It was as friendly a man as Kipling who said to me the night I
spent with him: "You know your great Government, which does many
great things greatly, does _not_ lie awake o' nights to keep its

It's our turn next, whenever you see your way clear.

Most heartily yours,


From Edward M. House

145 East 35th Street,

New York City.

January 24, 1914.


I was with the President for twenty-four hours and we went over
everything thoroughly.

He decided to call the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to the
White House on Monday and tell them of his intentions regarding
Panama tolls. We discussed whether it would be better to see some
of them individually, or to take them collectively. It was agreed
that the latter course was better. It was decided, however, to have
Senator Jones poll the Senate in order to find just how it stood
before getting the Committee together. The reason for this quick
action was in response to your letter urging that something be done
before the 10th of February. . . .

Faithfully yours,


On March 5th the President made good his promise by going before
Congress and asking the two houses to repeal that clause in the Panama
legislation which granted preferential treatment to American coastwise
shipping. The President's address was very brief and did not discuss the
matter in the slightest detail. Mr. Wilson made the question one simply
of national honour. The exemption, he said, clearly violated the
Hay-Pauncefote Treaty and there was nothing left to do but to set the
matter right. The part of the President's address that aroused the
greatest interest was the conclusion:

"I ask this of you in support of the foreign policy of the
Administration. I shall not know how to deal with other matters of even
greater delicacy and nearer consequence, if you do not grant it to me in
ungrudging measure."

The impression that this speech made upon the statesman who then
presided over the British Foreign office is evident from the following
letter that he wrote to the Ambassador in Washington.

_Sir Edward Grey to Sir C. Spring Rice_
Foreign Office,

March 13, 1914.


In the course of a conversation with the American Ambassador
to-day, I took the opportunity of saying how much I had been struck
by President Wilson's Message to Congress about the Panama Canal
tolls. When I read it, it struck me that, whether it succeeded or
failed in accomplishing the President's object, it was something to
the good of public life, for it helped to lift public life to a
higher plane and to strengthen its morale.

I am, &c.,


Two days after his appearance before Congress the President wrote to his

_From the President_
The White House, Washington,

March 7, 1914.


I have your letters of the twenty-second and twenty-fourth of
February and I thank you for them most warmly. Happily, things are
clearing up a little in the matters which have embarrassed our
relations with Great Britain, and I hope that the temper of public
opinion is in fact changing there, as it seems to us from this
distance to be changing.

Your letters are a lamp to my feet. I feel as I read that their
analysis is searching and true.

Things over here go on a tolerably even keel. The prospect at this
moment for the repeal of the tolls exemption is very good indeed. I
am beginning to feel a considerable degree of confidence that the
repeal will go through, and the Press of the country is certainly
standing by me in great shape.

My thoughts turn to you very often with gratitude and affectionate
regard. If there is ever at any time anything specific you want to
learn, pray do not hesitate to ask it of me directly, if you think

Carden was here the other day and I spent an hour with him, but I
got not even a glimpse of his mind. I showed him all of mine that
he cared to see.

With warmest regards from us all,

Faithfully yours,


The debate which now took place in Congress proved to be one of the
stormiest in the history of that body. The proceeding did not prove to
be the easy victory that the Administration had evidently expected. The
struggle was protracted for three months; and it signalized Mr. Wilson's
first serious conflict with the Senate - that same Senate which was
destined to play such a vexatious and destructive rôle in his career. At
this time, however, Mr. Wilson had reached the zenith of his control
over the law-making bodies. It was early in his Presidential term, and
in these early days Senators are likely to be careful about quarrelling
with the White House - especially the Senators who are members of the
President's political party. In this struggle, moreover, Mr. Wilson had
the intelligence and the character of the Senate largely on his side,
though, strangely enough, his strongest supporters were Republicans and
his bitterest opponents were Democrats. Senator Root, Senator Burton,
Senator Lodge, Senator Kenyon, Senator McCumber, all Republicans, day
after day and week after week upheld the national honour; while Senators
O'Gorman, Chamberlain, Vardaman, and Reed, all members of the
President's party, just as persistently led the fight for the baser
cause. The debate inspired an outburst of Anglophobia which was most
distressing to the best friends of the United States and Great Britain.
The American press, as a whole, honoured itself by championing the
President, but certain newspapers made the debate an occasion for
unrestrained abuse of Great Britain, and of any one who believed that
the United States should treat that nation honestly. The Hearst organs,
in cartoon and editorial page, shrieked against the ancient enemy. All
the well-known episodes and characters in American history - Lexington,
Bunker Hill, John Paul Jones, Washington, and Franklin - were paraded as
arguments against the repeal of an illegal discrimination. Petitions
from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other Irish societies were
showered upon Congress - in almost unending procession they clogged the
pages of the Congressional Record; public meetings were held in New York
and elsewhere where denouncing an administration that disgraced the
country by "truckling" to Great Britain. The President was accused of
seeking an Anglo-American Alliance and of sacrificing American shipping
to the glory of British trade, while the history of our diplomatic
relations was surveyed in detail for the purpose of proving that Great
Britain had broken every treaty she had ever made. In the midst of this
deafening hubbub the quiet voice of Senator McCumber - "we are too big in
national power to be too little in national integrity" - and that of
Senator Root, demolishing one after another the pettifogging arguments
of the exemptionists, demonstrated that, after all, the spirit and the
eloquence that had given the Senate its great fame were still
influential forces in that body.

In all this excitement, Page himself came in for his share of hard
knocks. Irish meetings "resolved" against the Ambassador as a statesman
who "looks on English claims as superior to American rights," and
demanded that President Wilson recall him. It has been the fate of
practically every American ambassador to Great Britain to be accused of
Anglomania. Lowell, John Hay, and Joseph H. Choate fell under the ban of
those elements in American life who seem to think that the main duty of
an American diplomat in Great Britain is to insult the country of which
he has become the guest. In 1895 the house of Representatives solemnly
passed a resolution censuring Ambassador Thomas F. Bayard for a few
sentiments friendly to Great Britain which he had uttered at a public
banquet. That Page was no undiscriminating idolater of Great Britain
these letters have abundantly revealed. That he had the profoundest
respect for the British character and British institutions has been made
just as clear. With Page this was no sudden enthusiasm; the conviction
that British conceptions of liberty and government and British ideals of
life represented the fine flower of human progress was one that he felt
deeply. The fact that these fundamentals had had the opportunity of even
freer development in America he regarded as most fortunate both for the
United States and for the world. He had never concealed his belief that
the destinies of mankind depended more upon the friendly coöperation of
the United States and Great Britain than upon any other single
influence. He had preached this in public addresses, and in his writings
for twenty-five years preceding his mission to Great Britain. But the
mere fact that he should hold such convictions and presume to express
them as American Ambassador apparently outraged those same elements in
this country who railed against Great Britain in this Panama Tolls

On August 16, 1913, the City of Southampton, England, dedicated a
monument in honour of the _Mayflower_ Pilgrims - Southampton having been
their original point of departure for Massachusetts. Quite appropriately
the city invited the American Ambassador to deliver an address on this
occasion; and quite appropriately the Ambassador acknowledged the debt
that Americans of to-day owed to the England that had sent these
adventurers to lay the foundations of new communities on foreign soil.
Yet certain historic truths embodied in this very beautiful and eloquent
address aroused considerable anger in certain parts of the United
States. "Blood," said the Ambassador, "carries with it that particular
trick of thought which makes us all English in the last resort. . . . And
Puritan and Pilgrim and Cavalier, different yet, are yet one in that
they are English still. And thus, despite the fusion of races and of the
great contributions of other nations to her 100 millions of people and
to her incalculable wealth, the United States is yet English-led and
English-ruled." This was merely a way of phrasing a great historic
truth - that overwhelmingly the largest element in the American
population is British in origin[51]; that such vital things as its
speech and its literature are English; and that our political
institutions, our liberty, our law, our conceptions of morality and of
life are similarly derived from the British Isles. Page applied the word
"English" to Americans in the same sense in which that word is used by
John Richard Green, when he traces the history of the English race from
a German forest to the Mississippi Valley and the wilds of Australia.
But the anti-British elements on this side of the water, taking
"English-led and English-ruled" out of its context, misinterpreted the
phrase as meaning that the American Ambassador had approvingly called
attention to the fact that the United States was at present under the
political control of Great Britain! Senator Chamberlain of Oregon
presented a petition from the _Staatsverband Deutschsprechender Vereine
von Oregon_, demanding the Ambassador's removal, while the
Irish-American press and politicians became extremely vocal.

Animated as was this outburst, it was mild compared with the excitement
caused by a speech that Page made while the Panama debate was raging in
Congress. At a dinner of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, in early
March, the Ambassador made a few impromptu remarks. The occasion was one
of good fellowship and good humour, and Page, under the inspiration of
the occasion, indulged in a few half-serious, half-jocular references to
the Panama Canal and British-American good-feeling, which, when
inaccurately reported, caused a great disturbance in the England-baiting
press. "I would not say that we constructed the Panama Canal even for
you," he said, "for I am speaking with great frankness and not with
diplomatic indirection. We built it for reasons of our own. But I will
say that it adds to the pleasure of that great work that you will profit
by it. You will profit most by it, for you have the greatest carrying
trade." A few paragraphs on the Monroe Doctrine, which practically
repeated President Wilson's Mobile speech on that subject, but in which
Mr. Page used the expression, "we prefer that European Powers shall
acquire no more territory on this continent," alarmed those precisians
in language, who pretended to believe that the Ambassador had used the
word "prefer" in its literal sense, and interpreted the sentence to mean
that, while the United States would "prefer" that Europe should not
overrun North and South America, it would really raise no serious
objection if Europe did so.

Senator Chamberlain of Oregon, who by this time had apparently become
the Senatorial leader of the anti-Page propaganda, introduced a
resolution demanding that the Ambassador furnish the Senate a complete
copy of this highly pro-British outgiving. The copy was furnished
forthwith - and with that the tempest subsided.

_To the President_

American Embassy, London,
March 18, 1914.


About this infernal racket in the Senate over my poor speech, I
have telegraphed you all there is to say. Of course, it was a
harmless courtesy - no bowing low to the British or any such
thing - as it was spoken and heard. Of course, too, nothing would
have been said about it but for the controversy over the Canal
tolls. That was my mistake - in being betrayed by the friendly
dinner and the high compliments paid to us into mentioning a
subject under controversy.

I am greatly distressed lest possibly it may embarrass you. I do
hope not.

I think I have now learned _that_ lesson pretty thoroughly. These
Anglophobiacs - Irish and Panama - hound me wherever I go. I think I
told you of one of their correspondents, who one night got up and
yawned at a public dinner as soon as I had spoken and said to his
neighbours: "Well, I'll go, the Ambassador didn't say anything that
I can get him into trouble about."

I shall, hereafter, write out my speeches and have them gone over
carefully by my little Cabinet of Secretaries. Yet something
(perhaps not much) will be lost. For these people are infinitely
kind and friendly and courteous.

They cannot be driven by anybody to do anything, but they can be
led by us to do anything - by the use of spontaneous courtesy. It is
by spontaneous courtesy that I have achieved whatever I have
achieved, and it is for this that those like me who do like me. Of
course, what some of the American newspapers have said is
true - that I am too free and too untrained to be a great
Ambassador. But the conventional type of Ambassador would not be
worth his salt to represent the United States here now, when they
are eager to work with us for the peace of the world, if they are

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 19 of 32)