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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XXV - German Propaganda
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

Early in January, 1916, German sympathizers throughout the country began a drive on both Houses of Congress for the passage of a resolution warning or forbidding Americans to travel on passenger ships belonging to citizens or subjects of the belligerent nations. Petitions of various kinds, demanding vigorous action in this matter, began to pour in upon us at the White House from various parts of the country. While these petitions were signed by many devoted, patriotic Americans, it was clear to those of us who were on the inside of affairs that there lay back of this movement a sinister purpose on the part of German sympathizers in this country to give Germany full sway upon the high seas, in order that she might be permitted to carry on her unlawful and inhuman submarine warfare. This movement became so intense that leading Democratic and Republican senators and representatives soon became its ardent advocates, until it looked as if the resolution might pass with only a small minority found in opposition to it. Those of us who were in the Executive offices, and intimately associated with the President, kept in close touch with the situation on Capitol Hill and were advised that the movement for the resolution was in full swing and that it could not be checked. A resolution was finally introduced by Representative McLemore, of Texas, and quickly received the support of Senator Gore of Oklahoma, and Senator Stone of Missouri, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations. What the attitude of the President should be toward it was the subject of discussion between the President, two of his Cabinet officers, and myself, after a session of the Cabinet early in February, 1916.

The President was advised by the Cabinet officers with whom he conferred regarding the matter that it would be a hopeless task on his part to attempt to stem the tide that was now running in favour of the passage of the McLemore resolution, and that were he to attempt to prevent its passage it might result in a disastrous defeat of his leadership, that would seriously embarrass him on Capitol Hill and throughout the nation.

At the conclusion of this conference the President asked me whether my information about affairs on Capitol Hill and the attitude of the members of the House and Senate toward the McLemore resolution was in accord with the information he had just received from his Cabinet officers. I told him that it was, but that so far as I was concerned I did not share the opinion of the Cabinet officers and did not agree with the advice which they had volunteered, to the effect that it would be useless for him to throw down the gage of battle to those who sought to pass the McLemore resolution. I informed him that regardless of what the attitude of those on Capitol Hill was toward the resolution, he could not afford to allow the matter to pass without a protest from him, and that, indeed, he could afford to be defeated in making a fight to maintain American rights upon the high seas. The discussion between the President, the Cabinet officers, and myself became heated. They were reluctant to have the President go into the fight, while I was most anxious to have him do so. Evidently, what I said made an impression upon the President and he asked me, as our conference was concluded, to let him have as soon as possible a memorandum containing my views upon the subject.

Shortly after the conference, Senator Stone, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, asked for an appointment with the President, to confer with him on the next morning, February 25th, regarding the McLemore resolution. I suggested to the President that inasmuch as Senator Stone was to see him in the morning it would be wise and prudent if, in answer to his letter asking for an appointment, the President should frankly state his views with reference to the proposed resolution. The President acted upon this suggestion and the letter was immediately dispatched to Senator Stone.

My letter to the President, advising him of the situation, was as follows:

February 24, 1916.


What I have heard since leaving you this morning confirms me in my belief that now is the time (before the night passes) to set forth your position to the country on the McLemore resolution in terms that no one can misunderstand. In the last hour I have talked with Speaker Clark, Senator Pittman, and Mr. Sims of Tennessee, and have received impressions from them which lead me to conclude: first, that the consideration of this resolution cannot much longer be postponed, as Speaker Clark so informed me, although Congressman Doremus and Senator Pittman say the situation on the hill is quieting down. I am more than convinced that underlying this resolution is a purpose to discredit your leadership, for the forces that are lined up for this fight against you are the anti-preparedness crowd, the Bryan-Kitchen-Clark group, and some of the anti-British Senators like Hoke Smith and Gore. Therefore, I cannot urge you too strongly at once to send an identic letter to both Representative Flood, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the House, and Senator Stone, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate. The letter, in my opinion, should embody the following ideas:

First, explain in the frankest fashion just what Secretary Lansing attempted to obtain when he suggested to the Entente nations an agreement on the arming of merchantmen, how this government was informed by Germany of her intention to destroy armed merchantmen without giving the passengers a moment of warning, and how, in order to stave off such a contingency, we tried as the friend and in the interest of humanity to get an agreement between both sides that would bring submarine warfare within the bounds of international law.

Second, explain that a possible adjustment of this matter is in process of negotiation right now, and that, of course, while we cannot change international law upon our own initiative, we are still of the hope that some general agreement among the belligerents may eventually be obtained. Explain how embarrassing such a resolution as the McLemore one will be to negotiations now being threshed out between the executive branches of the Government charged with the conduct of foreign relations, and foreign governments.

Third, then say that in the absence of any general agreement, the United States cannot yield one inch of her rights without destroying the whole fabric of international law, for in the last analysis this is what is involved. To yield one right to-day means another to- morrow. We cannot know where this process of yielding on the ground of convenience or expediency may lead us. These laws are the product of centuries. Our forefathers fought to establish their validity, and we cannot afford for the sake of convenience when our very life is threatened, to abandon them on any ground of convenience or expediency.

Fourth, to pass such a resolution at this time would seriously embarrass the Department of State and the Executive in the conduct of these most delicate matters at a time when everything is being done to bring about a peaceful solution of these problems.

Fifth, might you not diplomatically suggest, in your letter to Senator Stone, that to pass favorably upon a resolution of this kind at this time would be showing lack of confidence in the Government, and particularly in its Chief Executive?

The morning papers have outlined the details of the opposition among the Democrats. The afternoon papers are repeating the same thing with emphasis on the fact that Joe Cannon, Jim Mann, and Lodge are going to support you. I would suggest that you insert the following in your letter to Senator Stone:
"I think that not only would such a vote on this resolution be construed as a lack of confidence in the executive branch of the Government in this most delicate matter but if the division continues as I am informed within the ranks of the Democratic party, it will be difficult for me to consider that the majority party speaks the will of the nation in these circumstances and as between any faction in my party and the interests of the nation, I must always choose the latter, irrespective of what the effect will be on me or my personal fortunes. What we are contending for in this matter is of the very essence of the things that have made America a sovereign nation. She cannot yield them without admitting and conceding her own impotency as a nation and the surrender of her independent position among the nations of the world."
The letter of the President to Senator Stone was published in the morning papers of February 25, 1916, and is as follows:

February 25, 1916.


I very warmly appreciate your kind and frank letter of to-day, and feel that it calls for an equally frank reply. You are right in assuming that I shall do everything in my power to keep the United States out of war. I think the country will feel no uneasiness about my course in that respect. Through many anxious months I have striven for that object, amid difficulties more manifold than can have been apparent upon the surface, and so far I have succeeded. I do not doubt that I shall continue to succeed.

The course which the central European powers have announced their intention of following in the future with regard to undersea warfare seems for the moment to threaten insuperable obstacles, but its apparent meaning is so manifestly inconsistent with explicit assurances recently given us by those powers with regard to their treatment of merchant vessels on the high seas that I must believe that explanations will presently ensue which will put a different aspect upon it. We have had no reason to question their good faith or their fidelity to their promises in the past, and I for one feel confident that we shall have none in the future.

But in any event our duty is clear. No nation, no group of nations, has the right, while war is in progress, to alter or disregard the principles which all nations have agreed upon in mitigation of the horrors and sufferings of war; and if the clear rights of American citizens should very unhappily be abridged or denied by any such action we should, it seems to me, have in honour no choice as to what our own course should be.

For my own part I cannot consent to any abridgment of the rights of American citizens in any respect. The honour and self-respect of the nation is involved. We covet peace, and shall preserve it at any cost but the loss of honor. To forbid our people to exercise their rights for fear we might be called upon to vindicate them would be a deep humiliation, indeed. It would be an implicit, all but an explicit, acquiescence in the violation of the rights of mankind everywhere and of whatever nation or allegiance. It would be a deliberate abdication of our hitherto proud position as spokesmen, even amid the turmoil of war, for the law and the right. It would make everything this government has attempted and everything that it has accomplished during this terrible struggle of nations meaningless and futile.

It is important to reflect that if in this instance we allowed expediency to take the place of principle the door would inevitably be opened to still further concessions. Once accept a single abatement of right, and many other humiliations would follow, and the whole fine fabric of international law might crumble under our hands piece by piece. What we are contending for in this matter is of the very essence of the things that have made America a sovereign nation. She cannot yield them without conceding her own impotency as a nation and making virtual surrender of her independent position among the nations of the world.

I am speaking, my dear Senator, in deep solemnity, without heat, with a clear consciousness of the high responsibilities of my office and as your sincere and devoted friend. If we should unhappily differ, we shall differ as friends, but where issues so momentous as these are involved we must, just because we are friends, speak our minds without reservation.

Faithfully yours,

United States Senate.
The publication of the letter of the President to Senator Stone worked a complete reversal of opinion on the Hill.

Quickly the effect of the President's letter was seen, and the McLemore resolution was overwhelmingly defeated.

Early in August, 1916, the President took up his residence at Shadow Lawn, New Jersey, and began the preparation of his speech of acceptance. He forwarded me a draft of this speech which brought from me the following comment upon it:

August 22, 1916.


I think the failure to bring out the hyphen question in your speech of acceptance will be vigorously criticized even by our loyal friends. Mr. Hughes will soon be compelled to speak out on this question. Roosevelt's speeches in the main will force him to do this. You might open the subject in that part of your speech in which you discuss neutrality, showing the embarrassments under which you have laboured in trying to keep the Nation at peace. After discussing these embarrassments, consisting of plots against our industries, etc., could you not introduce a sentence like this?: "While I am the candidate of the Democratic party, I am above all else an American citizen. I neither seek the favour nor fear the wrath of any alien element in America which puts loyalty to any foreign power first."

As to Huerta: I believe your reference to him could be strengthened. I think you ought to bring out the fact that the work of assassination shall never receive the endorsement, so far as you are concerned, of this American Republic. I suggest the following: "The United States will refuse, so long as that power remains with me, to extend the hand of welcome to one who gains power in a republic through treachery and bloodshed." (This is not only sound statesmanship but good morals.) "No permanency in the affairs of our sister republics can be attained by a title based upon intrigue and assassination."

The President, always welcoming advice, approved and embodied some of these suggestions in his speech of acceptance.

It has often been said by unfair critics that Mr. Wilson was so tenacious of his own opinion and views that he resented suggestions from the outside in any matter with which he was called upon to deal.

As an intimate associate of his for eleven years, I think I was in a position to find out and to know how unfair the basis of this criticism really was. In my contact with public men I never met a more open-minded man; nor one who was more willing to act upon any suggestion that had merit in it. I have seen him readily give up his own views and often yield to the influence of a better argument. I always felt free in every public matter that he discussed and in every attitude which he took on public questions frankly to express my own opinion and openly to disagree with him. In his speeches and public statements he had no pride of opinion, nor did he attempt to hold his friends off at arms' length when they had suggestions of any kind to make.

Dear Tumulty,

Here is the expurgated stuff. Do what you please with it.

W. W.

* * * * *

19 Nov., 1916.

Dear Tumulty,

Here is the message. I wish you would read it and give me your impression of it.

And please keep it very carefully from any eyes but your own. It is still in provisional shape only, and there are a number of points I am still keeping under advisement.

(signed) W. W.

* * * * *

17 May, 1916.


Dear Tumulty,

Thank you for the memorandum about peace suggestions. I have read it very carefully and find my own thoughts travelling very much the same route. You may be sure I am doing a great deal of serious thinking about it all.

(signed) W. W.
Some insights into day-to-day affairs at the White House]

In these reminiscences I am including my letters to him, embodying suggestions of various kinds, many of which he acted upon and many of which he rejected, in order that proof may be given of the fact, that despite what his critics may say, he not only did not resent suggestions, but openly invited them.


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