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Chapter 30

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.
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Chapter 32

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p326  Chapter XXXI
An Appeal to Caesar

"The only people I owe any report to are you and other citizens" — Goes joyfully on speaking trip for the Covenant — It takes him to the Pacific coast — Article X — Shantung — Entangling alliances — Prophecy of entry "into pastures of quietness and peace"

"All the world is looking to us for inspiration and leader­ship, and we will not deny it to them." — Wilson

It was not long before his return to Europe before Mr. Wilson was convinced that he must make an "appeal to Caesar" to secure ratification of the Treaty. He was confirmed in this opinion after his conference in the White House with members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and the methods of delay and opposition manifested in the Senate.

His duty was plain to him and he set about it with the fixed resolve to undertake it if it killed him. He gave expression to that feeling in Omaha, September 8, saying: "If I felt that I personally in any way stood in the way of this settlement, I would be glad to die that it might be consummated." Death never had terrors for Woodrow Wilson. Failure to do his duty alone troubled his spirit. In the White House his decision was received with anxious acquiescence. His wife and physician knew the peril and feared he was not equal to the tax on his vitality. Members of the Cabinet sought to dissuade him from the strain. "I must go," was his reply to one of them.  p327 "You are much mistaken. It will be no strain on me — on the contrary, it will be a relief to meet the people. No, the speeches will not tax me. The truth is, I am saturated with the subject and am spoiling to tell the people all about the Treaty. I will enjoy it."

In a sense, seeing the mañana and hostile policy of the Senate leaders, it was a relief to get out of Washington into the free air of the open West where the people would wish only to hear the truth, and as the triumph of the trip proved, to hear it gladly. Wilson "set sail" (he was fond of using naval terms) happily on his last trip. If he had any premonitions that he was not robust enough for the trip he kept them to himself. After the decision was made, he was blithe and happy, for he was never quite so rejoiced as when, all preparations made, he was in a fight for a cause that gripped him. The thought of the trip exhilarated him.

Beginning at Columbus, Ohio, September 4, he spoke every day and night until he was stricken on the way to Wichita, Kansas, on the 26th day of September. "I have for a long time chafed at the confinement of Washington," he said in his first public appeal for popular support for the League. "I have for a long time wished to fulfil the purpose with which my heart was full when I returned to our beloved country — to go out and report to my fellow countrymen concerning these affairs of the world which now need to be settled. The only people I owe any report to are you and the other citizens of the United States." The President seemed in fine fettle as he spoke freely what was in his mind and heart. It required a volume of nearly 400 pages to contain the speeches of that last journey, and it may be doubted if so much of philosophy and sincerity and wisdom has before been compressed in speeches in a  p328 "swing around the circle," as presidential tours are called. To be sure the theme — World Peace — was the biggest subject Americans had considered.

Washington's admonition against "entangling alliances" had taken deep root. Many did not at first appreciate that what Wilson was trying to do was to rid the world of such "alliances" as Washington wished Americans to avoid. He had to correct that inherited opinion and get men and women to think in world terms. To those quoting Washington's wise course as to the United States becoming involved in European Alliances, Mr. Wilson at Los Angeles, September 20, made this answer:

"You know, you have been told, that Washington advised us against entangling alliances, and gentlemen have used that as an argument against the League of Nations. What Washington had in mind was exactly what these gentlemen want to lead us back to. The day we have left behind was a day of alliances. It was a day of balances of power. It was a day of 'every nation take care of itself, or make a partner­ship with some other nation or group of nations to hold the peace of the world steady or to dominate the weaker portions of the world.' Those were the days of alliances. This project of the League of Nations is a great process of disentanglement."

What were the arguments Wilson used in his fight as he met the people face to face? What did he think the Covenant contained that made its ratification mean more than anything else or everything else? Here is the basis of the new idea as he unfolded it at Columbus, Ohio:

"If I were to state what seems to me the central idea of this treaty, it would be this: It is almost a discovery in international conventions that nations do not consist  p329 of their governments, but consist of their people. That is a rudimentary idea. It seems to us in America to go without saying, but it was never the leading idea in any other international congress that I ever heard of; that is to say, any international congress made up of the representatives of governments. They were always thinking of national policy, of national advantage, of the rivalries of trade, of the advantages of territorial conquest. There is nothing of that in this treaty. You will notice that even the territories which are taken away from Germany, like her colonies, are not given to anybody."

He was returning again and again to an explanation of Article X, against which most serious objection was made. Indeed, many people were made to believe that Article X, which Mr. Wilson called "the heart of the Covenant," was some Frankenstein that would destroy American independence. Article X is in these words:

"The members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled."

A book might be made up of Wilson's explanations and arguments in support of that provision. Perhaps nowhere in all his writings and speeches was he happier in presenting it to the clear understanding of the average man than at Indianapolis, September 4, when he said:

"You have heard a great deal about Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Article X speaks  p330 the conscience of world. Article X is the article which goes to the heart of this whole bad business, for that article says, that the members of this league (that is intended to be all the great nations of the world) engage to respect and to preserve against all external aggression the territorial integrity and political independence of the nations concerned. That promise is necessary in order to prevent this sort of war from recurring, and we are absolutely discredited if we fought this war and then neglect the essential safeguard against it. You have heard it said, my fellow citizens, that we are robbed of some degree of our sovereign, independent choice by articles of that sort. Every man who makes a choice to respect the rights of his neighbors deprive himself of absolute sovereignty, but he does it by promising never to do wrong, and I can not for one see anything that troubles me of any inherent right that I ought to retain when I promise that I will do right, when I promise that I will respect the thing which, being disregarded and violated, brought on a war in which millions of men lost their lives, in which the civilization of mankind was in the balance, in which there was the most outrageous exhibition ever witnessed in the history of mankind of the rapacity and disregard for right of a great armed people.

"We engage in the first sentence of Article X to respect and preserve from external aggression the territorial integrity and the existing political independence not only of the other member States, but of all States, and if any member of the League of Nations disregards that promise, then what happens? The council of the league advises what should be done to enforce respect for the covenant on the part of the nation  p331 attempting to violate it, and there is no compulsion upon us to take that advice except the compulsion of our good conscience and judgment. It is perfectly evident that if, in the judgment of the people of the United States the council adjudged wrong and that this was not a case for the use of force, there would be no necessity on the part of the Congress of the United States to vote the use of force. But there could be no advice of the council on any such subject without a unanimous vote, and the unanimous vote includes our own, and if we accepted the advice we would be accepting our own advice. For I need not tell you that the representatives of the Government of the United States would not vote without instructions from their Government at home, and that what we united in advising we could be certain that the American people would desire to do. There is in that covenant not only not a surrender of the independent judgment of the Government of the United States, but an expression of it, because that independent judgment would have to join with the judgment of the rest.

"But when is that judgment going to be expressed, my fellow citizens? Only after it is evident that every other resource has failed, and I want to call your attention to the central machinery of the League of Nations. If any member of that League, or any nation not a member, refuses to submit the question at issue either to arbitration or to discussion by the council, there ensues automatically by the engagements of this covenant an absolute economic boycott. There will be no trade with that nation by any member of the League. There will be no interchange of communication by post or telegraph. There will be no travel to or from that nation. Its borders will be closed. No citizen of any other State  p332 will be allowed to enter it, and no one of its citizens will be allowed to leave it. It will be hermetically sealed by the united action of the most powerful nations in the world. And if this economic boycott bears with unequal weight, the members of the League agree to support one another and to relieve one another in any exceptional disadvantages that may arise out of it."

To such appeals, said Wilson, "some gentlemen, who are themselves incapable of altruistic purposes, say, 'Ah, but that is altruistic. It is not our business to take care of the world.' No, but it is our business to prevent war, and if we do not take care of the weak nations of the world there will be war."

For decades the United States has declared its friendship for China. And so, the opponents of the Covenant made considerable headway by saying that Wilson had "sacrificed China to the rapacity of Japan in the Shantung matter." It did look that China had lost out. What was Wilson's answer? Speaking in St. Louis, September 5, he said:

"It was very embarrassing, my fellow citizens, when you thought you were approaching an ideal solution of a particular question to find that some of your principal colleagues had given the whole thing away. And that leads me to speak just in passing of what has given a great many people natural distress. I mean Shantung settlement, the settlement with regard to a portion of the Province of Shantung in China. Great Britain and, subsequently, France, as everybody now knows, in order to make it more certain that Japan would come into the war and so assist to clear the Pacific of the German fleets, had promised that any rights that Germany had in China should, in the case of the victory of the Allies, pass to  p333 Japan. There was no qualification in the promise. She was to get exactly what Germany had, and so the only thing that was possible was to induce Japan to promise — and I want to say in fairness, for it would not be fair if I did not say it, that Japan did very handsomely make the promise which was requested of her — that she would retain in Shantung none of the sovereign rights which Germany had enjoyed there, but would return the sovereignty without qualification to China and retain in Shantung Province only what other nationalities had already had elsewhere, economic rights with regard to the development and administration of the railway and of certain mines which had become attached to the railway. That is her promise, and personally I have not the slightest doubt that she will fulfill that promise. She can not fulfill it right now because the thing does not go into operation until three months after the treaty is ratified, so that we must not be too impatient about it. But she will fulfill that promise. [Japan's promise was kept.]

"Suppose that we said that we would not assent. England and France must assent, and if we are going to get Shantung Province back for China and these gentlemen do not want to engage in foreign wars, how are they going to get it back? Their idea of not getting into trouble seems to be to stand for the largest number of unworkable propositions. It is all very well to talk about standing by China, but how are you standing by China when you withdraw from the only arrangement by which China can be assisted? If you are China's friend, then do not go into the council where you can act as China's friend! If you are China's friend, then put her in a position where even the concessions which have been made need not be carried out! If you are China's  p334 friend, scuttle and run! That is not the kind of American I am."

With a wealth of illustration, these and like arguments marked his speeches from Columbus, Ohio, September 4, to people in the principal cities to and on the Pacific coast back to Pueblo, Colorado, September 25. His last words on that trip in his last speech at Pueblo were:

"Now that the mists of this great question have cleared away, I believe that men will see the truth, eye to eye and face to face. There is one thing American people always rise to and extend their hand to, and that is the truth of justice and of liberty and of peace. We have accepted the truth and we are going to be led by it, and it is going to lead us, and through us the world, out into pastures of quietness and peace such as the world never dreamed of before."

The eloquent voice was heard no more.

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Page updated: 16 Aug 08