DEMOCRACY AND GETTING INTO WAR
The Responsibility of One Man
Governments have gone to war with one another. Peoples, so far as I can remember, have not, and this is a government of the people, and this people is not going to choose war.Woodrow Wilson, at Milwaukee, Jan. 31, 1916.
AMERICAS declaration of war was adopted, as it had to be, by Congress, but only after Congress had been called upon to do so by the President, who had so set the stage as to render it extremely humiliating to himself, and politically embarrassing to his party, to turn back. The declaration was carried by a vote of 373 to 50 in the House, and 82 to 6 in the Senate, a large majority for an ordinary measure, but not so large for a declaration of war, where the pressure for unanimity is always nearly overwhelming. The author sat in the Senate gallery throughout the war debate. A most frequent argument in favor of the resolution was that it was a question of standing behind the President in a controversy with a foreign power. Speakers who announced their intention of voting yes expressly asserted that they would vote no, except for the fact that war had already been decided on, the resolution was going through, and opposition was useless.
President Wilson had complete control of our end of the diplomatic negotiations which failed of their professed object, peace, and by progressive steps carried the nation into belligerency.
It was Wilson who sent the strict-accountability note; Wilsons uncompromising attitude that caused the resignation of Secretary of State Bryan; Wilson who threatened to sever diplomatic relations in 1916, unless Germany should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels.
It was Wilson who led the preparedness agitation, who oversaw the drafting of bills providing for the largest military and naval appropriations ever expended by any nation in the world in peace times, and urged these bills through Congress.
It was Wilson who omitted to hold England to the strict accountability which he exacted of Germany; Wilson who broke off diplomatic relations when Germany announced its purpose of waging submarine warfare unrestricted; Wilson who rejected Germanys offer to reopen relations looking towards a continuation of American neutrality. It was Wilson who requested from Congress the power to engage in hostilities at his own discretion; Wilson who, when that request was not acceded to, assumed the power that Congress had failed to grant, and placed public fighting men upon private ships. It was Wilson who finally demanded of Congress a declaration of war against Germany.
It may be thought that President Wilson was forced into belligerent measures„ or into measures leading towards belligerency, by some other public factor. Of these other factors there existed three :
2. The general public.
3. A minority of the public having an interest in belligerency.
But whenever our controversy with Germany found its way before Congress, it invariably appeared that Congress was more pacifically inclined than was the President. During the period of diplomatic strife, the President engaged in two notable contests with Congress in which his aggressive attitude toward Germany was seriously opposed.
The first of these contests occurred early in 1916, and was occasioned by the announcement of Germany that the armed merchant vessels of its enemies would be regarded as ships of war. A strong opinion developed, both in and out of Congress, that persons taking passage on such armed ships should do so at their own risk, and the chairman of each of the Foreign Relations Committees notified the President that a clear majority of his respective committee and house favored a formal warning to American citizens against risking their lives on such vessels. Speaker Clark told the President that Congress was three to one in favor of such a warning.
But the President opposed warning Americans against taking passage on armed ships, and insisted that the pending resolutions asking him to warn them be voted down to prove that there were no divided councils in Congress in regard to the foreign policy of the government.
During this struggle between the comparatively belligerent President and the comparatively pacific Congress, Senator Gore charged the President with telling various Senators and Representatives that war with Germany might not be an evil. The testimony of Senator Gore was confirmed publicly and privately by other Senators. Following the tabling of the Gore and McLemore resolutions, three members of Mr. Wilsons partytwo of whom had voted to table the resolutions for party reasonsannounced their intention of retiring from Congress because of their belief that the President was directing the course of the country into war.
1 Representatives R. Page (N.C.), I. Sherwood (O.), and J. Eagle (Tex.).
The Presidents other notable contest with Congress occurred over his request for a grant of power to supply our merchant ships with defensive arms ... and to employ any other instrumentalities or methods that may be necessary or adequate to protect our ships and our people in their legitimate and peaceful pursuits of the seas. (Feb. 26, 1917.) A bill, the Armed Ships Bill, drawn at the White House, brought out the Presidents wishes a little more definitely. It authorized the Executive to supply private vessels with arms and also the necessary ammunition and means for making use of them, and to employ such other instrumentalities and methods as may in his judgment and discretion seem necessary and adequate to protect such vessels, as well as a grant of $100,000,000 for the purpose of carrying into effect the foregoing provisions.
The Congressional Record, and the newspapers of the day, show that a large number of Senators and Representatives believed that war would inevitably result were the President permitted to carry out his plans, and that it was due chiefly to this belief that the bill was generally opposed in the beginning. Chairman Flood, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was sent to interview the President and induce him to modify his demands, but failed. Senator Stone, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, refused to handle the bill on the floor.
It was only under the Presidents whip that in the end the House passed the bill, but so modified that the use of other instrumentalities was not authorized. In the Senate, numerous amendments were offered seeking to restrict the possible belligerent action of the President. The bill failed of final passage through the opposition of twelve Senators, who pinned their hope of peace on forcing the President to call an extra session of Congress.
The tactics of the President at the time led to the conclusion, freely expressed in newspapers, friendly as well as unfriendly, that he preferred not to call an extra session for fear Congress would interfere with the vigorous measures that he had determined to take against Germany.
When, February 13, minority-leader Mann inserted in the Navy Bill an amendment, reaffirming it to be the policy of the United States to adjust and settle its international disputes through mediation or arbitration, to the end that war may be honorably avoided, it was characterized as a pacifist ruse, and a slap at Wilson. Who will not recall that during the last few weeks before the declaration of war, every element that had been advocating war, including notable political opponents of the President, joined in execration of the Congressmen who were causing delay, and of pacifism and pacifists; in a chorus of praise of Wilson, and of supplication to the nation to stand behind the President? What else could that mean except that those who wanted war judged that the course of the President led to war, and were fearful lest Congress might keep us out of war, in spite of the President ?
From the above, it is clear that Congress did not force the Executive into war or any of the measures that led to it. The pacific wish of the people has already been pointed out. Did any minority of the public force the President into steps that led to war ?
Did Wall Street force the President into war ?
The collected facts presented in later chapters will answer the question of Wall Streets part in the responsibility for war. Meanwhile, a moments thought on the commanding position in which the President stood is sufficient to bring the conclusion that the primary responsibility cannot be shifted to the shoulders of Wall Street. Whatever pressure Wall Street may have exerted upon the President, Wall Street did not have the power to compel action.
The President had been reëlected for a period of four years on a peace platform. He was commander-in-chief of the army and navy, which were not threatening rebellion. Had President Wilson chosen to pursue policies similar to those of Switzerland, or Holland, or Sweden, or Denmark, or Spain, which kept those countries out of war, he would have met with criticism, but no means short of revolution could have changed the course of the country. There is no evidence that Wall Street was threatening revolution, or that it would have been successful in a revolution had it started one.
Congress and every other element of influence in American life must bear its share of the responsibility for our European adventure, but the political and moral responsibility lies first upon Woodrow Wilson.
PRESIDENTIAL USURPATIONS TO ACHIEVE BELLIGERENCY
The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved so to frame the Constitution that no man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.Abraham Lincoln.
THE Congress shall have power ... to declare war, says the Constitution. Is, or is not, the power to declare war inclusive of the power to make war ? And is, or is not, the Executive excluded from exercising such power ?
President Wilsons own answer was given to the public a number of times during his preparedness tour. At Chicago, January 31, 1916, he said :
This war was brought on by rulers, not by the people, and I thank God that there is no man in America who has the authority to bring on war without the consent of the people.
And the following night at Des Moines :
I was saying the other night that I know of no case where one people made war upon another people. No government can make war in the United States. The people make war through their representatives. The Constitution of the United States does not give the President even a participating part in the making of war. War can be declared only by Congress, by an action which the President does not take part in, and cannot veto. I am literally, by constitutional arrangement, the mere servant of the peoples representatives.
But Wilson never followed this theory in action. From the beginning of his administration, the Congressional debates frequently brought out a feeling of resentment against his assumption of all power over foreign relations, and his disinclination to take Congress into his confidence in such matters. As early as October, 1914, we find him issuing the warning: The foreign policy of the government ... lies outside the field of legislation. (Letter to floor-leader Underwood.)
In the dispute with Germany, we find him asserting the question of warning Americans against traveling on the armed ships of the Entente to be clearly within the field of Executive initiative, (Letter to Representative Pou) ; although it was conceded at the time that this issue was likely to determine the question of peace or war. During the same period, Senator Jones of Washington introduced a resolution asking the President not to break off relations with any country, nor to place America in any other position where it could not with honor avoid war. But the resolution was not accorded the Presidential favor.
When an executive (1) sends an ultimatum to a foreign power (threatening to sever diplomatic relations) without first notifying or seeking the advice of the peoples representatives; (2) breaks diplomatic relations without first notifying or seeking the advice of the peoples representatives; (3) refuses mediation without notifying or seeking the advice of the peoples representatives; (4) arms private ships with naval crews without the consent of the peoples representatives, and sends these ships to sea with orders to the crews to fire at sight on the vessels of another nation technically at peace with us, it can hardly be maintained that he is acting as the mere servant of the peoples representatives, or that he is not exercising even a participating part in the making of war.
In overruling Congress on the question of warning American citizens against taking passage on the armed ships of belligerent countries, President Wilson was proceeding from an assumption that Germanys use of the submarine was an offense against the sacred and indisputable rules of international law. (Note of Apr. 18, 1916.) But as Wilson himself had substantially admitted, (Note of July 21, 1915), the legal and illegal uses of the submarine had not been adjudicated in any international court, treaty, or in any other way. The President had no right whatever to create, by Executive fiat, a new international law for the world to go by. Congress shall have power ... to define and punish ... offenses against the law of nations. His extreme recourse would have been to go before Congress and ask that body to lay down a law on the submarine, and to direct him as to any procedure to be taken to meet its illegal use.
Again, in the debates on the Armed Ships Bill, it was repeatedly admitted that the Presidents request for a grant of power was a request for the war-making power, which Congress cannot constitutionally relinquish or give away. Subsequently, in explaining to his constituents his opposition to the bill, Senator LaFollette quoted two decisions of the United States Supreme Court. The first held that when Congress authorized private armed ships of the United States to defend themselves against the armed ships of France, it constituted a declaration of war, the court asserting: Every contention by force, between two nations, in external matters, under the authority of their respective governments, is not only war, but public war. The second held: To the legislative power alone it must belong to determine when the violence of other nations is to he met with violence.
In the same debates, it was generally conceded that the arming or convoying of munitions ships would constitute an aggressive act, since munitions, being absolute contraband, were subject to seizure and destruction under all interpretations of international law. The President, nevertheless, refused to accept an amendment prohibiting the arming or convoying of ships carrying munitions.
During the week ending March 4, therefore, President Wilson violated his oath of office by asking Congress for authority which it was constitutionally precluded from granting. He planned a violation of the Constitution, by the uncontrolled exercise of the war-making power. He planned a violation of international law, in seeking to begin hostilities without a formal declaration. This record, however, was surpassed in the following week. The Armed Ships Bill failed, and the President usurped the authority which Congress had failed to grant, arming private ships with naval guns, and making no distinction between munitions ships and others.
Not only had members of the national law-making body taken the view that any armament upon munitions ships would transform such ships into ships of war, and that any use of such armament would constitute an act of war, but an examination of the American White Book discloses the fact that President Wilson had also taken this view; moreover, that the other conditions under which our armed ships put to seaarmament fore and aft, orders to fire before being fired upon, naval crews, submarine chasers-swept away all the salient distinctions which the American government and the British government had previously drawn between armed merchant ships and war vessels. (See Chapter XV.)
The conclusion must be that our war with Germany dates, not from April 6, 1917, but from March 17, when our first armed merchantman put to sea; that, in sending this ship to sea, the President knowingly usurped the war-making power.
By the same act, also, the President violated definite Federal statutes which prohibit a merchant vessel of the United States, whether carrying contraband or not, from defending itself against the fighting craft of a nation with which this country is not at war. This was admitted by the President himself, March 4, in a supplementary statement from the White House, in which the President conceded that there were certain old statutes as yet unrepealed which raised insuperable practical obstacles and virtually nullified his power.
True, the President made a slight modification of this statement a few hours later, and five days later he reversed himself completely. (For quotations see Appendix, p. 435.) But the statutes to which the President referred in his supplementary statement from the White House are so clear that a layman can be as sure of their meaning as a Supreme Court Judge. Enacted to permit the arming of merchant vessels against pirates, in the days of pirates, they expressly prohibit the use of such armament, even for defense, against a public armed vessel of a nation in amity with the United States. Although in March, 1917, a German submarine was certainly a public armed vessel, and Germany under the law a nation in amity with the United States, there appeared, from various pro-war savants, arguments upholding the right of the President to arm private ships and send them to sea. All of such arguments were based upon one or more of three theories : that (1) the statute is inapplicable, because of old age; (2) submarines are pirate ships and Germany a nation of pirates; or (3) Germany was already waging war against the United States.
The answer to the first proposition is that all statutes are equally binding until repealed; the answer to the second that, even did the German submarine warfare correspond, in essential details, with the practice of piracy, the President did not possess the authority to act upon any judgment of his own that it was piracy. Congress shall have power ... to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas. Congress had not defined German submarine warfare as piracy. As to the third proposition, the same answer applies. The Constitution precluded the Executive from defining the submarine operations as warfare against the United States. Had he believed the operations to be war, his only legal recourse was to go before Congress and ask for a declaration of war against Germany.
Why, then, did not President Wilson ask Congress to declare war on February 26, 1917, instead of requesting a grant of power to start war at his own discretion ?
The answer is clearly revealed in the Congressional debates of that periodbecause Congress could not have been persuaded to declare war on that date. It was easier to procure the vote of a Senator or Congressman for a proposition to trust the Executive with extraordinary powers, than to obtain that vote for a declaration of war.
On February 26, Congress had not been sufficiently brought under control. The time was not quite ripe.
The nation had not been sufficiently excited, confused and frightened. The Armed Ships Bill, and after that, the arming of the ships, were a part of the process of preparation, as were other Presidential maneuvers that will next be recalled.
OUR STEALTHY APPROACH TO WAR
THE rupture of diplomatic relations is a serious step, which generally ends in war, says Professor Lawrence. (Principles of International Law, p. 301.) Yet in his address to Congress announcing the rupture of relations with Germany (Feb. 3, 1917), President Wilson gave the most direct assurances of peaceful purpose :
We do not desire any hostile conflict with the Imperial German Government. We are the sincere friends of the German people, and earnestly desire to remain at peace with the government which speaks for them.
During the following week nothing whatever happened to change the situation internationally. The German government then made an effort, through the Swiss legation, which was in charge of its affairs at Washington, to resume peaceful relations, the following being the text of the memorandum addressed to the American government :
The Swiss government has been requested by the German government to say that the latter is now, as before, willing to negotiate, formally or informally, with the United States, provided that the commercial blockade against England will not be broken thereby.
This offer was rejected by President Wilson, whose answer contained the following words :
The government of the United States would gladly discuss with the German government any questions it might propose for discussion were it to withdraw its proclamation of the 31st of January [announcing unrestricted submarine warfare] ... but ... it does not feel that it can enter into any discussion with the German government concerning the policy of submarine warfare against neutrals which it is now pursuing unless and until the German government renews its assurances of the 4th of May, and acts upon this assurance.
No issue could be clearer. Germany was determined to meet the British commercial blockade of Germany with a German commercial blockade of England, while Wilson was insisting that the German blockade be raised, after having receded from his insistence that the British blockade be raised. Until this time, any theory that the President did not yet foresee war must give him credit for a farfetched hope that Germany would consent to abandon permanently her blockade, notwithstanding the refusal of England to abandon her blockade, which in the beginning Wilson had inveighed against on similar grounds and with almost equal vigor. After this there remained not a shadow of an excuse for such a hope. Nevertheless, while moving with deadly accuracy towards war, the President continued to assure the country that he was treading the path of peace.
His next belligerent step came in the request for a grant of power. This step was taken in spite of the virtual promise, given February 3, that no further moves would be made until Germany should commit actual overt acts. In the speech of February 26, indeed, the President admitted that the overt act which I have ventured to hope the German commanders would in fact avoid has not occurred. The hostile nature of the request for a grant of power was covered by another eloquent declaration of pacific purpose, as follows :
There may be no recourse but to armed neutrality, which we shall know how to maintain, and for which there is abundant American precedent. It is devoutly to be hoped that it will not be necessary to put armed forces anywhere into action. The American people do not desire it, and our desire is not different from theirs. ... I am a friend of peace, and mean to preserve it for America as long as I am able. I am not now proposing or contemplating war, or any steps that lead to it. ... No course of my choosing will lead to war. ... I believe that the people will trust me to act with restraint, with prudence, and in the true spirit of amity and good faith that they have themselves displayed throughout these trying months.
But if the President did not expect war to begin when one of his naval crews upon a munitions ship, sighting a submarine, fired upon it, what did he think would happen ?
Had the fighting begun in this way, of course, the claim would have been made that the conflict had been initiated by an act of Germany. Even had this been true, it would not have changed the fact that no surer road to war could have been chosen than the one contemplated.
But it would not have been true. For the Presidents plans were not in any legal sense defensive. Not only was it his purpose to arm the private ships fore and aft, but he had other plans of so aggressive a nature that he attempted, guiltily, to conceal them from Congress. The plan to use submarine chasers had been confided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee only, and when Senator Stone revealed it, there was an uproar against him from Administration supporters. It was also denied that the President intended to arm munitions ships. President Wilson could not but have known that he intended to initiate technical war against Germany; that by the very act of sending the armed ships to sea, under such conditions, he was making a belligerent attack upon a technically friendly power, as clearly so as if he had sent a fleet of battleships to bombard the German coasts.
Throughout the speech of February 26, the President rang the changes upon the idea of American rights. But, under the circumstances planned by him, America would possess no rights whatever, no matter what the merits of the issue with the Kaiser, and would remain altogether in the wrong until a legal declaration of war should be made.
The term, armed neutrality, itself was highly misleading. For there is no precedent, abundant or otherwise, for such an, armed neutrality as was proposed, either in American history or in the history of other countries. An armed neutrality is an alliance of powers banded together to enforce their views of neutral rights on the high seas. In all history there have been but two, that of 1780 and that of 1800. In both cases they came into existence in an effort to curb British lawlessness. Both were failures; both were broken up and the component parts drawn into war itself. During the frantic efforts to put forth a plausible precedent for the Presidents scheme, the action of America in 1798 was called into comparison, and was tarred with the name, armed neutrality. The act of Congress of 1798 was directed against France, which was seizing neutral shipping engaged in the British trade; it empowered the President to take hostile measures on behalf of American shipping. It was this very action which our Attorney-General and our courts interpreted as war, and not neutrality, armed or unarmed. The President put into effect the measures authorized, and war was actually carried on upon the seas for a considerable period. Neither of these cases furnishes a precedent upon which any sane executive would act with a view to preserving peace.
Continuing his protestations of peaceful intention, the President denounced the Senators who defeated the Armed Ships Bill, not on the ground that they had made war more difficult, but on the ground that they had made peace more difficult ! In his inaugural address, March 5, he assured the country: We stand firm in armed neutrality. Whereupon he proceeded to the next hostile step, the arming of the ships.
The first armed ship that the President started for the barred zone was the St. Louis, which belonged to the American Line, a subsidiary to the International Mercantile Marine Company, whose stock control was held in England, and whose financial head in the United States was J.P. Morgan, financial agent of the British government. The beautiful processes of our armed neutrality were pictured by Senator LaFollette in a letter explaining his opposition to the Armed Ships Bill :
Mr. P.A.S. Franklin, whose visits to the Navy Department to secure guns for his ships, whose interview; and movements have been featured as though he were the head and front of the American merchant marine, is the active manager of these combined propertiesBritish, Belgian, and American. When one of the American Line ships, armed with United States guns, sails out to sea, the orders to fire will be given by Mr. Franklins master of the ship, not by the United States gunner. The English owners give orders to Franklin. The English owners take their orders from the British Admiralty. Hence we, professing to be a neutral nation, are placing American guns and American gunners practically under the orders of the British Admiralty.
By April 2, however, matters had progressed so far that President Wilson himself was ready to admit the very worst that had been said, or could be said, about his scheme to save the nation from war. Said he on that date :
Armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable ... because ... it is impossible to defend ships against their [submarines] attacks as the law of nations has assumed that merchantmen would defend themselves. ... Armed neutrality ... is practically certain to draw us into the war.
Which is precisely what he had denounced the wilful twelve for saying.
What had happened to cause the President to see the light ? Had anything happened to test the practicability of his armed neutrality? Not one of his armed ships had yet met a submarine !
The enormity of the thing can be grasped only when it is remembered that the end of the 64th Congress was near. The Armed Ships Bill reached the House and Senate sixty-eight and fifty hours, respectively, before adjournment. Meanwhile, Administration leaders had delayed many important bills, among them the great appropriation bills. What deduction is to be drawn from this except that there was a studied purpose to limit debate and rush the bill through along with necessary bills, at the last moment, to let Congress go, leaving the President in control of the situation, with the country confident of his intent for peace, while he stood clothed with the power and intent to make war ? What other conclusion is possible except that the term, armed neutrality, was chosen only because it sounded like peace, and for the moment served to cloak a belligerent purpose ?
The defeat of the Armed Ships Bill prevented the plan from working in exactly that way. But the end was reached by a slightly different path. The President began by sending the armed ships to sea without authorization. Forced to call an extra session, he at first set the date for April 16, when it was to be expected that the first gun would have been fired in defense of an American merchant ship attacked by a submarine, and that it would then be possible to inform Congress that we were already at war by virtue of aggression on the part of Germany.
The order to our naval crews was to fire at sight. But, whether by design or accident, German submarines kept out of sight. The arming of the ships served its purpose, nevertheless; for it rendered an ultimate clash certain. Since war was assured, to stand for peace was to stand for the enemy; to stand for war was to stand for the country; to stand behind the President was to stand for war.
The press finished the businessthe press, the suddenly swarming patriotic societies, the suddenly awakened councils of defense, the suddenly omnipresent Department of Justice. It is true that the leaders of the people proved to be for war. The public was confused, frightened, disorganized; the cry for war deafened every other sounduntil, presently, the President dared call Congress for an earlier date, dared confess his armed neutrality impracticable, dared acknowledge the fraudulent nature of all of his pacific utterances, from February 3 on, by going back for his casus belli to the German proclamation of January 31 announcing unrestricted submarine warfare.
THE 1916 ELECTION
When I have made a promise as a man I try to keep it, and I know of no other rule permissible to a nation. The most distinguished nation in the world is the nation that can and will keep its promises, even to its own hurt.Woodrow Wilson, in address at Philadelphia, July 4, 1914.
BRITISH statesmen agree with the conclusion that the responsibility for Americas participation in the war rests first upon Woodrow Wilson, even that the President plotted war long before it was possible to bring it about. Here are three quotations from leading members of the British government, made in speeches in the British Parliament, April 18, 1917, acclaiming Americas participation :
A twice-elected President, representing 100,000,000 people of the most peace-loving and least aggressive nation of the earth, has summoned his people to arms with a trumpet call.Earl Curzon.
What, then, has enabled the President, after waiting with the patience which Pitt described as the first virtue of statesmanshipto carry with him a united nation into the hazards and horrors of the greatest war in history ?Mr. Asquith.
The difficulties with which President Wilson has been confronted in the last two and one-half years have not been sufficiently appreciated in this country. He had to keep the nation united and bring it united into the war. He had to deal with a people who had a deep-seated and ineradicable hatred of war. To bring the United States into the war was to make them go against one of the deepest instincts of the soul of the race.John Dillon.
The speech of the Honorable John Dillon is a polite suggestion that the President consciously deceived the American people for two and one-half years, with a view ultimately to bringing it into the war on the side of England.
The fact that the most emphasized war motives claimed by the Administration after April, 1917 (a crusade against German autocracy, militarism and imperialism), run far back of two and one-half yearsfar back even of 1914gives ground for the Dillon theory. For any assumption that these professed motives were sincere would necessarily include an admission either that the President planned war on Germany during all the period in which he was promising peace, or that he was profoundly ignorant of what was going on in the world prior to August, 1914, as well as subsequently to that time.
During the first several months following August, 1914, however, President Wilson apparently had no idea of involving America in the European struggle. He not only declared repeatedly that the war was no business of ours, that its causes could not touch us, that America could not be endangered by it, that we had no interest in its outcome, that war was invariably futile, anyhow; not only suggested that both sides were at fault, and urged many reasons why America could best serve the world by holding aloof, but acted accordingly; he opposed preparedness, and took a high and far-seeing stand in announcing that Wall Street loans to either side would be inconsistent with the spirit of neutrality.
It is interesting to recall that, in the Congressional campaign of 1914, President Wilson was claiming votes for his party on his stand on the war loan question. In the Democratic Congressional campaign book of that year appears an extended explanation by Secretary of State Bryan of the Wilson position. Said the Secretary in part :
It is inconsistent with the spirit of neutrality for a neutral nation to make loans to belligerent nations, for money is the worst of contrabandsit commands all other things. A very forcible illustration has been used in support of this proposition, namely, that, as a neutral government does all in its power to discourage its citizens from enlisting in the armies of other countries, it should discourage those who, by loaning money, would do more harm than they could do by enlisting. The government withdraws the protection of citizenship from those who enlist under other flagswhy should it give protection to money when it enters into foreign military service ? There is only one answer.
Could this argument be sound in 1914, and unsound in 1915 ?
President Wilsons first reversal on the war occurred when he gave his consent to the first Anglo-French loan. From this moment his war-deceptions began. In his annual message to Congress, December 7, 1915, he declared: We have stood apart studiously neutral. It was our manifest duty to do so. But, in withdrawing his opposition to the Anglo-French loan, had he, or had he not, violated his own interpretation of neutrality ? From the arrangement of that first loan, also, dates the Wilson deviation in general from equal treatment of the opposing sides, which is the essence of neutrality.
Mr. Wilsons second notable reversal on the war was, no doubt, a direct consequence of the first. In 1914 and during a part of 1915 he had been against any noticeable increase in the army or navy establishments. But when Wall Street began loaning large sums to the Entente, the President suddenly became a preparedness convert. In the early months of 1916 he toured the country on the preparedness issue.
From early in 1915, the Presidents diplomacy had been at variance with the pacific utterances made to his own people. His first submarine note to Germany was a threat. But his attitude towards England was almost equally threatening. Not until the first months of 1916, when he reversed himself on essential points in the dispute with both sides, swinging into a position less out of harmony with England, and of greater hostility towards Germany, was it quite plain that he contemplated war with Germany. In his handling of the armed ships question, early in 1916, he notified both Germany and America that he was willing to go to war in defense of his stand upon this issue.
Shortly afterwards, the President put his preparedness programme through Congress. This programme included the National Defense Act, providing for a council of national defense in time of national danger. It included other measures hardly conceivable by any administration not seriously contemplating war in the near future.
In a letter dated April 15, 1917, and read in the House of Representatives, Attorney-General Gregory revealed the fact that long before we entered the war his department, in anticipation of war, had begun to strengthen and build up its bureau of investigation.
In spite of all such circumstances, except to a few of us, the war came like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, with stunning and inexplicable suddenness. How did the President manage it ? How (Mr. Asquiths question) did he solve the difficulties with which he was confronted in the two and one-half years before April, 1917 ? How did he deal with the most peace-loving and least aggressive nation on earth, in order to carry it into the hazards and horrors of the greatest war in history?
The answer is that the tactics followed throughout were the same as those described in the preceding chapter. The President sought to create the impression that his preparedness measures were for peace, instead of war; that his diplomacy was calculated to preserve the peace, instead of getting us into the war. Only after the fighting was over did we learn that the advisory commission of the Council of National Defense, consisting of seven men, had secretly worked out the details of the war legislation months before war was declared, and at a time when the President was still promising to keep the country out of war. (Report of Rep. W.J. Graham, chairman, Select Committee on Expenditures in War Department, July 7, 1919.)
Finally, in his September treaty tour (1919), in boasting that he waited on the American people a long time before calling for the war declaration, the President himself acknowledged, in effect, that he had been contemplating war at the very time that he was solemnly asserting the contrary.
As an incident in the Presidential policy indicated, occurred the election of 1916. President Wilson chose the issue of 1916. As is generally known, he absolutely dominated his party convention of that year. He approved the selection of ex-Governor Glynn of New York as temporary chairman, and in uttering the keynote speech Glynn was simply Wilsons mouthpiece. The paramount issue of the campaign, as laid down by Glynn, was that the United States is constrained by the traditions of its past, by the logic of its present, and by the promise of its future, to hold itself apart from the conflict that now devastates the nations across the seas.
The Glynn keynote speech was nothing more nor less than a defense, an historical justification, and a glorification of the policy of American neutrality, which he asserted President Wilson had faithfully followed and would continue to follow. The Glynn speech may be found in the Congressional Record of June 15, 1916. It was a masterpiece of convincing eloquence and historical data. It was printed by hundreds of thousands, and distributed throughout the country. It furnished the material for thousands of campaign speeches. It furnished the basis for the Wilson campaign, and next to Wilsons personal utterances, was undoubtedly a determining factor in his election.
It ought to be obvious that an executive can hardly be credited with keeping his country out of war when a vast majority of his own people are definitely against war, when the other party to the dispute is anxious to avoid war, and when the only factors favoring war are a small minority of his own people and the influence of certain interested foreign governments. The truth is that it is doubtful whether President Wilson could have departed farther than he did from neutrality, or proceeded towards war any faster than he did, without jeopardizing his control of the country and encompassing his own defeat in the election of 1916.
Wilsons belligerent recordhis insistence on courses of procedure highly calculated to embroil us in the European strugglewere well known to his political enemies in the campaign of 1916. Why, then, did they not explode the myth of his having kept us out of war, demolish his paramount issue, and so insure the defeat of Wilson ?
The answer simply is that the dominant faction in the Republican party approved of this part of the Wilson record; they and their candidate had taken a frankly belligerent position, and an exposure of Wilsons spurious pacifism would have placed them in a ridiculous situation.
Although President Wilson did not keep us out of war, he did lead us into war, and with the material assistance of our leading peace advocates. Although Mr. Hughes was more frankly inclined towards belligerency than was Wilson, it is barely possible that, had Hughes been elected, the history of America and of the world might have been somewhat different from 1917 on. For had Wilson failed of reëlection, he would have had much more difficulty in executing the various belligerent steps, taken between February 1 and March 4, which were such important factors in the attainment of war in April. Hughes, moreover, on assuming charge March 4, would have faced a decidedly less pliant Congress than did Wilson. For in his approach towards belligerency, the Democratic Senators and Representatives gave Wilson more trouble than did the Republicans. Had Wilsons demand for a declaration of war failed, it would have been a party calamity. But had the demand come from a Republican President, it is not unlikely that he would have been opposed not only by such Progressive Republicans as opposed Wilson, but by the Democratic party as a group. Again, neither the public nor Congress would ever have been misled as to the aims of Hughes, to the extent that they were misled as to the aims of Wilson. It seems certain, at least, that a longer period of preparation would have been necessary.
But had America not entered the European war in April, 1917, or very soon thereafter, it is not improbable that the war would have ended in that year. (See Chapter XXVI.) If this judgment is correct, it was by the votes of pacifists that America went to war, and by the votes of pacifists that world peace failed in 1917.
There is no intention here to reflect upon the good faith of the gentlemen who in past years were notable in their advocacy of peace. But a reflection upon their intelligence is in order, since, while assuming to be students of modern statesmanship, they overlooked the first trick in the trade of statesmenduplicity. Our leading peace advocates took Wilson at his word. Worse than that, they paid attention only to such words as pleased them. They overlooked other words that contradicted the pleasing words, as well as his action in the matter of preparedness, his maneuvers in the armed ships dispute, and, above all, his telltale diplomacy.