Burton Jesse Hendrick.

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

. (page 30 of 32)
Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 30 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

American Embassy, London,
Sep. 3, 4 A.M.

Everybody in this city confidently believes that the Germans, if
they capture Paris, will make a proposal for peace, and that the
German Emperor will send you a message declaring that he is
unwilling to shed another drop of blood. Any proposal that the
Kaiser makes will be simply the proposal of a conqueror. His real
purpose will be to preserve the Hohenzollern dynasty and the
imperial bureaucracy. The prevailing English judgment is that, if
Germany be permitted to stop hostilities, the war will have
accomplished nothing. There is a determination here to destroy
utterly the German bureaucracy, and Englishmen are prepared to
sacrifice themselves to any extent in men and money. The
preparations that are being made here are for a long war; as I read
the disposition and the character of Englishmen they will not stop
until they have accomplished their purpose. There is a general
expression of hope in this country that neither the American
Government nor the public opinion of our country will look upon any
suggestion for peace as a serious one which does not aim, first of
all, at the absolute destruction of the German bureaucracy.

From such facts as I can obtain, it seems clear to me that the
opinion of Europe - excluding of course, Germany - is rapidly
solidifying into a severe condemnation of the German Empire. The
profoundest moral judgment of the world is taking the strongest
stand against Germany and German methods. Such incidents as the
burning of Louvain and other places, the slaughter of civilian
populations, the outrages against women and children - outrages of
such a nature that they cannot be printed, but which form a matter
of common conversation everywhere - have had the result of arousing
Great Britain to a mood of the grimmest determination.


This message had hardly reached Washington when the peace effort of
which it warned the President began to take practical form. In properly
estimating these manoeuvres it must be borne in mind that German
diplomacy always worked underground and that it approached its
negotiations in a way that would make the other side appear as taking
the initiative. This was a phase of German diplomatic technique with
which every European Foreign Office had long been familiar. Count
Bernstorff arrived in the United States from Germany in the latter part
of August, evidently with instructions from his government to secure the
intercession of the United States. There were two unofficial men in New
York who were ideally qualified to serve the part of intermediaries. Mr.
James Speyer had been born in New York; he had received his education at
Frankfort-on-the-Main, Germany, and had spent his apprenticeship also in
the family banking house in that city. As the head of an American
banking house with important German affiliations, his interests and
sympathies were strong on the side of the Fatherland; indeed, he made no
attempt to conceal his strong pro-Germanism.

Mr. Oscar S. Straus had been born in Germany; his father had been a
German revolutionist of 'Forty-eight; like Carl Schurz, Abraham Jacobi,
and Franz Sigel, he had come to America to escape Prussian militarism
and the Prussian autocracy, and his children had been educated in a
detestation of the things for which the German Empire stood. Mr. Oscar
Straus was only two years old when he was brought to this country, and
he had given the best evidences of his Americanism in a distinguished
public career. Three times he had served the United States as Ambassador
to Turkey; he had filled the post of Secretary of Commerce and Labour in
President Roosevelt's cabinet, and had held other important public
commissions. Among his other activities, Mr. Straus had played an
important part in the peace movement of the preceding quarter of a
century and he had been a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration
at The Hague. Mr. Straus was on excellent terms with the German, the
British, and the French ambassadors at Washington. As far back as 1888,
when he was American Minister at Constantinople, Bernstorff, then a
youth, was an attaché at the German Embassy; the young German was
frequently at the American Legation and used to remind Mr. Straus,
whenever he met him in later years, how pleasantly he remembered his
hospitality. With Sir Cecil Spring Rice, the British Ambassador, and M.
Jules Jusserand, the French Ambassador, Mr. Straus had also become
friendly in Constantinople and in Washington. This background, and Mr.
Straus's well-known pro-British sentiments, would have made him a
desirable man to act as a liaison agent between the Germans and the
Allies, but there were other reasons why this ex-ambassador would be
useful at this time. Mr. Straus had been in Europe at the outbreak of
the war; he had come into contact with the British statesmen in those
exciting early August days; in particular he had discussed all phases of
the conflict with Sir Edward Grey, and before leaving England, he had
given certain interviews which the British statesmen declared had
greatly helped their cause in the United States. Of course, the German
Government knew all about these activities.

On September 4th, Mr. Straus arrived at New York on the _Mauretania_. He
had hardly reached this country when he was called upon the telephone by
Mr. Speyer, a friend of many years' standing. Count Bernstorff, the
German Ambassador, Mr. Speyer said, was a guest at his country home,
Waldheim, at Scarboro, on the Hudson; Mr. Speyer was giving a small,
informal dinner the next evening, Saturday, September 5th, and he asked
Mr. and Mrs. Straus to come. The other important guests were Mr. Frank
A. Vanderlip, president of the National City Bank, and Mrs. Vanderlip.
Mr. Straus accepted the invitation, mentally resolving that he would not
discuss the war himself, but merely listen. It would certainly have
been a difficult task for any man to avoid this subject on this
particular evening; the date was September 5th, the day when the German
Army suddenly stopped in its progress toward Paris, and began
retreating, the French and the British forces in pursuit. A few minutes
before Count Bernstorff sat down at Mr. Speyer's table, with Mr. Straus
opposite, he had learned that the magnificent enterprise which Germany
had planned for forty years had failed, and that his country was facing
a monstrous disaster. The Battle of the Marne was raging in all its fury
while this pacific conversation at Mr. Speyer's house was taking place.

Of course the war became the immediate topic of discussion. Count
Bernstorff at once plunged into the usual German point of view - that
Germany did not want war in the first place, that the Entente had forced
the issue, and the like.

"The Emperor and the German Government stood for peace," he said.

Naturally, a man who had spent a considerable part of his life promoting
the peace cause pricked up his ears at this statement.

"Does that sentiment still prevail in Germany?" asked Mr. Straus.

"Yes," replied the German Ambassador.

"Would your government entertain a proposal for mediation now?" asked
Mr. Straus.

"Certainly," Bernstorff promptly replied. He hastened to add, however,
that he was speaking unofficially. He had had no telegraphic
communication from Berlin for five days, and therefore could not
definitely give the attitude of his government. But he was quite sure
that the Kaiser would be glad to have President Wilson take steps to end
the war.

The possibility that he might play a part in bringing hostilities to a
close now occurred to Mr. Straus. He had come to the dinner determined
to avoid the subject altogether, but Count Bernstorff had precipitated
the issue in a way that left the American no option. Certainly Mr.
Straus would have been derelict if he had not reported this conversation
to the high quarters for which Count Bernstorff had evidently intended

"That is a very important statement you have made, Mr. Ambassador," said
Mr. Straus, measuring every word. "May I make use of it?"


"May I use it in any way I choose?"

"You may," replied Bernstorff.

Mr. Straus saw in this acquiescent mood a chance to appeal directly to
President Wilson.

"Do you object to my laying this matter before our government?"

"No, I do not."

Mr. Straus glanced at his watch; it was 10:15 o'clock.

"I think I shall go to Washington at once - this very night. I can get
the midnight train."

Mr. Speyer, who has always maintained that this proceeding was casual
and in no way promoted by himself and Bernstorff, put in a word of

"I would sleep on it," he suggested.

But, in a few moments, Mr. Straus was speeding in his automobile through
Westchester County in the direction of the Pennsylvania Station. He
caught the express, and, the next morning, which was Sunday the sixth,
he was laying the whole matter before Secretary Bryan at the latter's
house. Naturally, Mr. Bryan was overjoyed at the news; he at once
summoned Bernstorff from New York to Washington, and went over the
suggestion personally. The German Ambassador repeated the statements
which he had made to Mr. Straus - always guardedly qualifying his remarks
by saying that the proposal had not come originally from him but from
his American friend. Meanwhile Mr. Bryan asked Mr. Straus to discuss the
matter with the British and French ambassadors.

The meeting took place at the British Embassy. The two representatives
of the Entente, though only too glad to talk the matter over, were more
skeptical about the attitude of Bernstorff than Mr. Bryan had been.

"Of course, Mr. Straus," said Sir Cecil Spring Rice, "you know that this
dinner was arranged purposely so that the German Ambassador could meet

Mr. Straus demurred at this statement, but the Englishman smiled.

"Do you suppose," Sir Cecil asked, "that any ambassador would make such
a statement as Bernstorff made to you without instructions from his

"You and M. Jusserand," replied the American, "have devoted your whole
lives to diplomacy with distinguished ability and you can therefore
answer that question better than I."

"I can assure you," replied M. Jusserand, "that no ambassador under the
German system would dare for a moment to make such a statement without
being authorized to do so."

"The Germans," added Sir Cecil, "have a way of making such statements
unofficially and then denying that they have ever made them."

Both the British and French ambassadors, however, thought that the
proposal should be seriously considered.

"If it holds out one chance in a hundred of lessening the length of the
war, we should entertain it," said Ambassador Jusserand.

"I certainly hope that you will entertain it cordially," said Mr.

"Not cordially - that is a little too strong."

"Well, sympathetically?"

"Yes, sympathetically," said M. Jusserand, with a smile.

These facts were at once cabled to Page, who took the matter up with Sir
Edward Grey. A despatch from the latter to the British Ambassador in
Washington gives a splendid summary of the British attitude on such
approaches at this time.

_Sir Edward Grey to Sir Cecil Spring Rice_
Foreign Office,
September 9, 1914.


The American Ambassador showed me to-day a communication that he
had from Mr. Bryan. It was to the effect that Mr. Straus and Mr.
Speyer had been talking with the German Ambassador, who had said
that, though he was without instructions, he thought that Germany
might be disposed to end the war by mediation. This had been
repeated to Mr. Bryan, who had spoken to the German Ambassador, and
had heard the same from him. Mr. Bryan had taken the matter up, and
was asking direct whether the German Emperor would accept mediation
if the other parties who were at war would do the same.

The American Ambassador said to me that this information gave him a
little concern. He feared that, coming after the declaration that
we had signed last week with France and Russia about carrying on
the war in common[100], the peace parties in the United States
might be given the impression that Germany was in favour of peace,
and that the responsibility for continuing the war was on others.

I said that the agreement that we had made with France and Russia
was an obvious one; when three countries were at war on the same
side, one of them could not honourably make special terms for
itself and leave the others in the lurch. As to mediation, I was
favourable to it in principle, but the real question was: On what
terms could the war be ended? If the United States could devise
anything that would bring this war to an end and prevent another
such war being forced on Europe I should welcome the proposal.

The Ambassador said that before the war began I had made
suggestions for avoiding it, and that these suggestions had been

I said that this was so, but since the war began there were two
further considerations to be borne in mind: We were fighting to
save the west of Europe from being dominated by Prussian
militarism; Germany had prepared to the day for this war, and we
could not again have a great military power in the middle of Europe
preparing war in this way and forcing it upon us; and the second
thing was that cruel wrong had been done to Belgium, for which
there should be some compensation. I had no indication whatever
that Germany was prepared to make any reparation to Belgium, and,
while repeating that in principle I was favourable to mediation, I
could see nothing to do but to wait for the reply of the German
Emperor to the question that Mr. Bryan had put to him and for the
United States to ascertain on what terms Germany would make peace
if the Emperor's reply was favourable to mediation.

The Ambassador made it quite clear that he regarded what the German
Ambassador had said as a move in the game. He agreed with what I
had said respecting terms of peace, and that there seemed no
prospect at present of Germany being prepared to accept them.

I am, &c.,

A letter from Page to Colonel House gives Page's interpretation of this

_To Edward M. House_
London, September 10, 1914.


A rather serious situation has arisen: The Germans of course
thought that they would take Paris. They were then going to propose
a conqueror's terms of peace, which they knew would not be
accepted. But they would use their so-called offer of peace purely
for publicity purposes. They would say, "See, men of the world, we
want peace; we offer peace; the continuance of this awful war is
not our doing." They are using Hearst for this purpose. I fear they
are trying to use so good a man as Oscar Straus. They are fooling
the Secretary.

Every nation was willing to accept Sir Edward Grey's proposals but
Germany. She was bent on a war of conquest. Now she's likely to get
licked - lock, stock and barrel. She is carrying on a propaganda and
a publicity campaign all over the world. The Allies can't and won't
accept any peace except on the condition that German militarism be
uprooted. They are not going to live again under that awful shadow
and fear. They say truly that life on such terms is not worth
living. Moreover, if Germany should win the military control of
Europe, she would soon - that same war-party - attack the United
States. The war will not end until this condition can be
imposed - that there shall be no more militarism.

But in the meantime, such men as Straus (a good fellow) may be able
to let (by helping) the Germans appear to the Peace people as
really desiring peace. Of course, what they want is to save their

And if we begin mediation talk now on that basis, we shall not be
wanted when a real chance for mediation comes. If we are so silly
as to play into the hands of the German-Hearst publicity bureau,
our chance for real usefulness will be thrown away.

Put the President on his guard.


In the latter part of the month came Germany's reply. One would never
suspect, when reading it, that Germany had played any part in
instigating the negotiation. The Kaiser repeated the old charges that
the Entente had forced the war on the Fatherland, that it was now
determined to annihilate the Central Powers and that consequently there
was no hope that the warring countries could agree upon acceptable terms
for ending the struggle.

So ended Germany's first peace drive, and in the only possible way that
it could end. But the Washington administration continued to be most
friendly to mediation. A letter of Colonel House's, dated October 4,
1914, possesses great historical importance. It was written after a
detailed discussion with President Wilson, and it indicates not only the
President's desire to bring the struggle to a close, but it describes
in some detail the principles which the President then regarded as
essential to a permanent peace. It furnishes the central idea of the
presidential policy for the next four years; indeed, it contains the
first statement of that famous "Article X" of the Covenant of the League
of Nations which was Mr. Wilson's most important contribution to that
contentious document. This was the article which pledges the League "to
respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial
integrity and existing political independence" of all its members; it
was the article which, more than any other, made the League obnoxious to
Americans, who interpreted it as an attempt to involve them perpetually
in the quarrels of Europe; and it was the one section of the Treaty of
Versailles which was most responsible for the rejection of that document
by the United States Senate. There are other suggestions in Colonel
House's letter which apparently bore fruit in the League Covenant. It is
somewhat astonishing that a letter of Colonel House's, written as far
back as October 3, 1914, two months after the outbreak of the war,
should contain "Article X" as one of the essential terms of peace, as
well as other ideas afterward incorporated in that document, accompanied
by an injunction that Page should present the suggestion to Sir Edward

_From Edward M. House_
115 East 53rd Street,
New York City.
October 3rd, 1914.


Frank [the Ambassador's son] has just come in and has given me your
letter of September 22nd[101] which is of absorbing interest. You
have never done anything better than this letter, and some day,
when you give the word, it must be published. But in the meantime,
it will repose in the safe deposit box along with your others and
with those of our great President.

I have just returned from Washington where I was with the President
for nearly four days. He is looking well and is well. Sometimes his
spirits droop, but then again, he is his normal self.

Before I came from Prides[102] I was fearful lest Straus,
Bernstorff, and others would drive the President into doing
something unwise. I have always counselled him to remain quiet for
the moment and let matters unfold themselves further. In the
meantime, I have been conferring with Bernstorff, with Dumba[103],
and, of course, Spring Rice. The President now wants me to keep in
touch with the situation, and I do not think there is any danger of
any one on the outside injecting himself into it unless Mr. Bryan
does something on his own initiative.

Both Bernstorff and Dumba say that their countries are ready for
peace talks, but the difficulty is with England. Sir Cecil says
their statements are made merely to place England in a false

The attitude, I think, for England to maintain is the one which she
so ably put forth to the world. That is, peace must come only upon
condition of disarmament and must be permanent. I have a feeling
that Germany will soon be willing to discuss terms. I do not agree
that Germany has to be completely crushed and that terms must be
made either in Berlin or London. It is manifestly against England's
interest and the interest of Europe generally for Russia to become
the dominating military force in Europe, just as Germany was. The
dislike which England has for Germany should not blind her to
actual conditions. If Germany is crushed, England cannot solely
write the terms of peace, but Russia's wishes must also largely

With Russia strong in militarism, there is no way by which she
could be reached. Her government is so constituted that friendly
conversations could not be had with her as they might be had even
with such a power as Germany, and the world would look forward to
another cataclysm and in the not too distant future.

When peace conversations begin, at best, they will probably
continue many months before anything tangible comes from them.
England and the Allies could readily stand on the general
proposition that only enduring peace will satisfy them and I can
see no insuperable obstacle in the way.

The Kaiser did not want war and was not responsible for it further
than his lack of foresight which led him to build up a formidable
engine of war which later dominated him. Peace cannot be made until
the war party in Germany find that their ambitions cannot be
realized, and this, I think, they are beginning to know.

When the war is ended and the necessary territorial alignments
made, it seems to me, the best guaranty of peace could be brought
by every nation in Europe guaranteeing the territorial integrity of
every other nation[104]. By confining the manufacture of arms to
the governments themselves and by permitting representatives of all
nations to inspect, at any time, the works[105].

Then, too, all sources of national irritation should be removed so
what at first may be a sore spot cannot grow into a malignant
disease[106]. It will not be too difficult, I think, to bring about
an agreement that will insure permanent peace, provided all the
nations of Europe are honest in their desire for it.

I am writing this to you with the President's knowledge and consent
and with the thought that it will be conveyed to Sir Edward. There
is a growing impatience in this country because of this war and
there is constant pressure upon the President to use his influence
to bring about normal conditions. He does not wish to do anything
to irritate or offend any one of the belligerent nations, but he
has an abiding faith in the efficacy of open and frank discussion
between those that are now at war.

As far as I can see, no harm can be done by a dispassionate
discussion at this stage, even though nothing comes of it. In a
way, it is perhaps better that informal and unofficial
conversations are begun and later the principals can take it up

I am sure that Sir Edward is too great a man to let any prejudices
deter him from ending, as soon as possible, the infinite suffering
that each day of war entails.

Faithfully yours,

It is apparent that the failure of this first attempt at mediation
discouraged neither Bernstorff nor the Washington administration.
Colonel House was constantly meeting the German and the British
Ambassadors; he was also, as his correspondence shows, in touch with
Zimmermann, the German Under Foreign Secretary. The German desire for
peace grew stronger in the autumn and winter of 1914-1915, as the fact
became more and more clear that Great Britain was summoning all her
resources for the greatest effort in her history, as the stalemate on
the Aisne more and more impressed upon the German chieftains the
impossibility of obtaining any decision against the French Army, and as
the Russians showed signs of great recuperation after the disaster of

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 30 of 32)