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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XXXIV - Germany Capitulates
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

Germany had begun to weaken, and suddenly aware of the catastrophe that lay just ahead, changed her chancellor, and called upon the President for an armistice upon the basis of the Fourteen Points. The explanation of Germany's attitude in this matter was simply that she knew she was beaten and she recognized that Wilson was the only hope of a reasonable peace from the Berlin point of view. Germany professed to be a liberal and was asking Wilson for the "benefit of clergy."

On the 6th day of October, 1918, the following note from Prince Max of Baden was delivered to the President by the Secretary of State:
The German Government requests the President of the United States of America to take steps for the restoration of peace, to notify all belligerents of this request, and to invite them to delegate plenipotentiaries for the purpose of taking up negotiations. The German Government accepts, as a basis for the peace negotiations, the programme laid down by the President of the United States in his Message to Congress of January 8,1918, and in his subsequent pronouncements particularly in his address of September 27, 1918. In order to avoid further bloodshed, the German Government requests the President of the United States of America to bring about the immediate conclusion of a general armistice on land, on water, and in the air.

(Signed) MAX, Prince Of Baden,
Imperial Chancellor.
The President was not surprised when the offer of peace came for on all sides there was abundant evidence of the decline of Germany and of the weakening of her morale. The President felt that Germany, being desperate, it would be possible for him, when she proposed a settlement, like that proposed by Prince Max, to dictate our own terms, and to insist that America would have nothing to do with any settlement in which the Kaiser or his brood should play a leading part. I stated to him that the basis of our attitude toward Germany should be an insistence, in line with his speech of September 27, 1918, wherein he said:
We are all agreed that there can be no peace obtained by any kind of bargain or compromise with the governments of the Central Empires, because we have dealt with them already and have seen them deal with other governments that were parties to this struggle, at Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest. They have convinced us that they were without honour and do not intend justice. They observe no covenants, accept no principle but force and their own interest. We cannot come to terms with them. They have made it impossible. The German people must by this time be fully aware that we cannot accept the word of those who forced this war upon us. We do not think the same thoughts or speak the same language of agreement.
At the time of the receipt of Prince Max's note by the State Department, on October 5, 1918, the President was in New York, staying at the Waldorf- Astoria, preparatory to attending a concert given by the Royal Italian Grenadiers. A message from the Army Intelligence Department, conveyed to me by General Churchill, at the Knickerbocker Hotel, in New York, where I was staying, was the first word we had of Germany's desire for an armistice. General Churchill read me the German proposal over the 'phone and I carried it to the President, who was in conference with Colonel House at the Waldorf. The offer of Germany was so frank and unequivocal in seeming to meet the terms of the President's formal proposals of peace, that when Colonel House read it to the President, he turned and said: "This means the end of the war." When I was interrogated as to my opinion, I replied that, while the German offer of peace seemed to be genuine, in my opinion no offer from Germany could be considered that bore the Hohenzollern-Hapsburg brand. For a moment this seemed to irritate the President, and he said: "But, at least, we are bound to consider in the most serious way any offer of Germany which is practically an acceptance of my proposals of peace." There our first discussion regarding the German peace offer ended.

At the conclusion of this talk I was invited to take dinner with the President and Colonel House and with the members of the President's family, but the matter of the note which we had just received weighed so heavily upon me that my digestive apparatus was not in good working order, and yet the President was seemingly unmindful of it, and refused to permit the evening to be interfered with because of the note, attending the concert and apparently enjoying every minute of the evening, and applauding the speeches that were made by the gentlemen who addressed us.

After the concert began, I left the Presidential box and, following a habit I had acquired since coming to the Executive offices, I conferred with the newspaper men in our party, endeavouring to obtain from them, without expressing any personal opinion of my own, just how they felt toward the terms proposed in the Max note. I then called up the State Department and discussed the note with Mr. Polk, expressing the same opinion to him that I had already expressed to the President, to the effect that we could not accept a German offer which came to us under the auspices of the Hohenzollerns. Upon the conclusion of the concert, we left the Metropolitan Opera House, I accompanying the President to the Waldorf. As I took my place in the automobile, the President leaned over to Mrs. Wilson and whispered to her the news of the receipt of the German note. Then, turning to me, he said: "Have you had any new reaction on the note since I last talked with you?" I told him I had not, but that what I had learned since talking with him earlier in the evening had only confirmed me in the opinion that I had already expressed, that it would not be right or safe for us to accept the German proposals. When we arrived at the Waldorf it was 12:30 A. M. and the President asked me to his rooms, and there, for an hour and a half, we indulged in a long discussion of the German offer. As was usual with the President in all these important matters, his mind was, to use his own phrase, "open and to let."

I emphasized the idea that we could not consider a peace proposal in which the Kaiser and his brood played a part, and that the only proffer we could consider must come from the German people themselves; that in his Mexican policy he had proclaimed the doctrine that no ruler who came to power by murder or assassination would ever receive the recognition of the United States; that we must broaden the morality which underlay this policy, and by our attitude say to the European rulers who started this war, that guilt is personal and that until they had purged themselves from the responsibility of war, we could not consider any terms of peace that came through them.

The next day the President left for Cleveland Dodge's home on the Hudson, with Colonel House and Doctor Grayson. I remained in New York at the Knickerbocker Hotel, busily engaged in poring over the newspaper files to find out what the editorial attitude of the country was toward the German proposal of peace, and in preparing a brief on the whole matter for the President's consideration. Before Colonel House left, I again impressed upon him my view of the note and my conviction that it would be a disastrous blunder for us to accept it.

The President returned to Washington in the early afternoon, Colonel House accompanying him. I was eager and anxious to have another talk with him and was given an opportunity while in the President's compartment in the train on our way back to Washington. As I walked into the compartment, the President was conferring with Colonel House, and as I took a seat, the President asked me if I still felt that the German proposal should be rejected. I replied, that, if anything, I was stronger in the judgment I had already expressed. He said: "But it is not an easy matter to turn away from an offer like this. There is no doubt that the form of it may be open to objection, but substantially it represents the wishes of the German people, even though the medium through which it may be conveyed is an odious and hateful one, but I must make up my own mind on this and I must not be held off from an acceptance by any feeling of criticism that may come my way. The gentlemen in the Army who talk about going to Berlin and taking it by force are foolish. It would cost a million American lives to accomplish it, and what lies in my thoughts now is this: If we can accept this offer, the war will be at an end, for Germany cannot begin a new one, and thus we would save a great deal of bloodshed."

I remember, as I pointed out to him the disappointment of the people were he to accept the German offer, he said: "If I think it is right to accept it, I shall do so regardless of consequences. As for myself, I can go down in a cyclone cellar and write poetry the rest of my days, if necessary." He called my attention to the fact that John Jay, who negotiated the famous treaty with Great Britain, was burned in effigy and Alexander Hamilton was stoned while defending the Jay Treaty on the steps of the Treasury Building in New York City. I pointed out to him that there was no comparison between the two situations; that our case was already made up and that to retreat now and accept this proposal would be to leave intact the hateful dynasty that had brought on the war.

As was his custom and habit, he was considering all the facts and every viewpoint before he finally took the inevitable step.

Never before was the bigness of the President shown better than in this discussion; never was he more open-minded or more anxious to obtain all the facts in the grave situation with which he was called upon to deal. In the action upon which his mind was now at work he was not thinking of himself or of its effect upon his own political fortunes. All through the discussion one could easily see the passionate desire of the man to bring this bloody thing of war honourably to an end.

Mr. Edward N. Hurley furnishes me with a characteristic anecdote connected with a session of the War Conference Board, which Mr. Hurley calls "one of the most historic conferences ever held at the White House."

"The question," says Mr. Hurley, "was whether the President would be justified in agreeing to an armistice. Many people throughout the country were demanding an insistence upon unconditional surrender. Very little news was coming from abroad." Mr. Hurley says that the President met the Conference Board with the statement: "Gentlemen, I should like to get an expression from each man as to what he thinks we should or should not do regarding an unconditional surrender or an armistice." Mr. Hurley says that "every man at the meeting except one was in favour of an armistice." After the President had ascertained the opinpn of each he said in a quiet way: "I have drawn up a tentative note to Germany which I should like to submit for your approval." After the paper had been passed Around one member of the Board said: "Mr. President, I think it would be better politics if you were to change this paragraph"--indicating a particular paragraph in the document. The President replied, in what Mr. Hurley calls "a slow and deliberate manner": "I am not dealing in politics, I am dealing in human lives."

While the President was engaged in conference with Colonel House, I addressed a letter to him, as follows:

October 8, 1918.


I do not know what your attitude is toward the late German and Austrian offers. The record you have made up to this time, however, is so plain that in my judgment there can be only one answer and that is an absolute and unqualified rejection of these proposals.

There is no safer counsellor in the country than the Springfield Republican. Speaking of the peace programme of the new German Chancellor, the Republican says:

"It [referring to the offer of Prince Max] does not meet the minimum requirements for the opening of negotiations. These have been variously stated, but in general may be reduced to restitution, reparation and guarantees. Under none of these heads has Germany yet come even measurably near meeting the plain requirements of the Allies, which have not been reduced in defeat and will not be increased with victory. Take, for example, the question of Belgium, now that Germany knows it cannot be kept, it makes a merit of giving it up, but beyond that Prince Maximilian is not authorized more than to say that 'an effort shall also be made to reach an understanding on the question of indemnity'.... What is needed first of all from Germany is a clear, specific and binding pledge in regard to the essential preliminaries. It does not advance matters an inch for the Chancellor, like Baron Burian, to offer to take President Wilson's points as a 'basis' for negotiations, They will make a first-rate basis, but only when Germany has offered definite preliminary guarantees."

I beg to call your attention to another editorial in the Springfield Republican, entitled "Why Germany Must Surrender," hereto attached.

Speaking of Germany's promises, I mention still another editorial from the Springfield Republican which concludes by saying, "Even Mr. Wilson is not so simple-minded as the Kaiser may once have thought him to be."

It is the hand of Prussianism which offers this peace to America. As long ago as last June you exposed the hollowness of peace offered under such conditions as are now set forth by the German Chancellor. Referring to the German Government, you said: "It wishes to close its bargain before it is too late and it has little left to offer for the pound of flesh it will demand."

In your speech of September 27th, you said:

"We are all agreed that there can be no peace obtained by any kind of bargain or compromise with the governments of the Central Empires, because we have dealt with them already and have seen them deal with other governments that were parties to this struggle, at Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest. They have convinced us that they were without honour and do not intend justice. They observe no covenants, accept no principle but force and their own interest We cannot 'come to terms' with them. They have made it impossible. The German people must by this time be fully aware that we cannot accept the word of those who forced this war upon us. We do not think the same thoughts or speak the same language of agreement." Certainly, the German people are not speaking through the German Chancellor. It is the Kaiser himself. He foresees the end and will not admit it. He is still able to dictate conditions, for, in the statement which appeared in the papers yesterday, he said: "It will only be an honourable peace for which we extend our hand."

The other day you said: "We cannot accept the word of those who forced this war upon us." If this were true then, how can we accept this offer now? Certainly nothing has happened since that speech that has changed the character of those in authority in Germany. Defeat has not chastened Germany in the least. The tale of their retreat is still a tale of savagery, for they have devastated the country and carried off the inhabitants; burned churches, looted homes, wreaking upon the advancing Allies every form of vengeance that cruelty can suggest.

In my opinion, your acceptance of this offer will be disastrous, for the Central Powers have made its acceptance impossible by their faithlessness.

While the President was conferring with Secretaries Lansing, Daniels, Baker, and Colonel House, I addressed the following letter to President Wilson and a practically identic letter to Colonel House:

7 October, 1918.


Since I returned, every bit of information that comes to me is along one line and that is, that an agreement in which the Kaiser is to play the smallest part will be looked upon with grave suspicion and I believe its results will be disastrous. In my opinion, it will result in the election of a Republican House and the weakening, if not impairing of your influence throughout the world. I am not on the inside and so I do not know, but I am certain that Lloyd George and Clemenceau will take full advantage of this opportunity in declaring that, so far as they are concerned, they are not going to sit down at the Council Table with William the Second, and you may be put in a position before the world, by your acceptance of these conditions, of seeming to be sympathetic with the Kaiser and his brood.

May not Germany be succeeding in splitting the Allies by this offer, just as Talleyrand succeeded, at the Congress of Vienna, in splitting the allies who had been victorious over Napoleon? You cannot blot out the record you have made in your speeches, which in every word and line showed a distrust of this particular autocracy, with which you are now asked to deal. Have you considered the possibility that as soon as Germany read your New York speech of September 27th, knowing, as they did, that it was neither palatable to the Allies nor in accordance with that which they had hitherto stood for, promptly accepted your attitude as a means of dividing the Entente at a critical moment and robbing her of the benefits of the military triumph? Did not Talleyrand do the very same thing to them, as the representative of defeated France, when he sided with Russia and Prussia as against England and thus made possible the return of Napoleon?

I realize the great responsibility that rests upon the President. In any other matter, not so vital as this, you could be wrong and time would correct it, but in a thing like this, when you are dealing with a question which goes to the very depths of international action and world progress, you are at the parting of the ways. If you wish to erect a great structure of peace, you must be sure and certain that every brick in it, that every ounce of cement that goes in it is solid and lasting, and above all, you must preserve your prestige for the bigger moments to come.

Upon the conclusion of the conference, I had a talk with Colonel House and Secretaries Daniels, Lansing, and Baker, and again urged the necessity of a refusal on the part of the President to accept the German peace terms. Secretary Lansing informed me that the President had read my letter to the conference and then said: "We will all be satisfied with the action the President takes in this matter."

While at luncheon that afternoon, the President sent for me to come to the White House. I found him in conference with Secretary Lansing, Colonel House, and Mr. Polk. The German reply was discussed and I was happy when I found that it was a refusal on the part of the President to accept the German proposal.

The gist of the President's reply was a demand from him of evidence of a true conversion on the part of Germany, and an inquiry on the part of the President in these words:

"Does the Imperial Chancellor mean that the German Government accepts the Fourteen Points?" "Do the military men of Germany agree to withdraw all their armies from occupied territories?", and finally: "The President wishes to know whether the Chancellor speaks for the old group who have conducted the war, or does he speak for the liberated peoples of Germany?"

Commenting upon the receipt of the President's reply to the Germans, André Tardieu says:
It is a brief reply which throws the recipients into consternation they cannot conceal. No conversation is possible, declares the President, either on peace or on an armistice until preliminary guarantees shall have been furnished. These are the acceptation pure and simple of the bases of peace laid down on January 8, 1918, and in the President's subsequent addresses; the certainty that the Chancellor does not speak only in the names of the constituted authorities who so far have been responsible for the conduct of the war; the evacuation of all invaded territories. The President will transmit no communication to his associates before having received full satisfaction on these three points.
What must be the thought of those partisans in America who were crying out against the preliminary course of the President in dealing with Germany, who read this paragraph from Tardieu's book as to the impressions made in France and Germany by the notes which the President from week to week addressed to the Germans with reference to the Armistice?

Again Tardieu says:
Then comes the thunderbolt. President Wilson refuses to fall into the trap and, crossing swords in earnest, presses his attack to the utmost in the note of October 14. A mixed commission for evacuation? No! These are matters which like the Armistice itself "must be left to the judgment and advice of the military advisers of the Allied and Associated Governments." Besides no armistice is possible if it does not furnish "absolutely satisfactory safeguards and guarantees of the maintenance of the present military supremacy of the armies of the United States and of its allies." Besides, no armistice "so long as the armed forces of Germany continue the illegal and inhuman practices which they still persist in." Finally, no armistice so long as the German nation shall be in the hands of military power which has disturbed the peace of the world. As to Austria-Hungary, Germany has no interest therein and the President will reply directly. In a single page the whole poor scaffolding of the German Great General Staff is overthrown. The Armistice and peace are not to be the means of delaying a disaster and of preparing revenge. On the main question itself the reply must be Yes or No!
In the books of Ludendorff and Hindenburg we see the shattering effect of the President's answer upon the German military mind. Whatever misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the President's position there might be in his own country, whatever false rumours spread by party malice to the effect that he had entered into negotiations with Germany without the knowledge of the Allies and was imposing "soft" terms on Germany to prevent a march to Berlin, the German commanders were under no illusions. They knew that the President meant capitulation and that in his demand he had the sanction of his European associates.

Says Ludendorff:
This time he made it quite clear that the Armistice conditions must be such as to make it impossible for Germany to resume hostilities and to give the powers allied against her unlimited power to settle themselves the details of the peace accepted by Germany. In my view, there could no longer be doubt in any mind that we must continue the fight.
Said Hindenburg in an order "for the information of all troops," an order never promulgated:
He [Wilson] will negotiate with Germany for peace only if she concedes all the demands of America's allies as to the internal constitutional arrangements of Germany.... Wilson's answer is a demand for unconditional surrender. It is thus unacceptable to us soldiers.
In André Tardieu's book we read that from October 5th, the day when Germany first asked for an armistice, President Wilson remained in daily contact with the European governments, and that the American Government was in favour of writing into the Armistice harsher terms than the Allies thought it wise to propose to the Germans. It will be recalled that the popular cry at the time was "On to Berlin!" and an urgent demand upon the part of the enemies of the President on Capitol Hill that he should stand pat for an unconditional surrender from Germany; that there should be no soft peace or compromise with Germany, and that we should send our soldiers to Berlin. At the time we discussed this attitude of mind of certain men on the Hill, the President said: "How utterly foolish this is! Of course, some of our so-called military leaders, for propaganda purposes only, are saying that it would be more advantageous for us to decline the offer of Germany and to go to Berlin. They do not, however, give our people any estimate of the cost in blood and money to consummate this enterprise."

The story was also industriously circulated that Marshal Foch was demurring to any proposition for a settlement with Germany.

It appears now that in the negotiations for the Armistice Colonel House, representing the President's point of view in this vital matter, asked this fundamental question of Foch: "Will you tell us, Marshal, purely from a military point of view and without regard to any other condition, whether you would prefer the Germans to reject or sign the Armistice as outlined here?" Marshal Foch replied: "The only aim of war is to obtain results. If the Germans sign an armistice now upon the general lines we have just determined, we shall have obtained the results we asked. Our aims being accomplished, no one has the right to shed another drop of blood."

It was said at the time that the President was forcing settlement upon the military leaders of the Allies. General Foch disposed of this by saying, in answer to a question by Colonel House and Lloyd George: "The conditions laid down by your military leaders are the very conditions which we ought to and could impose after the success of our further operations, so that if the Germans accept them now, it is useless to go on fighting."

It was all over, and the protagonist of the grand climax of the huge drama was Woodrow Wilson, the accepted spokesman of the Allies, the Nemesis of the Central Powers, who by first isolating them through his moral appeal to the neutral world was now standing before them as the stern monitor, demanding that they settle not on their terms, but on his terms, which the Allies had accepted as their terms.

I shall never forget how happy he looked on the night of the Armistice when the throngs surged through Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, and he, unable to remain indoors, had come to the White House gates to look on, in his face a glow of satisfaction of one who realizes that he has fought for a principle and won. In his countenance there was an expression not so much of triumph as of vindication.

As a light ending to a heavy matter, I may say here that when the Armistice terms were finally accepted, the President said: "Well, Tumulty, the war's over, and I feel like the Confederate soldier General John B. Gordon used to tell of, soliloquizing on a long, hard march, during the Civil War: 'I love my country and I am fightin' for my country, but if this war ever ends, I'll be dad-burned if I ever love another country.'"


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