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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XXXIX - Ireland
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

To one standing on the side-lines in the capital of the nation and witnessing the play of the ardent passions of the people of the Irish race, demanding that some affirmative action be taken by our government to bring about the realization of the right of self-determination for Ireland, it seemed as if the American President, Woodrow Wilson, who first gave utterance to the ideal of self-determination for all the oppressed peoples of the world, was woefully unmindful of the age-long struggle that Irishmen had been making to free their own beloved land from British domination. But to those, like myself, who were on the inside of affairs, it was evident that in every proper and legitimate way the American President was cautiously searching for efficient means to advance the cause of self-government in Ireland and to bring about a definite and satisfactory solution of this complicated problem.

Embarrassed as he was by a delicate diplomatic situation, which to a great extent governed his conduct, he was not free openly to espouse the cause of Ireland. To have done so would have been to add difficulties to an already chaotic world situation. He was compelled in what he was seeking to do for Ireland to move quietly and by informal conferences impressively to lay the case of Ireland before those who sought his counsel in the matter. Unfortunately, these quiet methods of helpfulness which he brought to the task were the things that drew the fire of criticism and even distrust of many men of the Irish race in America, who in their passionate devotion to the cause which lay so close to their hearts could see only a direct route to accomplishing what they had in mind.

Long before the European war the President and I had often discussed the Irish cause and how to make his influence felt in a way that would bring results without becoming involved in diplomatic snarls with Great Britain. He was of the opinion that the Irish problem could not be settled by force, for the spirit of Ireland, which for centuries had been demanding justice, was unconquerable. He pointed out to me on many occasions when we discussed this delicate matter, that the policy of force and reprisal which the English Government had for centuries practised in had but strengthened the tenacious purpose of the Irish people and had only succeeded in keeping under the surface the seething dissatisfaction of that indomitable race.

I recall that at the conclusion of one of our talks after a Cabinet meeting, shaking his head as if he despaired of a settlement, the President said: "European statesmen can never learn that humanity can be welded together only by love, by sympathy, and by justice, and not by jealousy and hatred." He was certain that the failure of England to find an adjustment was intensifying feeling not only in our own country, but throughout the world, and that the agitation for a settlement would spread like a contagion and would inevitably result in a great national crisis.

An interesting comment on the President's attitude toward the Irish question appears in an article in the Atlantic Monthly for October, 1921. The article is by Joseph Fort Newton, in his series, "Preaching in London." The comment is as follows:
To-day a distinguished London minister told me a story about the President, for which he vouches. He had it from the late Sylvester Horne--Member of Parliament and minister of Whitefield's Chapel--who had known the President for years before he was elevated to his high office. Home happened to be in America--where he was always a welcome guest--before the war, shortly after the President was inaugurated, and he called at the White House to pay his respects. In the course of the talk, he expressed satisfaction that the relations between England and America would be in safe hands while the President was in office. The President said nothing, and Horne wondered at it. Finally he forced the issue, putting it as a question point-blank. The President said, addressing him in the familiar language of religious fellowship: "Brother Horne, one of the greatest calamities that has befallen mankind will come during my term of office. It will come from Germany. Go home and settle the Irish question, and there will be no doubt as to where America will stand."
In discussing the matter with me, he said: "The whole policy of Great Britain in its treatment of the Irish question has unfortunately been based upon a policy of fear and not a policy of trusting the Irish people. How magnificently the policy of trust and faith worked out in the case of the Boers. Unfortunately, the people of Ireland now believe that the basis of England's policy toward them is revenge, malice, and destruction. You remember, Tumulty, how the haters of the South in the days of reconstruction sought to poison Lincoln's mind by instilling into it everything that might lead him in his treatment of the South toward a policy of reprisal, but he contemptuously turned away from every suggestion as a base and ignoble thing. Faith on the part of Great Britain in the deep humanity and inherent generosity of the Irish people is the only force that will ever lead to a settlement of this question. English statesmen must realize that in the last analysis force never permanently settles anything. It only produces hatreds and resentments that make a solution of any question difficult and almost impossible. I have tried to impress upon the Englishmen with whom I have discussed this matter that there never can be a real comradeship between America and England until this issue is definitely settled and out of the way."

Many times in informal discussions with British representatives that came to the White House the President sought to impress upon them the necessity for a solution, pointing out to them how their failure was embarrassing our relations with Great Britain at every point. I am sure that if he could with propriety have done so, Woodrow Wilson would long ago have directly suggested to Great Britain a settlement of the Irish question, but, unfortunately, serious diplomatic obstacles lay in the way of an open espousal of the Irish cause. He was sadly aware that under international law no nation has the right to interest itself in anything that directly concerns the affairs of another friendly nation, for by the traditions of diplomacy such "interference" puts in jeopardy the cordial relations of the nations involved in such controversy.

Long before he became president, Woodrow Wilson had eloquently declared his attitude with reference to self-government for Ireland and had openly espoused the cause of Irish freedom. In a speech delivered at New Brunswick, New Jersey, on October 26, 1910, he said:
Have you read the papers recently attentively enough to notice the rumours that are coming across the waters? What are the rumours? The rumours are that the English programme includes, not only self- government for Ireland, but self government for Scotland, and the drawing together in London or somewhere else of a parliament which will represent the British Empire in a great confederated state upon the model, no doubt, of the United States of America, and having its power to the end of the world. What is at the bottom of that programme? At the bottom of it is the idea that no little group of men like the English people have the right to govern men in all parts of the world without drawing them into real substantial partnership, where their voice will count with equal weight with the voice of other parts of the country.

This voice that has been crying in Ireland, this voice for home rule, is a voice which is now supported by the opinion of the world; this impulse is a spirit which ought to be respected and recognized in the British Constitution. It means not mere vague talk of men's rights, men's emotions, and men's inveterate and traditional principles, but it means the embodiment of these things in something that is going to be done, that will look with hope to the programme that may come out of these conferences.

If those who conduct the Government of Great Britain are not careful the restlessness will spread with rapid agitation until the whole country is aflame, and then there will be revolution and a change of government.
In this speech he plainly indicated that his plan for the settlement of the Irish question was the establishment of some forum to which the cause of Ireland might be brought, where the full force of the public opinion of the world, including the United States, could be brought to play in a vigorous and whole-hearted insistence upon a solution of this world- disturbing question.

As we read the daily papers, containing accounts of the disturbances in Ireland, what a prophetic vision underlay the declaration contained in the speech of Woodrow Wilson in 1910!
If those who conduct the Government of Great Britain are not careful the restlessness will spread with rapid agitation until the whole country is aflame, and then there will be revolution and a change of government.
I recall his passionate resentment of the attitude and threats of Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Unionist forces in the British Parliament, when he read the following statement of Carson carried in the American Press, after the passage of Home Rule through the House of Lords: "In the event of this proposed parliament being thrust upon us, we solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves not to recognize its authority. I do not care two pence whether this is treason or not."

Discussing Carson's utterance the President said: "I would like to be in Mr. Asquith's place. I would show this rebel whether he would recognize the authority of the Government or flaunt it. He ought to be hanged for treason. If Asquith does not call this gentleman's bluff, the contagion of unrest and rebellion in Ireland will spread until only a major operation will save the Empire. Dallying with gentlemen of this kind who openly advocate revolution will only add to the difficulties. If those in authority in England will only act firmly now, their difficulties will be lessened. A little of the firmness and courage of Andrew Jackson would force a settlement of the Irish question right now."

The President did not agree with the friends of Irish freedom in America that coercive methods put upon England through the instrumentality of the United States could accomplish anything. When he left for the other side to take part in the Peace Conference, the future of Ireland was much in his thoughts, but his solution of the problem lay in the establishment of a forum under the League of Nations before which not only the cause of Ireland but the cause of any oppressed people might be brought to the judgment of mankind.

Ireland's affairs were always in the background of the President's thoughts and he welcomed conversations with those who were in a position to offer helpful suggestions. I append a correspondence, intimate in character and now for the first time "exposed to the public view," between the President, Mr. Sidney Brooks, a noted English writer, and myself:
Friday, April 20, 1917.


After several months in America I am now returning to England, returning, I need not say, in a very happy mood and with the consciousness that the relations between our two countries are at length set fair. There is nothing nearer to my heart than improving them, and I believe I see how they could be improved and particularly how the last great obstacle to their betterment--I mean, of course, Ireland--could be lessened, if not removed. I should very greatly value an opportunity of setting before you some views I have formed on the matter, if an opportunity could be found before the arrival of the British Commission.

I leave Washington on Sunday and sail for England on the following Saturday, but not, I trust, without being able to pay you my respects and say my adieux in person.

Believe me, dear Mr. President,

Yours very sincerely,

The White House.
In forwarding this letter to the President, I accompanied it by the following note:

April 20, 1917.


I just had a little talk with Sidney Brooks who says he has been in correspondence with Lloyd George and Lord Northcliffe with reference to the Home Rule question. He believes that just a little push by you in your private talk with Mr. Balfour would put over home rule. He says if you could bring home to Balfour the amount of American public sentiment which favours it and how a denial of it is working to the disadvantage of England in this country, it would make a great impression. He says after the war there will of course be a great and generous cooperation between England and this country; but that there will never be genuine cooperation between the people of America and the people of England until the Irish question is settled.

Sincerely yours,
The President replied to me in the following note:

Confidentially (for I beg that you will be careful not to speak of or intimate this), I have been doing a number of things about this which I hope may bear fruit.

Mr. John D. Crimmins, a leading Irish sympathizer, addressed the following letter to the President:
Washington, D. C., April 28, 1917.


The press this morning leads to the impression that at some timely hour, in your own manner, you will have a word on the Irish problem that at this moment appears to be near solution.

It would be most timely and would have the heartfelt gratitude of millions of people in this and other lands who have long hoped, and many prayed, for Ireland as a small nation to have autonomy, thereby establishing peace with England and among English-speaking people. Then if an emergency should arise there would be all for one and one for all. Mr. President, you have gone a long step in that direction in declaring the rights of small nations--another step may be the means of reaching the goal for the Irish people.

Faithfully yours,

His Excellency,
Woodrow Wilson.
The President read this letter with a great deal of interest and sent me the following note, evidencing his sincere interest in all that Mr. Crimmins had said:

You are right about Mr. Crimmins having been a good friend, but I don't like to write any letters on this subject at present. I would appreciate it very much if you would assure him of my interest and of your knowledge of the fact that I am showing in every way I possibly can my sympathy with the claim of Ireland for home rule.

On December 3, 1919, Bishop Shahan, of the Catholic University, addressed a letter to the President in behalf of the rector and faculties of the Catholic University of America with reference to the question of Home Rule, to which the President replied:

3 December, 1919.


Allow me to acknowledge your letter of November 30th written in behalf of the rector and faculties of the Catholic University of America, and to say that it will be my endeavour in regard to every question which arises before the Peace Conference to do my utmost to bring about the realization of the principles to which your letter refers. The difficulties and delicacy of the task are very great, and I cannot confidently forecast what I can do. I can only say that I shall be watchful of every opportunity to insist upon the principles I have enunciated.

Cordially and sincerely yours,

The Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Shahan, Rector,
Catholic University of America,
Washington, D. C.
On December 3, 1918, he addressed a letter to Senator Thomas J. Walsh, of Montana, as follows:

3 December, 1919.


I appreciate the importance of a proper solution of the Irish question and thank you for the suggestions of your letter of yesterday. Until I get on the other side and find my footing in delicate matters of this sort I cannot forecast with any degree of confidence what influence I can exercise, but you may be sure that I shall keep this important interest in mind and shall use my influence at every opportunity to bring about a just and satisfactory solution.

I greatly value the expressions of your confidence and feel very much strengthened by them.

With the best wishes,

Cordially and sincerely yours,

Hon. Thomas J. Walsh,
United States Senate.
While the President was in Paris, I constantly kept him in touch with the situation in this country, and that he was interested in bringing to the attention of the Peace Conference the cause of Ireland is made clear by the following cables that were exchanged between us.

On June 7, 1919, I cabled Admiral Grayson, for the President as follows:
The White House, Washington,
7 June, 1919.

You cannot overestimate real intensity of feeling behind Irish question here. It is growing every day and is not at all confined to Irishmen. The passage of resolution of sympathy with almost unanimous vote in Senate last night is but a slight evidence of interest here. I wish the President could do just a little for I fear reaction here upon League of Nations. If this situation could be straightened out, it would help a great deal.

The President himself replied to this cable, showing the depth of his interest in the matter:
Paris, 8 June, 1919.

I have tried to help in the Irish matter, but the extraordinary indiscretion of the American delegation over here has almost completely blocked everything.

On June 9, 1919, I received a further cable from the President, as follows:
Paris, 9 June, 1919.

The American Committee of Irishmen have made it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to render the assistance we were diligently trying to render in the matter of bringing the Irish aspirations to the attention of the Peace Conference. By our unofficial activity in the matter we had practically cleared the way for the coming of the Irish Representatives to Paris when the American Commission went to Ireland and behaved in a way which so inflamed British opinion that the situation has got quite out of hand, and we are utterly at a loss how to act in the matter without involving the Government of the United States with the Government of Great Britain in a way which might create an actual breach between the two. I made an effort day before yesterday in this matter which shows, I am afraid, the utter futility of further efforts. I am distressed that the American Commission should have acted with such extreme indiscretion and lack of sense, and can at the moment see nothing further to do.

To this cable I replied as follows:
The White House, Washington,
9 June, 1919.

Thanks for message about Ireland, Hope you will not allow indiscretions of American Commission to influence your judgment against Ireland. Lloyd George's mistakes in handling this will be his undoing, for it has in it the elements of a revolution. It is our own political situation here and the fate of the Treaty itself that concern me. In this country the Irish are united in this matter and in every large city and town are carrying on a propaganda, asking that Ireland be given the right of self-determination. George Creel, in a powerful article yesterday in the newspapers, said: Quote The question of Ireland cannot be ignored, either in honour or decency End quote. I trust you can say a word. Could you not ask that Irish delegates be given a chance to present their case to the Conference?

On June 25, 1919, I sent the following cable to the President:
General Maurice, in wonderful article in New York Times on League of Nations, says about Ireland: Quote One obvious need to complete the process of bringing all nations together is that we should show that we know what America did in the war, but there is another obvious need, which presents greater difficulties. We must have a policy in regard to Ireland, which we can explain to the American people. At present Ireland threatens to reopen all the rifts which comradeship in the war is closing End quote.

The New York Evening Post of last night prints the following editorial:

Quote Self-Government for the Irish people, short of independence, is a right and a necessity, and it is a satisfaction that once more a movement is under way for the establishment of Ireland on the basis which logic and history have determined--a dominion on an equal footing with the other dominions under the British crown End quote.

Frankly, this represents the opinion of the average man in America, without regard to race or religion. The arrival of De Valera in America is going to intensify the feeling and the Republicans will take full advantage of it. Now that the League of Nations is on its feet, we should take the lead in this matter. It would do more toward bringing about a real comradeship between England and America than anything that could happen. I think that the situation in Africa, India, and the seriousness of the situation in Canada, will inevitably force England to consider these matters. It is in anticipation of this that I am anxious to have you play a leading part in this situation. It would do much to make the League of Nations a living, vital force in the affairs of the world. There are no boundary lines between free peoples any more.


* * * * *

White House, Washington.

June 27, 1919.

I entirely agree with the general tenor of your cable of the twenty- fifth about the Irish question and I firmly believe when the League of Nations is once organized it will afford a forum not now available for bringing the opinion of the world and of the United States in particular to bear on just such problems.

Of course, the thing which lay close to Woodrow Wilson's heart was the setting up of the League of Nations. Unless England and France should consent to the establishment of a league as part of a world settlement, any solution of the Irish question through the influence of world opinion was not in the reckoning. The wise, prudent thing, therefore, to do was first to establish a world court before which the cause of any oppressed peoples might be brought. This is just what he had in mind and what he succeeded in doing. To have thrust a settlement of Ireland's affairs into the foreground of the Peace Conference and to have made it a sine qua non would have been futile and foolish and might have resulted in disaster. Unfortunately, the friends of Irish freedom, deprecating and bitterly resenting well-considered methods like this, were desirous of having the matter thrust into the early conferences at Paris. The President knew that England would never consent to this and would resent any attempt on his part to carry out idea. If the President had done so, England would undoubtedly have withdrawn from the Conference and thus the great cause of the League of Nations, which formed the foundation stone upon which the Armistice was based, would have gone by the board. The President was looking far beyond a mere recognition of the Irish Republic. He was seeking to accomplish its security and guarantee its permanency through the instrumentality of a world court like the League of Nations. What would it have availed Ireland to have been granted Dominion government or independence unless contemporaneously with the grant there was set up an instrumentality that would guarantee and protect it? The only thing upon which the Peace Conference functioned was the settlement of the affairs of those nations affected by the war.

Why didn't Wilson bring Ireland's cause to the attention of the Peace Conference? was the query which frequently reached us at the White House. The President in his Western speeches discussed this matter in the following way:

"It was not within the privilege of the Conference of peace to act upon the right of self-determination of any peoples except those which had been included in the territories of the defeated empires--that is to say, it was not then within their power--but the moment the Covenant of the League of Nations is adopted it becomes their right. If the desire for self- determination of any people in the world is likely to affect the peace of the world or the good understanding between nations it becomes the business of the League; it becomes the right of any member of the League to call attention to it; it becomes the function of the League to bring the whole process of the opinion of the world to bear upon that very matter.

"Article XI is the favourite article in the Treaty so far as I am concerned. It says that every matter which is likely to affect the peace of the world is everybody's business; that it shall be the friendly right of any nation to call attention of the League to anything that is likely to affect the peace of the world or the good understanding between nations, upon which the peace of the world depends, whether that matter immediately concerns the nation drawing attention to it or not. In other words, at present we have to mind our own business, under the rules of diplomacy and established custom. Under the covenant of the League of Nations we can mind other people's business, and anything that affects the peace of the world, whether we are parties to it or not, can by our delegates be brought to the attention of mankind. We can force a nation on the other side of the globe to bring to that bar of mankind any wrong that is afoot in that part of the world which is likely to affect the good understanding between nations, and we can oblige them to show cause why it should not be remedied. There is not an oppressed people in the world which cannot henceforth get a hearing at that forum, and you know what a hearing will mean if the cause of those people is just. The one thing that those doing injustice have most reason to dread is publicity and discussion. At present what is the state of international law and understanding? No nation has the right to call attention to anything that does not directly affect its own affairs. If it does, it cannot only be told to mind its own business, but it risks the cordial relationship between itself and the nation whose affairs it draws under discussion; whereas, under Article XI, which I had the honour of advocating, the very sensible provision is made that the peace of the world transcends all the susceptibilities of nations and governments, and that they are obliged to consent to discuss and explain anything which does affect the good understanding between nations."

Sir Frederick Pollock, in his valuable work on the League of Nations, comments pointedly on this privilege:
Various Irish writers, including some who deserve serious attention, have raised the question whether the standing problem of Irish autonomy can come before the League of Nations. There is only one way in which this could happen--namely, that the Government of the United States should declare Irish-American sympathy with unsatisfied nationalist claims in Ireland to be capable of disturbing good understanding between Great Britain and the United States. That is a possible event if a solution is not reached within a reasonable time, but it is more likely that a confidential intimation from the United States would not only precede a formal reference to the Council, but avoid the necessity for it.
The friends of Ireland in this country have often asked me the question: "Would Woodrow Wilson have intervened in behalf of Ireland?"

I can answer this question only by saying that Ireland has never had a truer friend than Woodrow Wilson. From the day that we went to war it has been his steadfast purpose to induce the Government of England to settle the Irish question justly and permanently. His statesmanlike approach to a settlement of the problem is the only one that holds hope of success.

As I completed this chapter, an article appeared in a Washington newspaper apparently confirmatory of the President's foresight, showing that by September, 1921, Mr. De Valera had arrived at the same view. The article seems to show Mr. De Valera as insisting that the British Government grant Ireland membership in the League of Nations as one of the guarantees of autonomy.

As for myself, I believe that Ireland is going to be free in company with the rest of the world and in accordance with a new world order which shall function through the machinery for justice and liberty which is provided for in the Covenant of the League of Nations, and is provided for nowhere else.


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