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Chapter 27

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Woodrow Wilson

Josephus Daniels

in the
Greenwood Press edition,
New York, 1971

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 29
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p298  Chapter XXVIII
The President in Europe

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© U. & U.º

At the St. Germain Conference

The Chief Executive arriving at the Castle of St. Germain, where the terms of the Allied Peace Treaty were handed to the Germans. The President is accompanied by his personal medical adviser, Rear-Admiralº Cary T. Grayson, U. S. N.

Unparalleled welcome everywhere — People's hopes hung on Wilson — From first to last his one thought was to secure League of Nations — European diplomats delayed conference — Accessible to representatives of small nations — Well supplied with advice — The battle royal and Wilson's victory on the main issues.

It was a shell-shocked Europe that awaited Wilson when he was piped down the gangplank of the George Washington as his ship landed in Brest on December 13, 1918. But it was an expectant Europe. The coming of Wilson was hailed by the people as they had welcomed no other man in centuries. He set foot on French soil amid a demonstration of popular enthusiasm that was unequalled even from the emotional and patriotic French people. Warships and land batteries roared their salute. The official and popular welcome in Brest gave promise of the historic reception at the French capital on the morrow.

Paris had been in holiday attire to welcome many of the world's heroes, but the reception to Wilson was without parallel. It was a greeting, not alone by Poincaré and Clemenceau and the dignitaries and the victorious men of the army. They gave it official éclat. It was the pouring out of the heart of the French people to the American President, who in the darkest hour of French history had saved France. That feeling was in every  p299 heart as Poincaré and Wilson drove down the Champs Elysees. Women in black waved their gratitude and maimed soldiers made him feel their thanks. It was these evidences that touched Wilson more than the pomp and circumstance. It humbled him, too. He had come to Paris with the high emprise to free the Frenchmen and all people from the dread and tragedy of war. Could his desire and their hopes be realized?

Responding to Poincaré's official address, Wilson said: "From the first, the thought of the people of the United States turned toward something more than the mere winning of the war. It turned to the establishment of eternal principles of right and justice."

Replying to the welcome of the Socialist delegation, December 16, he outlined the things to be done, saying: "This has indeed been a peoples' war. It has been waged against absolutism and militarism, and these enemies of liberty must from this time forth be shut out from the possibility of working their cruel will upon mankind. In my judgment, it is not sufficient to establish this principle. It is necessary that it should be supported by a co‑operation of the nations which shall be based upon fixed and definite covenants, and which shall be made certain of effective action through the instrumentality of a League of Nations."

Functions and dinners and luncheons and honors followed in quick succession, every courtesy being extended to President and Mrs. Wilson. They were to live while in Paris at the residence of Prince Murat, one of the most magnificent homes in Paris. It was here that Wilson was to receive the delegations from all the little peoples of Europe, as well as the great. Here he was to hear appeals to be given the right of "slow-working"  p300 by small nations which had never known that boon. He was inaccessible to many of the mighty, but not to the representatives of peoples yearning for a chance of the live their own lives. Here the Big Four were to meet, to debate, to differ, to plan, and finally to agree in its essentials upon the Wilson Peace he had laid down in the terms upon which the German Army ceased fighting.

But that was of the future. For the present — he was to have the disappointment of delay when a suffering world demanded action.

President Wilson had hurried from Washington with the purpose to have the peace treaty and the association of nations agreed upon without delay. The Allies had officially agreed upon the chief terms when they accepted peace on the basis of Wilson's Fourteen Points and stipulated additions. It was a simple matter to put these in shape and let the work of rebuilding the nations go forward. To his regret he found that Lloyd George had "gone to the country" in his khaki election and must await the result and reorganization before Great Britain could be represented at Paris. European statesmen had accepted Wilson's altruistic plans in their eagerness to see the end of fighting. Almost any terms to bring peace would have accepted. Later study of what they had so hurriedly agreed to disclosed that the peace terms would work revolution in all previous ideas of peace treaties. They would prevent the garnering of any of the spoils of war. Their countries wished colonies and indemnities and territory and sea power and concessions, particularly in oil and other natural resources. Some diplomats, eager to grasp every possible advantage for their respective countries, feared to see Wilson go into  p301 the conference with all the prestige which had come to him as the leader of the American people and the fashioner of peace. They played for time. Every pretext for delay was employed. And while the opening of the conference was being delayed, the effort was made to incline Wilson to a severe peace. To this end, he was urged, almost commanded by the intensity of the requests, to visit the devastated sections of France. He knew that France had suffered terribly, and he had come to Paris to alleviate such sufferings and to make their renewal impossible. He never departed from that purpose or lacked sympathy for France's grievous losses. But he did not believe France could be fully compensated without imposing a burden that would be destructive to Europe's recovery. He did then what is now being attempted after four years of travail — called for a determination of Germany's capacity to pay. The experts reported to him that Germany was able to pay and should pay a sum not less than ten billion or more than fifteen billion dollars. He sensed the large gain which would result from a speedy and final appraisement of what would be required of Germany. But he was overruled and the world has paid in innumerable deaths and boundless suffering because his wise counsel was not accepted.

January 18 was finally fixed as the day upon which the Peace Conference was to assemble. Pending that time the following commissions were organized: On the League of Nations, on Responsibility for the War, on Reparation, on International Labor Legislation, and on International Control. There were other commissions, but those named were the more important ones. The necessity for a large body of expert opinion had been foreseen  p302 and there went along with the Commission to Negotiate Peace a group of the ablest experts in the United States including financiers, historians, specialists in economics, international law and colonial questions and in other matters that were likely to come up at a congress when a new map of Europe was to be made. The President, always forehanded, called a conference of these experts on board the George Washington and reminded them how dependent he was upon them. "You are my advisers," he said. "When I ask you for information I will have no way of checking it up, and must act upon it unquestioningly. We will be deluged with claims plausibly and convincingly presented. It will be your task to establish the truth or falsity of these claims out of your specialized knowledge, so that my position may be taken fairly and intelligently."

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Photo. U. & U.º

The American Commission to Negotiate Peace

The full personnel of the American Commission taken at their headquarters, Hotel Crillon, Paris, just before the signing of peace. In the front row, from left to right, are: Col. E. M. House, Robert Lansing, President Wilson, Henry White, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Tasker H. Bliss

It was charged that the President did not sufficiently take counsel with his advisers. "The fault, if any, was really on the other side," says Ray Stannard Baker, who was with Wilson in Paris. "He tried too hard to get every angle, every point of view — he was tempted to wait too long to be absolutely sure of facts upon which he must base his decisions."

After committing to his associates the task of making a study of the questions to be considered by the Conference, so that upon his return to Paris he would be fortified by facts, President Wilson, with Mrs. Wilson, accepted an invitation to visit England. But before that on Christmas Day he reviewed the American troops at Chaumont. A soldier himself, the Commander-in‑Chief, he looked upon the victorious army with pride and satisfaction. It was at Chaumont Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pershing had maintained headquarters and there plans for America's large  p303 part in the war were laid. It interested the President to follow the charts showing how the plans had been worked out, to greet the soldiers, and to give them America's gratitude. He went from Chaumont to Calais, where he took ship for Dover. His arrival at that ancient seaport, on the morning of December 26, was signalized by the firing of a royal salute and the path to the train was strewn with petals of roses. At Charing Cross station Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were greeted by King George, Queen Mary, Princess Mary, Premier Lloyd George and other members of the British Cabinet.

"The great moment of President Wilson's first day in England," says the Associated Press account, "was when he stood with the King and Queen and Mrs. Wilson in the balcony of Buckingham Palace today (December 26) facing a multitude which stretched down the Mall to the Admiralty, half a mile distant, and overflowed St. James Park on one side and Green Park on the other. Only a corporal's guard could hear the President's brief speech, but the people, who had demanded that he show himself, gave him a greeting more clamorous than to any other guest of the nation within the memory of the oldest Londoners."

On the night of December 27 a great banquet was given at Buckingham Palace, where, says the same news association's story, royal formality which had attended epochal occasions at the palace for 200 years was carried out. The President gave utterance to the mission which had brought him to Europe, saying: "There is a great tide running in the hearts of men. The hearts of men have never beaten so singularly in unison before. Men have never been so conscious of their brotherhood. Men have never before realized how little difference there was  p304 between right and justice in one latitude and in another, under one sovereignty and under another.

And it will be our high privilege, I believe, not only to apply the moral judgment of the world to the particular settlements which we shall attempt, but also to organize the moral force of the world to preserve those settlements, to steady the forces of mankind, and to make the right and the justice to which great nations like our own have devoted themselves the predominant and controlling force of the world."

The next day he spoke at historic Guildhall, and added this interpretation of his mission: "The peoples of the world want peace, and they want it now," he said, "not merely by conquest of wars but by agreement of mind. It was this incomparably great object that brought me overseas. It has never before been deemed excusable for a President of the United States to leave the territory of the United States, but I know that I have the support of the judgment of my colleagues in the government of the United States in saying that it was my paramount duty to turn away, even from the imperative task at home, to lend such counsel and aid as I could to this great, may I not say, final enterprise of humanity."

Leaving London, Wilson journeyed to Carlisle, where his grandfather, Dr. Thomas Woodrow, preached for many years and where his mother was born. December 30 he was received with great acclaim at Manchester. Then back to Paris. Two weeks more remained before the slow-working European diplomats would be ready for the Peace Conference. Brief consultations followed with some of the American experts, and then Mr. and Mrs. Wilson departed, January 1, for Rome.

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Photo. Kadell & Herbert

President and Mrs. Wilson with the King and Queen of Belgium

It would be difficult to imagine a more distinguished group than that composed of the President of the United States at the topmost pinnacle of his power and influence and the heroic soldier king of Belgium with their faithful helpmates

 p305  The trip through Italy was a continuous ovation by day, and at night bonfires marked the route of the presidential train. Arriving at the Italian border the Americans were met by aides of King Victor Emmanuel and conducted to a royal train in waiting. At the station in Rome the President and Mrs. Wilson were received by King Victor Emmanuel and Queen Helena, members of the government and representatives of the city authorities. Immense crowds greeted them at every public appearance. They lunched with the Queen Mother, Margherita, and were the guests of honor at a reception given by Parliament. Roman citizen­ship was conferred upon him and he was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Science. The Pope granted him a long interview, presenting him with a surpassingly beautiful and historical mosaic.

In his speech in Rome, January 3, at the Chamber of Deputies, Mr. Wilson, referring again to his plan for world peace, said: "Our task at Paris is to organize the friendship of the world, to see to it that all the moral forces that make for right and justice and liberty are united and are given a vital organization to which the peoples of the world will readily and gladly respond. . . . We know that there cannot be another balance of power."

As President Wilson visited the Sacred Way in Rome, Boni pointed out the tomb of Romulus​a and other sacred places, and presenting him with branches of laurel and myrtle, said: "Today I offer these symbols to you, the upholder of the freedom and civilization of peoples." Wilson replied: "These sacred symbols speak a great and profound language." The great archaeologist replied: "You Americans have something more sacred still, but you carry it in your heart — love for humanity."

 p306  Speaking at Turin, making reply to Baron Sonnino's argument for the extension of the sovereignty of Italy over the Italian population, President Wilson said facetiously, "I am sorry we cannot let you have New York, which I understand is the greatest Italian city in the world," and he added: "I am proud to be President of a nation which contains so large an element of the Italian race, because as a student of literature I know the genius that has originated in this great nation, the genius of thought and of poetry and of philosophy and of music, and I am happy to be a part of a nation which is enriched and made better by the introduction of such elements of genius and inspiration."

When the Peace Conference assembled, Mr. Wilson as the lone exponent of the principle of "self-determination," had war on his hands from the beginning. The great figures at the conference besides himself were, of course, the premiers of the governments actively associated with the United States in the war — Lloyd George, of England; Clemenceau, of France; and Orlando, of Italy. These, with Mr. Wilson, were the Big Four.

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U. S. Official Photograph

The Big Four

Premier Lloyd George, Premier Orlando, Premier Clemenceau and President Wilson

Clemenceau was a nationalist, of an extreme type. In the early stages of the conference he was frequently opposed to the altruistic aims for which Wilson contended, induced thereto by his passion for the safety of France. However, when Lloyd George and Wilson agreed to recommend to their governments that both nations should come to the aid of France in case it was invaded, the old Tiger gave adhesion to Wilson's policies which he had first opposed. Upon his recommendation France joined the League of Nations.

Lloyd George, at heart a sincere believer in world peace, was always with Wilson when he followed his  p307 liberal instinct. But the head of a coalition cabinet wishing colonies and concessions, he was one day himself and the next day an imperialist. What has been called dexterity in Lloyd George is chiefly to be attributed to the conflicting influences controlling his country. Mr. Baker, who was a close and discriminating observer, says: "Lloyd George was powerfully on one side one day and powerfully on the other the next; but on the whole and in the great main issues he sided with the President." Great Britain's dominant resolve to maintain its supremacy as mistress of the seas and its colonial ambitions and necessities impelled him to demands which in some cases Mr. Wilson could not favor. But his unbounded optimism and his faith were only less valuable in the conference than Wilson's idealism and firmness.

Orlando was a liberal in his own views, but he had to consider the attitude of reactionaries at home. They were near at hand and could make their influence felt in Paris more effectually than like influences in America could bring pressure to bear on Wilson. The demand for Fiume and for territory, coming up from Rome, made his position very difficult.

Wilson had the task of preventing the untoward influences of the old time European diplomacy from controlling the Conference. He was not fully able to give the transactions of the body the lofty tone which he had hoped to give it. But he influenced it powerfully toward policies that made for enduring peace. Often his liberal ideas came into conflict with the imperialistic aims of the European diplomats. He always championed them with power, and in many of the forensic encounters came off the victor.

One of the clashes in which he showed the stuff of  p308 which he was made was over the disposition of the German colonies. England, France, and Italy saw opportunity to add to their territorial possessions and made ready to grasp it, with plans all worked out and ready for approval by the Conference. Wilson insisted that the first thing to determine was what the people in the colonies wanted and what the peoples of the world favored. He invoked the fifth of his famous "Fourteen Points," which declared that "the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined." He did not obtain all he fought for — concessions were made to both France and Japan — but, in the main, he did achieve a victory and one of the sections of the peace treaty embodies his proposals for mandatories where peoples were not prepared for self-government.

The main thing that President Wilson went to Paris for was to have a League of Nations written into the Peace Treaty. He saw in such an organization the only sure way for the prevention of another world war which he felt would mean the destruction of civilization. As chairman of the Commission on the League of Nations he framed, with the aid of experts, the Covenant of the League and was instrumental in having a Plenary Session of the Peace Conference adopt a resolution declaring that the League should be treated as an integral part of the general treaty of peace.

Then he sailed for the United States to sign the bills of an expiring Congress, carrying with him the constitution of the League. During his absence in America, the League had been removed from the program of the conference and there was about to be concluded a preliminary peace with the League to come up afterwards.

 p309  This disturbing information reached him just before he sailed from New York. When he heard it he made this declaration as he was embarking for Paris: "When that treaty comes back, gentlemen on this side will find the Covenant not only in it, but so many threads of the Treaty tied to the Covenant that you cannot dissect it from the Treaty without destroying the whole vital structure. They were in his mind one and inseparable, and he believed that united they afforded the only assurance of a permanent association for peace.

The day after his arrival in Paris he issued the following statement:

"The President said today that the decision made at the Peace Conference in its plenary session, January 25, 1919, to the effect that the establishment of a League of Nations should be made an integral part of the Treaty of Peace, is of final force and that there is no basis whatever for the reports that a change in this decision was contemplated."

There followed a sharp passage-at‑arms with Clemenceau and Lloyd George, who were indignant that their decision had been revoked. Wilson's argument was unanswerable. There could be no real and lasting peace without a means of administering it. The means lay and lay only in a League of Nations. The President won his fight. His declaration that the agreement of January 25 would not be reconsidered was made good. March 26, twelve days after he had returned from the United States, it was announced that Covenant of the League of Nations would be an integral part of the treaty.

"Contrary to the assertions spread by the German press and taken up by other foreign newspapers, we believe that the French government has no annexationist  p310 pretensions, openly or under cover, in regard to any territory inhabited by a German population. This remark applies particularly to the regions comprised between the frontier of 1871 and the frontier of 1914."

That item, headed "France's Claims," appeared in Le Temps, April 8, 1919. On April 7 President Wilson had directed the Secretary of the Navy to order the George Washington to sail for Brest. The announcement of that order created consternation in Paris. There was an immediate connection between the appearance of the editorial and the Presidential order. Mr. Wilson had become exasperated by the French and British greed for annexations. He resolved not to be a party to plans contrary to his principles. His sending for the George Washington was an impressive gesture that brought disavowal of imperialistic plans. He did not sail for America. It wasn't necessary. The article in Le Temps was the signal for a general reduction of territorial demands.

Perhaps the most dramatic occurrence of the Peace Conference, certainly the one with the most dramatic dénouement, was Wilson's announcement of his position on the claims of Italy to Fiume. He firmly gave it as his opinion that Italy had no just claim on this port and did not need it while Jugo-Slavia did. A large part of the Italian delegation became incensed and withdrew from the conference. Wilson was not unyielding. He was willing to agree to international control for Fiume. The Italians, however, would not agree to that. This was one decision in which Wilson had the support, though tacit (the hot end of the poker being as usual left for him), of the most of his associates. In fact the pact of London had withheld Fiume from Italy.

 p311  Jugo-Slavia had been set up by the Conference as an independent nation. Many of its people had been forced to fight with the Central Empires. The understanding mass of the people had been in sympathy with the Allies' cause. Having decreed that they should have a nation of their own on the principle of self-determination, Wilson felt that it was necessary that they should have a seaport, both for commercial reasons and to maintain the independent existence given them. He had made one of the conditions of peace that Italia irredenta, long under foreign rule, should go back to Italy. He wished Italy strengthened but not at the expense of the new nation of Jugo-Slavia.

The President suffered more mental anguish over the Shantung settlement than over any of the other dispositions made by the Peace Conference. The award of the peninsula to Japan was in conformity with the treaty made by England and France with that country when Japan entered the war. Wilson wished Shantung to be restored to China and insisted upon it, but Lloyd George and Clemenceau were in position to resist Japan's claim to all German territory taken in the Far East, this having been promised in the treaty. Wilson did, however, secure an agreement by Japan that it would later restore Shantung in full sovereignty to China. Japan has kept its promise.

The story of the trials of the five months before the treaty was signed tells of the evolution from ancient diplomacy to a large measure of new and juster ideals of making peace. The clashes of interest and the clashes of inherited national jealousies marked the deliberations and delayed the conclusions. Clemenceau and Lloyd George and Orlando were pressed by nationalist aims and ambitions.  p312 In spite of radical differences in the beginning, however, these four great men emerged from the conference with mutual respect. More than that, they reached, with all its defects, a working agreement where all the controverted issues might be properly adjusted in the League of Nations they were setting up.

It was on June 28 in the same imperial​b hall where the Germans had humbled the French forty-eight years before, that the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Though some of the American Peace Commissioners had differed with President Wilson during the making of the treaty, the instrument bore the names of all: Woodrow Wilson, Robert Lansing, Edward M. House, Henry White, Tasker H. Bliss.

The setting typified its importance. It lacked the perfection denied to all human productions, but it was shot through with Wilson's idealism.

The League of Nations it set up was the first concrete international plan of permanent peace. With America's participation, it guaranteed peace and justice and stability. The American President had won the great thing for which he went to Paris, and had cause for satisfaction as he signed his name to the Treaty.

Wilson set sail for home.

Thayer's Notes:

a Calling what Giacomo Boni, the excavator of the Roman Forum, showed President Wilson "the Tomb of Romulus" is a stretch. No remains of any tomb of the semi-mythical founder of Rome have been recognized; what Wilson was shown, was the Comitium and the Lapis Niger, in the immediate area of which ancient commentators on Horace, apparently quoting a text by Varro that has not survived, state that Romulus must have been buried: see Christian Hülsen on the Sepulchrum Romuli. Still, these details are a bit of a quibble: the Lapis Niger is the very heart of the Roman Forum, at the beginning of the Via Sacra and does qualify as the most sacred ancient space of the City. (The reader should not confuse this "Tomb of Romulus" with the scant remains of the Temple of Romulus, also on the Via Sacra in the Roman Forum, although in a peripheral area — which is dedicated not to the founder of Rome, but to a figure of very minor historical importance, the son of the emperor Maxentius.)

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b The word "imperial" is a bit of grandiloquence, not to be taken literally; "royal" would have been better. The palace at Versailles was that of the French kings.

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