Johann Heinrich Bernstorff.

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"For Your Excellency's information (strictly confidential):

"1. The memorandum is written personally by His Majesty.

"2. Unrestricted submarine warfare is for the present deferred.


"Your Excellency hinted to His Majesty in your last conversation at
Charleville in April that President Wilson possibly would try towards
the end of summer to offer his good services to the belligerents for
the promotion of peace. The German Government has no information
as to whether the President adheres to this idea, and as to the
eventual date at which his step would take place. Meanwhile the
constellation of war has taken such a form, that the German Government
foresees the time at which it will be forced to regain the freedom
of action that it has reserved to itself in the Note of May 4th
last, and thus the President's steps may be jeopardized."

Mr. Gerard arrived in New York a few days after I had received the
Emperor's memorandum. He was accompanied by the American journalist,
Herbert Swope, a correspondent of _The World_, who had spent a
considerable time in Berlin. This gentleman professed to be Mr.
Gerard's confidant, and even from the ship sent wireless messages
to his paper in which he reported that the unrestricted submarine
campaign was imminent. The Ambassador also, after landing in New
York, expressed himself, as I at once learned, to the same effect,
and Mr. Swope continued his open Press-campaign in this direction.

Under these circumstances I considered it inopportune to give Mr.
Gerard the Emperor's memorandum, as I assumed that he would read
into it merely a confirmation of his view, and would discuss it
in that light. If, however, the idea spread abroad that we were
about to begin the unrestricted submarine campaign all prospect
of success for peace mediation was lost. It was indeed clear that
the Entente would not accept American mediation if they could hope
for the submarine campaign and consequent declaration of war by
the United States. It must continually be repeated that mediation
could only succeed if the Entente had already abandoned all hope of
American assistance. On these considerations I handed the memorandum
to Colonel House, of whose discretion I had two years' experience.
In this way it came into the hands of the equally unusually discreet
President, without anyone else learning anything about it. The
memorandum at once produced a great effect, as now the American
authorities had no further doubt that the Imperial Government would
accept the intended mediation. This could, however, not be speeded
up because Mr. Wilson did not want to undertake a great political
movement so shortly before the election.

At this time I sent the following report to the Chancellor:


"Washington, 17th October, 1916.

"For a week there has again been some excitement here about foreign
policy. This is due to a variety of causes. At first the rumor
was that Ambassador Gerard was bringing with him a peace proposal
from the German Government. In spite of all denials this rumor was
believed for a time, because it was started by one of the first
bankers of New York. Unfortunately Mr. Gerard heard of this canard
while he was still on the ship, and as he was travelling with Herbert
Swope a denial, sent by wireless, appeared in _The World_, which
was worse than the rumor itself. In this Swope reported that Mr.
Gerard was coming over to announce the approaching beginning of
ruthless submarine war. Just at this moment the U53 appeared at
Newport, and two days later I had an audience of the President,
which had been arranged a long time before, that I might hand to
Mr. Wilson the reply of His Majesty the Emperor and King on the
question of Polish relief.

"Colonel House, with whom, as is known, I am in constant communication,
expected that on his landing Mr. Gerard would let fall some intentional
or unintentional diplomatic _lapsus linguoe_, and therefore went in
the early morning to the quarantine station in order to protect Gerard
from the reporters. Mr. Gerard received a very hearty reception,
which, however, had certainly been engineered for election purposes,
because it is to the interest of the Democratic Administration to
extol their ambassador and their foreign policy. Immediately after
the reception Gerard breakfasted with House, and there everything
was denied that had been actually said or implied.

"As I have known Mr. and Mrs. Gerard for many years I had a longish
conversation with them on the day after their arrival. The quintessence
of the ambassador's remarks was that he was completely neutral,
but that Berlin expected more than that.

"Now everything has calmed down again here, and nothing is talked
about except the election, which will be decided in three weeks'
time. As I have several times had the honor to report, the result
is most uncertain. While four months ago a Republican victory seemed
certain, to-day Wilson's success is very possible. This is explained
by the fact that Mr. Hughes has made no permanent impression as a
speaker, whereas Roosevelt blew the war trumpet in his usual bombastic
fashion. If Hughes should be defeated he can thank Roosevelt. The
average American is, and remains a pacifist '_Er segnet Friede
und Friedenszeiten_,' and can only be drawn into war by passionate
popular excitement."

With the facts contained in the above report the following telegram
is also concerned, which I despatched after the visit to the President
mentioned above:


"Washington, 11th October 1916.

"Wilson gave particular force to his remarks by pointing out that
the leaders of the opposition Roosevelt, Lodge and Co., desired
war with Germany, which he was quite unable to understand. His
only desire was to remain neutral, and to help to bring the war
to an end as a decision by force of arms seemed to him out of the
question. He thought that neither of the belligerent parties would
be able to gain a decisive victory. Therefore it was better to
make peace to-day than to-morrow. But all prospect of ending the
war would vanish if the United States were also drawn in.

"As Wilson always spoke as though he was holding himself in readiness,
in case his services as mediator were required, I told him that
in my opinion there was no prospect of any advances being made
by the belligerent Powers.

"It was obvious that Wilson would have preferred to be directly
encouraged to make peace before the election because in that case
he would have been sure of being re-elected. If, however, he were
re-elected without this, he would have to make up his mind to take
the initiative himself. Result of the poll still very doubtful.
Wilson surprisingly strong, as Hughes has little success as a speaker
and Roosevelt does more harm than good."

To this I received the following reply from the Chancellor:


"Berlin, 14th October, 1916.

"Demand for unrestricted submarine campaign increasing here with
prolongation of war and improbability of decisive military blow,
without, however, shaking the Government's attitude.

"Direct request for Wilson's mediation still impossible, in view
of favor hitherto shown to Entente, and after last speeches of
Asquith and Lloyd George. Spontaneous appeal for peace, towards
which I again ask you to encourage him, would be gladly accepted
by us. You should point out Wilson's power, and consequently his
duty, to put a stop to slaughter. If he cannot make up his mind
to act alone he should get into communication with Pope, King of
Spain and European neutrals. Such joint action, since it cannot be
rejected by Entente, would insure him re-election and historical


The incident of the Emperor's memorandum closed with the following
telegram sent by me:


"Washington, 20th October, 1916.

"I thought it better to give memorandum to Gerard for House, as
in this way greater discretion is assured. Latter was incautious
in his utterances to Press here. House will speak with Gerard.
Both gentlemen see Wilson shortly, and are accordingly in constant

"It is still not to be expected that Wilson will make peace advances
before the election. Nor that he will get into communication with
Pope or King of Spain as hitherto every suggestion of joint action
has met with immovable opposition, chiefly based on tradition.
Meanwhile prospect of Wilson's re-election becomes obviously greater
every day. Should this occur I believe that Wilson will very soon
attempt mediation and with success, chiefly because the feeling
against England has greatly increased, which England is seeking to
hide. If peace is not concluded serious Anglo-American differences of
opinion are to be expected. Until now every fresh dispute with Germany
with regard to the submarine question has always been exploited by
our enemies here to bridge the differences with England. Already
the agitation in the German Press for unrestricted submarine warfare
is persistently used for this purpose."

After a hard struggle Mr. Wilson was re-elected President. The
pacifist tendency in the United States had won, for the battle
was fought under the watchword that Mr. Wilson had preserved peace
for the United States. "He kept us out of the war" had been the
battle-cry of the Democrats. The few electioneering speeches made
by the President breathed the spirit of neutrality and love of
peace. It is particularly to be noticed that at that time, Mr.
Wilson, in an address, dealt in a thoroughly objective way with
the question of guilt for the origin of the war, which was later to
be the determining factor in his attitude towards us. The way was
now cleared for the opening of the peace movement. Public feeling
had also become more favorable to us, inasmuch as the American war
industry no longer attached so much importance to the prolongation
of the war after the victorious Democratic party had drawn up an
extensive armament programme and so indicated to the industry the
prospect of great State contracts.

On the subject of my own attitude with regard to the election,
innumerable legends have been spread through Germany. The few
German-Americans who shared the views of the so-called "German-American
Chamber of Commerce" have reproached me with having brought about
Mr. Wilson's election by influencing the German-Americans.
Anti-German-American newspapers maintained, on the other hand,
that I had used every lever to bring about the election of the
Republican candidate, Mr. Hughes, so as to punish Mr. Wilson for
his attitude towards the submarine campaign. My position was an
extraordinarily difficult one, as I could neither take part in
the election nor give up the relations which naturally and in the
course of my duty bound me to the German-Americans and pacifists.
In general I may say that the vast majority of German-Americans
had absolute confidence in me throughout. A splendid testimony of
this was given at the great German bazaar which was held in New
York in aid of the Red Cross. This undertaking made the astounding
net profit of 800,000 dollars. At the opening nearly 30,000 people
were present, who gave me an indescribably enthusiastic ovation
simply because they believed that I had prevented war between Germany
and the United States.

I never for a moment denied that I personally should be glad to
see Mr. Wilson re-elected, as I was convinced that he had the
determination and the power to bring about peace. It was at that
time impossible for me to foresee that our Government would change
its attitude to this question. All American pacifists belonged to
the Democratic camp, all militarists belonged to the Republican

A change in our favor was, therefore, not to be expected from the
election of Mr. Hughes. Apart from the usual relations with the
pacifists and German-Americans already mentioned, which were in no
way altered during the election, I held myself aloof as my position
demanded. If it had been possible to accuse me of taking sides,
the agents of the Entente would not have missed the opportunity
of bringing me to book, as this they regarded as their object in
life. I continually received letters from _agents provocateurs_,
asking for my opinion on the elections. Of course I never replied to
these. Neither were the false statements of anti-German newspapers
any more successful which announced that on the day of the election
I had openly shown my support of Mr. Hughes.

New York at night after the polling is one of the sights of America. All
streets, squares, theatres and restaurants are filled to overflowing.
The election results are displayed everywhere by electric light and
cinematograph. Particularly when the result is very uncertain, as
in 1916, the crowd are tremendously excited. At 11 p.m. the election
of Mr. Hughes seemed certain, as the Eastern States had voted for
him almost to a man, and it was said that a Democratic candidate
can only gain the victory if he wins over New York State. Next day
the picture changed, after the results had come gradually from
the West, where the Democratic party was everywhere triumphant.
The majority, however, was so slight that it was several days before
Mr. Wilson's election was secure.

The malcontents among the German-Americans already mentioned maintain
that if Mr. Hughes had been elected, Congress would have used the
four months between the election and the 4th March, during which
Mr. Wilson was powerless and Mr. Hughes had not yet got the reins
into his hands, to rush through the warning of American citizens
against travelling on British passenger-ships. In that case, Mr.
Hughes, on assuming office, would have found himself faced with
a situation which would have prevented him from entering the war,
in view of the national inclination towards peace. Therefore, the
German-Americans ought to have supported Hughes. This had been
clear to the Germans in the East. They maintained that Wilson's
re-election was due to the German votes in the Western States which
had obeyed a more or less clear order from the German Embassy.

This line of argument is yet another proof that the Germans in
question had no idea of the situation in America. They kept exclusively
to themselves in the _Deutscher Verein_, and scarcely ever saw a
real, true-bred American. To begin with, it is difficult to see
why the Germans in the West should obey the alleged order from me
if the Germans in the East did not do so. But the important thing
is that Wilson had firmly made up his mind, in case Mr. Hughes
was elected, to appoint him Secretary of State immediately and,
after Hughes had informed himself on the political position in
this office, to hand over the presidency and himself retire. Mr.
Wilson considered it impossible to leave the country without firm
leadership at such a dangerous moment.

Immediately after the official announcement of his reelection,
Mr. Wilson wrote a Peace-Note, but unfortunately kept it in his
desk, because, unhappily, just at that time a new anti-German wave
swept over the country on account of the Belgian deportations. Mr.
Wilson was at that time in the habit of typing the drafts of his
Notes and speeches himself, and only submitting them to his advisers
on points of law or other technicalities. Whether he still works
in this way I do not know. If the unhappy measure of the Belgian
deportations had not been adopted, and particularly just as we had
informed the President that we did not want to annex Belgium, the
history of the world would probably have taken a different course.
The American mediation would have anticipated our peace offer and,
therefore, would probably have succeeded, because we could not
then have reopened the unrestricted submarine campaign without
letting the mediation run its course.

In November several submarine incidents occurred in which there
was a doubt as to whether the rules of cruiser warfare had been
followed. The ships _Marina_ and _Arabia_ came under particular
consideration. I will not go into these cases as they had no political
importance. President Wilson caused the investigations to be carried
on in a dilatory fashion because he did not want to see his peace
move disturbed by controversies.

Of greater importance was the wish that was again cropping up in
Berlin to open the so-called "intensified submarine campaign." I
learned this in the following from Secretary of State von Jagow:


"Berlin, 8th November, 1916.

"Navy wishes at least torpedo armed enemy cargo-vessels without
warning. Does Your Excellency consider this dangerous, apart from
probable mistakes, particularly in view of fact that now many Americans
are lured to travel on such steamers!


As the "intensified submarine campaign" would have destroyed all
prospect of American intervention, I advised strongly against it
in the two following telegrams:


"Washington, 17th November, 1916.

"It is urgently desirable not to reopen disputes about armed
merchantmen, especially in view of Wilson's peace plan."


"Washington, 20th November, 1916.

"In reply to telegram No. 112 which was delayed.

"Pursuant to Telegram No. 152.

"Urge no change in submarine war, until decided whether Wilson will
open mediation. I consider this imminent."

At the same time I received the first news of the intended peace
offer of the German Government. To begin with, the following telegram
arrived from Secretary of State von Jagow:


"Berlin, 16th November, 1916.

"Desirable to know whether President willing to take steps towards
mediation, and if so, which and when? Question important for decision
of possible steps in same direction elsewhere.

"How does Mexican question stand?


Then followed a further telegram which read as follows:


"Berlin, 22nd November, 1916.

"Strictly confidential.

"For Your Excellency's strictly personal information. So far as
favorable military position permits we intend, in conjunction with
our Allies, immediately to announce our readiness to enter into
peace negotiations.


To the first of these two telegrams I sent the following reply:


"Washington, 21st November, 1916.

"Wilson spontaneously commissioned House to tell me in strict confidence
that he is anxious to take steps towards mediation as soon as possible,
probably between now and the New Year. He makes it a condition,
however, that until then, mediation should be spoken and written
of as little as possible, and further, that we should conduct the
submarine war strictly according to our promises and not allow
any fresh controversies to arise.

"Wilson's reasons for the above conditions are as follows: He believes
that he can only resort to mediation provided that public opinion
over here remains as favorable to us as it has been during the
last few months. On this account he deplores the so-called Belgian
deportations. Any new submarine controversy would again affect
public feeling adversely for us, whereas if this question can be
eliminated the tension with regard to England will increase. The
British reply on the subject of the black lists and the English
Press utterances on Wilson's election have created a bad impression
in Government circles over here. The submarine question, however,
will always divert this resentment against us again.

"Wilson still hesitates to intervene because the State Department
expects a refusal on the part of our enemies, while House urges it
strongly and is very hopeful. I have, according to instructions,
encouraged him as much as possible, by telling him, that in my
opinion, our enemies would be quite unable to refuse to enter into
negotiations, and that is all that Wilson has in view. House seemed
very much impressed when I reminded him how, throughout the whole
war, the English Government had tried by lying and diplomatic trickery
to bring public opinion on to their side. This house of cards,
built on lies and deception, would immediately collapse if our
enemies were now to refuse negotiations and thus would have to
admit openly their desire for conquest. I am rather afraid that
England may make a pretense of entering into negotiations and then
try to put us in the wrong.

"I chose this line of argument because Wilson fears above all things
the humiliation of a refusal. If it does come to negotiations, even
unsuccessful, Wilson will have scored a great success. Whether
the negotiations will lead to a definite result I cannot judge
from here. In any case, if it should come to negotiations, strong
pressure will be exerted by the Government over here in the direction
of peace.

"The Mexican question is still in a state of stagnation as a result
of diplomatic negotiations. This affair interests practically no
one any more and proved to have no influence on the election.

"If Your Excellency still desires Wilson to intervene it is necessary,
in view of the above, to get rid as soon as possible of the _Marina_
and _Arabia_ incidents without further controversy and not to allow
any fresh controversies to arise. I think that, with the help of House,
I can bury these two incidents without attracting much attention, as
this is the wish of Wilson himself. As House said, the President
takes a tragic view of these incidents, because, after the _Sussex_
Note, he could not possibly write another Note, and therefore,
there is nothing left but to break off diplomatic negotiations,
should it be impossible to dispose of the matter privately and
confidentially with me.

"Next week Gerard will be in Washington for a day or two: he will
lunch with me and dine with Lansing. House keeps him in strict
control. In case Gerard's return to Berlin is not desired, please
send me instructions. Otherwise he should be there again at the
end of the year."

To this telegram, which announced very definitely the American
mediation, I received from the Foreign Office the following reply:


"Berlin, 26th November, 1916.

"Replacement, or at least further retention, of Gerard in America
desired in Berlin, provided that it is possible without wounding
his vanity and sensitiveness to our disadvantage, that it is certain
that this hint from our side will not become known in America and
that a suitable successor is available.

"We should prefer Wilson's peace move to the step on our part mentioned
in our telegram No. 116 of the 22nd November. For this reason it
is eminently desirable that Wilson should make up his mind for
immediate action if possible at the opening of congress or immediately
afterwards. If it is put off until the New Year or later, the lull
in military operations during the winter campaign would moderate
the desire of public opinion for peace, and on the other hand would
make preparations for the spring offensive necessary which would
probably strengthen the military opposition of a peace movement.
Please place this point of view cautiously and without _empressement_
before House as your personal opinion and keep me closely instructed
by telegram as to the position.


To this telegram I sent the following replies:



"Washington, 1st December, 1916.

"To-morrow I shall see House in New York and will try to arrange
that Gerard, who is to sail on 5th December, is kept back.

"Lansing expressed himself very strongly to me on the subject of
the American protest with regard to the Belgian deportations. These
have endangered the whole Belgian relief movement; in addition,
feeling here has been poisoned against us, and that just at a moment
when it looked as though peace negotiations might be begun. Lansing
expressed the view that, if the Imperial Government could find a
way of yielding to the protests of the neutrals, this would make a
strong impression in our favor and that it would probably be possible
immediately afterwards to propose the opening of peace negotiations.
Hitherto, unfortunately, something has always intervened.

"The Federal Reserve Board's warning to the banks against unsecured
promissory notes of foreign States is the first sign that the Government
here wishes to put pressure on our enemies."


"Washington, 4th December, 1916.

"Pursuant to Telegram No. 164 of the 1st inst.

"House told me in strict confidence question of Mr. Gerard's return

Online LibraryJohann Heinrich BernstorffMy three years in America → online text (page 22 of 31)