Burton Jesse Hendrick.

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

. (page 21 of 32)
Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 21 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

bear, and how utterly futile it is for him to attempt such problems as
you present."

_From the President_


. . . As for your suggestion that I should myself visit England
during my term of office, I must say that I agree with all your
arguments for it, and yet the case against the President's leaving
the country, particularly now that he is expected to exercise a
constant leadership in all parts of the business of the government,
is very strong and I am afraid overwhelming. It might be the
beginning of a practice of visiting foreign countries which would
lead Presidents rather far afield.

It is a most attractive idea, I can assure you, and I turn away
from it with the greatest reluctance.

We hear golden opinions of the impression you are making in
England, and I have only to say that it is just what I had

Cordially and faithfully yours,

American Embassy,
London, England.

In December, however, evidently Colonel House's mind had turned to the
general subject that had so engaged that of the Ambassador.

_From Edward M. House_
145 East 35th Street,
New York City.

December 13th, 1913.


In my budget of yesterday I did not tell you of the suggestion
which I made to Sir William Tyrrell when he was here, and which I
also made to the President.

It occurred to me that between us all we might bring about the
naval holiday which Winston Churchill has proposed. My plan is that
I should go to Germany in the spring and see the Kaiser, and try to
win him over to the thought that is uppermost in our mind and that
of the British Government.

Sir William thought there was a good sporting chance of success. He
offered to let me have all the correspondence that had passed
between the British and German governments upon this question so
that I might be thoroughly informed as to the position of them
both. He thought I should go directly to Germany without stopping
in England, and that Gerard should prepare the Kaiser for my
coming, telling him of my relations with the President. He thought
this would be sufficient without any further credentials.

In other words, he would do with the Kaiser what you did with Sir
Edward Grey last summer.

I spoke to the President about the matter and he seemed pleased
with the suggestion; in fact, I might say, he was enthusiastic. He
said, just as Sir William did, that it would be too late for this
year's budget; but he made a suggestion that he get the
Appropriations Committee to incorporate a clause, permitting him to
eliminate certain parts of the battleship budget in the event that
other nations declared for a naval holiday. So this will be done
and will further the plan.

Now I want to get you into the game. If you think it advisable,
take the matter up with Sir William Tyrrell and then with Sir
Edward Grey, or directly with Sir Edward, if you prefer, and give
me the benefit of your advice and conclusions.

Please tell Sir William that I lunched at the Embassy with the
Spring Rices yesterday, and had a satisfactory talk with both Lady
Spring Rice and Sir Cecil.

Faithfully yours,

* * * * *

It is apparent from Page's letters that the suggestion now contained in
Colonel House's communication would receive a friendly hearing. The idea
that Colonel House suggested was merely the initial stage of a plan
which soon took on more ambitious proportions. At the time of Sir
William Tyrrell's American visit, the Winston Churchill proposal for a
naval holiday was being actively discussed by the British and the
American press. In one form or another it had been figuring in the news
for nearly two years. Viscount Haldane, in the course of his famous
visit to Berlin in February, 1912, had attempted to reach some
understanding with the German Government on the limitation of the German
and the British fleets. The Agadir crisis of the year before had left
Europe with a bad state of nerves, and there was a general belief that
only some agreement on shipbuilding could prevent a European war. Lord
Haldane and von Tirpitz spent many hours discussing the relative sizes
of the two navies, but the discussions led to no definite
understanding. In March, 1913, Mr. Churchill, then First Lord of the
Admiralty, took up the same subject in a different form. In this speech
he first used the words "naval holiday," and proposed that Germany and
Great Britain should cease building first-class battleships for one
year, thus giving the two nations a breathing space, during which time
they might discuss their future plans in the hope of reaching a
permanent agreement. The matter lagged again until October 18, 1913,
when, in a speech at Manchester, Mr. Churchill placed his proposal in
this form: "Now, we say to our great neighbour, Germany, 'If you will
put off beginning your two ships for twelve months from the ordinary
date when you would have begun them, we will put off beginning our four
ships, in absolute good faith, for exactly the same period.'" About the
same time Premier Asquith made it clear that the Ministry was back of
the suggested programme. In Germany, however, the "naval holiday" soon
became an object of derision. The official answer was that Germany had a
definite naval law and that the Government could not entertain any
suggestion of departing from it. Great Britain then answered that, for
every keel Germany laid down, the Admiralty would lay down two. The
outcome, therefore, of this attempt at friendship was that the two
nations had been placed farther apart than ever.

The dates of this discussion, it will be observed, almost corresponded
with the period covered by the Tyrrell visit to America. This fact, and
Page's letters of this period, had apparently implanted in Colonel
House's mind an ambition for definite action. He now proposed that
President Wilson should take up the broken threads of the rapprochement
and attempt to bring them together again. From this, as will be made
plain, the plan developed into something more comprehensive. Page's
ideas on the treatment of backward nations had strongly impressed both
the President and Colonel House. The discussion on Mexico which had just
taken place between the American and the British Governments seemed to
have developed ideas that could have a much wider application. The
fundamental difficulties in Mexico were not peculiar to that country nor
indeed to Latin-America. Perhaps the most prolific cause of war among
the more enlightened countries was that produced by the jealousies and
antagonisms which were developed by their contacts with unprogressive
peoples - in the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, Asia, and the Far East. The
method of dealing with such peoples, which the United States had found
so successful in Cuba and the Philippines, had proved that there was
just one honourable way of dealing with the less fortunate and more
primitive races in all parts of the world. Was it not possible to bring
the greatest nations, especially the United States, Great Britain, and
Germany, to some agreement on this question, as well as on the question
of disarmament? This once accomplished, the way could be prepared for
joint action on the numerous other problems which were then threatening
the peace of the world. The League of Nations was then not even a
phrase, but the plan that was forming in Colonel House's mind was at
least some scheme for permanent international coöperation. For several
years Germany had been the nation which had proved the greatest obstacle
to such international friendliness and arbitration. The Kaiser had
destroyed both Hague Conferences as influential forces in the remaking
of the world; and in the autumn of 1913 he had taken on a more
belligerent attitude than ever. If this attempt to establish a better
condition of things was to succeed, Germany's coöperation would be
indispensable. This is the reason why Colonel House proposed first of
all to visit Berlin.

_From Edward M. House_
145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
January 4th, 1914.

Dear Page:

. . . Benj. Ide Wheeler[55] took lunch with me the other day. He is
just back from Germany and he is on the most intimate terms with
the Kaiser. He tells me he often takes dinner with the family
alone, and spends the evening with them.

I know, now, the different Cabinet officials who have the Kaiser's
confidence and I know his attitude toward England, naval armaments,
war, and world politics in general.

Wheeler spoke to me very frankly and the information he gave me
will be invaluable in the event that my plans carry. The general
idea is to bring about a sympathetic understanding between England,
Germany, and America, not only upon the question of disarmament,
but upon other matters of equal importance to themselves, and to
the world at large.

It seems to me that Japan should come into this pact, but Wheeler
tells me that the Kaiser feels very strongly upon the question of
Asiatics. He thinks the contest of the future will be between the
Eastern and Western civilizations.

Your friend always,
E.M. House.

By January 4, 1914, the House-Wilson plan had thus grown into an
Anglo-American-German "pact," to deal not only with "disarmament, but
other matters of equal importance to themselves and to the world at
large." Page's response to this idea was consistent and characteristic.
He had no faith in Germany and believed that the existence of Kaiserism
was incompatible with the extension of the democratic ideal. Even at
this early time - eight months before the outbreak of the World War - he
had no enthusiasm for anything in the nature of an alliance, or a
"pact," that included Germany as an equal partner. He did, however, have
great faith in the coöperation of the English-speaking peoples as a
force that would make for permanent peace and international justice. In
his reply to Colonel House, therefore, Page fell back at once upon his
favourite plan for an understanding between the United States, Great
Britain, and the British colonies. That he would completely sympathize
with the Washington aspiration for disarmament was to be expected.

To Edward M. House
January 2, 1914.

My Dear House:

You have set my imagination going. I've been thinking of this thing
for months, and now you've given me a fresh start. It can be worked
out somehow - doubtless, not in the form that anybody may at first
see; but experiment and frank discussion will find a way.

As I think of it, turning it this way and that, there always comes
to me just as I am falling to sleep this reflection: the
English-speaking peoples now rule the world in all essential facts.
They alone and Switzerland have permanent free government. In
France there's freedom - but for how long? In Germany and
Austria - hardly. In the Scandinavian States - yes, but they are
small and exposed as are Belgium and Holland. In the big secure
South American States - yes, it's coming. In Japan - ? Only the
British lands and the United States have secure liberty. They also
have the most treasure, the best fighters, the most land, the most
ships - the future in fact.

Now, because George Washington warned us against alliances, we've
gone on as if an alliance were a kind of smallpox. Suppose there
were - let us say for argument's sake - the tightest sort of an
alliance, offensive and defensive, between all Britain, colonies
and all, and the United States - what would happen? Anything we'd
say would go, whether we should say, "Come in out of the wet," or,
"Disarm." That might be the beginning of a real world-alliance and
union to accomplish certain large results - disarmament, for
instance, or arbitration - dozens of good things.

Of course, we'd have to draw and quarter the O'Gormans[56]. But
that ought to be done anyhow in the general interest of good sense
in the world. We could force any nation into this "trust" that we
wanted in it.

Isn't it time we tackled such a job frankly, fighting out the Irish
problem once for all, and having done with it?

I'm not proposing a programme. I'm only thinking out loud. I see
little hope of doing anything so long as we choose to be ruled by
an obsolete remark made by George Washington.


January H, 1914.

. . . But this armament flurry is worth serious thought. Lloyd George
gave out an interview, seeming to imply the necessity of reducing
the navy programme. The French allies of the British went up in
the air! They raised a great howl. Churchill went to see them, to
soothe them. They would not be soothed. Now the Prime Minister is
going to Paris - ostensibly to see his daughter off to the Riviera.
Nobody believes that reason. They say he's going to smooth out the
French. Meantime the Germans are gleeful.

And the British Navy League is receiving money and encouraging
letters from British subjects, praying greater activity to keep the
navy up. You touch the navy and you touch the quick - that's the
lesson. It's an enormous excitement that this small incident has


_To Edward M. House_
London, February 24, 1914.

My Dear House:

You'll be interested in these pamphlets by Sir Max Waechter, who
has opened an office here and is spending much money to "federate"
Europe, and to bring a lessening of armaments. I enclose also an
article about him from the _Daily Telegraph_, which tells how he
has interviewed most of the Old World monarchs. Get also,
immediately, the new two-volume life of Lord Lyons, Minister to the
United States during the Civil War, and subsequently Ambassador to
France. You will find an interesting account of the campaign of
about 1870 to reduce armaments, when old Bismarck dumped the whole
basket of apples by marching against France. You know I sometimes
fear some sort of repetition of that experience. Some government
(probably Germany) will see bankruptcy staring it in the face and
the easiest way out will seem a great war. Bankruptcy before a war
would be ignominious; after a war, it could be charged to "Glory."
It'll take a long time to bankrupt England. It's unspeakably rich;
they pay enormous taxes, but they pay them out of their incomes,
not out of their principal, except their inheritance tax. That
looks to me as if it came out of the principal. . . .

I hope you had a good time in Texas and escaped some cold weather.
This deceptive sort of winter here is grippe-laden. I've had the
thing, but I'm now getting over it. . . .

This Benton[57]-Mexican business is causing great excitement here.

Always heartily yours,

P.S. There's nothing like the President. By George! the passage of
the arbitration treaty (renewal) almost right off the bat, and
apparently the tolls discrimination coming presently to its repeal!
Sir Edward Grey remarked to me yesterday: "Things are clearing up!"
I came near saying to him: "Have you any miracles in mind that
you'd like to see worked?" Wilson stock is at a high premium on
this side of the water in spite of the momentary impatience caused
by Benton's death.


_From Edward M. House_
145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
April 19th, 1914.


I have had a long talk with Mr. Laughlin[58]. At first he thought I
would not have more than one chance in a million to do anything
with the Kaiser, but after talking with him further, he concluded
that I would have a fairly good sporting chance. I have about
concluded to take it.

If I can do anything, I can do it in a few days. I was with the
President most of last week. . . .

He spoke of your letters to him and to me as being classics, and
said they were the best letters, as far as he knew, that any one
had ever written. Of course you know how heartily I concur in this.
He said that sometime they should be published.

The President is now crystallizing his mind in regard to the
Federal Reserve Board, and if you are not to remain in London, then
he would probably put Houston on the Board and ask you to take the
Secretaryship of Agriculture.

You have no idea the feeling that is being aroused by the tolls
question. The Hearst papers are screaming at all of us every day.
They have at last honoured me with their abuse. . . .

With love and best wishes, I am,

Faithfully yours,


_From Edward M. House_

145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
April 20th, 1914.

Dear Page:

. . . It is our purpose to sail on the _Imperator_, May 16th, and go
directly to Germany. I expect to be there a week or more, but Mrs.
House will reach London by the 1st or 2nd of June. . . .

Our friend[59] in Washington thinks it is worth while for me to go
to Germany, and that determines the matter. The press is shrieking
to-day over the Mexican situation, but I hope they will be
disappointed. It is not the intention to do anything further for
the moment than to blockade the ports, and unless some overt act is
made from the North, our troops will not cross the border.

Your friend always,

_To Edward M. House_
London, April 27, 1914.


Of course you decided wisely to carry out your original Berlin
plan, and you ought never to have had a moment's hesitation, if you
did have any hesitation. I do not expect you to produce any visible
or immediate results. I hope I am mistaken in this. But you know
that the German Government has a well-laid progressive plan for
shipbuilding for a certain number of years. I believe that the work
has, in fact, already been arranged for. But that has nothing to do
with the case. You are going to see what effect you can produce on
the mind of a man. Perhaps you will never know just what effect you
will produce. Yet the fact that you are who you are, that you make
this journey for this especial purpose, that you are everlastingly
right - these are enough.

Moreover, you can't ever tell results, nor can you afford to make
your plans in this sort of high work with the slightest reference
to probable results. That's the bigness and the glory of it. Any
ordinary man can, on any ordinary day, go and do a task, the
favourable results of which may be foreseen. _That's_ easy. The big
thing is to go confidently to work on a task, the results of which
nobody can possibly foresee - a task so vague and improbable of
definite results that small men hesitate. It is in this spirit that
very many of the biggest things in history have been done. Wasn't
the purchase of Louisiana such a thing? Who'd ever have supposed
that that could have been brought about? I applaud your errand and
I am eagerly impatient to hear the results. When will _you_ get
here? I assume that Mrs. House will not go with you to Berlin. No
matter so you both turn up here for a good long stay.

I've taken me a little bit of a house about twenty miles out of
town whither we are going in July as soon as we can get away from
London. I hope to stay down there till far into October, coming up
to London about thrice a week. That's the dull season of the year.
It's a charming little country place - big enough for you to visit
us. . . .

_From Edward M. House_

An Bord des Dampfers _Imperator_

den May 21, 1914.

Hamburg-Amerika Linie

Dear Page:

Here we are again. The Wallaces[60] land at Cherbourg, Friday
morning, and we of course go on to Berlin. I wish I might have the
benefit of your advice just now, for the chances for success in
this great adventure are slender enough at best. The President has
done his part in the letter I have with me, and it is clearly up to
me to do mine. . . .

Faithfully yours,

E.M. House.

It will be observed that Colonel House had taken the advice of Sir
William Tyrrell, and had sailed directly to Germany on a German
ship - the _Imperator_. Ambassador Gerard had made preparations for his
reception in Berlin, and the American soon had long talks with Admiral
von Tirpitz, Falkenhayn, Von Jagow, Solf, and others. Von
Bethmann-Hollweg's wife died almost on the day of his arrival in Berlin,
so it was impossible for him to see the Chancellor - the man who would
have probably been the most receptive to these peace ideas. All the
leaders of the government, except Von Tirpitz, gave Colonel House's
proposals a respectful if somewhat cynical hearing. Von Tirpitz was
openly and demonstratively hostile. The leader of the German Navy simply
bristled with antagonism at any suggestion for peace or disarmament or
world coöperation. He consumed a large part of the time which Colonel
House spent with him denouncing England and all its works. Hatred of the
"Island Kingdom" was apparently the consuming passion of his existence.
On the whole, Von Tirpitz thus made no attempt to conceal his feeling
that the purpose of the House mission was extremely distasteful to him.
The other members of the Government, while not so tactlessly hostile,
were not particularly encouraging. The usual objections to disarmament
were urged - the fear of other Powers, the walled-in state of Germany,
the vigilant enemies against which it was necessary constantly to be
prepared and watchful. Even more than the unsympathetic politeness of
the German Cabinet the general atmosphere of Berlin was depressing to
Colonel House. The militaristic oligarchy was absolutely in control.
Militarism possessed not only the army, the navy, and the chief officers
of state, but the populace as well. One almost trivial circumstance has
left a lasting impression on Colonel House's mind. Ambassador Gerard
took him out one evening for a little relaxation. Both Mr. Gerard and
Colonel House were fond of target shooting and the two men sought one of
the numerous rifle galleries of Berlin. They visited gallery after
gallery, but could not get into one. Great crowds lined up at every
place, waiting their turns at the target; it seemed as though every
able-bodied man in Berlin was spending all his time improving his
marksmanship. But this was merely a small indication of the atmosphere
of militarism which prevailed in the larger aspects of life. Colonel
House found himself in a strange place to preach international accord
for the ending of war!

He had come to Berlin not merely to talk with the Cabinet heads; his
goal was the Kaiser himself. But he perceived at once a persistent
opposition to his plan. As he was the President's personal
representative, and carried a letter from the President to the Kaiser,
an audience could not be refused - indeed, it had already been duly
arranged; but there was a quiet opposition to his consorting with the
"All Highest" alone. It was not usual, Colonel House was informed, for
His Imperial Majesty to discuss such matters except in the presence of a
representative of the Foreign Office. Germany had not yet recovered from
the shock which the Emperor's conversation with certain foreign
correspondents had given the nation. The effects were still felt of the
famous interviews of October 28, 1908, which, when published in the
London _Telegraph_, had caused the bitterest resentment in Great
Britain. The Kaiser had given his solemn word that he would indulge in
no more indiscretions of this sort, and a private interview with Colonel
House was regarded by his advisers as a possible infraction of that
promise. But the American would not be denied. He knew that an
interview with a third person present would be simply time thrown away

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 21 of 32)