The critics of the President will ask the question: "What was the
President doing to prepare the country for war, which to him seemed
inevitable?" From the inside, and without the blare of trumpets, he was
quietly engaged in conferring with the heads of the Army and Navy
departments. Indeed, from the minute the third Lusitania note was
dispatched, actual preparations for war were begun. Immediately upon the
dispatch of the note, the following statement was issued from the White
House, under date of July 21, 1916.
THE WHITE HOUSE
July 21, 1916.
The President in association with the heads of departments, regardless
of present-day conditions or controversies, has long been giving a
great deal of consideration to the preparation of a reasonable and
adequate naval programme, which he intends to propose to Congress at
the proper time.
That is one of the things he is now considering in the quiet of
Cornish. He feels, now that the note has been dispatched, that it is
best, for the time being, to drop the discussion of it as far as he is
concerned and is turning to questions of permanent national policy.
Of course, he realizes that he must have the best practical advice
obtainable in this matter and is seeking for it from every available
source. In fact, it is known that the best minds of the various
departments of the Government, both of the Army and the Navy, are now
and have been at work on these important matters for some time; that
is, he is seeking advice from the men in those departments who have
been most directly in touch with the new conditions of defence that
have been evolved out of modern experience. He not only wishes advice
from those who have a knowledge of actual modern conditions of
warfare, but he is seeking light from those who are able to understand
and comprehend the altered conditions of land and naval warfare. He
wishes the Navy to stand upon an equality with the most efficient and
As to the Army, it is known here that he is preparing to incorporate
in his next message to Congress a programme in regard to the
development and equipment of the Army and a proper training of the
citizens of the United States to arms which, while in every way
consistent with American traditions and national policy, will be of
such a character as to commend itself to every patriotic and practical
mind. In this matter he is working with the Secretary of War and his
professional associates, who, it is understood, have reached some very
definite conclusions on these exceedingly important matters. He is
anxious to have a programme that will be definite and positive, and
wishes to have the information in hand before laying the matter before
the committees of the Senate and the House.
Contemporaneously with this statement was issued the following, which was
prepared by the President, but issued over my name, the full significance
of which was not apparent at the time:
The note [Third Lusitania note] having been dispatched, the
President felt that it was best to drop further discussion of the
matter for the present, as far as he was concerned. He will be free
now to devote his time to a full consideration of a matter that the
country has for a long time been thoughtful of, that is a reasonable
programme of national defense. Of course, this programme will be
considered regardless of present-day conditions.
It is known that the President has been considering this important
matter in all its aspects, and has been in touch with the Secretary of
War and the Secretary of the Navy regarding it. It is also known in
official circles here that the President had taken steps before
leaving for Cornish to instruct the Army and Navy departments to make
ready for his consideration a careful programme of national defense in
preparation for the presentation of his views to Congress at the
He desires to have the programme based on the most practicable lines
obtainable from the departments and it is said that the best minds in
the departments are at present at work on the subject. He hopes that
the programme will express the best traditions of the country and not
lose sight of modern experience. He is anxious to have a programme
that will be definite and positive, and wishes to have the information
in hand before laying the matter before the committees of the Senate
and the House.
On July 21, 1915, he addressed the following letters to the Secretary of
War and the Secretary of the Navy, respectively:
THE WHITE HOUSE
July 21, 1915.
MY DEAR MR. SECRETARY:
I have been giving scarcely less thought than you yourself have to the
question of adequate preparation for national defense, and I am
anxious, as you know, to incorporate in my next message to Congress a
programme regarding the development and equipment of the Army and a
proper training of our citizens to arms which, while in every way
consistent with our traditions and our national policy, will be of
such a character as to commend itself to every patriotic and practical
I know that you have been much in conference with your professional
associates in the department and that you have yourself come to some
very definite conclusions on these exceedingly important matters. I
shall be away from Washington for a few days, but I would be very much
obliged if you would be kind enough to prepare for me a programme,
with estimates, of what you and the best-informed soldiers in your
counsels think the country ought to undertake to do. I should like to
discuss this programme with you at as early a time as it can be made
ready. Whether we can reasonably propose the whole of it to the
Congress immediately or not we can determine when we have studied it.
The important thing now is to know and know fully what we need.
Congress will certainly welcome such advice and follow it to the limit
of its opportunity.
Cordially and faithfully yours,
* * * * *
HON. LINDLEY M. GARRISON,
Secretary Of War.
THE WHITE HOUSE
July 21, 1915.
MY DEAR MR. SECRETARY:
I have been giving, as I am sure you have also, a great deal of
thought to the matter of a wise and adequate naval programme to be
proposed to the Congress at its next session, and I would like to
discuss the whole subject with you at the earliest possible date.
But first we must have professional advice. I would be very much
obliged to you if you would get the best minds in the department to
work on the subject: I mean the men who have been most directly in
contact with actual modern conditions, who have most thoroughly
comprehended what the Navy must be in the future in order to stand
upon an equality with the most efficient and most practically
serviceable. I want their advice, a programme by them formulated in
the most definite way. Whether we can reasonably propose the whole of
it to the Congress immediately or not we can determine when we have
studied it. The important thing now is to know fully what we need.
Congress will certainly welcome such advice and follow it to the limit
of its opportunity.
It should be a programme planned for a consistent and progressive
development of this great defensive arm of the nation and should be of
such a kind as to commend itself to every patriotic and practical man.
I shall return to Washington in a few days and shall be glad to take
this important matter up with you at your early convenience.
Cordially and faithfully yours,
HON. JOSEPHUS DANIELS,
Secretary of the Navy.
Immediately after the war message there arose an insistent demand for a
coalition cabinet. It was the beginning of the Republican drive for what
was called a bi-partisan government. Republicans chose to forget the
experiences of England and France under their coalition cabinets, and when
the President refused to act upon the suggestion, the impression was
subtly conveyed to the unthinking that the President's refusal arose from
his dislike of counsel and co÷peration, and his unwillingness to share the
responsibilities and glories of the war with people outside his own party.
As an historian, the President knew the troubles of Washington with a
coalition cabinet, Lincoln's embarrassments from Cabinet members not of
his own party, McKinley's sagacious refusal in 1898 to form a coalition
cabinet. He also knew human nature; knew that with the best intentions,
men sometimes find it difficult to work whole-heartedly with a leader of a
political party not their own. He could not risk a chance of division, in
his own official family in the face of the common enemy.
The President looked upon the agitation for a coalition cabinet as a
partisan effort to hamper and embarrass his administration, and so he
coldly turned away from every suggestion that looked toward the
establishment of a cabinet of the kind suggested by his too-solicitous
The following note which I addressed to the President and his reply, bear
upon the subject:
THE WHITE HOUSE
The newspaper men asked me this morning what the attitude of the
Administration was toward the proposed super-cabinet. I hedged as much
as I could, but I asked if it was not the same proposition that came
up some months ago, advocated by Senator Weeks, in a new disguise--if
it was not the same kind of a commission that had harassed Mr.
Lincoln. I think we ought to let our attitude be known unofficially
for the guidance of men who wish to help us. If we do nothing at this
time to let it be known, it would seem that our opposition to this
kind of legislation had been silenced by the furore over the fuel
order. In other words, we ought to show by our attitude that the
tantrums on the Hill are making no impression on us whatever.
* * * * *
Of course, I am opposed to the idea of a "super-cabinet," and regard
it as nothing more nor less than a renewal of the perpetual effort of
the Republicans to force representation in the Administration.
Republicans of the finest sort and of the finest capacity are working
for and with the Administration on all hands and there is no need
whatever for a change at the head of the administering departments. I
am utterly opposed to anything of the sort and will never consent to
it. You will know how to create the impression on the minds of the
newspaper men that I regard it as merely a partisan effort to hamper
and embarrass the Administration.
There were many misgivings in the minds of the people when war was
declared in April, 1917, and the nation embarked upon the most gigantic of
all its wars, under the leadership of a college professor, a doctrinaire,
who did not believe in war as a method of permanently solving
international problems, and a Secretary of War who was an avowed pacifist.
There was another matter which greatly disturbed the peace of mind of the
average American. The political party that was conducting the struggle was
the Democratic party, the party of the plain folk, of the average men and
women of America. Our Republican friends had so cleverly "advertised"
their conduct of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, that many
people in the country felt that the Republican party, because of its
leading minds and the business genius of its masters, was the only
political organization that could be depended upon successfully to carry
on a great war.
Colonel Roosevelt's diary, first made public on September 28, 1921, throws
interesting light on Republican claims of efficient management by
Republicans of the Spanish-American War. Under date of May 7, 1898, the
Colonel, then a lieutenant-colonel, recorded in his diary: "The delays and
stupidity of the Ordnance Department surpass belief. The Quartermaster's
Department is better, but bad. The Commissary Department is good. There is
no management whatever in the War Department. Against a good nation we
should be helpless," and these animadversions are reiterated in subsequent
entries. Interesting comments from the greatest of contemporary
Republicans on the divine right of the Republican party to conduct all
American wars and transact all other American business of importance. But
doubtless the Colonel had forgotten all this in 1917, and many other good
Americans had also forgotten what was notorious in 1898 and the ineptitude
of the Republican War Department, which, as Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt
said under date of May 21, 1898, had "no head, no energy, no
intelligence." But the old myth sedulously cultivated by Republicans
continued in 1917, that only Republicans are fit to govern, no matter how
badly they govern. Direful prophecies and predictions of disaster to the
country by reason of the Democratic auspices under which the war was to be
conducted were freely made.
It is an unpleasant fact that some of the leading Republicans in the
Senate and the House harboured for the President a partisan and personal
hatred which made the wish father to the thought. Yet the expected did not
happen, to the amazement and chagrin of the Republican enemies of the
President. No other war was attended with so little scandal and with
greater expedition. The cause was plain. It was the magnificent and
aggressive leadership of Woodrow Wilson exerting itself all along the
line, and that leadership was based upon certain fundamental resolutions
which had been taking form in the President's mind for many months
previous to his appearance before Congress asking for the passage of a war
declaration. They were as follows: (1) There was to be no "politics" in
the conduct of the war; (2) no political generals would be selected; (3)
every ounce of energy and force in the nation was to be put back of the
heads of the Army and the Navy in a supreme effort to make our influence,
moral and physical, quickly felt. Every effort was made to cut out scandal
and to put an absolute embargo on the activities of army speculators,
contractors, and profiteers.
Speaking to me one day about the conduct of the war, shortly after the
delivery of his war message, he said: "We must not in our conduct of this
war repeat the scandals of the Civil and the Spanish-American wars. The
politics of generals and admirals must be tabooed. We must find the best
trained minds that we can get and we must back them up at every turn. Our
policy must be 'the best man for every job,' regardless of his political
affiliations. This must be the only test, for, after all, we are the
trustees of the boys whose lives will be spent in this enterprise of war."
This was not an easy policy to pursue. Every kind of harassing demand came
from Democratic senators and representatives to induce the President to
recognize political considerations in the conduct of the war, the argument
being that after all the responsibility for its conduct resting with the
Democrats, the administration of the war ought to be under Democratic
tutelage throughout. But the President was firm--in his resolve to see the
war through to the end without political considerations. The political
predilections of generals, admirals, and war workers of every kind was
Mr. Creel by furnishing a list of Republicans appointed by the President
to conspicuous office has disproved the charge against the President of
niggard partisanship. Although the President would not tolerate a
coalition cabinet, he gave to Republicans all manner of opportunities to
share in the conduct and the credit of the war. I quote from Mr. Creel:
The search for "the best man for the place" was instituted without
regard to party, faction, blood strain, or creed, and the result was a
composite organization in which Democrats, Republicans, and
Independents worked side by side, partisanship forgotten and service
the one consideration.
It stood recognized as a matter of course that the soldier selected to
command our forces in France might well develop into a presidential
possibility, yet this high place was given without question to Gen.
John J. Pershing, a life-long Republican and the son-in-law of Senator
Warren, one of the masters of the Republican machine.
Admiral William S. Sims, a vociferous Republican, was sent to English
waters in high command, and while Secretary Daniels was warned at the
time that Sims's partisanship was of the kind that would not recognize
the obligations of loyalty or patriotism, he waved the objection aside
out of his belief that Sims was "the best man for the job".
For the head of the Aircraft Board, with its task of launching
America's great aviation programme, Mr. Howard E. Coffin, a
Republican, was selected and at his right hand Mr. Coffin placed Col.
Edward A. Deeds, also a Republican of vigour and regularity.
It is to be remembered also that when failure and corruption were
charged against the Aircraft Board, the man appointed by the President
to conduct the highly important investigation was Charles E. Hughes.
Three Assistant Secretaries of War were appointed by Mr. Baker--Mr.
Benedict Crowell, a Cleveland contractor; Doctor F. E. Keppel, dean of
Columbia University, and Emmet J. Scott, formerly Booker Washington's
secretary--and all three were Republicans. Mr. E. R. Stettinius of the
J. P. Morgan firm and a Republican was made special assistant to the
Secretary of War and placed in charge of supplies, a duty that he had
been discharging for the Allies. Maj. Gen. George W. Goethals, after
his unfortunate experience in shipbuilding, was given a second chance
and put in the War Department as an assistant Chief of staff. The
Chief of Staff himself, Gen. Peyton C. March, was a Republican no less
definite and regular than General Goethals. Mr. Samuel McRoberts,
president of the National City Bank and one of the pillars of the
Republican party, was brought to Washington as chief of the
procurement section in the Ordnance Section, with the rank of
brigadier-general, Maj. Gen. E. H. Crowder was appointed Provost-
Marshal-General, although his Republicanism was well known, and no
objection of any kind was made when General Crowder put Charles B.
Warren, the Republican National Committeeman from Michigan, in charge
of appeal cases, a position of rare power.
The Emergency Fleet Corporation was virtually turned over to
Republicans under Charles M. Schwab and Charles Piez. Mr. Vance
McCormick, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was made
chairman of the War Trade Board, but of the eight members the
following five were Republicans: Albert Strauss of New York, Alonzo E.
Taylor of Pennsylvania, John Beaver White, of New York, Frank C.
Munson of New York, and Clarence M. Woolley of Chicago.
The same conditions obtained in the Red Cross. A very eminent
Republican, Mr. H. P. Davison, was put in supreme authority, and on
the Red Cross War Council were placed ex-President Taft; Mr. Charles
D. Norton, Mr. Taft's secretary while President; and Mr. Cornelius N.
Bliss, former treasurer of the Republican National Committee. Not only
was Mr. Taft thus honoured, but upon the creation of a National War
Labour Board the ex-President was made its chairman and virtually
empowered to act as the administration's representative in its contact
Mr. Frank A. Vanderlip, a Republican of iron regularity, was placed in
charge of the War Savings Stamps Campaign, and when Mr. McAdoo had
occasion to name Assistant Secretaries of the Treasury he selected
Prof. L. S. Rowe of the University of Pennsylvania and Mr. H. C.
Leffingwell of New York.
Harry A. Garfield, son of the Republican President, was made Fuel
Administrator, and Mr. Herbert Hoover, now a candidate for President,
on a platform, of unadulterated Republicanism, was nominated as head
of the Food Administration.
The Council of National Defense was an organization of high importance
and one of tremendous influence from a partisan standpoint, yet its
executive body was divided as follows: Republicans--Howard E. Coffin,
Julius Rosenwald, Dr. Hollis Godfrey, Dr. Franklin Martin, Walter S.
Gifford, Director; Democrats--Daniel Willard and Bernard M. Baruch;
No sooner had the war begun than the preliminary war work of the President
began to bear fruit.
Within a month from the declaration of war the traditional policy of the
nation was reversed, by the enactment of the Selective Service Act. A vast
machinery of registration was created that ran without a hitch, and on
June 5th more than 10,000,000 men were registered quickly and efficiently.
Thirty-two encampments--virtual cities, since each had to house 40,000
men--were built in ninety days from the driving of the first nail,
complete in every municipal detail, a feat declared impossible, and which
will stand for all time as a building miracle.
In June, scarcely two months after the President's appearance before
Congress, General Pershing and his staff reached France, and on July 3rd
the last of four groups of transports landed American fighting men in the
home of La Fayette and Rochambeau. On October 10th our soldiers went on
Training camps for officers started in June, and in August there were
graduated 27,341 successful aspirants, ready to assume the tasks of
In a notable speech, confidential in character, the President on the 8th
day of April, 1918, addressed the foreign correspondents at the White
House concerning "our resolutions" and "actions in the war." The speech
was as follows:
I am very glad to have this opportunity to meet you. Some of you I
have met before, but not all. In what I am going to say I would prefer
that you take it in this way, as for the private information of your
minds and not for transmission to anybody, because I just want, if I
may, in a few words to create a background for you which may be
serviceable to you. I speak in confidence.
I was rendered a little uneasy by what Mr. Lloyd George was quoted as
having said the other day that the Americans have a great surprise in
store for Germany. I don't know in what sense he meant that, but there
is no surprise in store. I want you to know the sequence of resolves
and of actions concerning our part in the war. Some time ago it was
proposed to us that we, if I may use the expression feed our men into
the French and English armies in any unit that might be ready--
companies or regiments or brigades--and not wait to train and
coordinate the larger units of our armies before putting them into
action. My instinctive judgment in the face of that proposition was
that the American people would feel a very much more ardent interest
in the war if their men were fighting under their own flag and under
their own general officers, but at that time, which was some months
ago, I instructed General Pershing that he had full authority whenever
any exigency that made such a thing necessary should occur to put the
men in any units or in any numbers or in any way that was necessary--
just as he is doing. What I wanted you to know was that that was not a
new action, that General Pershing was fully instructed about that all
Then, similarly with regard to the impression that we are now going to
rush troops to Europe. Of course, you cannot rush any faster than
there is means of rushing and, what I have said recently is what I
have said all along, that we are getting men over there just as fast
as we can get them ready and as quickly as we can find the ships to
transport them. We are doing that now and we have been doing it all
along. Let me point out some of the circumstances: Our first programme
was to send over ninety thousand men a month, but for several months
we were sending over only thirty thousand--one third of the programme.
Why? Not because we didn't have the men ready, not even because we
didn't have the means of transportation, but because--and there is no
criticism of the French Government involved in this--because the ports
assigned to us for landing couldn't take care of the supplies we had
to send over. We had to send materials and engineers, and workmen,
even, over to build the docks and the piers that would be adequate to
handle the number of men we sent over, because this was happening: We
began with the ninety-thousand programme and the result was that cargo
ships that we needed were lying in those ports for several weeks
together without being unloaded, as there was no means of unloading
them. It was bad economy and bad practice from every point of view to
have those ships lying there during a period when they could have made
two or three voyages. There is still this difficulty which I am afraid
there is no means of overcoming rapidly, that the railroad
communication between those ports and the front is inadequate to
handle very large bodies of men. You may notice that General Pershing
recommended that Christmas boxes should not be sent to the men. That
sounded like a pretty hard piece of advice, but if you could go to
those ports and see those Christmas boxes which are still there, you
would know why he didn't want them sent. There was no means of getting
them to the front. Vast accumulations of these gifts were piled up
there with no means of storing them adequately even.
I just wanted to create for you this picture, that the channels have
been inevitably choked. Now we believe that, inasmuch as the
impediments on the other side are being largely removed, we can go
ahead with the original programme and add to it in proportion as the
British can spare us the tonnage, and they are going to spare us the
tonnage for the purpose. And with the extra tonnage which the British
are going to spare us we will send our men, not to France but to Great
Britain, and from there they will go to the front through the channel
ports. You see that makes a new line where the means of handling them
are already established and where they are more abundant than they are
at the French ports. Now, I want to say again that none of this
involves the least criticism of the French authorities, because I
think they have done their very best in every respect, but they
couldn't make ports out of hand, they couldn't build new facilities
suddenly, and their man power was being drawn on in very much larger
proportion than our man power. Therefore, it was perfectly proper that
we should send men over there and send materials to make the means of
handling the troops and the cargoes more expeditiously.
I want you gentlemen to realize that there was no wave-like motion in
this thing so far as our purpose and preparation are concerned. We
have met with delays, of course, in production, some of which might
have been avoided and ought to have been avoided, and which are being
slowly corrected, but apart from that the motive power has been back
of this thing all the time. It has been the means of action that has
oscillated, it has been sometimes greater and sometimes less than was
necessary for the programme.
I for my own part don't like the idea of having surprises. I would
like the people to be surprised if we didn't do our duty, but not
surprised that we did do it. Of course, I don't mean that Mr. Lloyd
George meant that we would surprise everybody by doing our duty, but I
don't just know how to interpret his idea of it, because I have said
the same thing to the British representatives all along as I
informally expressed it to Lord Reading, that we had been and always
would be doing our damnedest, and there could not be a more definite
American expression of purpose than that.
As to another matter (I am just giving you things to think about and
not things to say, if you will be kind enough to take it that way).
That speech I made on Saturday I hope was correctly understood. We are
fighting, as I understand it, for justice to everybody and are ready
to stop just as soon as justice to everybody is everybody's programme.
I have the same opinion privately about, I will not say the policy,
but the methods of the German Government that some gentlemen have who
see red all the time, but that is not a proper part of my thought. My
thought is that if the German Government insist that the thing shall
be settled unjustly, that is to say by force, then of course we accept
that and will settle it by force. Whenever we see sincere symptoms of
their desire to settle it by justice, we will not only accept their
suggestions but we will be glad and eager to accept them, as I said in
my speech. I would be ashamed to use the knock-down and drag-out
language; that is not the language of liberty, that is the language of
braggadocio. For my part, I have no desire to march triumphantly into
Berlin. If they oblige us to march triumphantly into Berlin, then we
will do it if it takes twenty years. But the world will come to its
senses some day, no matter how mad some parts of it may be now, and
this is my feeling, that we ought when the thing is over to be able to
look back upon a course which had no element in it which we need be
ashamed of. So it is so difficult in any kind of a speech, this kind
or any other, to express two things that seem to be going in opposite
directions that I wasn't sure that I had succeeded in expressing them
on Saturday--the sincere willingness to discuss peace whenever the
proposals are themselves sincere and yet at the same time the
determination never to discuss it until the basis laid down for the
discussion is justice. By that I mean justice to everybody. Nobody has
the right to get anything out of this war, because we are fighting for
peace if we mean what we say, for permanent peace. No injustice
furnishes a basis for permanent peace. If you leave a rankling sense
of injustice anywhere, it will not only produce a running sore
presently which will result in trouble and probably war, but it ought
to produce war somewhere. The sore ought to run. It is not susceptible
to being healed except by remedying the injustice. Therefore, I for my
part wouldn't want to see a peace which was based upon compelling any
people, great or small, to live under conditions which it didn't
If I were just a sheer Machiavelli and didn't have any heart but had
brains, I would say: "If you mean what you say and are fighting for
permanent peace, then there is only one way to get it, whether you
like justice or not." It is the only conceivable intellectual basis
for it, because this is not like the time, years ago, of the Congress
of Vienna. Peoples were then not willing, but so speechless and
unorganized and without the means of self-expression, that the
governments could sit on their necks indefinitely. They didn't know
how to prevent it. But they are wide awake now and nobody is going to
sit comfortably on the neck of any people, big or little, and the more
uncomfortable he is who tries it, the more I am personally pleased. So
that I am in the position in my mind of trying to work out a purely
scientific proposition: "What will stay put?"
A peace is not going to be permanent until that principle is accepted
by everybody, that, given a political unit, every people has the right
to determine its own life. That, gentlemen, is all I have to say to
you, but it is the real inside of my mind, and it is the real key to
the present foreign policy of the United States which for the time
being is in my keeping. I hope it will be useful to you, as it is
welcome to me to have this occasion of telling you what I really think
and what I understand we are really doing.