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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Atlantic System

Forrest Davis

Reynal & Hitchcock
New York

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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p201  VII. The First Battle of the Atlantic


When war came in 1914, the expectations of the General Board were reversed. It found England, not America, hoping for "passive friendship" against the mightiest Continental Power. The forereaching shadows of that war, a conflict which thoughtful men suspected would bring the first general upheaval in the West since Napoleon, were visible in 1910, coloring the thought of the Atlantic world. In May Theodore Roosevelt, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize at Christiania for "ending" the Russo-Japanese War, advocated establishment of a "league of peace" employing force "if necessary." Such a benevolent concert of the Powers Roosevelt felt would be a "master stroke." Only a week later, after reviewing with the Kaiser the Potsdam Guards, the former President left Germany with the distinct impression, as he wrote President Taft, that when war came the Germans would "inevitably" violate the neutrality of Belgium. Thus within one week were the hopes of peace and the anticipation of war dramatized in Roosevelt's experience.

In 1910 Admiral Mahan took a grimly practical view of the prospects. Concerned for the security of the Atlantic System, he looked ahead to America's stake in any general war. The clatter of the rival riveters in the shipyards on the Elbe and along the Clyde suggested that the next war was to be fought in part on the Atlantic. In that case — the British Navy being to Mahan the "sole military force anywhere in the world superior to anything that Germany can as yet bring into action" — it behooved the United States to strengthen its ties with the British Empire.

 p202  Of the prophets of war in 1910, Admiral Sir John Fisher was among the most explicit. Commodore William S. Sims, U. S. N., the most impulsive, and Spring-Rice as despairing as any. From the backwater of Stockholm, where the diplomat awaited promotion to Washington, he gloomily reported to American friends the advance of the "Red Man" on Europe. Fisher, noting that the Kiel Canal would be enlarged to admit dreadnoughts by the summer of 1914, specified that season as the one in which Germany would strike for command of the seas. At a Guildhall banquet Sims promised that if and when England was menaced by a Continental force she could "rely upon the last ship, the last dollar, the last man and the last drop of blood of her kindred beyond the seas." Seven years after that Admiral Sims would be commanding a World War fleet in European waters, but at the moment President Taft thought it well to reprimand such farfetched imprudence. Sims's comradely sentiments had graveled the German press, in America and in Germany; and the Anglophobes, their patriotic sensibilities affronted, were demanding his court-martial.

The rising sense of apprehension produced in 1910 an impressive peace movement. As if responding to a self-conscious desire for the warding‑off of destruction, numerous societies for the discouragement of war sprang up in England and America. Roosevelt's speech at Christiania gave impetus to the movement, a drive not sustained by Roosevelt himself. Taft was convinced that Theodore, for all his peacemaking, was "obsessed with his love of war and its glory." The President, midway of his ill‑starred term, lacked the imagination, the daring, or the aptitude to "play a great part," his foreign relations being entrusted to the inexpert and conventional Philander C. Knox.

Taft, however, entered into the peace cause wholeheartedly. It was his pacific labors, his negotiation of arbitration treaties with England and France — Germany characteristically declining — that inspired Carnegie (Mark Twain's "St. Andrew") to endow peace with $10,000,000 in 1910. "Your noble . . . leader­ship amongst rulers," the flushed little  p203 Utopian wrote Taft, "prompted me to create the fund." Carnegie "saw clearly that peace was within our grasp because the other branch of our race was ready to follow you." Instructing the trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and its first president, Elihu Root, the donor declared the day at hand for war to be "discarded as disgraceful to civilized man."

In later years, certain friends of Theodore Roosevelt were to assign him prior rights to the League of Nations concept because of his Christiania address. A clearer title ran to the movement begun in February, 1910, by Theodore Marburg, a wealthy Baltimore peace reformer and self-styled "publicist." Marburg launched his American Society for the Judicial Settlement of International Disputes with the endorsement of Taft and Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University and soon to be Governor of New Jersey. This society actively supported Taft's unfruitful endeavors toward international arbitration (the isolationist minority in the Senate shredded the treaties with England and France beyond hope of ratification) and Taft returned the compliment by taking leader­ship in Marburg's enterprise when in 1915 it was converted into the League to Enforce Peace. The League to Enforce Peace, sponsored also by John Hays Hammond, Hamilton Holt, and President A. Lawrence Lowell of Harvard, gained influential adherents and helped prepare a receptive public opinion for Wilson's crusade, although the First World War President was to make little use of Marburg's mechanism or its leaders.

A note of optimism so unrealistic as to approach frivolity ran through much of the peace fervor of that year. In June Congress by joint resolution authorized a Peace Commission of five members to consider means for reducing land armaments and combining the "navies of the world" into "an international force for the preservation of universal peace." Theodore Roosevelt refused appointment as chairman, all the Foreign Offices sounded on the matter except Britain's returned definitely discouraging answers, and the Administration allowed the enterprise to drop from sight. Norman  p204 Angell proved in his enormously popular book The Great Illusion that a general war was impossible because too costly. David Starr Jordan was equally certain that "great international wars are already practically at an end."

The movement bathed pulpit, platform, and press in a moral glow. The magazines, typically Walter Hines Pages's World's Work, published "universal peace numbers" containing large assortments of wishful prose. Such escapist literature worked mischief, blinding Americans to the realities, seeming to free them from the obligation to understand the world relation­ships of their country. By stressing the abstract wickedness of organized human slaughter and the pitiful role of the individual caught in its toils, the subjective wing of the peace movement likewise impaired the American will to maintain this country's status in a world where war was still a firmly entrenched instrument of national policy.

Mahan's clear, unemotional voice rose above the chorus of the "peace cranks" (Taft's words) as he bade the United States realize that it could "no longer stand apart" from the forces moving toward conflict. Dealing in the stark terms of strategy and power, he found the time at hand for this country to choose its orientation consciously, not waiting, as in the Napoleonic Wars, until exasperation blurred judgment. In any general war Mahan assumed that the United States would be forced to bear a part, as it had been in the Napoleonic struggle.

In 1812, although the United States was young, weak, torn by faction and by section, its frigates fought gallantly if ineffectually for the freedom of the seas and to impose respect for the flag on the Atlantic and in the Caribbean. The enemy then was England, but it was a hard choice for President Madison, a Virginian, and a Princetonian, angular, conscientious, and iron-willed. Both the English and Napoleon were treating America with contempt. Inferior at sea, the "monster Bonaparte: hastily burned American merchantmen to the water line wherever he found their destruction to his liking. The British, having command of the seas and hence more time and assurance, hauled American ships into prize courts.  p205 As the Emperor's star began to wane Madison threw in his lot with him, obtaining a declaration of war as Napoleon rode for Moscow. By an ironical circumstance it was the day after the English Parliament had repealed its provocative Orders in Council.

A century later Mahan in his book The Interest of America in International Conditions (1910) was portraying the strategical approximation of Anglo-American relations, patiently generalizing that

in the horoscope of every nation there is usually one other power, accordant relations with which are of primary importance. . . . Having in view not the British Isles only, but the other constituent parts of the empire, Australia, Canada, New Zealand — all with Pacific frontiers and cherishing political incentives commonly with our Pacific States — and especially in view of the British Navy, there is strong reason to believe that international considerations should assign to the British Empire this prominent place in the understanding of America.

Mahan thought we might prefer the British Empire as our partner because of its "far more liberal institutions and consequently weaker organization of force," because also, "being replete to satiety with colonial possessions, [it] has no adequate stimulus to aggression, least of all against the United States." As always, the Admiral placed his argument on solid ground. His conclusion rested upon a "cool calculation of possibilities, an estimate of balances, a recognition that the United States can no longer . . . proceed safely without a . . . formulated concept of the particular, as well as the general, relation­ship amongst States."

The contrasted doctrines of the Mahan and Marburg schools, nationalist and internationalist, were to dominate foreign policy during the eight years of the Wilson Administration. First Mahan, in the seventeen months from Wilson's first inauguration in 1913 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Then Marburg, as Wilson, Spring-Rice's "hardened saint," sought to equip himself for the role of arbiter mundi by adopting a judicial attitude toward the belligerents. Then in April, 1917, when Wilson was compelled  p206 by clear national interest to abandon his detachment, the two streams of policy merged for a time. Mahan's limited, rational program gave way again at the Armistice of 1918 to the powerful dream of a world state organized to preserve the status quo.


Not since the heyday of the "McKinley-Salisbury alliance" had Anglo-American relations been so felicitous as in the first phase of the Wilson term. The President stood nearer to Britain in actual parentage than most of his predecessors, including Washington, his mother having been born in England. In the Presbyterian manse of his Virginia boyhood British cultural influences ran strong and deep. The Lake poets, especially Wordsworth, touched tender chords in Wilson (Spring-Rice noted that his eyes grew misty as he quoted Wordsworth), and on his yearly holidays abroad he preferred England, regarding the rest of Europe as somehow alien. Likewise drawn sentimentally to England were the President's most creative coadjutors in foreign affairs: Colonel Edward M. House, the suave Texan with the gift for benign intrigue, and Walter Hines Page, the ardent, impressionable journalist and publisher.

Bryan, who brought to the State Department the worthy talents of a county chairman, a popular evangelist, and a temperance lecturer, maintained toward England a detached and suspicious attitude. His cultural ties ran nowhere but to Nebraska — the Nebraska of the square frame farmhouse, the King James version, and the mail-order catalogue. Bryan scarcely counted as a policy-maker. The President was pre‑eminently his own Foreign Minister. Of the three men who most intimately shaped policy — Wilson, House, and Page — the President, one gathers in retrospect, had less of cognate background than the others, less facility at understanding the racial, economic, and strategic elements flowing into the relation­ships of the Powers. Wilson was disposed, moreover, to equate international problems to a transcendental scale of  p207 values — the good, the true, the beautiful — when not taking refuge behind a professorial cynicism.

Both House and Page, essentially more sophisticated than their chief, were fascinated by power problems. In his apocalyptic novel Philip Dru, Administrator, published anonymously in 1912, House exhibited that bent elaborately. His pre‑Fascist hero seized the state by revolution, imposed a reformist, single‑tax regime, a sort of kindly totalitarianism, and organized a league of the Western Powers. House had insinuating gifts for mediation and a sure skill at manipulating the state mechanism. As for Page, he had gone to school directly to Mahan, publishing the historian's measured essays on national destiny regularly for twenty years before he was plunged into the heart of world affairs by becoming Ambassador to London in 1913.

The case of Page deserves particular attention. Wilson told Taft in 1917; "Page is really an Englishman." A favorite quip of the Anglophobic isolationists in the disillusioned postwar years was that Page had been the "best American Ambassador England ever had." In those years Page became the rhetorical butt of those who believed we had been gulled into the war by the Foreign Office, Wall Street bankers, and English propagandists. The objective fact seems to be that Page believed, as implicitly as John Hay, Henry Adams, Mahan, or Carnegie, in the virtue of the Anglo-American tie, that he was a nationalist — in contrast to Wilson's internationalism, House's opportunism — and a sound American seeing a dynamic future in terms of an English-speaking world bloc, with America calling the turn.

In the months before the war dulled his interest in power speculations Page's letters from London demonstrated his zest for the cause of Anglo-American hegemony. To House he wrote late in 1913 that the "English-speaking peoples now rule the world in all essential facts. . . . Only the British lands and the United States have secure liberty. They also have the most treasure, the best fighters, the most land, the most ships — the future in fact." Even more exuberantly, the Ambassador wrote David F. Houston, the Secretary of Agriculture:  p208 "England and the whole English world are ours, if we have the courtesy to take them — fleet, trade and all; and we go on pretending we are afraid of entangling alliances. We're in the game. There's no use letting a few wild Irishmen or cocky Germans scare us. We need courtesy and frankness, and the destiny of the world will be in our hands."

In those first months Page was sure there was "more enthusiasm for the United States here, by far, than for England in the United States." He wrote the President that the English would "hold fast to our favor for reasons of prudence as well as for reasons of kinship. And whenever we choose to assume leader­ship of the world, they'll grant it — gradually — and follow loyally. They cannot become Frenchmen and they dislike the Germans. They must keep in our boat, for safety as well as comfort."

Page's fault, if fault he had, seems to have been that his head whirled too dizzily with notions of American ascendancy in a world of power arrangements that aroused only the distrust of his less adventurous countrymen. In 1898, as editor of the Atlantic Page startled the thin-blooded anti-imperialists of Back Bay by flaunting the American flag in colors on the austere cover of that magazine. Twice Page's outspoken Anglophobia stirred angry outcries in the Senate, the German press, and the Hibernian lodge halls. Each time the President publicly supported him without reproof.

Wilson inherited from Taft two issues disturbing to Anglo-American relations. One, the question of the Mexican presidential succession, arose within the last month of the Taft Administration. In February of 1913 Victoriano Huerta, a general called to Mexico City to protect President Francisco Madero, accomplished or permitted his murder instead. The assassination brought on widespread disorders, imperiling the large American population in Mexico. Besieged by appeals for protection, Taft withheld it, casually advising Americans to quit Mexico, their livelihoods, and their investments.

 p209  So matters stood when Wilson took the inaugural oath. The incoming President projected Taft's negative, hands‑off policy into one of active intervention. He declined to recognize Huerta and erected his refusal into a general policy of withholding American recognition from any regime in Latin-America "founded on violence." With his customary readiness to lapse into elevated generalization, the President hailed his policy as "closing one chapter in the history of the world and opening another of unimaginable significance."

Taft's part had not been merely passive in the other situation, which dealt with discriminations in Panama Canal tolls. In 1912 Taft signed a bill exempting American coastwise shipping from tolls when the canal should be finished in 1914, justifying on debatable legal grounds what the British called a breach of the Hay‑Pauncefote Treaty. The President had not minced words about this delicate international question, reminding the British that "we own the canal. It was our money that built it."

The British, standing on what they conceived to be their treaty rights, protested with all vigor. Whitelaw Reid, an exemplary Ambassador who in Sir Edward Grey's phrase had "lived as a friend amongst us," reported that not in all his time in London had the United States endured such a "bad press." Representative of English journalistic opinion, the Outlook characterized the tolls act as barefaced robbery," to say nothing of "grand larceny." In diplomatic phraseology the Foreign Secretary allowed the Ambassador to know that the British Government believed that the United States Government had welshed on a solemn undertaking.

On this side of the Atlantic a strong group in the President's party, including Root and Lodge, opposed discrimination. Their words carried weight because both had been in John Hay's confidence when he negotiated the treaty by which Britain retired from her joint interest in an isthmian canal. The issue, which was of course political and diplomatic, not legal, was restricted by the party upholding discrimination to an interpretation of the clause guaranteeing equal treatment, in tolls and otherwise, to the merchant shipping  p210 of "all nations." Taft and his advisers construed the words to mean "all other nations," holding with Roosevelt during his 1912 campaign as a Progressive candidate for the Presidency that we had a "perfect right to permit our coastwise traffic . . . to pass through the canal on any terms we choose, and I personally think that no tolls should be charged on such traffic."

The remission was, of course, a concealed subsidy, working to the minor disadvantage of the British and other shipping interests. Wilson too had guardedly favored discrimination in his 1912 campaign. His mind was open, however, and strong doubts arose when in January, 193, his close friend Dr. John Latané of Johns Hopkins University published a scholarly treatise in the American Journal of International Law declaring the tolls act an indisputable infraction of the Hay‑Pauncefote Treaty. Soon Wilson agreed that the tolls act violated our plighted word, a change of front to which we shall return.

On inauguration day, 1913, the British had us constructively in the wrong in a question related to that familiar bone of contention, the canal, but before long the British Government was to transgress the Wilson doctrine of nonrecognition — evening the score. Page's first duty in London had been to explore the Mexican situation. He reported that Grey would follow the President's line. A month later the British recognized Huerta without notice to the United States, at once convincing the Administration that oil, personified by Lord Cowdray, was at the bottom of the reversal. Cowdray had a contract to supply the British Navy with Mexican oil. There seems no doubt that he had made his peace with the usurping President to avoid a default on the navy contract, persuading the Foreign Office to follow suit. In this country the Standard Oil interests, with large Mexican holdings, disapproved of Huerta, giving some color to the British retort that in Mexican oil it apparently mattered whose ox was gored.

Meanwhile, Grey compounded his offense, from the American point of view, by transferring to Mexico as Minister Lionel Carden, a stiff-necked, anti-American diplomat who  p211 had made himself persona non grata to the State Department while Minister to Cuba. The British Foreign Office, with what seems to have been a mixture of hauteur and loyalty to a zealous servant, had rejected the protests of the Taft Administration, and now Carden, knighted and promoted, gave an interview in New York on his way to his new post, endorsing Huerta and advising the President that the latter "knew nothing about Mexico." Arrived in Mexico City, Sir Lionel, who seems to have been scarcely a reconciling agent, talked freely to the press, bestowing his approval, and by implication London's, on Huerta. He presented his credentials on the day the President imprisoned all dissident members of the Mexican Congress and announced a rule by decree. The situation, exhibiting the British Foreign Office at its cynical worst, called for skillful diplomacy.

Page's task was twofold: first, to obtain an about-face in Mexico from the Asquith Ministry; second, to procure the removal of the obnoxious Sir Lionel. The British Minister had, among other things, organized a solid European front behind Huerta and against Wilson. Working with Page was the reputed Salisbury dictum that no dispute with America should be permitted to get out of hand. The precarious balance of power in Europe and the Anglo-German naval race likewise contributed to the prospects of British accommodation, as did the mollifying fact that the President now favored repeal of the tolls act.

In July, 1913, Colonel House, making the first of his pilgrimages to European chancelleries, asked Grey to avoid agitating the tolls question for fear of arousing the resistance of the Anglophobes, meanwhile putting his case in Wilson's hands. Page, with admirable persistence, was at the same time exerting steady pressure on Grey, on Asquith, on the influential Lord Chancellor Haldane, on the press, through certain leading editors, and even on Lord Cowdray. Himself an enthusiastic convert to the nonrecognition policy, Page earnestly sought to spread the light in England. His most eloquent homilies failed, however, to move the British to repentance until they became convinced that their intransigeance  p212 was hurtful to larger ends. In letters and dispatches of the period Page roundly scolded the British for their insistence on sheer order in Mexico in preference to the Wilson policy. The Ministry, it is fair to say, was perplexed by Wilson's unwillingness to back his moral intervention with force, and by his abandonment of the American population and interests in Mexico to the hazards of civil war and banditry. Plainly they thought the policy irresponsible, an impression confirmed when the President, asked by Sir William Tyrrell in Washington for an outline of his principle, replied: "I am going to teach the South Americans to elect good men to office."

Tyrrell, Grey's parliamentary secretary, visited Washington unofficially in the fall of 1913. It was given out that he came to see his friend Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, who was ill. It was Sir Cecil's misfortune that he reached the Washington Embassy too late, his friendships with Roosevelt and Lodge standing him in no stead, gaining him rather the suspicion of White House circles. Tyrrell saw the President and Colonel House and, whether as a result of the talks or not, Anglo-American relations thereafter rapidly recovered their amiability. Soon Sir Lionel waited on Huerta at the head of the European wing of the diplomatic corps, and advised him to resign, as there would be no further European support. Carden was shifted to Brazil. At the Lord Mayor's banquet in November Asquith denied there was any ground for believing that the Ministry had carried out a Mexican policy "deliberately opposed to the United States." In March, 1914, Wilson asked Congress for repeal of the tolls act, saying: "We are too big, too powerful, too self-respecting a nation to interpret with too strained or refined a reading the words of our promises just because we have power enough to read them as we please."

The President expected only perfunctory opposition. He was disappointed. The fight for repeal furnished the first genuine test of his sway over Congress, and a vituperative debate raged in Senate and press. Wilson was deserted by numerous party leaders in the Senate, including James A. Reed  p213 of Missouri, James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, and James A. O'Gorman of New York, voice of the Irish separatist junta in this country. To Wilson's aid, however, went allies from the other side of the aisle, such as Lodge, Root, the erudite Theodore E. Burton of Ohio, William S. Kenyon, and Porter J. McCumber. The opposition followed the time-tried pattern of arraigning English transgressions from the days of Clive and Lord North while neglecting the merits of the issue under debate. Petitions from the Irish-American societies flooded Congress, the German propagandists took a hand, the Hearst press twisted the lion's tail with practiced dexterity, and Wilson was accused, as McKinley and Roosevelt had been before him, of "truckling" to Great Britain, if not being actually hand in hand with King George.

When Wilson won, the Senate voting repeal 50 to 35, American prestige bounded above par in London. The Pages were at a ball at Buckingham Palace the night the news crossed the Atlantic. Page's biographer, Burton J. Hendrick, describes the acclaim bestowed upon the Ambassador by a procession of public men, adding that the "King and the Prime Minister were especially affected by this display of fair dealing in Washington." Wilson's high-minded leader­ship, Grey wrote Spring-Rice, contributed "something to the good of public life, for it helped to lift [it] to a higher plane and to strengthen its morale."


Tyrrell's visit revived the vision that had tantalized Mahan, Rhodes, Carnegie, Chamberlain, Hay, Henry Adams, Henry White, Olney, Bryce, and Harcourt. House wrote Page: "I told him [Tyrrell] that you and I had dreamed of a sympathetic alliance between the two countries and that it seemed to me that this dream might come true very quickly because of the President and Sir Edward Grey." To which Page replied: "Suppose there were . . . the tightest sort of an alliance, offensive and defensive, between all Britain, the colonies and all, and the United States — what would happen?  p214 Anything we'd say would go, whether we should say, 'Come in out of the wet,' or 'Disarm.' That might be the beginning of a real world alliance and union to accomplish certain large results — disarmament, for instance, or arbitration — dozens of good things."

The President, his enthusiasm held in tighter check, wrote Page that he too longed "for an opportunity to do constructive work all along the line in our foreign relations, particularly with Great Britain and the Latin American States." Page propagandized zealously for Anglo-American accord, gaining as an adherent Cowdray, who had promised Grey to be good in Mexico and had surrendered an oil concession in Bolivia in token of repentance. "Whatever the United States and Great Britain agree on, the world must do," the oil Baron exclaimed, whereupon Page in reporting his views added his conviction that "these two Governments must enter a compact for peace and for gradual disarmament . . . then we can go about our business for (say) a hundred years."

Grey, a conciliatory nature-lover with a tinge of faint melancholy over the state of the world, humored Page's optimism. The Foreign Secretary and the Ambassador enjoyed an intimate personal understanding, based on similarity of tastes in the library and outdoors. Grey perhaps had a clearer view of the import of the Anglo-American aspiration as an attempt to freeze the status quo against the thrust of such virile peoples as the Germans, warlike, technically proficient, and wishing also to enjoy the fruits of empire and the command of the seas. Nor had the Foreign Secretary, hurt by the surge of Anglophobia over the tolls issue, any illusions about the obstacles to full concert. In his memoirs, published in 1925 under the title Twenty-five Years, Grey (then Viscount Grey of Fallodon) remarked on that "certain intimacy . . . of attraction and repulsion, which has made the relations between Britain and the United States at once more easy and more difficult, more cordial and more intractable than those between any two other countries."

It was during Tyrrell's visit also that a project took shape in Washington at once more definitive than the hope for alliance  p215 and larger in immediate scope. Colonel House, personally desirous of "playing a great part," eager to put the influence of the Western republic and its scholar-President to the test, gained Wilson's approval for a grand intervention in Europe, the first in a sequential chain leading to Versailles. Specifically, the plausible, soft-spoken little "Assistant President" and peripatetic Ambassador-at‑large, proposed laying, if possible, a restraining hand on the naval race which at the moment was plunging Britain into a new spasm of alarm.

England had repeatedly sought Berlin's agreement to what in March, 1913, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, termed a "naval holiday." In 1912 Haldane (Page's "foxy Scot") made a genuine effort, going on an unofficial mission to Berlin, where he interviewed the Kaiser, Tirpitz, and the ranking figures in the civil Government. He found William evasive, Tirpitz frankly implacable against England. Coinciding with Tyrrell's American sojourn, in October, 1913, Asquith and Churchill renewed their attempt to conciliate the German navalists. Churchill brought the matter into the open in a speech at Manchester that aroused world-wide notice: "Now, we say to our great neighbour, Germany, 'If you will put off beginning your two ships for twelve months from the ordinary date when you would have begun them, we will put off beginning our four ships, in absolutely good faith, for exactly the same period.' "

The Prime Minister publicly approved the proposal. In reply the Germans coldly cited the ironclad nature of their Naval Law; the German Government could not depart from its schedule. The tone of the official and semiofficial German press was derisive. In answering the German repulse the British Government reaffirmed its policy of laying down two capital ships to Germany's one. Yet in January, 1914, David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, undertook on his own a mollifying gesture, implying in an interview the desirability of reducing the cost of the naval program. A burst of indignant protest arose both in England and across the Channel. Churchill hastened to Paris to soothe the fears of the French Allies, closely followed by Asquith, who  p216 pleaded that he was merely seeing his daughter off to the Riviera but who nevertheless found time to reassure the French Ministry. Matters seemed to be at an impasse.

In Washington Colonel House, canvassing the British case with Sir William, was lightheartedly proposing to move into this vortex of suspicion and dread. He accepted Tyrrell's representations that Britain's efforts to abate the sea‑power rivalry had been sincerely wholehearted. Tyrrell offered to show him in London the Foreign Office file on the subject. To the President, House reported that England's position had been "entirely right." Tyrrell suggested that House, allowing the Germans to know that he was the "power behind the throne" in America, proceed directly to Berlin, there informing the Emperor confidentially that England and America had "buried the hatchet," and seeking from him assurances that he could take to Paris and London. This advice accorded with House's own inclinations.

Wilson's assent was unreserved. In laying the tolls question before Congress in March the President spoke mysteriously of "matters of even greater delicacy and nearer consequence," asking Congress to "grant" him its confidence in "ungrudging measure." It was only when the details of House's preparations for his errand became known that light was shed on the President's reasons for asking a free hand in foreign policy. In January, maturing his plans, House invited to luncheon Benjamin Ide Wheeler, former president of the University of California and a one‑time Roosevelt lecturer at the University of Berlin. Wheeler and the Kaiser had struck up a personal friendship, the American dining informally now and again in Berlin with the royal family. House's signs at this time included Japan, his power-avid mind toying with the outlines of a league of Powers to include not only Britain and the United States, but Germany and Japan as well. Wheeler warned him against approaching the Kaiser with regard to the Japanese. The Emperor felt, he said, "very strongly upon the question of Asiatics," thinking that the "contest of the future will be Eastern and Western civilizations."

 p217  In May House sailed for Hamburg on the Hamburg-American liner Imperator. His experience in Germany was alarmingly revealing. Tirpitz demonstrated a hatred of England approaching the pathological. General Erich von Falkenhayn of the General Staff was politely noncommittal. The civil Ministers, Gottlieb von Jagow at the Foreign Office and Solf the Colonial Secretary, treated House kindly, but he concluded they had no power. As Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg's wife died just as House reached Germany, he was deprived of a conference with the Chancellor. His audience with the Kaiser was delayed, House and James W. Gerard, the American Ambassador, believing that the delay was by intent of the military circle surrounding the throne.

On June 1 House traveled with Gerard out to the New Palace at Potsdam for a ceremonial occasion, the Schrippenfest, at which the picked battalions stationed in Potsdam once a year enjoyed a sermon, white bread, and beer in the royal presence. This was the last of the Schrippenfests. After luncheon the Kaiser and House walked on a terrace, the Emperor monopolizing the talk. Expressing contempt for the military prowess of England and France, William avowed his fears of Russia. How, he asked, could Germany reduce her armaments with 175,000,000 Slavs on the eastern frontier? He was amusingly contemptuous of Bryan's "cooling‑off" treaties, agreements to wait a year before beginning hostilities which the Secretary of State was hopefully negotiating with thirty-four nations. The Germans, said William, would sign no such self-denying ordinance. House recalled this part of the conversation in 1917, when, if a Bryan treaty between Germany and the United States had existed, it might have deferred the American declaration of war for a year.

"We white nations should join hands to oppose Julian and the other yellow races," cried the Emperor, "or some day they will destroy us." House managed to break in with a mention of the desirability of a tripartite agreement among England, Germany, and the United States, without impeding the flow of imperial opinion. He was unable to bring the talk around to the naval competition. "The last thing," the Kaiser finally  p218 said, "that Germany wants is war. . . . In a few years Germany will be a rich country like England and the United States. We don't want war to interfere with our progress." Then as the Kaiser was dismissing House he trumpeted his belief that "Every nation in Europe has its bayonets pointed at Germany — but we are ready!"

Discouraged, House wrote home that he saw in Germany the possibility of "an awful cataclysm," with "militarism running stark mad," with the army and navy by far the most potent factors in the German Empire, even transcending the dynasty itself in genuine power. "If Germany insists upon an ever-increasing navy, England will have no choice," House felt. "The best chance for peace is in an understanding between England and Germany in regard to naval armament, and yet there is some disadvantage to us by these two nations getting too close." Hurrying to Paris, House found conversations impossible with a distracted Government. There had been three Ministries within two weeks.

The British also were rent domestically, with Sir Edward Carson at the head of his Ulster Volunteers threatening to revolt in Ireland, and the suffragettes promising to dynamite the Houses of Parliament any day. House appeared to Grey, Asquith, and Lloyd George as an innocent Cassandra from overseas. At a luncheon given by Page they showed themselves unimpressed by the American emissary's findings in Germany. The English statesmen relied on the pacific nature of Bethmann-Hollweg and the presence of Prince Lichnowsky, a Pole, an Anglophile, and an ingratiating gentleman who had been recalled by the Wilhelmstrasse from retirement on his estates to take over the German Embassy in London.

To House's warning that the military were in complete control of German policy they remained graciously deaf. At luncheon with Tyrrell and Page, House observed that in Germany he felt that he was "living near a mighty electric dynamo. The whole of Germany is charged with electricity. Everybody's nerves are tense. It needs only a spark to set the whole thing off." Grey, who believed that the Kaiser would  p219 not have sent Lichnowsky to London if he intended war, explained to House why he could not accept his suggestion that they both travel into Germany for a last-minute conference with the Kaiser during Kiel week late in June. The French and Russian Allies, said Grey, would take fright if he went to Germany.

Early in July the Colonel sailed for home, convinced that the cataclysm would not long be deferred. Within a month the war (Page's "grand smash") was overwhelming Europe. The British fleet was at battle stations in the North Sea, the Uhlans were moving through Belgium as a gray-green tide, Russia's peasants and England's "Contemptibles" alike were exposing themselves to the might of the strongest military machine on earth.


The war, although long anticipated, struck many persons with the force of doom. A stunned Carnegie concluded his autobiography with these sentences: "The world is convulsed by war as never before. Men slay each other like wild beasts." Yet Carnegie, a guest of the Kaiser on his yacht during the Kiel week of 1907, had heard from the imperial lips: "I will not allow John Bull to give me orders on how many ships I am to build." Carnegie had been urging William to come to terms with England on the naval limitation England dearly wished — and was prepared to pay for. Page, taking over the German Embassy, found Prince Lichnowsky wandering about in pajamas, unable to collect his faculties.

Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, later poles apart, agreed emphatically at the outset that the war was none of our business. The President's injunction on Americans to be "neutral in fact as well as name, impartial in thought as well as in deed," was matched by Roosevelt's early indifference to the plight of Belgium, expressed in the Outlook in August: "When giants are engaged in a death wrestle, as they reel to and fro they are certain to trample on whomeverº gets in the way of either of the huge, straining combatants." At the same juncture, Mahan could not be so certain that we would remain  p220 aloof if it appeared that Germany might command the seas.

In a general interview with the American press on the day before England declared war (August 4, 1914), the Admiral exhibited the clairvoyance usual with him in anything relating to the aspect of force known as war. The issue would be decided eventually by sea power; Britain's capacity to concentrate strength in the North Sea and impose a blockade would finally beat Germany to her knees. The Zeppelin he believed an overrated striking weapon. He minimized the power of the submarine, holding truly that it would not (as some naval authorities were prophesying) shelve the battle­ship, but failing to give it its true value as a commerce-raider. Italy, he felt, would fight with England rather than Germany; Russia, like the Zeppelin, would not provide the military power expected of her.

"Germany's procedure is to overwhelm at once by concentrated preparation and impetuous momentum," said Mahan. "If she fails in this, she is less able to sustain a prolonged aggressiveness, as was indicated in the Franco-Prussian War during and after the siege of Paris." Should the Germans defeat both France and Russia on land, they would gain a "respite," which might enable them to build sea power measurable with England's. "In that case," the Admiral continued, "the world would be confronted by the naval power of a State, not like Great Britain, sated with territory, but one eager and ambitious for expansion. . . . This consideration may well affect American sympathies." Mahan had gone astray technically, but not as a power theoretician. He expected the United States to be drawn to Britain's side if the sea supremacy of the latter was endangered — but it was the submarine, not surface power, that threatened Britannia's rule in 1917.

The idea of a preventive war to keep Germany from control of the Atlantic was by no means unique with Mahan. His expression on August 3, 1914, however, was no doubt the earliest in actual wartime. To him, Britain was a "fortified outpost" (Brooks Adams's phase) of American sea power.  p221 In German hands, the British Isles would be an advanced base usable against the United States. Unfortunately for American understanding of the strategic problems of the First World War, Admiral Mahan was twice silenced, first by a presidential order on August 6 muzzling all United States Army and Navy officers, active, reserve, and retired; and finally by death four months later. Wilson would not except the great Admiral from his order, nor was there any indication that he desired to avail himself of Mahan's counsel. It may be doubted that Wilson, who was unfamiliar with strategy, warfare, and power relation­ships, understood Mahan's usefulness to those formulating America's course to a world at war.

Mahan died at the age of seventy-four on December 1, 1914, in the Naval Hospital at Washington. The press of the world, lifting its gaze from trench warfare for an instant, recalled that Mahan's teachings had instructed the Kaiser that dominion depended upon sea power. (In 1939 Grand Admiral Erich Raeder said: "All wars will be settled by sea power.") A world-famous Admiral who never had commanded a ship in battle, Mahan was accorded high honors. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, represented the Government in arranging the ceremonial. If the President was unaware of Mahan's sagacity and worth as an interpretive historian, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was in no such darkness. Franklin Roosevelt, an amateur of sea power, had studied Mahan to good purpose.

The modified Mahanite Page quickly and accurately rationalized the American stake in defeat of Germany, writing House: "If German . . . brute force could conquer Europe, presently it would try to conquer the United States; and we should all go back to the era of war as man's chief industry . . . our Monroe Doctrine would at once be shot in two, and we should have to 'get out of the sun.' " In a mood clearly prescient, Page presented the alternative. "If England wins . . . [she] will not need our friendship as much as she now needs it; and there may come Governments here that will show they do not." House too recognized  p222 our strategical concern in the outcome, reporting it to the President early in August: "If the Allies win, it means largely the domination of Russia on the Continent of Europe; and if Germany wins, it means the unspeakable tyranny of militarism for generations to come. . . . Germany's success will ultimately mean trouble for us."

Page's perception of the sea‑power aspects of the issue was incomplete; House's understanding was even dimmer. Both men instinctively chose sides with England, Page with undeviating openness, but their sympathy was largely ideological or sentimental. The Ambassador, according to Sir Edward Grey's compact analysis, saw in the war a "struggle to the death between the forces in Europe that made for American idealism, and the forces that would destroy and replace it by something that was to him detestable."

In the first sixty days of war Wilson, not yet impelled by a desire to bestride the world as a moral Colossus, leaned in private toward the English synthesis. The "strange, impeded, self-absorbed" professor (in the Mirrors of Washington appraisal) agreed, moreover, with House and Page that German victory would shake America rudely out of her pacific lethargy. On August 30 Wilson replied to House's size‑up of the War's consequences, affirming that "if Germany won, it would change the course of our civilization and make the United States a militaristic nation." In mid‑September, talking with his fidus Achates, the President inquired: "Shall we ever get out of the labyrinth made for us all by this German frightfulness?" adding that "he never had been sure that we ought not to take part in the conflict; and, if it seemed evident that Germany and her militaristic ideas were to win, the obligation upon us would be greater than ever." At various times in conversations with Joseph P. Tumulty, his secretary, the President gave rein to a pro‑English bias, observing once, in the first stages of the controversy over neutral rights at sea, that he doubted whether he should do anything to embarrass England "when she is fighting for her life, and the life of the world." At another time he expressed the belief that England was "fighting our fight."

 p223  Soon, however, the Allies held on the Marne, Paris and France were saved, the British fleet asserted control of the seas, the threat to the United States of a triumphant Junkerdom seemed remote, and the President settled into cynicism regarding the conflicting claims of the belligerents. Unmoved by the German reduction of Belgium, although the United States Government also was signatory to the Hague Convention guaranteeing the neutrality of that country, in the fall of 1914 Wilson began to accept the German interpretation of the causes of the war (anticipating the war‑guilt "revisionists" by several years), ascribing the war exclusively to imperialistic rivalry between England and Germany.

A legend sedulously cultivated in the postwar years attributed the entrance of the United States into the war to the effectiveness of English propaganda, at the same time deprecating Germany's efforts to influence American opinion as naïve, maladroit, and futile. Futile they were not. The British appeal was overtly addressed to the whole nation, the German appeal to racial blocs and pressure groups. The German and Austrian Embassies and consulates, expending millions of dollars, carried on what Theodore Roosevelt called a "great alien conspiracy," intriguing, threatening politicians, and indulging in "propaganda of the deed" by blowing up factories and attempting to disrupt railways.

The effect of German forcefulness was not lost on the White House. In the November election the Democratic congressional majorities declined under the 1912 mark. Although this was attributable to the reconciliation of Republicans and Progressives in many districts, Dr. Hugo Münsterberg, writing the President, laid it to another cause, a defection of the "German-American vote." Moreover, the German psychologist warned the President of a further desertion to be made up of the "very large and influential group" comprising the "German, Swedish, Jewish and Irish vote." The "friends of Germany," Münsterberg went on, proposed to organize a "systematic campaign" — unless Wilson mended his ways — "to take care that the Democratic party  p224 become tabooed as the one which has made America practically an ally of England."

Wilson replied placatingly to this gross insult, expressing "a great deal of surprise" at the tone, but answering points raised with circumstantiality. Robert W. Lansing, then the Counselor of the State Department, gave the President a spirited memorandum properly characterizing Münsterberg as an alien agent and urging that the correspondence be made public. Wilson, a stanch party man, rejected the advice. Spring-Rice, unwelcome at the White House, was to insist that the German Embassy under Count von Bernstorff enjoyed far freer access than his to the President, a disadvantage that might have been overcome by House's pro‑Ally leanings.

In his annual message in December, 1914, the President announced a lofty impartiality. The United States being "untouched" by the "causes or objects" of the war, he saw no need for Americans to arm or otherwise disturb themselves. Wilson subscribed to the pacifist thesis that armaments of themselves promote war, the lack of armaments warding off war. He was willing, he indicated, to mediate the struggle in the name of humanity. The President's assumption of unique virtue seldom failed to annoy the consciously fallible. Theodore Roosevelt, who had reversed himself on Belgium in October, stormed now that Wilson was leaving the country defenseless to improve his qualifications as a peacemaker, hoping to fetch and carry amongst the warring powers when the time for peace negotiations arrived." Roosevelt had not held the role of peacemaker so lightly in 1905.


The gaunt-souled perfectionist in the White House (like Madison "a Virginian, a Princetonian, angular, conscientious, and iron-willed") was being introduced to destiny. Of all those bringing him face to face with fate, Colonel House was the most insistent, as he was the adviser nearest the  p225 throne. Late in September House, questing for vicarious power, had vowed in his diary to "get him [Wilson] absorbed in the greatest problem of worldwide interest that has ever come, or may ever come, before a President of the United States." By virtue of his place at the head of the most powerful neutral nation Wilson qualified, almost without asking for it, for a supreme niche in history. He could, wrote House, dictate the "greatest peace the world has ever seen." His opportunities, "if properly followed," will "bring him worldwide recognition." There were others tempting Wilson with this heady wine — Page, Lord Bryce, and many minor individuals who perceived the Providential chance for making the world over in Wilson's image.

Soon after his annual message of 1914 the President and his "Grey Eminence" House prepared their first "unofficial" intervention. House, who liked nothing better than to patter down palace corridors, went to Europe early in February, 1915, charged with seeing whether the time was ripe to propose a "general convention of all neutral and belligerent nations." Wilson was of course to preside; the call would come from him if the powder-grimed belligerents were agreeable. The mission, carrying House to London and Berlin, came to naught.

Before House reached Berlin in March, the general situation had altered. A proclamation by the Germans of a counterblockade of the British Isles by submarine had brought from Wilson on February 10 a note insisting that the United States Government would hold Germany to "strict accountability" for the loss of life or property at sea. Meanwhile it had become apparent to the Germans that this huge industrial country was to become what Grey called the "reserve arsenal of the Allies." Shut off from the seas themselves, the Germans could look for no substantial help from American raw materials except through the neutrals — and Britain was methodically plugging those leaks. The United States had, of course, an incontestable right to purvey goods of any sort to any belligerent, the Hague Convention of 1907 expressly granting that privilege to neutrals. Ironically, it was the German  p226 delegates who had pressed for the provision, the Krupps, and the German Government as well, wishing no hindrance to their sale of munitions abroad in war or peace.

In May the Lusitania was sunk off Old Kinsale Head, Ireland, with the loss of 1,198 lives, 114 of them American. A medal was struck to commemorate the deed in Germany, schoolchildren were released to celebrate the sudden death of 63 infants and children. Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, former Colonial Secretary, now in the United States as a "paid agent" (Lansing's description), dismissed the matter with the phrase "Anybody can commit suicide if he wants to." He referred to the fact that the German Embassy had warned Americans not to sail on belligerent liners. The German-language press in America scarcely bothered to conceal its rejoicing. Ambassador Gerard, expecting to be recalled, gathered that the Germans intended the sinking as a warning to the United States against further shipment of contraband. A plea to Congress for an embargo, backed by all the political forces the Germans could muster, had recently failed.

The large and vocal pro‑Ally element, including most of the great newspapers, hoped the Lusitania incident would move Wilson from his pedestal. To Theodore Roosevelt it was "now inconceivable [that] we should refrain from action: we owe it not only to humanity, but to our own self-respect." Two nights later, however, the President, addressing four thousand recently naturalized citizens in Philadelphia, ignored the tragedy, ignored the war except in a backhanded way. This was his "too proud to fight" speech. Roosevelt was momentarily struck dumb. Lodge contemptuously allowed it to spread through Washington clubs and drawing-rooms that he considered the President too "womanish" to bear a manly part, and the characterization reached the White House. The speech overjoyed Münsterberg and George Sylvester Viereck, the leading German propagandist in this country; it persuaded the Berlin Government that it need give little weight to a protest on the Lusitania when it came.

Wilson's first Lusitania note, going forward three days after the Philadelphia speech, spoke again of "strict accountability,"  p227 condemning the wanton destruction of civilians on the high seas in rounded Wilsonian phrases. Over the second Lusitania note, dated May 31, Bryan resigned as Secretary of State. The Cunard liner had carried a few cases of shells.​a This justified to Bryan her torpedoing without warning. The Great Commoner, who had been restrained from excursions into diplomacy except for his "cooling‑off" treaties, now became the favorite orator of the German-American Alliance, the American Women of German Descent, and the German-American Peace Society. To Bryan, peace was an absolute good, in a class with Prohibition and the Genesis version of Creation.

The President was finding that, as usual, impeccable objectivity was gaining him and his cause no friends abroad. German rage against the United States, always easy to incite, ran like a fever through that country. Gerard found himself treated as a quasi-enemy. For several months the Kaiser violated protocol by declining to receive the American Ambassador. When, on Gerard's insistence, he was admitted into the imperial presence, William, hardly able to conceal his anger, announced that "America had better look out after this war. . . . I shall stand for no nonsense from America after the war." Arthur Zimmermann, the Foreign Affairs Under-Secretary, warned the Ambassador that there were 500,000 German reservists in America, who "will rise in arms against your Government if your Government should dare take any action against Germany." Gerard's reply, recounted in his book, My Four Years in Germany, was brief: "I told him that we had five hundred thousand and one lamp posts in America, and that was where the German reservists would find themselves if they tried any uprising." At about this time Gerard learned that Tirpitz was the author of an article in the Frankfurter Zeitung which promised that after the British had been knocked out by the submarine and had surrendered their fleet, the combined Anglo-German fleet would sail to America and there extract an indemnity paying the entire cost of the war!

 p228  We come to an amazing chapter in the Wilson-House peace offensive. While in Berlin in March, 1915, the President's personal envoy was struck by an inspiration. He wrote Page on March 27 that he was coming to London for a talk with Grey on "a phase of the situation which promises results," adding cryptically: "I did not think of it until today and have mentioned it to both the Chancellor [Bethmann-Hollweg] and Zimmermann, who have received it cordially, and who join me in the belief that it may be the first thread to bridge the chasm." House's happy "thread" was freedom of the seas, a concept which was Germany's meat and Britain's poison.

House tarried in Paris. By the time he reached London his discovery had already been hallmarked by the Germans. In their delight, the Foreign Office had wirelessed Count von Bernstorff and Dernburg to initiate propaganda in America on behalf of freedom of the seas. The British Foreign Office, aware of this, treated the Colonel's promising proposals with distinct reserve. Dropping it there, House carried his notion back to the White House. The British would have rejected the proposal in any case, as House, had he possessed even rudimentary knowledge of sea power and its historical development, might have guessed.

Freedom of the seas as understood by House and subsequently by Wilson (to the confusion of our naval authorities and the alarm of the British) meant abandonment of the blockade, which, as it transpired, was the decisive weapon in that war — a weapon that had served the British well also against Napoleon, and the North against the South. In employing that weapon the British inconvenienced American commercial and shipping interests, just as in the period 1861‑65 the American blockade annoyed and angered the British. The precedents established then were called into use again. In the Civil War the North, devising the doctrine of continuous voyage, blockaded the North American continent, capturing ships bound for Cuba and Mexico and sequestering the cargoes on the presumption that they were destined to be transshipped for Confederate ports. The  p229 American rule was that ultimate destination was what counted, and if goods were bound from Liverpool to Savannah by way of Havana the United States called that a continuous voyage. The doctrine established by the United States in the 1860's proved a boon to England in 1915. Applying it, the British blockaded the European continent, regulating the flow of neutral commerce presumably bound for Germany through neutral ports on the Continent.

Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and 1907 and House in 1915 would have deprived England of this weapon, deprived the United States also, for once in the World War, we enforced the blockade with relentless severity. In the Civil War the blockade contributed to the development of the ironclad. In the First World War it stimulated use of the submarine as a retaliatory force.


Late in March, 1916, a U‑boat sank the Sussex, a Channel passenger steamer, forty lives being lost. A needless act, it corresponded hypothetically to the blowing‑up of a passenger train carrying civilians. Wilson's note of protest (one of the series) was this time ultimative, reading: "Unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect abandonment of this present method of submarine warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether." Gerard, delivering the note, believed it meant war. The Tirpitz party seemed to have the upper hand over the moderates led by the Chancellor. But as Gerard sat in his office "in a rather dazed and despairing state," an invitation arrived to visit the Kaiser at the Great General Headquarters, then at Charleville in occupied France.

After a long conversation, in which William assured the Ambassador that "as Emperor and Head of the Church" he wished to make war in a "knightly manner," Gerard returned to Berlin. Within a few days the Wilhelmstrasse delivered a note pledging the German Government to observe the rules  p230 of war — to sink no more ships without warning. This was early in May. Except for a few "mistakes," the Germans adhered to the promise for some time.

In October, however, Gerard, reaching the United States on leave, was convinced that resumption of illegal warfare was only a matter of weeks, despite a turn in the tide of war toward the Central Powers. By December 6 Bucharest had fallen. Haig's offensive on the Somme had failed at a cost of 500,000 casualties. Asquith confessed in the House of Commons that no effective means had been found to check U‑boat ravages. From August to December the monthly toll of tonnage lost rose from 230,000 to 355,000. On the Western Front the trench warfare was stalemated for another muddy winter; at sea the British faced dreary months. In Germany Tirpitz was promising victory within three months, given unrestricted U‑boat warfare. General von Ludendorff, nominally second in command to Marshal von Hindenburg, had the ear of the All Highest, and Ludendorff favored resumption in the interest of a swift victory.

But first there would be a diplomatic diversion. On December 12, 1916, Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg, "in a deep moral and religious sense of duty toward this nature and . . . humanity," suggested a peace conference of the "hostile Powers." A week later Wilson, effecting a plan matured before the German offer, called upon the belligerents to state their terms as a means toward peace. The President asserted as a fact that the "Objects which the statesmen of the belligerents on both sides have in mind . . . are virtually the same, as stated in general terms to their own people and to the world." "That one sentence," said House truly, "will enrage them."

In Paris, Georges Clemenceau remarked bitingly in his paper, the Homme Enchainé, that the "moral side of the war has escaped President Wilson." J. L. Garvin, in the London Observer, thought a "memorable mistake has been made at the White House . . . [in the] strange and almost inexplicable wrong which Mr. Wilson does to the traditions of his own country, the truth of recent history and the conscience of  p231 mankind." Otherwise the British press, which had never forgiven the President for not recognizing England's moral motive in going to war over Belgium, gave vent to explosive rancor. "Everybody is mad as hell," Lord Northcliffe told Page, who reported that the King, "expressing his surprise and dismay that Mr. Wilson should think that Englishmen were fighting for the same things in this war as the Germans, broke down."

Balfour had succeeded Grey as Foreign Secretary in the shake‑up that brought Lloyd George to power. The Allies, under Balfour's leader­ship, formulated their war aims generally as "restitution, reparation, and guaranties of future security." Specifically, they listed demands roughly approximating those which were to survive Versailles. The Germans, declining to state terms, stood on their offer of December 12, which the Allies regarded as a "trap baited with fair words" (Lloyd George's comment) and which Maximilian Harden, in the liberal Berlin Zukunft, deplored as having "no semblance of sincerity in the enemies' eyes," having been "preceded and accompanied by an array of blunders and stupidities."

The American press (other than the German-language organs) condemned the Germans for abruptly — in the words of the New York World — "closing the door, leaving no basis for further discussion." To the New York Times the German answer had the "look of insincerity," and the New York Tribune believed the Berlin Government had "coolly, skillfully, completely . . . turned that document [Wilson's note] to its own ends."

Peace by negotiation seemed far distant. The Kaiser, noting the Allied terms, stormed: "Our enemies have dropped their mask. . . . After refusing . . . our honest peace offer, they have now, in their reply to the United States, gone beyond that and admitted their lust for conquest, the baseness of which is further enhanced by their calumnious assertions." But the President would not be discouraged. On January 22, 1917, addressing the Senate, he submitted peace terms of his own. He called for a "peace without victory," for a "peace  p232 between equals." The speech contained much that later appeared in the Fourteen Points: self-determination of nations, freedom of the seas, reduction of armaments, what was construed as the charter for an independent Poland, and the satisfaction of Russia's desire for the Straits. He likewise advocated an international organization to police his reforms. Wilson, it appeared, while unwilling to intervene in Europe's war, was bent on intervening in Europe's peace.

A chorus of approval arose from the pro‑German press. "Upon the principles enunciated by the President must be based the only saving peace," said the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung; and Viereck's Fatherland found that whereas "Lincoln emancipated merely the African Negro . . . Wilson's speech sets free men and minds in every part of the globe." Senator Robert M. La Follette hailed this as a "very important hour in the history of the world." Taft, actively propagating the League to Enforce Peace, thought the speech marked "an epoch in the history of our foreign policy," but Theodore Roosevelt, dwelling on the passages on the freedom of the seas, remarked that "until this Government has taken an effective stand to prevent the murder of its citizens by submarines on the high seas, it makes itself an object of derision by speaking for the freedom of the seas." Cannily, the Boston Transcript feared that the freedom-of‑the‑seas infusion was the "mixture of blood in the dish of barley-sugar which the President set before the world."

A favorite theme of editorialists in this country was that Wilson had announced a "Monroe Doctrine for the world." Abroad, the press prevailingly agreed, holding, however, that in seeking to extend the American doctrine to Europe the President had abandoned it on behalf of his own country. In Madrid the Epoca called the address the "funeral oration of the Monroe Doctrine." To the Petrograd Novoye Vremya it seemed that Wilson had "cast aside the security of the Monroe Doctrine for a dream." The Zürich Nachrichten, rather more bluntly, believed the President had "violated the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine in his pretended meddling with European concerns." The London Mail regarded  p233 a "Monroe Doctrine for the world as hopelessly visionary," a sentiment also voiced in Paris by the Journal des Débats. Such discussion, indeed all talk of peace, soon became academic.

On January 31, 1917, Germany announced a return to unrestricted U‑boat sinkings. The United States, having recovered from its slump of 1914 and early 1915, was at dizzying heights of prosperity. From J. P. Morgan & Company's office at the Wall Street "Corner" to the farthest Nevada village, the country was riding high, with wheat at around $2.50 a bushel, cotton crowding 35 cents a pound, copper, oil — all raw goods — at new highs. Jobs were plentiful, wages abundant. The country was making munitions; Grey's Allied "reserve arsenal" had become active. We had already made loans of $2,300,000,000 to the Allies for war supplies.

On February 1 the boom was placed in peril by resumption of ruthless submarine warfare. In London Page, fearful that Allied purchasing power had already been exhausted, noted that the "submarine has added the last item to the danger of a financial world crash." In Berlin Foreign Secretary Zimmermann repeated assurances to Gerard at a supper party: "Everything will be all right. America will do nothing, for President Wilson is for peace and nothing else. Everything will go on as before. I have arranged for you to go to the Great General Headquarters and see the Kaiser next week . . . and everything will be all right."

In Washington the White House saw an odd spectacle — the President and House grimly playing pool. House, hurrying to Wilson's side upon receipt of the news, found him "sad and depressed," but "insistent that he would not allow it to lead to war if it could possibly be avoided." "It would be criminal," said Wilson, "for this Government to involve itself in war to such an extent as to make it impossible to save Europe afterward." On the day before when the German announcement was placed before the President, Tumulty observed a swift change of expression: "first blank amazement, then incredulity, then gravity and sternness, a sudden greyness."  p234 Apparently the President had discredited Gerard's confident warning, which had been renewed by cable after he returned to Berlin.

Outside the White House newsboys cried papers with black headlines screaming of "piracy" and a "return to murder." In New York the World called the German note a "declaration of war against the United States," the Post saw in it a warning that Germany was about to "run amuck on the high seas." Garvin wrote in London that the "hour when the United States enters the war will seal Germany's doom." On that day the United States, a nation of 113,000,000, had a merchant fleet of 8,500,000 tons (to England's 13,000,000), gold reserves larger than Great Britain, France, and Russia combined, as much pig iron as the rest of the world, a copper output twice that of all other countries.

The President, pale, manifestly tired, met his Cabinet on February 2. At once he asked what should be done — "Shall I break off diplomatic relations with Germany?" Without pausing for a reply, he made what his Secretary of Agriculture, Houston, regarded as a "somewhat startling statement," which as Houston recorded it in his memories of the period ran like this: "He would say frankly that, if he felt that in order to keep the white race, or part of it, strong to meet the yellow race — Japan, for instance, in alliance with Russia, dominating China — it was wise to do nothing, he would do nothing, and would submit to anything and any imputation of weakness or cowardice."

Houston was taken aback by this Kaiserlike utterance, "a novel and unexpected angle." However, the Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, and the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, seemed "much impressed with the President's long look ahead." The President was still neutral, still clinging to the shreds of the high impartiality from which he had hoped to judge, moderate, and reorganize the wicked world. In the general Cabinet debate over the suitable reaction to the German challenge the President was asked which side he preferred to see win. Promptly he replied that he "didn't wish to see either side win, for both had been equally indifferent  p235 to the rights of neutrals, although Germany had been brutal in taking life and England only in taking property."

On February 3 the President broke relations with Germany in a brief address to Congress. Informed of the action by the Associated Press, Bernstorff said he was "not surprised. My Government will not be surprised either. The people in Berlin knew what was bound to happen. There was nothing else left for the United States to do." Four days later the Senate, by a vote of 78 to 5, approved the severance. In the country at large, already overwhelming pro‑Ally, the departure of Bernstorff was taken as merely a token of the war that was bound to come.

A mingled assortment of pro‑Germans and pacifists began uttering demands for a referendum on war, a move termed by the New York World the "expiring gasp of German propaganda in America." However, many of the German-American societies and German-language newspapers hurriedly bespoke their allegiance to the United States. On February 8 the German-American National Alliance, in convention at Philadelphia, endorsed the rupture of relations, and its president, Dr. Charles J. Hexamer, urged the local units to "organize German-American regiments . . . for defense of the flag." "Unqualified approval and commendation" was voted the President in his stand by the Hoboken City Commission, and in Omaha the German Tribune declared that "our allegiance to America first, last and all the time."


With the renewal of indiscriminate U‑boat warfare the First Battle of the Atlantic was fairly on. The loss of tonnage, British and neutral, mounted in February to 540,000. Despairingly, the Spectator conceded that Britain now had "command of the sea in name only," while the London Nation, resorting to understatement, likewise admitted that "unless we can sink submarines faster than they are being built and build British merchantmen faster than they are  p236 being sunk, we are approaching the margin of peril." Losses continued to climb. Plainly, England was marked for starvation and defeat; and more (it became increasingly patent to Americans) was at stake than England's position in Europe — her possible military surrender in northern France.

The sea ascendancy of Britain was being put to the hazard of the surreptitious submarine. The American people, often indifferent to the claims of the sea, were being made aware (in ways more subtle than obvious) that they too faced the loss of the Atlantic; that the Atlantic System, more felt and taken for granted than rationalized, was under crucial attack. The realization was borne home in February as it became apparent that the Berlin declaration had wider implications than it was at first supposed. A challenge to American national dignity, it presaged danger and increased destruction on the Atlantic, but in addition it was blockading American ports. In extending their counterblockade, the Germans at the same time were locking up American harbors, and crippled as England was, the blockade of America proved another horrible blow. Nothing could have demonstrated more conclusively the essential community of interest in the Atlantic world. The Germans had, of course, planned it that way; they hoped the notice of February 1 would hold neutral shipping in American ports. What they had not fully reckoned on was that the denial of the Atlantic to America would inevitably impel that Sea Power into war.

As February wore along the indirect blockade threatened to bring the whole American economy into collapse as well as smother England. As early as February 2 the New York press noted that American and neutral transatlantic liners were canceling their sailings. P. A. S. Franklin, president of the American Lines, announced that his flagship, the St. Louis, was being held up until he could get guarantees of protection from the Government. Ten days later he began to dismiss his crews and unload cargo from all American Line ships, passenger and freight-carrying. The Government had told him, said Franklin, that he might arm his vessels,  p237 but "you can't buy 6‑inch guns in any store," and he had no gunners in sight. Defense was a Government monopoly.

Soon the harbors of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the minor Atlantic ports were cluttered with freighters under United States, Scandinavian, and other neutral flags. Neither shipowners nor seamen were willing to risk the Atlantic passage for money alone. The ships of the Allied belligerents came and went, their men having a patriotic incentive, but belligerent bottoms were by no means sufficient to deliver Allied war needs. As tonnage languished in the ports, the warehouses and piers filled up; then the railroads could not unload cars at the seaboard terminals. With freight yards crowded, a car shortage rapidly developed and the railroads became clogged as far west as Pittsburgh and Buffalo. On February 16 the railroads placed an embargo on shipments to Atlantic ports. Whereupon the price of food mounted, creating housewives' riots. Women streamed out of lower East Side tenements in New York City, overturning pushcarts, sprinkling kerosene on the stocks of outdoor dealers, marching on City Hall with demands for food. It was thought that some of the agitation was inspired by German agents. If so, their intrigues worked in fertile soil. Coal also became scarce, the price pyramiding.

The "paralysis of overseas commerce" threatened grave social consequences. For the first time since Napoleon, Americans were shut off from the sea, and as far west as the wheat belt, in little inland towns where the Atlantic was only a name, people realized anew their dependence on salt water. As fear spread, Spring-Rice reported to London the "stoppage of trade, congestion in the ports, the widespread discomfort and even misery on the coast . . . even bread riots and coal famine." Had the jam at the ports not been broken, the towering structure of war prosperity certainly would have toppled in a matter of weeks. Furthermore, England would have been smashed. The blockade control port of Kirkwall in the Orkneys, heretofore crowded, saw few neutral flags in February and March, 1917.

In the Cabinet discussion grew heated. With Wilson doubting,  p238 on February 24 whether the country would support strong measures, William Gibbs McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury and the President's son-in‑law, Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, and Secretary Houston pressed for immediate, warlike action. The Senate isolationists, led by La Follette, O'Gorman, and William J. Stone of Missouri, were making menacing noises out of proportion to their votes or the public following they commanded. "Congress or no Congress," pleaded McAdoo, this was "no time for hesitation." Lane urged the President to inform the public about the treatment of American consuls' wives in Germany, the State Department having received reports of indignities. In Berlin the Foreign Office had attempted to extort from Gerard his signature to a remarkable treaty exempting the numerous German nationals in this country from operation of certain American laws — in effect, conferring extraterritorial privileges — on penalty of having American citizens detained in Germany. Turning on McAdoo and Lane, the President accused them of an appeal to the "code duello." In justification for his attitude the Chief Executive quoted Governor McCall of Massachusetts, who, calling that day, had advised him that the people wished the Government to "go slow."

The relations between the President and his constitutional body of advisers grew strained as the more resolute Cabinet members sought to bring the reluctant intellectual to a decision. Houston put the argument on grounds of national interest. The United States could "not afford to let Germany intimidate us, or cut England off and crush France — we would be the next. Germany would be mistress of the world, and her arrogance and ruthlessness would know no bounds."

Two days after this session the President asked Congress for permission to arm merchant ships. Backing and filling in his address to Congress, Wilson denied "proposing or contemplating a war, or any steps that may lead to war." The spectacle of a Chief Magistrate treading softly in the presence of an arrogant senatorial minority was by no means new. Nor would Wilson be the last President to palaver with a vociferous  p239 block in the Senate. A bill was introduced with the evident approval of the country (Gallup's fever chart of public opinion was not then a national institution) providing $100,000,000 for the equipment of merchant vessels with guns and crews.

On March 1 the Administration made public the Zimmermann note, which became at once a casus belli. Zimmermann, who had been promoted to be Foreign Minister, had been in search of friends in the Americas. To that end he had instructed the German Minister in Mexico to offer the Mexican Government Germany's assistance in reclaiming Texas and the Southwest from the United States as the price of a military alliance. The Germans hoped, of course, that an embattled Mexico would divert this country's effort if war came. An absurd endeavor on Herr Zimmermann's part — testifying anew to the German Government's ignorance of the United States, its spirit and power — he compounded the offense, from a propaganda point of view, by making full confession after his journalistic backers in this country had strenuously branded it an "English forgery." This note had passed in code through the American State Department's own communication system, being detected and decoded by the British secret service.

After being formally assured of its authenticity by Wilson the Senate majority chose to make of the Zimmermann note an overt act. With the press blazing wrathfully, the House passed the armed merchantman bill 403 to 13. La Follette and ten other Senators filibustered it to death in the Congress expiring on March 3, with 75 of the 96 Senators fuming in the cloakrooms and signing a protest against the demonstration of the minority. In his second inaugural address Wilson brought his gift for measured invective to bear, denouncing La Follette, Stone, O'Gorman, and their associates as "a little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own" who had "rendered the great Government of the United States helpless and contemptible."

On March 9 the President, having been supplied with a citation of authority derived from an act of 1797, ordered  p240 the ships armed. At the same time he called a special session of Congress to meet on April 16, 1917, later advanced to April 2. Only one step remained — the declaration of a state of war. On a rainy spring night, with the Capitol dome bathed in mist and a guard of cavalry from Fort Myer surrounding his carriage, the President rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue to invoke war against the Power that had sought to hem America in from the sea. All reservations had vanished now (although only yesterday Lane had noted in his diary that the President "goes unwillingly") as he vowed "we will not choose the path of submission." Edward D. White, the Chief Justice, himself a Confederate veteran, led the cheers, tears streaming down his cheeks.

It was to be "force, force without stint, force to the uttermost." To what end would this force be applied? In 1776 the colonies fought for political independence, in 1812 the United States fought for its rights on the high seas; in 1861 the North fought to preserve the Union, the South for separation; the Spanish-American War was prosecuted for the deliverance of Cuba and the expulsion of Spain from the hemisphere. All these were limited objectives. Now Wilson was summoning the nation to war for "mankind . . . the world must be made safe for democracy." Early in his Administration the President, in an otherwise unimportant speech, described the American flag as the "flag of humanity." The phrase had been taken as a bit of harmless rhetoric. No longer a figure of speech, the concept was now clothed with the majesty of a war aim. A dispute that began over America's safe access to and command of an ocean was suddenly enlarged into a cosmic conflict between good and evil.


With his usual eloquence, Walter Lippmann recently argued that the United States went to war in 1917 to preserve the Atlantic System, as he put it, "to defend America by aiding the Allies to defend the Atlantic Ocean against an  p241 untrustworthy and powerful conqueror."​1 In 1917 Lippmann was one of the editors of the New Republic; he had access to the President, a circumstance attested rather querulously in a letter from Taft to Lord Bryce, in which the former President enumerated three or four advisers, including Lippmann, and referred to them as "men of . . . triumphant, graceful and charming phrasing." At the moment Taft was complaining over what he thought a Wilsonian tendency to wage war by "joint debate." But when in the article cited Lippmann attempted to "prove" that the Administration went to war for the Atlantic System, he only established that the editors of the New Republic understood almost better than any of their contemporaries the reasons that impelled the United States to that fateful act.

He quoted from editorials published in February, 1917, the month of decision, which in hammered, realistic sentences disclosed our good and sufficient motives. The article of February 17, for example, under the title "The Defense of the Atlantic World," declared that

if the Allied fleet were in danger of destruction, if magnify had a chance of securing command of the seas, our navy ought to be joined to the British in order to prevent it. The safety of the Atlantic highway is something for which America should fight. Why? Because on the two shores of the Atlantic Ocean there has grown up a profound web of interest which joins together the western world . . . if that community were destroyed we should know what we had lost. We should understand then the meaning of the unfortified Canadian frontier, of the common protection given Latin-America by the British and American fleets.

Proceeding to our specific grievance against Germany, the writer continued:

It is the crime of Germany that she is trying to make hideous the highways by which the Atlantic Powers live. That is what has raised us against her in this war. . . . When she carried the war to the Atlantic by violating Belgium, by invading France, by striking against Britain, and by attempting to disrupt us, neutrality of spirit or action was out of the question. And now  p242 that she is seeking to cut the vital highways of our world we can no longer stand you. . . . A victory on the high seas would be a triumph of that class which aims to make Germany the leader of the East against the West, the leader ultimately of a German-Russian-Japanese coalition against the Atlantic world.

The prophetic insight displayed in the foregoing also depicted with startling clarity the American situation in relation­ship to a Nazi victory in the Second World War:

. . . with Germany established . . . [as] mistress of the seas, our trade would encounter closed doors on every hand. . . . The sooner we should cancel the Monroe Doctrine the safer for us. . . . The passing of the power of England would be calamitous to the American national interest . . . [America would] be morally and politically isolated. . . . As a consequence of its isolation, it will become alarmed as never before. In its fear, it will arm until its territory is spotted with camps and its shores bristle with guns and battle­ships.

Lippmann and his associate, the chief editor of the New Republic, Herbert Croly, deserve all honor for extricating from the tangled skein of myth, propaganda, and moral and hysterical rationalization the true cord of vital interest that led us to the night of April 2, 1917. Who else of that year discerned what has become so apparent now that the second, grosser phase of the great war brings out the strategical outline of the first? Wilson? There is no doubt that Lippmann presented the Atlantic thesis to him; there is equally no doubt that Wilson's utterances are bare of evidence that he comprehended, or if he understood, believed. Theodore Roosevelt, as infatuated with his subjective "righteousness" as Wilson with his "humanity," was engrossed with a symptom — the "murder" of American citizens on the high seas — rather than a system. Page had an approximation of the truth, although he narrowed it to Anglo-American ascendancy. Henry Adams, a paralyzed invalid but still able to pluck harmoniously at the strings of history, penetrated again to first causes, writing a friend in England his gratification because "I find the great object of my life thus accomplished in the building up of the great community of the Atlantic  p243 Powers, which I hope will at last make a precedent that can never be forgotten."

A disciple of Mahan's strategical doctrines, Lippmann was likewise in accord with Adams's systemic contribution. The British, acute in matters of sea power, gathered our less obvious reasons without difficulty. Spring-Rice, who for years had fondly addressed Adams as "uncle," was certain in April, 1917, that "it is, of course, impossible now to separate the interests of England and the United States, so far as regards the Atlantic." When Grey of Fallodon came to write his memoirs, he expressed what he thought was a truism: "But for the German submarine war on merchant vessels, the United States would not have come in on the side of the Allies." Winston Churchill in his history of that war, The World Crisis, gave full weight to the "virtual arrest of United States shipping through fear of German attack" — the self-internment of neutral vessels that threatened the well-being, as it shamed the dignity, of the United States in the early spring of 1917. Suspicious of general ideas, however, the British authorities underestimated the preventive part of the American motives — the determination that another nation, one the United States had often regarded as hostile, should not gain command of the other shore of the Atlantic.

Contemporaneously another American publication, the Seattle German Press, antedated the findings of the Nye Committee on the causes of war, stating in April, 1917, that the "entire nation is opposed to war. Wilson has been sandbagged by the Jingo press, which is kept by the financial interests of the country. . . . British gold, Wall Street, the ammunition makers and the indifference of the people are solely responsible for this national catastrophe."

Although the First World War President failed to recognize the Atlantic System in word, he did so in deed. In February, 1916, at a time when it first appeared that Germany's unrestrained U‑boat warfare might impact, if not destroy, Britain's mastery of the Atlantic, Wilson had unexpectedly called for "the most adequate navy . . . incomparably the greatest navy in the world." Speaking at Kansas City and St.  p244 Louis on successive nights, the President, who had been resisting the outcries of the preparedness advocates led by Theodore Roosevelt and Major General Leonard Wood, demanded, with rare vehemence, that the United States (which never, in the health of the British fleet, had considered a navy of more than second rank) prepare to seize the trident for itself.

The specific fears actuating Wilson's uncharacteristic aspiration were obscure. Ambassador Jusserand later would warn House that, Russia and Japan having formed an alliance into which Germany might gravitate after the war, the United States had better help France now if it wished for help then. The aggressive behavior of Japan in the Far East had already caused misgivings. Wilson himself in July, 1916, questioned whether England could be depended upon for "even-handed" treatment in postwar trade rivalries. But in February the underlying reason cannot have failed to lie in a novel and general apprehensiveness concerning the American future in a world from which the prop of the British Navy had been withdrawn. Only twice in American history has the country bestirred itself for the "greatest navy in the world," or its substantial equivalent, a "two‑ocean navy." On both occasions British command of the seas was in peril. Wilson's navy speeches gave his high sanction to preparedness. The Naval Bill of 1916, adopted on August 29, authorized ten battle­ships, six battle cruisers, and one hundred and forty other vessels of all types, including fifty destroyers of the class traded to Britain in 1940.

In the Senate debate on the war resolution La Follette (one of the six who voted no) placed his opposition on the ground that the England, being the original blockader, was the worse offender. The Wisconsin Senator likewise urged that in the absence of a referendum the President had no mandate to bear the country into war. The inference from his first argument was that if the United States was to enter the hostilities at all, it should be on the side of Germany. Few Americans had ever considered that as a possibility. As a  p245 nation-wide referendum was foreign to American institutions, there being neither precedent nor machinery for such a counting of noses, the second consideration seemed mere obstructive demagoguery. As for the first, the country failed to agree that exercise of the right of blockade (even if burdensome to shippers and at times improperly administered) was as opprobrious as the sinking of passenger liners without warning. Lodge, whose "heart was more moved by the thought of a drowned baby than an unsold bale of cotton," reflected the sentiments of Americans more accurately than La Follette, whose memorable speech indeed expressed the case for the Wilhelmstrasse syllable by syllable.

This review of the entry of the United States into the First World War has minimized the protracted controversy with England over shipments within the blockade. It has also passed by the equally long record of illegal U‑boat depredations, which, moving Wilson to protest, slowly stirred the American people to wrath. On April 2, 1917, the blockade issue became academic. The U‑boat record, while dramatic, seems little more than incidental to the basic war cause, which, as it has appeared here, was the possible loss of control — of command — of the Atlantic. In this version, the United States went to war in 1917 not because of the rape of Belgium, not to repay the debt to Lafayette, not in revulsion against German militarism, not for "humanity" or for small European nations, not even for freedom of the seas. England too had prevented the "free" use of the seas by America. The United States took up arms in the last analysis because it seemed likely that without American intervention the scepter of the Atlantic would pass from the hands of English-speaking peoples into those of a stranger. Of England the Americans had no genuine fears; the stranger might provoke them into a far more terrible war — with perhaps the Continent and a subdued Britain behind him — to settle the ascendancy of the Atlantic Ocean, and, beyond that, this Western Hemisphere.

To Americans heedful of future security, the reiterated demand of Admiral von Tirpitz for the Channel ports as  p246 springboards for the conquest of England and America was more than a newspaper headline. The bleak pattern of conquest outlined in the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, by which Russia made a humiliating peace with Germany, and in various private renderings of war aims to Gerard and others, was by no means a figment to such Americans as House, McAdoo, Lane, Houston, Henry Adams, Page, Lippmann, and the United States Navy high command. In a moment of sharp perceptiveness Theodore Roosevelt had seen in 1911 that the United States was already enmeshed in the European balance of power. He wrote:

If Great Britain failed . . . the United States would have to step in, at least temporarily, in order to re‑establish the balance of power in Europe, never mind against which country, or group of countries, our efforts may have to be directed. . . . In fact, we are ourselves becoming, owing to our strength and geographical situation, more and more the balance of power of the whole globe.

In the backward glance, it seems amply demonstrated that America fought in 1917 to ensure that the balance should not fall against her. Where the Atlantic was involved the United States was precisely as isolated as Belgium. For generations England, in the interest of her peace and well-being, had promoted a balancing of powers on the Continent. With the shrinking of the oceans, the demonstrated power of the submarine, and the incipiency of air warfare, the balance of world forces became of vital concern to Americans. For their own ends they chose as partner the Power holding command of the eastern North Atlantic, and their traditional friend.

The Author's Notes:

1 Life, April 7, 1941.

Thayer's Note:

a 1250 cases of artillery shells ("shrapnel"), shipped by Bethlehem Steel Company to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, with 18 cases of fuses — see the bottom of p5 of the original manifest at about 50 tons' worth if the shells were filled, about which it is only fair to say there is some controversy.

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