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that and fail - that's all he _can_ do. I do reverently thank God that we
gave up that contention. We may have trouble yet, doubtless we shall,
but it will not be trouble of our own making, as that was.

"Tyrrell[98] came into the reception room at the Foreign Office the day
after our withdrawal, while I was waiting to see Sir Edward Grey, and he
said: 'I wish to tell you personally - just privately between you and
me - how infinite a relief it is to us all that your Government has
withdrawn that demand. We couldn't accept it; our refusal was not
stubborn nor pig-headed: it was a physical necessity in order to carry
on the war with any hope of success.' Then, as I was going out, he
volunteered this remark: 'I make this guess - that that programme was not
the work of the President but of some international prize court
enthusiast (I don't know who) who had failed to secure the adoption of
the Declaration when parliaments and governments could discuss it at
leisure and who hoped to jam it through under the pressure of war and
thus get his prize court international.' I made no answer for several
reasons, one of which is, I do not know whose programme it was. All that
I know is that I have here, on my desk at my house, a locked dispatch
book half full of telegrams and letters insisting on it, which I do not
wish (now at least) to put in the Embassy files, and the sight of which
brings the shuddering memory of the worst nightmare I have ever

"Now we can go on, without being a party to any general programme, but
in an independent position vigorously stand up for every right and
privilege under law and usage and treaties; and we have here a
government that we can deal with frankly and not (I hope) in a mood to
suspect us of wishing to put it at a disadvantage for the sake of a
general code or doctrine. A land and naval and air and submarine battle
(the greatest battle in the history of the belligerent race of man)
within 75 miles of the coast of England, which hasn't been invaded since
1066 and is now in its greatest danger since that time; and this is no
time I fear, to force a great body of doctrine on Great Britain. God
knows I'm afraid some American boat will run on a mine somewhere in the
Channel or the North Sea. There's war there as there is on land in
Germany. Nobody tries to get goods through on land on the continent, and
they make no complaints that commerce is stopped. Everybody tries to ply
the Channel and the North Sea as usual, both of which have German and
English mines and torpedo craft and submarines almost as thick as
batteries along the hostile camps on land. The British Government (which
now issues marine insurance) will not insure a British boat to carry
food to Holland en route to the starving Belgians; and I hear that no
government and no insurance company will write insurance for anything
going across the North Sea. I wonder if the extent and ferocity and
danger of this war are fully realized in the United States?

"There is no chance yet effectively to talk of peace[99]. The British
believe that their civilization and their Empire are in grave danger.
They are drilling an army of a million men here for next spring; more
and more troops come from all the Colonies, where additional enlistments
are going on. They feel that to stop before a decisive result is reached
would simply be provoking another war, after a period of dread such as
they have lived through the last ten years; a large and increasing
proportion of the letters you see are on black-bordered paper and this
whole island is becoming a vast hospital and prisoners' camp - all which,
so far from bringing them to think of peace, urges them to renewed
effort; and all the while the bitterness grows.

"The Straus incident' produced the impression here that it was a German
trick to try to shift the responsibility of continuing the war, to the
British shoulders. Mr. Sharp's bare mention of peace in Paris caused the
French censor to forbid the transmission of a harmless interview; and
our insistence on the Declaration left, for the time being at least, a
distinct distrust of our judgment and perhaps even of our good-will. It
was suspected - I am sure - that the German influence in Washington had
unwittingly got influence over the Department. The atmosphere (toward
me) is as different now from what it was a week ago as Arizona sunshine
is from a London fog, as much as to say, 'After all, perhaps, you don't
_mean_ to try to force us to play into the hands of our enemies!'"


And so this crisis was passed; it was the first great service that Page
had rendered the cause of the Allies and his own country. Yet shipping
difficulties had their more agreeable aspects. Had it not been for the
fact that both Page and Grey had an understanding sense of humour,
neutrality would have proved a more difficult path than it actually was.
Even amid the tragic problems with which these two men were dealing
there was not lacking an occasional moment's relaxation into the lighter
aspect of things. One of the curious memorials preserved in the British
Foreign Office is the cancelled $15,000,000 check with which Great
Britain paid the _Alabama_ claims. That the British should frame this
memento of their great diplomatic defeat and hang it in the Foreign
Office is an evidence of the fact that in statesmanship, as in less
exalted matters, the English are excellent sports. The real
justification of the honour paid to this piece of paper, of course, is
that the settlement of the _Alabama_ claims by arbitration signalized a
great forward step in international relations and did much to heal a
century's troubles between the United States and Great Britain. Sir
Edward Grey used frequently to call Page's attention to this document.
It represented the amount of money, then considered large, which Great
Britain had paid the United States for the depredations on American
shipping for which she was responsible during the Civil War.

One day the two men were discussing certain detentions of American
cargoes - high-handed acts which, in Page's opinion, were unwarranted.
Not infrequently, in the heat of discussion, Page would get up and pace
the floor. And on this occasion his body, as well as his mind, was in a
state of activity. Suddenly his eye was attracted by the framed Alabama
check. He leaned over, peered at it intensely, and then quickly turned
to the Foreign Secretary:

"If you don't stop these seizures, Sir Edward, some day you'll have your
entire room papered with things like that!"

Not long afterward Sir Edward in his turn scored on Page. The Ambassador
called to present one of the many State Department notes. The occasion
was an embarrassing one, for the communication was written in the
Department's worst literary style. It not infrequently happened that
these notes, in the form in which Page received them, could not be
presented to the British Government; they were so rasping and
undiplomatic that Page feared that he would suffer the humiliation of
having them returned, for there are certain things which no
self-respecting Foreign Office will accept. On such occasions it was the
practice of the London Embassy to smooth down the language before
handing the paper to the Foreign Secretary. The present note was one of
this kind; but Page, because of his friendly relations with Grey,
decided to transmit the communication in its original shape.

Sir Edward glanced over the document, looked up, and remarked, with a
twinkle in his eye, -

"This reads as though they thought that they are still talking to George
the Third."

The roar of laughter that followed was something quite unprecedented
amid the thick and dignified walls of the Foreign Office.

One of Page's most delicious moments came, however, after the Ministry
of Blockade had been formed, with Lord Robert Cecil in charge. Lord
Robert was high minded and conciliatory, but his knowledge of American
history was evidently not without its lapses. One day, in discussing the
ill-feeling aroused in the United States by the seizure of American
cargoes, Page remarked banteringly:

"You must not forget the Boston Tea Party, Lord Robert."

The Englishman looked up, rather puzzled.

"But you must remember, Mr. Page, that I have never been in Boston. I
have never attended a tea party there."

It has been said that the tact and good sense of Page and Grey, working
sympathetically for the same end, avoided many an impending crisis. The
trouble caused early in 1915 by the ship _Dacia_ and the way in which
the difficulty was solved, perhaps illustrate the value of this
coöperation at its best. In the early days of the War Congress passed a
bill admitting foreign ships to American registry. The wisdom and even
the "neutrality" of such an act were much questioned at the time.
Colonel House, in one of his early telegrams to the President, declared
that this bill "is full of lurking dangers." Colonel House was right.
The trouble was that many German merchant ships were interned in
American harbours, fearing to put to sea, where the watchful British
warships lay waiting for them. Any attempt to place these vessels under
the American flag, and to use them for trade between American and German
ports, would at once cause a crisis with the Allies, for such a paper
change in ownership would be altogether too transparent. Great Britain
viewed this legislation with disfavour, but did not think it politic to
protest such transfers generally; Spring Rice contented himself with
informing the State Department that his government would not object so
long as this changed status did not benefit Germany. If such German
ships, after being transferred to the American flag, engaged in commerce
between American ports and South American ports, or other places
remotely removed from the Fatherland, Great Britain would make no
difficulty. The _Dacia_, a merchantman of the Hamburg-America line, had
been lying at her wharf in Port Arthur, Texas, since the outbreak of the
war. In early January, 1915, she was purchased by Mr. E.N. Breitung, of
Marquette, Michigan. Mr. Breitung caused great excitement in the
newspapers when he announced that he had placed the _Dacia_ under
American registry, according to the terms of this new law, had put upon
her an American crew, and that he proposed to load her with cotton and
sail for Germany. The crisis had now arisen which the well-wishers of
Great Britain and the United States had so dreaded. Great Britain's
position was a difficult one. If it acquiesced, the way would be opened
for placing under American registry all the German and Austrian ships
that were then lying unoccupied in American ports and using them in
trade between the United States and the Central Powers. If Great Britain
seized the _Dacia_, then there was the likelihood that this would
embroil her with the American Government - and this would serve German
purposes quite as well.

Sir Cecil Spring Rice, the British Ambassador at Washington, at once
notified Washington that the _Dacia_ would be seized if she sailed for a
German port. The cotton which she intended to carry was at that time not
contraband, but the vessel itself Was German and was thus subject to
apprehension as enemy property. The seriousness of this position was
that technically the _Dacia_ was now an American ship, for an American
citizen owned her, she carried an American crew, she bore on her
flagstaff the American flag, and she had been admitted to American
registry under a law recently passed by Congress. How could the United
States sit by quietly and permit this seizure to take place? When the
_Dacia_ sailed on January 23rd the excitement was keen; the voyage had
obtained a vast amount of newspaper advertising, and the eyes of the
world were fixed upon her. German sympathizers attributed the attitude
of the American Government in permitting the vessel to sail as a "dare"
to Great Britain, and the fact that Great Britain had announced her
intention of taking up this "dare" made the situation still more tense.

When matters had reached this pass Page one day dropped into the Foreign

"Have you ever heard of the British fleet, Sir Edward?" he asked.

Grey admitted that he had, though the question obviously puzzled him.

"Yes," Page went on musingly. "We've all heard of the British fleet.
Perhaps we have heard too much about it. Don't you think it's had too
much advertising?"

The Foreign Secretary looked at Page with an expression that implied a
lack of confidence in his sanity.

"But have you ever heard of the French fleet?" the American went on.
"France has a fleet too, I believe."

Sir Edward granted that.

"Don't you think that the French fleet ought to have a little

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"Well," said Page, "there's the _Dacia_. Why not let the French fleet
seize it and get some advertising?"

A gleam of understanding immediately shot across Grey's face. The old
familiar twinkle came into his eye.

"Yes," he said, "why not let the Belgian royal yacht seize it?"

This suggestion from Page was one of the great inspirations of the war.
It amounted to little less than genius. By this time Washington was
pretty wearied of the _Dacia_, for mature consideration had convinced
the Department that Great Britain had the right on its side. Washington
would have been only too glad to find a way out of the difficult
position into which it had been forced, and this Page well understood.
But this government always finds itself in an awkward plight in any
controversy with Great Britain, because the hyphenates raise such a
noise that it has difficulty in deciding such disputes upon their
merits. To ignore the capture of this ship by the British would have
brought all this hullabaloo again about the ears of the Administration.
But the position of France is entirely different; the memories of
Lafayette and Rochambeau still exercise a profound spell on the American
mind; France does not suffer from the persecution of hyphenate
populations, and Americans will stand even outrages from France without
getting excited. Page knew that if the British seized the _Dacia_, the
cry would go up in certain quarters for immediate war, but that, if
France committed the same crime, the guns of the adversary would be
spiked. It was purely a case of sentiment and "psychology." And so the
event proved. His suggestion was at once acted on; a French cruiser went
out into the Channel, seized the offending ship, took it into port,
where a French prize court promptly condemned it. The proceeding did not
cause even a ripple of hostility. The _Dacia_ was sold to Frenchmen,
rechristened the _Yser_ and put to work in the Mediterranean trade. The
episode was closed in the latter part of 1915 when a German submarine
torpedoed the vessel and sent it to the bottom.

Such was the spirit which Page and Sir Edward Grey brought to the
solution of the great shipping problems of 1914-1917. There is much more
to tell of this great task of "waging neutrality," and it will be told
in its proper place. But already it is apparent to what extent these two
men served the great cause of English-speaking civilization. Neither
would quibble or uphold an argument which he thought unjust, even though
his nation might gain in a material sense, and neither would pitch the
discussion in any other key than forbearance and mutual accommodation
and courtliness. For both men had the same end in view. They were both
thinking, not of the present, but of the coming centuries. The
coöperation of the two nations in meeting the dangers of autocracy and
Prussian barbarism, in laying the foundations of a future in which
peace, democracy, and international justice should be the directing
ideas of human society - such was the ultimate purpose at which these two
statesmen aimed. And no men have ever been more splendidly justified by
events. The Anglo-American situation of 1914 contained dangers before
which all believers in real progress now shudder. Had Anglo-American
diplomacy been managed with less skill and consideration, the United
States and Great Britain would have become involved in a quarrel beside
which all their previous differences would have appeared insignificant.
Mutual hatreds and hostilities would have risen that would have
prevented the entrance of the United States into the war on the side of
the Allies. It is not inconceivable that the history of 1812 would have
been repeated, and that the men and resources of this country might have
been used to support purposes which have always been hateful to the
American conscience. That the world was saved from this calamity is
owing largely to the fact that Great Britain had in its Foreign Office a
man who was always solving temporary irritations with his eyes
constantly fixed upon a great goal, and that the United States had as
ambassador in London a man who had the most exalted view of the mission
of his country, who had dedicated his life to the world-wide spread of
the American ideal, and who believed that an indispensable part of this
work was the maintenance of a sympathetic and helpful coöperation with
the English-speaking peoples.


[Footnote 90: In a letter addressed to "My fellow Countrymen" and
presented to the Senate by Mr. Chilton.]

[Footnote 91: This was in October, 1914. In August, 1915, when
conditions had changed, cotton was declared contraband.]

[Footnote 92: Mr. Chandler P. Anderson, of New York, at this time
advising the American Embassy on questions of international law.]

[Footnote 93: Mr. Irwin Laughlin, first secretary of the Embassy.]

[Footnote 94: Sir Cecil Spring Rice, British Ambassador at Washington.]

[Footnote 95: Sir Edward Grey.]

[Footnote 96: Senator William J. Stone, perhaps the leading spokesman of
the pro-German cause in the United States Senate. Senator Stone
represented Missouri, a state with a large German-American element.]

[Footnote 97: See Chapter VII.]

[Footnote 98: Private secretary to Sir Edward Grey.]

[Footnote 99: The reference is to an attempt by Germany to start peace
negotiations in September, 1914, after the Battle of the Marne. This is
described in the next chapter.]



The Declaration of London was not the only problem that distracted Page
in these early months of the war. Washington's apparent determination to
make peace also added to his daily anxieties. That any attempt to end
hostilities should have distressed so peace-loving and humanitarian a
statesman as Page may seem surprising; it was, however, for the very
reason that he was a man of peace that these Washington endeavours
caused him endless worry. In Page's opinion they indicated that
President Wilson did not have an accurate understanding of the war. The
inspiring force back of them, as the Ambassador well understood, was a
panic-stricken Germany. The real purpose was not a peace, but a truce;
and the cause which was to be advanced was not democracy but Prussian
absolutism. Between the Battle of the Marne and the sinking of the
_Lusitania_ four attempts were made to end the war; all four were set
afoot by Germany. President Wilson was the man to whom the Germans
appealed to rescue them from their dilemma. It is no longer a secret
that the Germans at this time regarded their situation as a tragic one;
the success that they had anticipated for forty years had proved to be a
disaster. The attempt to repeat the great episodes of 1864, 1866, and
1870, when Prussia had overwhelmed Denmark, Austria, and France in three
brief campaigns, had ignominiously failed. Instead of beholding a
conquered Europe at her feet, Germany awoke from her illusion to find
herself encompassed by a ring of resolute and powerful foes. The fact
that the British Empire, with its immense resources, naval, military,
and economic, was now leading the alliance against them, convinced the
most intelligent Germans that the Fatherland was face to face with the
greatest crisis in its history.

Peace now became the underground Germanic programme. Yet the Germans did
not have that inexorable respect for facts which would have persuaded
them to accept terms to which the Allies could consent. The military
oligarchy were thinking not so much of saving the Fatherland as of
saving themselves; a settlement which would have been satisfactory to
their enemies would have demanded concessions which the German people,
trained for forty years to expect an unparalleled victory, would have
regarded as a defeat. The collapse of the militarists and of
Hohenzollernism would have ensued. What the German oligarchy desired was
a peace which they could picture to their deluded people as a triumph,
one that would enable them to extricate themselves at the smallest
possible cost from what seemed a desperate position, to escape the
penalties of their crimes, to emerge from their failure with a Germany
still powerful, both in economic resources and in arms, and to set to
work again industriously preparing for a renewal of the struggle at a
more favourable time. If negotiations resulted in such a truce, the
German purpose would be splendidly served; even if they failed, however,
the gain for Germany would still be great. Germany could appear as the
belligerent which desired peace and the Entente could perhaps be
manoeuvred into the position of the side responsible for continuing the
war. The consideration which was chiefly at stake in these tortuous
proceedings was public opinion in the United States. Americans do not
yet understand the extent to which their country was regarded as the
determining power. Both the German and the British Foreign Offices
clearly understood, in August, 1914, that the United States, by throwing
its support, especially its economic support, to one side or the other,
could settle the result. Probably Germany grasped this point even more
clearly than did Great Britain, for, from the beginning, she constantly
nourished the hope that she could embroil the United States and Great
Britain - a calamity which would have given victory to the German arms.
In every German move there were thus several motives, and one of the
chief purposes of the subterranean campaigns which she now started for
peace was the desire of putting Britain in the false light of prolonging
the war for aggressive purposes, and thus turning to herself that public
opinion in this country which was so outspoken on the side of the
Allies. Such public opinion, if it could be brought to regard Germany in
a tolerant spirit, could easily be fanned into a flame by the disputes
over blockades and shipping, and the power of the United States might
thus be used for the advancement of the Fatherland. On the other hand,
if Germany could obtain a peace which would show a profit for her
tremendous effort, then the negotiations would have accomplished their

Conditions at Washington favoured operations of this kind. Secretary
Bryan was an ultra-pacifist; like men of one idea, he saw only the fact
of a hideous war, and he was prepared to welcome anything that would end
hostilities. The cessation of bloodshed was to him the great purpose to
be attained: in the mind of Secretary Bryan it was more important that
the war should be stopped than that the Allies should win. To President
Wilson the European disaster appeared to be merely a selfish struggle
for power, in which both sides were almost equally to blame. He never
accepted Page's obvious interpretation that the single cause was
Germany's determination to embark upon a war of world conquest. From the
beginning, therefore, Page saw that he would have great difficulty in
preventing intervention from Washington in the interest of Germany, yet
this was another great service to which he now unhesitatingly directed
his efforts.

The Ambassador was especially apprehensive of these peace moves in the
early days of September, when the victorious German armies were marching
on Paris. In London, as in most parts of the world, the capture of the
French capital was then regarded as inevitable. September 3, 1914, was
one of the darkest days in modern times. The population of Paris was
fleeing southward; the Government had moved its headquarters to
Bordeaux; and the moment seemed to be at hand when the German Emperor
would make his long anticipated entry into the capital of France. It was
under these circumstances that the American Ambassador to Great Britain
sent the following message directly to the President:

_To the President_

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 29 of 32)