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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XLII - The Western Trip
by Tumulty, Joseph P.


Tentative plans for a Western trip began to be formed in the White House because of the urgent insistence from Democratic friends on the Hill that nothing could win the fight for the League of Nations except a direct appeal to the country by the President in person.

Admiral Grayson, the President's physician and consistent friend, who knew his condition and the various physical crises through which he had passed here and on the other side, from some of which he had not yet recovered, stood firm in his resolve that the President should not go West, even intimating to me that the President's life might pay the forfeit if his advice were disregarded. Indeed, it needed not the trained eye of a physician to see that the man whom the senators were now advising to make a "swing around the circle" was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. More than once since his return from the Peace Conference I had urged him to take a needed rest; to get away from the turmoil of Washington and recuperate; but he spurned this advice and resolved to go through to the end.

No argument of ours could draw him away from his duties, which now involved not only the fight for the ratification of the Treaty, but the threatened railway strike, with its attendant evils to the country, and added administrative burdens growing out of the partisanship fight which was being waged in Congress for the ostensible purpose of reducing the high cost of living.

One day, after Democratic senators had been urging the Western trip, I took leave to say to the President that, in his condition, disastrous consequences might result if he should follow their advice. But he dismissed my solicitude, saying in a weary way: "I know that I am at the end of my tether, but my friends on the Hill say that the trip is necessary to save the Treaty, and I am willing to make whatever personal sacrifice is required, for if the Treaty should be defeated, God only knows what would happen to the world as a result of it. In the presence of the great tragedy which now faces the world, no decent man can count his own personal fortunes in the reckoning. Even though, in my condition, it might mean the giving up of my life, I will gladly make the sacrifice to save the Treaty."

He spoke like a soldier who was ready to make the supreme sacrifice to save the cause that lay closest to his heart.

As I looked at the President while he was talking, in my imagination I made a comparison between the man, Woodrow Wilson, who now stood before me and the man I had met many years before in New Jersey. In those days he was a vigorous, agile, slender man, active and alert, his hair but slightly streaked with gray. Now, as he stood before me discussing the necessity for the Western trip, he was an old man, grown grayer and grayer, but grimmer and grimmer in his determination, like an old warrior, to fight to the end.

There was another whose heroism was no less than his, Mrs. Wilson. She has since referred to the Western trip as "one long nightmare," though in the smiling face which she turned upon the crowds from Columbus to San Diego and back to Pueblo none could have detected a trace of the anxiety that was haunting her. She met the shouting throngs with the same reposeful dignity and radiant, friendly smile with which she had captivated the people of England, France, Italy, and Belgium.

At home and abroad she has always had a peculiar power to attract the populace, though she herself has never craved the spotlight. Like her husband, she finds home more congenial, and, like him, she prefers not to be written about.

In her husband's career she has played a notable rôle, the more noble because self-effacing. She has consistently disavowed intention to participate actively in public affairs, and yet in many a crisis she, out of her strong intelligence and sagacity, has been able to offer timely, wise suggestion. No public man ever had a more devoted helpmeet, and no wife a husband more dependent upon her sympathetic understanding of his problems. The devotion between these two has not been strengthened, for that would be impossible, but deepened by the President's long illness. Mrs. Wilson's strong physical constitution, combined with strength of character and purpose, has sustained her under a strain which must have wrecked most women. When the strong man broke, she nursed him as tenderly as a mother nurses a child.

Mrs. Wilson must have left the White House for that ill-omened journey with a sinking heart, for she knew, none better, that her husband was suffering from accumulated fatigue, and that he should be starting on a long vacation instead of a fighting tour that would tax the strength of an athlete in the pink of condition. For seven practically vacationless years he had borne burdens too great for any constitution; he had conducted his country through the greatest of all wars; he had contended, at times single-handed, in Paris with the world's most adroit politicians; he had there been prostrated with influenza, that treacherous disease which usually maims for a time those whom it does not kill, and he had not given himself a chance to recuperate; he had returned to America to engage in the most desperate conflict of his career with the leaders of the opposition party; and now, when it was clear even to his men friends, and much clearer to the intuition of a devoted wife, that nature was crying out for rest, he was setting out on one of the most arduous programmes of public speaking known even in our country, which is familiar with these strenuous undertakings. Mrs. Wilson's anxieties must have increased with each successive day of the journey, but not even to we of the immediate party did she betray her fears. Her resolution was as great as his.

When the great illness came she had to stand between him and the peril of exhaustion from official cares, yet she could not, like the more fortunately obscure, withdraw her husband from business altogether and take him away to some quiet place for restoration. As head of the nation he must be kept in touch with affairs, and during the early months of his illness she was the chief agent in keeping him informed of public business. Her high intelligence and her extraordinary memory enabled her to report to him daily, in lucid detail, weighty matters of state brought to her by officials for transmission to him. At the proper time, when he was least in pain and least exhausted, she would present a clear, oral resume of each case and lay the documents before him in orderly arrangement.

As woman and wife, the first thought of her mind and the first care of her heart must be for his health. Once at an acute period of his illness certain officials insisted that they must see him because they carried information which it was "absolutely necessary that the President of the United States should have," and she quietly replied: "I am not interested in the President of the United States. I am interested in my husband and his health."

With loving courage she met her difficult dilemma of shielding him as much as possible and at the same time keeping him acquainted with things he must know. When it became possible for him to see people she, in counsel with Admiral Grayson, would arrange for conferences and carefully watch her husband to see that they who talked with him did not trespass too long upon his limited energy.

When it became evident that the tide of public opinion was setting against the League, the President finally decided upon the Western trip as the only means of bringing home to the people the unparalleled world situation.

At the Executive offices we at once set in motion preparations for the Western trip. One itinerary after another was prepared, but upon examining it the President would find that it was not extensive enough and would suspect that it was made by those of us--like Grayson and myself--who were solicitious for his health, and he would cast them aside. All the itineraries provided for a week of rest in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, but when a brief vacation was intimated to him, he was obdurate in his refusal to include even a day of relaxation, saying to me, that "the people would never forgive me if I took a rest on a trip such as the one I contemplate taking. This is a business trip, pure and simple, and the itinerary must not include rest of any kind." He insisted that there be no suggestion of a pleasure trip attaching to a journey which he regarded as a mission.

As I now look back upon this journey and its disastrous effects upon the President's health, I believe that if he had only consented to include a rest period in our arrangements, he might not have broken down at Pueblo.

Never have I seen the President look so weary as on the night we left Washington for our swing into the West. When we were about to board our special train, the President turned to me and said: "I am in a nice fix. I am scheduled between now and the 28th of September to make in the neighbourhood of a hundred speeches to various bodies, stretching all the way from Ohio to the coast, and yet the pressure of other affairs upon me at the White House has been so great that I have not had a single minute to prepare my speeches. I do not know how I shall get the time, for during the past few weeks I have been suffering from daily headaches; but perhaps to-night's rest will make me fit for the work of tomorrow."

No weariness or brain-fag, however, was apparent in the speech at Columbus, Ohio. To those of us who sat on the platform, including the newspaper group who accompanied the President, this speech with its beautiful phrasing and its effective delivery seemed to have been carefully prepared.

Day after day, for nearly a month, there were speeches of a similar kind, growing more intense in their emotion with each day. Shortly after we left Tacoma, Washington, the fatigue of the trip began to write itself in the President's face. He suffered from violent headaches each day, but his speeches never betrayed his illness.

In those troublous days and until the very end of our Western trip the President would not permit the slightest variation from our daily programme. Nor did he ever permit the constant headaches, which would have put an ordinary man out of sorts, to work unkindly upon the members of his immediate party, which included Mrs. Wilson, Doctor Grayson, and myself. He would appear regularly at each meal, partaking of it only slightly, always gracious, always good-natured and smiling, responding to every call from the outside for speeches--calls that came from early morning until late at night--from the plain people grouped about every station and watering place through which we passed. Even under the most adverse physical conditions he was always kind, gentle, and considerate to those about him.

I have often wished, as the criticisms of the Pullman smoking car, the cloak room, and the counting house were carried to me, picturing the President's coldness, his aloofness and exclusiveness, that the critics could for a moment have seen the heart and great good-nature of the man giving expression to themselves on this critical journey. If they could have peeped through the curtain of our dining room, at one of the evening meals, for instance, they would have been ashamed of their misrepresentations of this kind, patient, considerate, human-hearted man.

When he was "half fit," an expression he often used, he was the best fellow in the little group on our train--good-natured, smiling, full of anecdotes and repartee, and always thinking of the comforts and pleasure of the men gathered about him. The illness of a newspaper man, or of one of the messengers or conductors, or attachés of the train was a call to service to him, and one could find the President in one of the little compartments of the train, seated at the bed of a newspaper man or some attaché who had been taken ill on the trip. There is in the President a sincere human sympathy, which is better than the cheap good-fellowship which many public men carefully cultivate.

It was on the Western trip, about September 12th, while the President, with every ounce of his energy, was attempting to put across the League of Nations, that Mr. William C. Bullitt was disclosing to the Committee on Foreign Relations at a public hearing the facts of a conference between Secretary Lansing and himself, in which Mr. Bullitt declared that Mr. Lansing had severely criticized the League of Nations.

The press representatives aboard the train called Mr. Bullitt's testimony to the President's attention. He made no comment, but it was plain from his attitude that he was incensed and distressed beyond measure. Here he was in the heart of the West, advancing the cause so dear to his heart, steadily making gains against what appeared to be insurmountable odds, and now his intimate associate, Mr. Lansing, was engaged in sniping and attacking him from behind.

On September 16th, Mr. Lansing telegraphed the following message to the President:
On May 17th, Bullitt resigned by letter giving his reasons with which you are familiar. I replied by letter on the 18th without any comment on his reasons. Bullitt on the 19th asked to see me to say good-bye and I saw him. He elaborated on the reasons for his resignation and said that he could not conscientiously give countenance to a treaty which was based on injustice. I told him that I would say nothing against his resigning since he put it on conscientious grounds, and that I recognized that certain features of the Treaty were bad, as I presumed most everyone did, but that was probably unavoidable in view of conflicting claims and that nothing ought to be done to prevent the speedy restoration of peace by signing the Treaty. Bullitt then discussed the numerous European commissions provided for by the Treaty on which the United States was to be represented. I told him that I was disturbed by this fact because I was afraid the Senate and possibly the people, if they understood this, would refuse ratification, and that anything which was an obstacle to ratification was unfortunate because we ought to have peace as soon as possible.
When the President received this explanation from Mr. Lansing, he sent for me to visit with him in his compartment. At the time I arrived he was seated in his little study, engaged in preparing his speech for the night's meeting. Turning to me, with a deep show of feeling, he said: "Read that, and tell me what you think of a man who was my associate on the other side and who confidentially expressed himself to an outsider in such a fashion? Were I in Washington I would at once demand his resignation! That kind of disloyalty must not be permitted to go unchallenged for a single minute. The testimony of Bullitt is a confirmation of the suspicions I have had with reference to this individual. I found the same attitude of mind on the part of Lansing on the other side. I could find his trail everywhere I went, but they were only suspicions and it would not be fair for me to act upon them. But here in his own statement is a verification at last of everything I have suspected. Think of it! This from a man whom I raised from the level of a subordinate to the great office of Secretary of State of the United States. My God! I did not think it was possible for Lansing to act in this way. When we were in Paris I found that Lansing and others were constantly giving out statements that did not agree with my viewpoint. When I had arranged a settlement, there would appear from some source I could not locate unofficial statements telling the correspondents not to take things too seriously; that a compromise would be made, and this news, or rather news of this kind, was harmful to the settlement I had already obtained and quite naturally gave the Conference the impression that Lansing and his kind were speaking for me, and then the French would say that I was bluffing."

I am convinced that only the President's illness a few days later prevented an immediate demand on his part for the resignation of Mr. Lansing.

That there was no real devotion on the part of Mr. Lansing for the President is shown by the following incident.

A few days after the President returned from the West and lay seriously ill at the White House, with physicians and nurses gathered about his bed, Mr. Lansing sought a private audience with me in the Cabinet Room. He informed me that he had called diplomatically to suggest that in view of the incapacity of the President we should arrange to call in the Vice- President to act in his stead as soon as possible, reading to me from a book which he had brought from the State Department, which I afterward learned was "Jefferson's Manual," the following clause of the United States Constitution:
In case of the removal of the President from office, or his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve upon the Vice-President.
Upon reading this, I coldly turned to Mr. Lansing and said: "Mr. Lansing, the Constitution is not a dead letter with the White House. I have read the Constitution and do not find myself in need of any tutoring at your hands of the provision you have just read." When I asked Mr. Lansing the question as to who should certify to the disability of the President, he intimated that that would be a job for either Doctor Grayson or myself. I immediately grasped the full significance of what he intimated and said: "You may rest assured that while Woodrow Wilson is lying in the White House on the broad of his back I will not be a party to ousting him. He has been too kind, too loyal, and too wonderful to me to receive such treatment at my hands." Just as I uttered this statement Doctor Grayson appeared in the Cabinet Room and I turned to him and said: "And I am sure that Doctor Grayson will never certify to his disability. Will you, Grayson?" Doctor Grayson left no doubt in Mr. Lansing's mind that he would not do as Mr. Lansing suggested. I then notified Mr. Lansing that if anybody outside of the White House circle attempted to certify to the President's disability, that Grayson and I would stand together and repudiate it. I added that if the President were in a condition to know of this episode he would, in my opinion, take decisive measures. That ended the interview.

It is unnecessary to say that no further attempt was made by Mr. Lansing to institute ouster proceedings against his chief.

I never attempted to ascertain what finally influenced the action of the President peremptorily to demand the resignation of Mr. Lansing. My own judgment is that the demand came as the culmination of repeated acts of what the President considered disloyalty on Mr. Lansing's part while in Paris, and that the situation was aggravated by Mr. Lansing's notes to Mexico during the President's illness.

When I received from the President's stenographer the letter to Mr. Lansing, intimating that his resignation would not be a disagreeable thing to the President, I conferred with the President at once and argued with him that in the present state of public opinion it was the wrong time to do the right thing. At the time the President was seated in his invalid chair on the White House portico.

Although physically weak, he was mentally active and alert. Quickly he took hold of my phrase and said, with a show of the old fire that I had seen on so many occasions: "Tumulty, it is never the wrong time to spike disloyalty. When Lansing sought to oust me, I was upon my back. I am on my feet now and I will not have disloyalty about me."

When the announcement of Lansing's resignation was made, the flood-gates of fury broke about the President; but he was serene throughout it all. When I called at the White House on the following Sunday, I found him calmly seated in his bathroom with his coloured valet engaged in the not arduous task of cutting his hair. Looking at me with a smile in his eye, he said: "Well, Tumulty, have I any friends left?" "Very few, Governor," I said. Whereupon he replied: "Of course, it will be another two days' wonder. But in a few days what the country considers an indiscretion on my part in getting rid of Lansing will be forgotten, but when the sober, second thought of the country begins to assert itself, what will stand out will be the disloyalty of Lansing to me. Just think of it! Raised and exalted to the office of Secretary of State, made a member of the Peace Commission, participating in all the conferences and affixing his signature to a solemn treaty, and then hurrying to America and appearing before the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate to repudiate the very thing to which he had given his assent."

During the illness of the President his political enemies sought to convey the impression that he was incapacitated for the duties of his office. As one who came in daily contact with him I knew how baseless were these insinuations. As a matter of fact, there was not a whole week during his entire illness that he was not in touch with every matter upon which he was called to act and upon which he was asked to render judgment. The White House files contain numerous memoranda showing his interest in all matters to which department heads felt it incumbent to call his attention during his illness. One of the most critical things upon which he passed was the question of the miners' strike, which resulted in the beginning from an injunction suit by the Attorney General, Mr. Palmer, to restrain the miners from carrying out their purpose to strike. This was one of the most critical situations that arose during his illness and with which he daily kept in touch.

Uncomplainingly the President applied himself to the difficult tasks of the Western trip. While the first meeting at Columbus was a disappointment as to attendance, as we approached the West the crowds grew in numbers and the enthusiasm became boundless. The idea of the League spread and spread as we neared the coast. Contrary to the impression in the East, the President's trip West was a veritable triumph for him and was so successful that we had planned, upon the completion of the Western trip, to invade the enemy's country, Senator Lodge's own territory, the New England States, and particularly Massachusetts. This was our plan, fully developed and arranged, when about four o'clock in the morning of September 26, 1919, Doctor Grayson knocked at the door of my sleeping compartment and told me to dress quickly, that the President was seriously ill. As we walked toward the President's car, the Doctor told me in a few words of the President's trouble and said that he greatly feared it might end fatally if we should attempt to continue the trip and that it was his duty to inform the President that by all means the trip must be cancelled; but that he did not feel free to suggest it to the President without having my cooperation and support. When we arrived at the President's drawing room I found him fully dressed and seated in his chair. With great difficulty he was able to articulate. His face was pale and wan. One side of it had fallen, and his condition was indeed pitiful to behold. Quickly I reached the same conclusion as that of Doctor Grayson, as to the necessity for the immediate cancellation of the trip, for to continue it, in my opinion, meant death to the President. Looking at me, with great tears running down his face, he said: "My dear boy, this has never happened to me before. I felt it coming on yesterday. I do not know what to do." He then pleaded with us not to cut short the trip. Turning to both of us, he said: "Don't you see that if you cancel this trip, Senator Lodge and his friends will say that I am a quitter and that the Western trip was a failure, and the Treaty will be lost." Reaching over to him, I took both of his hands and said: "What difference, my dear Governor, does it make what they say? Nobody in the world believes you are a quitter, but it is your life that we must now consider. We must cancel the trip, and I am sure that when the people learn of your condition there will be no misunderstanding." He then tried to move over nearer to me to continue his argument against the cancellation of the trip; but he found he was unable to do so. His left arm and leg refused to function.

I then realized that the President's whole left side was paralyzed. Looking at me he said: "I want to show them that I can still fight and that I am not afraid. Just postpone the trip for twenty-four hours and I will be all right."

But Doctor Grayson and I resolved not to take any risk, and an immediate statement was made to the inquiring newspaper men that the Western trip was off.

Never was the President more gentle or tender than on that morning. Suffering the greatest pain, paralyzed on his left side, he was still fighting desperately for the thing that was so close to his heart--a vindication of the things for which he had so gallantly fought on the other side. Grim old warrior that he was, he was ready to fight to the death for the League of Nations.

In the dispatches carried to the country, prepared by the fine newspaper men who accompanied us on the trip, it was stated that evidences of a breakdown on the part of the President were plainly visible in the speech he delivered at Pueblo.

I had talked to him only a few minutes before the delivery of that speech, and the only apparent evidence that he was approaching a breakdown was in his remark to me that he had a splitting headache, and that he would have to cut his speech short. As a matter of fact, this last speech he made, at Pueblo, on September 25, 1919, was one of the longest speeches delivered on the Western trip and, if I may say so, was one of the best and most passionate appeals he made for the League of Nations.

Many things in connection with the Pueblo meeting impressed themselves upon me. In the peroration of the speech he drew a picture of his visit on Decoration Day, 1919, to what he called a beautiful hillside near Paris, where was located the cemetery of Suresnes, a cemetery given over to the burial of the American dead. As he spoke of the purposes for which those departed American soldiers had given their lives, a great wave of emotion, such as I have never witnessed at a public meeting, swept through the whole amphitheatre. As he continued his speech, I looked at Mrs. Wilson and saw tears in her eyes. I then turned to see the effect upon some of the "hard-boiled" newspaper men, to whom great speeches were ordinary things, and they were alike deeply moved. Down in the amphitheatre I saw men sneak their handkerchiefs out of their pockets and wipe the tears from their eyes. The President was like a great organist playing upon the heart emotions of the thousands of people who were held spell-bound by what he said.

It is possible, I pray God it may not be so, that the speech at Pueblo was the last public speech that Woodrow Wilson will ever make, and I, therefore, take the liberty of introducing into this story the concluding words of it:
What of our pledges to the men that lie dead in France? We said that they went over there not to prove the prowess of America or her readiness for another war but to see to it that there never was such a war again. It always seems to make it difficult for me to say anything, my fellow citizens, when I think of my clients in this case. My clients are the children; my clients are the next generation. They do not know what promises and bonds I undertook when I ordered the armies of the United States to the soil of France, but I know, and I intend to redeem my pledges to the children; they shall not be sent upon a similar errand.

Again, and again, my fellow citizens, mothers who lost their sons in France have come to me and, taking my hand, have shed tears upon it not only, but they have added: "God bless you, Mr. President!" Why, my fellow citizens, should they pray God to bless me? I advised the Congress of the United States to create the situation that led to the death of their sons. I ordered their sons overseas. I consented to their sons being put in the most difficult parts of the battle line, where death was certain, as in the impenetrable difficulties of the forest of Argonne. Why should they weep upon my hand and call down the blessings of God upon me? Because they believe that their boys died for something that vastly transcends any of the immediate and palpable objects of the war. They believe, and they rightly believe, that their sons saved the liberty of the world. They believe that wrapped up with the liberty of the world is the continuous protection of that liberty by the concerted powers of all the civilized world. They believe that this sacrifice was made in order that other sons should not be called upon for a similar gift--the gift of life, the gift of all that died-- and if we did not see this thing through, if we fulfilled the dearest present wish of Germany and now dissociated ourselves from those alongside whom we fought in the war, would not something of the halo go away from the gun over the mantelpiece, or the sword? Would not the old uniform lose something if its significance? These men were crusaders. They were going forth to prove the might of justice and right, and all the world accepted them as crusaders, and their transcendent achievement has made all the world believe in America as it believes in no other nation organized in the modern world. There seems to me to stand between us and the rejection or qualification of this treaty the serried ranks of those boys in khaki, not only those boys who came home, but those dear ghosts that still deploy upon the fields of France.

My friends, on last Decoration Day I went to a beautiful hillside near Paris, where was located the cemetery of Suresnes, a cemetery given over to the burial of the American dead. Behind me on the slopes was rank upon rank of living American soldiers, and lying before me on the levels of the plain was rank upon rank of departed American soldiers. Right by the side of the stand where I spoke there was a little group of French women who had adopted those graves, had made themselves mothers of those dear ghosts by putting flowers every day upon those graves, taking them as their own sons, their own beloved, because they had died in the same cause--France was free and the world was free because America had come! I wish some men in public life who are now opposing the settlement for which these men died could visit such a spot as that. I wish that the thought that comes out of those graves could penetrate their consciousness. I wish that they could feel the moral obligation that rests upon us not to go back on those boys, but to see the thing through, to see it through to the end and make good their redemption of the world. For nothing less depends upon this decision, nothing less than the liberation and salvation of the world.

Now that the mists of this great question have cleared away, I believe that men will see the trust, eye to eye and face to face. There is one thing that the American people always rise to and extend their hand to, and that is the truth of justice and of liberty and of peace. We have accepted that truth and we are going to be led by it, and it is going to lead us, and through us the world, out into pastures of quietness and peace such as the world never dreamed of before.


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