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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XXVIII - Preparedness
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

The feelings of the people throughout the country began to be aroused as they witnessed the outlawry of Germany in ruthlessly attacking and wantonly interfering with American commerce on the high seas. The agitation for preparedness to meet a critical world situation was on in full swing. Congress and the President were harassed by conflicting demands from every side immediately to "put our house in order" and to set America safely on the road to national preparedness. Theodore Roosevelt was clamorously demanding universal compulsory military service and was ably aided by General Wood and Admiral Peary, who urged the adoption of conscription. Secretary of War Garrison and Senator Chamberlain, of Oregon, were converted to this radical movement and unwittingly became part and parcel of the Roosevelt-Wood preparedness propaganda. These gentlemen could see only the direct route to the accomplishment of the purpose they had in mind and were alike unmindful of the difficulties and obstacles that lay in the President's path. To them it appeared that all it was necessary for the President to do was boldly to announce his programme of preparedness and serenely to await its approval at the hands of Congress. They were unmindful of the difficulties of the situation and of the consummate tact that Would be required on the part of the President to induce Congress to turn away from the old volunteer system and to put into effect at once a system that overnight would transform America into an armed camp. The President was bound to consider the stern actualities of the situation and to withhold himself as far as possible from a too vigorous insistence on any programme of preparedness that was not traditionally, fundamentally American. It was a case of honest men seeing the same thing in the same way but differing as to the practicable means of accomplishing it. The President early realized that the volunteer system was unsuited to our present needs and that it could not be quickly turned into an active force to answer emergencies, but he was certain, also, that the people of the country must be convinced of this before they would agree to cut themselves away from the volunteer system under which previous American wars had been fought to a successful conclusion. The President felt that the old volunteer system was antiquated and not to be considered, but the duty lay upon him to convince the leaders of the Senate and House and the people that this was a fact. This was no easy task to accomplish. Haste or impetuous action on his part in advocating conscription could only, in his opinion, delay matters and embarrass the very purpose that lay in his mind.

While Roosevelt and Garrison were criticizing Congressional inaction, the President's mind was "open and to let" on the question of what constituted the best means of putting America in a state of actual and aggressive preparedness. As President, he was bound to take cognizance of the deep- seated antagonism on the part of the American people to any system of military preparedness that had a compulsory feature as its basic element. It was the President's opinion that the people of a country so big and varied as America had to be convinced by alternative methods as to what, in the last analysis, was the best means of preparing the country against aggression.

While he was convinced that we had to be prepared and ready to meet any emergency, he was not to be rushed in the matter and was keeping his mind open to find the best and most practical method of accomplishing what he thought the average opinion of the country demanded in the way of preparedness.

I had often discussed the matter with the President and, watching the agitation for preparedness from the side-lines, had stated my views in letters reading in part as follows:

In my opinion, there is left to the Republican party but two available issues for the campaign of 1916,--the tariff and the question of national defense. How we are to meet the enemy on these questions is a subject which we ought thoroughly to consider and discuss in the coming months.

As to National Defense: In this matter we must have a sane, reasonable and workable programme. That programme must have in it, the ingredients that will call forth the hearty support of, first, the whole Cabinet (and particularly the Secretary of War); second, the leaders of the party in the Senate and House; third, the rank and file of Democrats in both Houses; fourth, the Army and the Navy; and last but not least, the great body of the American people.

Successfully to carry through this programme will tax your leadership in the party to the last degree. On the eve of the campaign of 1916, your attitude and accomplishment in this matter will be accepted by the country as the final test of your leadership and will be of incalculable psychological importance to the party; and, therefore, in the carrying out of this programme we cannot afford to hesitate or to blunder, because as election day approaches trivial mistakes will be magnified and exaggerated by the opposition, to the hurt and injury of our party and your prestige as leader.


Cornish, New Hampshire.

* * * * *


I cannot impress upon you too forcibly the importance of an appeal to the country at this time on the question of preparedness. No matter what the character of the information is that you are receiving, I have it from all sources that there is no enthusiasm on the "hill" for preparedness, and that the country itself is indifferent because of its apparent inability to grasp the importance and full significance of this question. This indifference arises out of two things: first, the attitude of the pacifists whose feelings have been nurtured by the preachings of Mr. Bryan; second, the attitude of those in the country who believe in preparedness and who are frightened because of the big talk of Roosevelt and others on their plan for military conscription.

There is no doubt how the body of the American people feel on this question of preparedness. You can, therefore, with much greater reason, address them on this question and with greater force and earnestness. I am afraid if you delay in this matter, it will be too late to act, because our enemies are already busy and active.

If some unfortunate thing should arise in international affairs or in Mexico within the next few weeks and announcement came then that you were to make an appeal to the country, it would appear as an anti- climax and an attempt upon your part to retrieve yourself. Now is the psychological moment to make your plea for national defense and incidentally to discuss Mexico and our foreign relations. In other words, you must ask the country to accept your leadership or the leadership of others who can't lead. Your voice is the only responsible voice in America that can speak with certainty, authority, and calmness as to the need for preparedness. There is no doubt of the will of a large majority of our people, but it lacks articulate expression. I am sure they will not fail to respond.

Upon conferring with the President in the matter of preparedness, I found that he had been slowly and patiently revolving the whole matter in his own mind and was then considering the advisability of taking a direct message to the people concerning the situation and was only awaiting the psychological moment to strike.

On January 27, 1916, the President commenced his tour of the North and Middle West, assuming the leadership of the movement for preparedness that had been started by his opponents, and called the attention of the country to the critical world situation and to the necessity that America "put her house in order." In St. Louis he declared that America must have comparably the greatest navy in the world. It was noticeable in his speeches that he never employed the term "universal military service" and that he was careful to explain that there was to be no militarism in the country.

When the President returned from his preparedness tour, he found himself at the centre of conflicting views as to method; on the one hand, Representative Hay of the Military Affairs Committee, advocated the use of the National Guard as the new army; on the other hand, Secretary Garrison advocated an increase of the Regular Army to 142,000 men and a new "continental army" of 400,000 men, with reserves of state militia. It was the recurrent conflict between the Army and Congress, between the military department's desire for a strong force and Congress' fear of "militarism." The Garrison plan met with decided opposition in the House, and upon the President's refusal to lend support to his Secretary of War in the programme he had outlined in his report of 1915, Mr. Garrison resigned. Immediately all the enemies of the President centred about the retiring Secretary and proclaimed him a very much abused official. The letter which the President addressed to Secretary Garrison is as follows:

January 17, 1916.


I am very much obliged to you for your letters of January twelfth and January fourteenth. They make your views with regard to adequate measures of preparation for national defence sharply clear. I am sure that I already understood just what your views were, but I am glad to have them restated in this succinct and striking way. You believe, as I do, that the chief thing necessary is, that we should have a trained citizen reserve and that the training, organization and control of that reserve should be under immediate federal direction.

But apparently I have not succeeded in making my own position equally clear to you, though I feel sure that I have made it perfectly clear to Mr. Hay. It is that I am not irrevocably or dogmatically committed to any one plan of providing the nation with such a reserve and am cordially willing to discuss alternative proposals.

Any other position on my part would indicate an attitude towards the Committee on Military Affairs of the House of Representatives which I should in no circumstances feel at liberty to assume. It would never be proper or possible for me to say to any committee of the House of Representatives that so far as my participation in legislation was concerned they would have to take my plan or none.

I do not share your opinion that the members of the House who are charged with the duty of dealing with military affairs are ignorant of them or of the military necessities of the nation. On the contrary, I have found them well informed and actuated with a most intelligent appreciation of the grave responsibilities imposed upon them. I am sure that Mr. Hay and his colleagues are ready to act with a full sense of all that is involved in this great matter both for the country and for the national parties which they represent.

My own duty toward them is perfectly plain. I must welcome a frank interchange of views and a patient and thorough comparison of all the methods proposed for obtaining the objects we all have in view. So far as my own participation in final legislative action is concerned, no one will expect me to acquiesce in any proposal that I regard as inadequate or illusory. If, as the outcome of a free interchange of views, my own judgment and that of the Committee should prove to be irreconcilably different and a bill should be presented to me which I could not accept as accomplishing the essential things sought, it would manifestly be my duty to veto it and go to the country on the merits. But there is no reason to anticipate or fear such a result, unless we should ourselves take at the outset the position that only the plans of the Department are to be considered; and that position, it seems to me, would be wholly unjustifiable. The Committee and the Congress will expect me to be as frank with them as I hope they will be with me, and will of course hold me justified in fighting for my own matured opinion.

I have had a delightfully frank conference with Mr. Hay. I have said to him that I was perfectly willing to consider any plan that would give us a national reserve under unmistakable national control, and would support any scheme if convinced of its adequacy and wise policy. More he has not asked or desired.

Sincerely yours,

Secretary of War.
It was clear from the President's letter and the attitude of Secretary Garrison that there was to be no meeting of minds between the President and his Secretary of War on the matter of preparedness. Their views could not be reconciled, and when the President refused to support Garrison's programme, hook, line, and sinker, the Secretary tendered his resignation, which the President under the circumstances readily accepted. Immediately the friends of Garrison declared that the Administration had lost its strongest man and that it was now on the way to destruction. Neither the President nor his many friends, however, were disturbed by these direful predictions of disaster; and as the people pondered the President's letter of acceptance of Mr. Garrison's resignation, wherein he showed his own mind was open to the best method of preparing the country and that Mr. Garrison showed petulance and impatience in handling the matter--the sober, second thought of the country readily and quickly came to the President's support in the belief that the dogmatic attitude of the Secretary of War, instead of helping, was embarrassing national preparedness.

Garrison had rendered distinguished service to the Administration and had won many friends, especially the newspaper group of Washington, by his open, frank method of dealing with public questions; but unfortunately for him he was swept off his feet by the unstinted praise that came to him from Republican journals throughout the country whenever it appeared that he was taking an attitude--especially in the two questions of major importance, preparedness and Mexico--that seemed to be at variance with the Administration's point of view.

When the President's letter to Garrison was read and the contents fully understood it showed Garrison autocratic and unyielding, and the President open-minded and willing to adopt any plan for preparedness that seemed to be workable. The gentle rebuke of Mr. Garrison contained in the President's statement that he did not share Mr. Garrison's opinion that the members of the House charged with the duty of dealing with military affairs "are ignorant of them or of the military necessities of the nation," completely won to the President the support of the members of that committee and put the President in the position of asking for and obtaining their hearty cooperation and support. Garrison's resignation, which at first blush appeared to be disastrous to the Administration, was soon turned to its advantage, with the result that a national defence act was passed during the summer. It was a compromise measure but it added very greatly to the military power of the country. In addition, it gave great powers to the President over the railroads in the event of war and authorized the establishment of a council of national defence.

Of course, the enemies of the President interpreted the episode as another example of his inability to cooperate with "strong men" and continued in the next breath to repeat their accusations that he was autocratic in his dealings with Congress, ignoring their own inconsistency. It was precisely because the President respected the constitutional prerogatives of the Congress, and Mr. Garrison did not, that the break came.

Every method of propaganda was resorted to to force the hand of the President in the matter of preparedness and to induce him to advocate and support a programme for universal military service put forth by the National Security League, whose backers and supporters throughout the country were mainly Republicans. Publicity on a grand scale, public meetings and great parades throughout the country were part of this propaganda. While many sincere, patriotic men and women, without realizing the politics that lay behind it, aided in this movement, it was easy to see that back of it was a sinister political purpose to embarrass and, if possible, to force the hand of the President. One of the leaders of this movement was General Wood, who established, with the permission of the War Department, the famous Plattsburg Camp. It will be recalled that this was the stage from which Mr. Roosevelt, on an occasion, freely gave expression to his views of bitter antagonism to the President for his seemingly slothful attitude in urging his views on Congress with reference to the preparedness programme. One of the favourite methods of rousing the people, to which the National Security League resorted, was demonstrations throughout the country in the form of preparedness parades. It was clear to us at the White House that these parades were part of an organized movement to "agitate" in favour of a radical programme of preparedness. The President and I had often discussed these demonstrations. One day I asked him if they were embarrassing him in any way and he said that they were not, but that they might affect opinion throughout the country in such a way as unreasonably to influence Congress for legislation so radical in its character as to be unnecessary and burdensome to the taxpayers of the country.

Our Republican opponents on the outside were claiming great political results from these demonstrations and felt sure they were a mighty force in embarrassing and weakening the President. It was finally suggested to the President that he ought to embrace the first opportunity presented to him of leading in one of the parades himself. Shortly after, the District of Columbia parade took place, and the President, upon my initiative, was invited to lead it. The effect of the President's personal participation in this parade and in the New York parade held subsequently was quickly evident. As soon as the moving pictures throughout the country began to feature the President leading the demonstrations, these parades became less frequent and finally obsolete. By getting into the "front line" the President had cleverly outwitted his enemies and took command of the forces in the country demanding preparedness.


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