XV THE AMBASSADOR AND THE LAWYERS
REFERENCES in the foregoing letters show that Page was still having his troubles over the blockade. In the latter part of 1915, indeed, the negotiations with Sir Edward Grey on this subject had reached their second stage. The failure of Washington to force upon Great Britain an entirely new code of naval warfare---the Declaration of London---has already been described. This failure had left both the British Foreign Office and the American State Department in an unsatisfactory frame of mind. The Foreign Office regarded Washington with suspicion, for the American attempt to compel Great Britain to adopt a code of naval warfare which was exceedingly unfavourable to that country and exceedingly favourable to Germany, was susceptible of a sinister interpretation. The British rejection of these overtures, on the other hand, had evidently irritated the international lawyers at Washington. Mr. Lansing now abandoned his efforts to revolutionize maritime warfare and confined himself to specific protests and complaints. His communications to the London Embassy dealt chiefly with particular ships and cargoes. Yet his persistence in regarding all these problems from a strictly legalistic point of view Page regarded as indicating a restricted sense of statesmanship.
London, August 4, 1915.
MY DEAR HOUSE:
. . . The lawyer-way in which the Department goes on in its dealings with Great Britain is losing us the only great international friendship that we have any chance of keeping or that is worth having. Whatever real principle we have to uphold with Great Britain---that's all right. I refer only to the continuous series of nagging incidents---always criticism, criticism, criticism of small points---points that we have to yield at last, and never anything constructive. I'll illustrate what I mean by a few incidents that I can recall from memory. If I looked up the record, I should find a very, very much larger list.
(1) We insisted and insisted and insisted, not once but half a dozen times, at the very beginning of the war, on England's adoption of the Declaration of London entire in spite of the fact that Parliament had distinctly declined to adopt it. Of course we had to give in---after we had produced a distinctly unfriendly atmosphere and much feeling.
(2) We denied the British right to put copper on the contraband list---much to their annoyance. Of course we had at last to acquiesce. They were within their rights.
(3) We protested against bringing ships into port to examine them. Of course we had to give in---after producing irritation.
(4) We made a great fuss about stopped telegrams. We have no case at all; but, even after acknowledging that we have no case, every pouch continues to bring telegrams with the request that I ask an explanation why they were stopped. Such explanations are practically refused. I have 500 telegrams. Periodically I wire the state of the case and ask for more specific instructions. I never get an answer to these requests. But the Department continues to send the telegrams! We confessedly, have no case here; and this method can produce nothing but irritation.
I could extend this list to 100 examples---of mere lawyerlike methods---mere useless technicalities and objections which it is obvious in the beginning cannot be maintained. A similar method is now going on about cotton. Now this is not the way Sir Edward Grey takes up business. It's not the way I've done business all my life, nor that you have, nor other frank men who mean what they say and do not say things they do not mean. The constant continuation of this method is throwing away the real regard and confidence of the British Government and of the British public---very fast, too.
I sometimes wish there were not a lawyer in the world. I heard the President say once that it took him twenty years to recover from his legal habit of mind. Well, his Administration is suffering from it to a degree that is pathetic and that will leave bad results for 100 years.
I suspect that in spite of all the fuss we have made we shall at last come to acknowledge the British blockade; for it is pretty nearly parallel to the United States blockade of the South during our Civil War. The only difference is---they can't make the blockade of the Baltic against the traffic from the Scandinavian neutral states effective. That's a good technical objection; but, since practically all the traffic between those States and Germany is in our products, much of the real force of it is lost.
If a protest is made against cotton being made contraband---it'll amount to nothing and give only irritation. It will only play into Hoke Smith-German hands and accomplish nothing here. We make as much fuss about points which we have silently to yield later as about a real principle. Hence they all say that the State Department is merely captious, and they pay less and less attention to it and care less and less for American opinion--- if only they can continue to get munitions. We are reducing English regard to this purely mercenary basis. . .
We are-under lawyers' quibbling---drifting apart very rapidly, to our complete isolation from the sympathy of the whole world.
Yours forever sincerely,
W. H. P.
Page refers in this letter to the "blockade"; this was the term which the British Government itself used to describe its restrictive measures against German commerce, and it rapidly passed into common speech. Yet the truth is that Great Britain never declared an actual blockade against Germany. A realization of this fact will clear up much that is obscure in the naval warfare of the next two years. At the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln laid an interdict on all the ports of the Confederacy; the ships of all nations were forbidden entering or leaving them: any ship which attempted to evade this restriction, and was captured doing so, was confiscated, with its cargo. That was a blockade, as the term has always been understood. A blockade, it is well to keep in mind, is a procedure which aims at completely closing the blockaded country from all commercial intercourse with the world. A blockading navy, if the blockade is successful, or "effective," converts the whole country into a beleaguered fortress, just as an army, surrounding a single town, prevents goods and people from entering or leaving it. Precisely as it is the purpose of a besieging army to starve a particular city or territory into submission, so it is the aim of a blockading fleet to enforce the same treatment on the nation as a whole. It is also essential to keep in mind that the question of contraband has nothing to do with a blockade, for, under this drastic method of making warfare, everything is contraband. Contraband is a term applied to cargoes, such as rifles, machine guns, and the like, which are needed in the prosecution of war.
That a belligerent nation has the right to intercept such munitions on the way to its enemy has been admitted for centuries. Differences of opinion have raged only as to the extent to which this right could be carried---the particular articles, that is, that constituted contraband, and the methods adopted in exercising it. But the important point to be kept in mind is that where there is a blockade, there is no contraband list---for everything automatically becomes contraband. The seizure of contraband on the high seas is a war measure which is availed of only in cases in which the blockade has not been established.
Great Britain, when she declared war on Germany, did not follow President Lincoln's example and lay the whole of the German coast under interdict. Perhaps one reason for this inaction was a desire not unduly to offend neutrals, especially the United States; but the more impelling motive was geographical. The fact is that a blockade of the German seacoast would accomplish little in the way of keeping materials out of Germany. A glance at the map of northwestern Europe will make this fact clear. In the first place the seacoast of Germany is a small affair. In the North Sea the German coast is a little indentation, not more than two hundred miles long, wedged in between the longer coastlines of Holland and Denmark; in the Baltic it is somewhat more extensive, but the entrances to this sea are so circuitous and treacherous that the suggestion of a blockade here is not a practicable one. The greatest ports of Germany are located on this little North Sea coastline or on its rivers---Hamburg and Bremen. It might therefore be assumed that any nation which successfully blockaded these North Sea ports would have strangled the commerce of Germany. That is far from being the case. The point is that the political boundaries of Germany are simply fictions, when economic considerations are involved. Holland, on the west, and Denmark, on the north, are as much a part of the German transportation system as though these two countries were parts of the German Empire. Their territories and the territories of Germany are contiguous; the railroad and the canal systems of Germany, Holland, and Denmark are practically one. Such ports as Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen are just as useful to Germany for purposes of commerce as are Hamburg and Bremen, and, in fact, a special commercial arrangement with Rotterdam has made that city practically a port of Germany since 1868. These considerations show how ineffective would be a blockade of the German coast which did not also comprehend the coast of Holland and Denmark. Germany could still conduct her commerce through these neighbouring countries. And at this point the great difficulty arose. A blockade is an act of war and can be applied only to a country upon which war has been declared. Great Britain had declared war on Germany and could therefore legally close her ports; she had not declared war on Holland and Denmark, and therefore could not use the same measure against those friendly countries. Consequently the blockade was useless to Great Britain; and so, in the first six months of the war, the Admiralty fell back upon the milder system of declaring certain articles contraband of war and seizing ships that were suspected of carrying them to Germany.
A geographical accident had apparently largely destroyed the usefulness of the British fleet and had guaranteed Germany an unending supply of those foodstuffs without which she could not maintain her resistance for any extended period. Was Great Britain called upon to accept this situation and to deny herself the use of the blockade in this, the greatest struggle in her history? Unless the British fleet could stop cargoes which were really destined to Germany but which were bound for neutral ports, Great Britain could not win the war; if the British fleet could intercept such cargoes, then the chances strongly favoured victory. The experts of the Foreign Office searched the history of blockades and found something which resembled a precedent in the practices of the American Navy during the Civil War. In that conflict Nassau, in the Bahamas, and Matamoros, in Mexico, played a part not unlike that played by Rotterdam and Copenhagen in the recent struggle. These were both neutral ports and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the United States, just as Rotterdam and Copenhagen were outside the jurisdiction of Great Britain. They were the ports of powers with which the United States was at peace, and therefore they could not be blockaded, just as Amsterdam and Copenhagen were ports of powers with which Great Britain was now at peace.
Trade from Great Britain to the Bahamas and Mexico was ostensibly trade from one neutral port to another neutral port in the same sense as was trade from the United States to Holland and Denmark. Yet the fact is that the "neutrality" of this trade, in the Civil War, from Great Britain to the Bahamas and Mexico, was the most transparent subterfuge; such trade was not "neutral" in the slightest degree. It consisted almost entirely of contraband of war and was intended for the armies of the Confederate States, then in arms against the Federal Government. What is the reason, our Government asked, that these gentle and unwarlike inhabitants of the Bahamas have so suddenly developed such an enormous appetite for percussion caps, rifles, cannon, and other instruments of warfare? The answer, of course, lay upon the surface; the cargoes were intended for reshipment into the Southern States, and they were, in fact, immediately so reshipped. The American Government, which has always regarded realities as more important than logic, brushed aside the consideration that this trade was conducted through neutral ports, unhesitatingly seized these ships and condemned both the ships and their cargoes. Its action was without legal precedent, but our American courts devised a new principle of international law to cover the case---that of "continuous voyage" or "ultimate destination." Under this new doctrine it was maintained that cargoes of contraband could be seized anywhere upon the high seas, even though they were going from one neutral port to another, if it could be demonstrated that this contraband was really on its way to the enemy. The mere fact that it was transshipped at an intermediate neutral port was not important; the important point was the "ultimate destination." British shippers naturally raged over these decisions, but they met with little sympathy from their own government. Great Britain filed no protest against the doctrine of "continuous voyage," but recognized its fundamental soundness, and since 1865 this doctrine has been a part of international law.
Great Britain's good sense in acquiescing in our Civil War practices now met its reward; for these decisions of American courts proved a godsend in her hour of trial. The one neutral from which trouble was anticipated was the United States. What better way to meet this situation than to base British maritime warfare upon the decisions of American courts? What more ideal solution of the problem than to make Chief Justice Chase, of the United States Supreme Court, really the author of the British "blockade " against Germany? The policy of the British Foreign Office was to use the sea power of Great Britain to crush the enemy, but to do it in a way that would not alienate American sympathy and American support; clearly the one way in which both these ends could be attained was to frame these war measures upon the pronouncements of American prize courts. In a broad sense this is precisely what Sir Edward Grey now proceeded to do. There was a difference, of course, which Great Britain's enemies in the American Senate---such men as Senator Hoke Smith, of Georgia, and Senator Thomas Walsh, of Montana---proceeded to point out; but it was a difference of degree. Great Britain based her blockade measures upon the American principle of "ultimate destination," but it was necessary considerably to extend that doctrine in order to meet the necessities of the new situation. President Lincoln had applied this principle to absolute contraband, such as powder, shells, rifles, and other munitions of war. Great Britain now proceeded to apply it to that nebulous class of commodities known as "conditional contraband," the chief of which was foodstuffs. If the United States, while a war was pending, could evolve the idea of "ultimate destination" and apply it to absolute contraband, could not Great Britain, while another war was pending, carry it one degree further and make it include conditional contraband? Thus reasoned the British Foreign Office. To this Mr. Lansing replied that to stop foodstuffs on the way to Germany through a neutral port was simply to blockade a neutral port, and that this was something utterly without precedent. Seizing contraband is not an act of war against the nation whose ships are seized; blockading a port is an act of war; what right therefore had Great Britain to adopt measures against Holland, Denmark, and Sweden which virtually amounted to a blockade?
This is the reason why Great Britain, in the pronouncement of March 1, 1915, and the Order in Council of March 11, 1915, did not describe these measures as a "blockade." President Wilson described his attack on Mexico in 1914 as "measures short of war," and now someone referred to the British restrictions on neutral commerce as "measures short of blockade." The British sought another escape from their predicament by justifying this proceeding, not on the general principles of warfare, but on the ground of reprisal. Germany declared her submarine warfare on merchant ships on February 4, 1915; Great Britain replied with her announcement of March 1st, in which she declared her intention of preventing "commodities of any kind from reaching or leaving Germany." The British advanced this procedure as a retaliation for the illegal warfare which Germany had declared on merchant shipping, both that of the enemy and of neutrals. "The British and French governments will therefore hold themselves free to detain and take into port ships carrying goods of presumed enemy destination, ownership, and origin." This sentence accurately describes the purposes of a blockade---to cut the. enemy off from all commercial relations with the outside world; yet the procedure Great Britain now proposed to follow was not that of a blockade. When this interdict is classically laid, any ship that attempts to run the lines is penalized with confiscation, along with its cargo; but such a penalty was not to be exacted in the present instance. Great Britain now proposed to purchase cargoes of conditional contraband discovered on seized ships and return the ships themselves to their owners, and this soon became the established practice. Not only did the Foreign Office purchase all cotton which was seized on its way to Germany, but it took measures to maintain the price in the markets of the world. In the succeeding months Southern statesmen in both Houses of Congress railed against the British seizure of their great staple, yet the fact was that cotton was all this time steadily advancing in price. When Senator Hoke Smith made a long speech advocating an embargo on the shipment of munitions as a punishment to Great Britain for stopping American cotton on the way to Germany, the acute John Sharp Williams, of Mississippi, arose in the Senate and completely annihilated the Georgia politician by demonstrating how the Southern planters were growing rich out of the war.
That the so-called "blockade" situation was a tortuous one must be apparent from this attempt to set forth the salient facts. The basic point was that there could be no blockade of Germany unless the neutral ports of contiguous countries were also blockaded, and Great Britain believed that she had found a precedent for doing this in the operations of the American Navy in the Civil War. But it is obvious that the situation was one which would provide a great feast for the lawyers. That Page sympathized with this British determination to keep foodstuffs out of Germany, his correspondence shows. Day after day the "protests" from Washington rained upon his desk. The history of our foreign relations for 1915 and 1916 is largely made up of an interminable correspondence dealing with seized cargoes, and the routine of the Embassy was an unending nightmare of "demands," "complaints ... .. precedents ... .. cases," "notes," "detentions " of Chicago meats, of Southern cotton, and the like. The American Embassy in London contains hundreds of volumes of correspondence which took place during Page's incumbency; more material has accumulated for those five years than for the preceding century and a quarter of the Government's existence. The greater part of this mass deals with intercepted cargoes.
The following extract from a letter which Page wrote at this time gives a fair idea of the atmosphere that prevailed in London while this correspondence was engaging the Ambassador's mind:
The truth is, in their present depressed mood, the United States is forgotten---everything's forgotten but the one great matter in hand. For the moment at least, the English do not care what we do---or what we think or whether we exist---except those critics of things-in-general who use us as a target since they must take a crack at somebody. And I simply cannot describe the curious effect that is produced on men here by the apparent utter lack of understanding in the United States of the phase the war has now entered and of the mood that this phase has brought. I pick up an American paper eight days old and read solemn evidence to show that the British Government is interrupting our trade in order to advance its own at our expense, whereas the truth is that the British Government hasn't given six seconds' thought in six months to anybody's trade---not even its own.
When I am asked to inquire why Pfister and Schmidt's telegram from New York to Schimmelpfenig and Johann in Holland was stopped (the reason is reasonably obvious), I try to picture to myself the British Minister in Washington making inquiry of our Government, on the day after Bull Run, why the sailing boat loaded with persimmon blocks to make golf clubs is delayed in Hampton Roads.
I think I have neither heard nor read anything from the United States in three months that didn't seem so remote as to suggest the captain of the sailing ship from Hongkong who turned up at Southampton in February and had not even heard that there was a war. All day long I see and hear women who come to ask if I can make inquiry about their sons and husbands, "dead or missing," with an interval given to a description of a man half of whose body was splashed against a brick wall last night on the Strand when a Zeppelin bomb tore up the street and made projectiles of the pavement; as I walk to and from the Embassy the Park is full of wounded and their nurses; every man I see tells me of a new death; every member of the Government talks about military events or of Balkan venality; the man behind the counter at the cigar store reads me part of a letter just come from his son, telling how he advanced over a pile of dead Germans and one of them grunted and turned under his feet---they (the English alone) are spending $25,000,000 a day to keep this march going over dead Germans; then comes a telegram predicting blue ruin for American importers and a cheerless Christmas for American children if a cargo of German toys be not quickly released at Rotterdam, and I dimly recall the benevolent unction with which American children last Christmas sent a shipload of toys to this side of the world---many of them for German children ---to the tune of "God bless us all "---do you wonder we often have to pinch ourselves to find out if we are we; and what year of the Lord is it? What is the vital thing---the killing of fifty people last night by a Zeppelin within sight of St. Paul's on one side and of Westminster Abbey on the other, or is it making representations to Sir Edward Grey, who has hardly slept for a week because his despatches from Sofia, Athens, Belgrade, and Salonika come at all hours, each possibly reporting on which side a new government may throw its army---to decide perhaps the fate of the canal leading to Asia, the vast British Asiatic empire at stake---is it making representations to Sir Edward while his mind is thus occupied, that it is of the greatest importance to the United States Government that a particular German who is somewhere in this Kingdom shall be permitted to go to the United States because he knows how to dye sealskins and our sealskins are yet undyed and the winter is coming? There will be no new sealskins here, for every man and woman must give half his income to keep the cigarman's son marching over dead Germans, some of whom grunt and turn under his feet. Dumba is at Falmouth to-day and gets just two lines in the newspapers. Nothing and nobody gets three lines unless he or it in some way furthers the war. Every morning the Washington despatches say that Mr. Lansing is about to send a long note to England. England won't read it till there comes a lull in the fighting or in the breathless diplomatic struggle with the Balkans. London and the Government are now in much the same mood that Washington and Lincoln's administration were in after Lee had crossed the Potomac on his way to Gettysburg. Northcliffe, the Lord of Yellow Journals, but an uncommonly brilliant fellow, has taken to his bed from sheer nervous worry. "The revelations that are imminent," says he, "will shake the world---the incompetence of the Government, the losses along the Dardanelles, the throwing away of British chances in the Balkans, perhaps the actual defeat of the Allies." I regard Lord Northcliffe less as an entity than as a symptom. But he is always very friendly to us and he knows the United States better than any Englishman that I know except Bryce. He and Bryce are both much concerned about our Note's coming just "at this most distressing time ... .. If it come when we are calmer, no matter; but now it cannot receive attention and many will feel that the United States has hit on a most unhappy moment---almost a cruel moment---to remind us of our sins." That's the substance of what they say.
Overwork, or perhaps mainly the indescribable strain on the nerves and vitality of men, caused by this experience, for which in fact men are not built, puts one of our staff after another in bed. None has been seriously sick: the malady takes some form of "grip." On the whole we've been pretty lucky in spite of this almost regular temporary breakdown of one man after another. I've so far escaped. But I am grieved to hear that Whitlock is abed---"no physical ailment whatever---just worn out," his doctor says. I have tried to induce him and his wife to come here and make me a visit; but one characteristic of this war-malady is the conviction of the victim that he is somehow necessary to hold the world together. About twice a week I get to the golf links and take the risk of the world's falling apart and thus escape both illness and its illusions.
"I cannot begin to express my deep anxiety and even uneasiness about the relations of these two great governments and peoples," Page wrote about this time. "The friendship of the United States and Great Britain is all that now holds the world together. It is the greatest asset of civilization left. All the cargoes of copper and oil in the world are not worth as much to the world. Yet when a shipper's cargo is held up he does not think of civilization and of the future of mankind and of free government; he thinks only of his cargo and of the indignity that he imagines has been done him; and what is the American Government for if not to protect his rights? Of course he's right; but there must be somebody somewhere who sees things in their right proportion. The man with an injury rushes to the Department of State-----quite properly. He is in a mood to bring England to book. Now comes the critical stage in the journey of his complaint. The State Department hurries it on to me-----very properly; every main's right must be guarded and defended---a right to get his cargo to market, a right to get on a steamer at Queenstown, a right to have his censored telegram returned, any kind of a right, if he have a right. Then the Department, not wittingly, I know, but humanly, almost inevitably, in the great rush of overwork, sends his 'demands' to me, catching much of his tone and apparently insisting on the removal of his grievance as a right, without knowing all the facts in the case. The telegrams that come to me are full of 'protests' and 'demands'---protest and demand this, protest and demand that. A man from Mars who should read my book of telegrams received during the last two months would find it difficult to explain how the two governments have kept at peace. It is this serious treatment of trifling grievances which makes us feel here that the exactions and dislocations and necessary disturbances of this war are not understood at home.
"I assure you (and there are plenty of facts to prove it) that this Government (both for unselfish and selfish reasons) puts a higher value on our friendship than on any similar thing in the world. They will go---they are going---the full length to keep it. But, in proportion to our tendency to nag them about little things will the value set on our friendship diminish and will their confidence in our sincerity decline."
The note which Lord Bryce and Lord Northcliffe so dreaded reached the London Embassy in October, 1915. The State Department had spent nearly six months in preparing it; it was the American answer to the so-called blockade established by the Order in Council of the preceding March. Evidently its contents fulfilled the worst forebodings:
London, November 12, 1915.
I have a great respect for the British Navy. Admiral Jellicoe now has under his command 3,000 ships of all sorts---far and away the biggest fleet, I think, that was ever assembled. For the first time since the ocean was poured out, one navy practically commands all the seas: nothing sails except by its grace. It is this fleet of course that will win the war. The beginning of the end---however far off yet the end may be---is already visible by reason of the economic pressure on Germany. But for this fleet, by the way, London would be in ruins, all its treasure looted; every French seacoast city and the Italian peninsula would be as Belgium and Poland are; and thousands of English women would be violated---just as dead French girls are found in many German trenches that have been taken in France. Hence I greatly respect the British fleet.
We have a good navy, too, for its size, and a naval personnel as good as any afloat. I hear---with much joy---that we are going to make our navy bigger---as much bigger (God save the mark!) as Bryan will permit.
Now, whatever the future bring, since any fighting enterprise that may ever be thrust on us will be just and justified, we must see to it that we win, as doubtless we shall and as hitherto we always have won. We must be dead sure of winning. Well, whatever fight may be thrust on us by anybody, anywhere, at any time, for any reason---if it only be generally understood beforehand that our fleet and the British fleet shoot the same language, there'll be no fight thrust upon us. The biggest bully in the world wouldn't dare kick the sorriest dog we have.
Here, therefore, is a Peace Programme for you---the only basis for a permanent peace in the world. There's no further good in having venerable children build houses of sand at The Hague; there's no further good in peace organizations or protective leagues to enforce peace. We had as well get down to facts. So far as ensuring peace is concerned the biggest fact in the world is the British fleet. The next biggest fact is the American fleet, because of itself and still more because of the vast reserve power of the United States which it implies. If these two fleets perfectly understand one another about the undesirability of wars of aggression, there'll be no more big wars as long as this understanding continues. Such an understanding calls for no treaty---it calls only for courtesy.
And there is no other peace-basis worth talking about---by men who know how the world is governed.
Since I have lived here I have spent my days and nights, my poor brain, and my small fortune all most freely and gladly to get some understanding of the men who rule this Kingdom, and of the women and the customs and the traditions that rule these men---to get their trick of thought, the play of their ideals, the working of their imagination, the springs of their instincts. It is impossible for any man to know just how well he himself does such a difficult task---how accurately he is coming to understand the sources and character of a people's actions. Yet, at the worst, I do know something about the British: I know enough to make very sure of the soundness of my conclusion that they are necessary to us and we to them. Else God would have permitted the world to be peopled in some other way. And when we see that the world will be saved by such an artificial combination as England and Russia and France and Japan and Serbia, it calls for no great wisdom to see the natural way whereby it must be saved in the future.
For this reason every day that I have lived here it has been my conscious aim to do what I could to bring about a condition that shall make sure of this---that, whenever we may have need of the British fleet to protect our shores or to prevent an aggressive war anywhere, it shall be ours by a natural impulse and necessity---even without the asking.
I have found out that the first step toward that end is courtesy; that the second step is courtesy, and the third step---such a fine and high courtesy (which includes courage) as the President showed in the Panama tolls controversy. We have---we and the British---common aims and character. Only a continuous and sincere courtesy---over periods of strain as well as of calm---is necessary for as complete an understanding as will be required for the automatic guidance of the world in peaceful ways.
Now, a difference is come between us---the sort of difference that handled as between friends would serve only to bind us together with a sturdier respect. We send a long lawyer's Note, not discourteous but wholly uncourteous, which is far worse. I am writing now only of the manner of the Note, not of its matter. There is not a courteous word, nor a friendly phrase, nor a kindly turn in it, not an allusion even to an old acquaintance, to say nothing of an old friendship, not a word of thanks for courtesies or favours done us, not a hint of sympathy in the difficulties of the time. There is nothing in its tone to show that it came from an American to an Englishman: it might have been from a Hottentot to a Fiji-Islander.
I am almost sure---I'll say quite sure---that this uncourteous manner is far more important than its endless matter. It has greatly hurt our friends, the real men of the Kingdom. It has made the masses angry---which is of far less importance than the severe sorrow that our discourtesy of manner has brought to our friends---I fear to all considerate and thoughtful Englishmen.
Let me illustrate: When the Panama tolls controversy arose, Taft ceased to speak the language of the natural man and lapsed into lawyer's courthouse zigzagging mutterings. Knox wrote a letter to the British Government that would have made an enemy of the most affectionate twin brother---all mere legal twists and turns, as agreeable as a pocketful of screws. Then various bovine "international lawyers" wrote books about it. I read them and became more and more confused the further I went: you always do. It took me some time to recover from this word-drunk debauch and to find my own natural intelligence again, the common sense that I was born with. Then I saw that the whole thing went wrong from the place where that Knox legal note came in. Congressmen in the backwoods quoted cryptic passages from it, thought they were saying something, and proceeded to make their audiences believe that somehow England had hit us with a club---or would have hit us but for Knox. That pure discourtesy kept us apart from English sympathy for something like two years.
Then the President took it up. He threw the legal twaddle into the gutter. He put the whole question in a ten-minutes' speech to Congress, full of clearness and fairness and high courtesy. It won even the rural Congressmen. It was read in every capital and the men who conduct every government looked up and said, "This is a real man, a brave man, a just man." You will recall what Sir Edward Grey said to me: "The President has taught us all a lesson and set us all a high example in the noblest courtesy."
This one act brought these two nations closer together than they had ever been since we became an independent nation. It was an act of courtesy. . . .
My dear House, suppose the postman some morning were to leave at your door a thing of thirty-five heads and three appendices, and you discovered that it came from an old friend whom you had long known and greatly valued---this vast mass of legal stuff, without a word or a turn of courtesy in it---what would you do? He had a grievance, your old friend had. Friends often have. But instead of explaining it to you, he had gone and had his lawyers send this many-headed, much-appendiced ton of stuff. It wasn't by that method that you found your way from Austin, Texas, to your present eminence and wisdom. Nor was that the way our friend found his way from a little law-office in Atlanta, where I first saw him, to the White House.
More and more I am struck with this---that governments are human. They are not remote abstractions, nor impersonal institutions. Men conduct them; and they do not cease to be men. A man is made up of six parts of human nature and four parts of facts and other things---a little reason, some prejudice, much provincialism, and of the particular fur or skin that suits his habitat. When you wish to win a man to do what you want him to do, you take along a few well-established facts, some reasoning and such-like, but you take along also three or four or five parts of human nature---kindliness, courtesy, and such things---sympathy and a human touch.
If a man be six parts human and four parts of other things, a government, especially a democracy, is seven, or eight, or nine parts human nature. It's the most human thing I know. The best way to manage governments and nations---so long as they are disposed to be friendly---is the way we manage one another. I have a confirmation of this in the following comment which came to me to-day. It was made by a friendly member of Parliament.
"The President himself dealt with Germany. Even in his severity he paid the Germans the compliment of a most courteous tone in his Note. But in dealing with us he seems to have called in the lawyers of German importers and Chicago pork-packers. I miss the high Presidential courtesy that we had come to expect from Mr. Wilson."
An American banker here has told me of the experience of an American financial salesman in the city the day after our Note was published. His business is to make calls on bankers and other financial men, to sell them securities. He is a man of good address who is popular with his clients. The first man he called on, on that day, said: "I don't wish to be offensive to you. But I have only one way to show my feeling of indignation toward the United States, and that is, to have nothing more to do with Americans."
The next man said: "No, nothing to-day, I thank you. No---nor to-morrow either; nor the next day. Good morning."
After four or five such greetings, the fellow gave it up and is now doing nothing.
I don't attach much importance to such an incident as this, except as it gives a hint of the general feeling. These financial men probably haven't even read our Note. Few people have. But they have all read the short and sharp newspaper summary which preceded it in the English papers. But what such an incident does indicate is the prevalence of a state of public feeling which would prevent the Government from yielding any of our demands even if the Government so wished. It has now been nearly a week since the Note was published. I have seen most of the neutral ministers. Before the Note came they expressed great eagerness to see it: it would champion their cause. Since it came not one of them has mentioned it to me. The Secretary of one of them remarked, after being invited to express himself: "It is too--too--long!" And, although I have seen most of the Cabinet this week, not a man mentioned it to me. People seem studiously to avoid it, lest they give offense.
I have, however, got one little satisfaction. An American---a half-expatriated loafer who talks "art"---you know the intellectually affected and degenerate type---screwed his courage up and told me that he felt ashamed of his country. I remarked that I felt sure the feeling was mutual. That, I confess, made me feel better.
As nearly as I can make out, the highwater mark of English good-feeling toward us in all our history was after the President's Panama tolls courtesy. The low-water mark, since the Civil War, I am sure, is now. The Cleveland Venezuela message came at a time of no nervous strain and did, I think, produce no long-lasting effect. A part of the present feeling is due to the English conviction that we have been taken in by the Germans in the submarine controversy, but a large part is due to the lack of courtesy in this last Note---the manner in which it was written even more than its matter. As regards its matter, I have often been over what I conceive to be the main points with Sir Edward Grey---very frankly and without the least offense. He has said: "We may have to arbitrate these things," as he might say, "We had better take a cab because it is raining." It is easily possible---or it was---to discuss anything with this Government without offense. I have, in fact, stood up before Sir Edward's fire and accused him of stealing a large part of the earth's surface, and we were just as good friends afterward as before. But I never drew a lawyer's indictment of him as a land-thief: that's different.
I suppose no two peoples or governments ever quite understand one another. Perhaps they never will. That is too much to hope for. But when one government writes to another it ought to write (as men do) with some reference to the personality of the other and to their previous relations, since governments are more human than men. Of course I don't know who wrote the Note. Hence I can talk about it freely to you without implying criticism of anybody in particular. But the man who wrote it never saw the British Government and wouldn't know it, if he met it in the road. To him it is a mere legal entity, a wicked, impersonal institution against which he has the task of drawing an indictment---not the task of trying to persuade it to confess the propriety of a certain course of conduct. In his view, it is a wicked enemy to start with ---like the Louisiana lottery of a previous generation or the Standard Oil Company of our time.
One would have thought, since we were six month preparing it, that a draft of the Note would have been sent to the man on the ground whom our Government keeps in London to study the situation at first hand and to make the best judgment he can about the most effective methods of approach on delicate and difficult matters. If that had been done, I should have suggested a courteous short Note saying that we are obliged to set forth such and such views about marine law and the rights of neutrals, to His Majesty's Government; and that the contention of the United States Government was herewith sent---etc., etc.---Then this identical Note (with certain court-house, strong, shirt-sleeve adjectives left out) could have come without arousing any feeling whatsoever. Of course I have no personal vanity in saying this to you.
I am sure I outgrew that foible many years ago. But such a use of an ambassador---of any ambassador---is obviously one of the best and most natural uses he could be put to; and all governments but ours do put their ambassadors to such a use: that's what they have 'em for.
Per contra: a telegram has just come in saying that a certain Lichtenstein in New York had a lot of goods stopped by the British Government, which (by an arrangement made with their attorney here) agreed to buy them at a certain price: will I go and find out why the Government hasn't yet paid Lichtenstein and when he may expect his money? Is it an ambassadorial duty to collect a private bill for Lichtenstein, in a bargain with which our Government has had nothing to do? I have telegraphed the Department, quite calmly, that I don't think it is. I venture to say no ambassador ever had such a request as that before from his Government.
My dear House, I often wonder if my years of work here---the kind of high good work I've tried to do---have not been thrown away. I've tried to take and to busy myself with a long-range view of great subjects. The British Empire and the United States will be here long after we are dead, and their relations will continue to be one of the most important matters---perhaps the most important matter---in the world. Well, now think of Lichtenstein's bill!
To get back where I started---I fear, therefore, that, when I next meet the Admiral of the Grand Fleet (with whom I used to discuss everything quite freely before he sailed away to the war), he may forget to mention that we may have his 3,000 ships at our need.
Since this present difference is in danger of losing the healing influence of a kindly touch---has become an uncourteous monster of 35 heads and 3 appendices---I see no early end of it. The British Foreign Office has a lot of lawyers in its great back offices. They and our lawyers will now butt and rebut as long as a goat of them is left alive on either side. The two governments---the two human, kindly groups---have retired: they don't touch, on this matter, now. The lawyers will have the time of their lives, each smelling the blood of the other.
If more notes must come---as the English papers report over and over again every morning and every afternoon---the President might do much by writing a brief, human document to accompany the Appendices. If it be done courteously, we can accuse them of stealing sheep and of dyeing the skins to conceal the theft---without provoking the slightest bad feeling; and, in the end, they'll pay another Alabama award without complaint and frame the check and show it to future ambassadors as Sir Edward shows the Alabama check to me sometimes.
And it'll be a lasting shame (and may bring other Great Wars) if lawyers are now permitted to tear the garments with which Peace ought to be clothed as soon as she can escape from her present rags and tatters.
Yours always heartily,
W. H. P.
P. S. My dear House: Since I have---in weeks and months past---both telegraphed and written the Department (and I presume the President has seen what I've sent) about the feeling here, I've written this letter to you and not to the President nor Lansing. I will not run the risk of seeming to complain---nor even of seeming to seem to complain. But if you think it wise to send or show this letter to the President, I'm willing you should. This job was botched: there's no doubt about that. We shall not recover for many a long, long year. The identical indictment could have been drawn with admirable temper and the way laid down for arbitration and for keeping our interpretation of the law and precedents intact---all done in a way that would have given no offense.
The feeling runs higher and higher every day---goes deeper and spreads wider.
Now on top of it comes the Ancona. The English press, practically unanimously, makes sneering remarks about our Government. After six months it has got no results from the Lusitania controversy, which Bernstorff is allowed to prolong in secret session while factories are blown up, ships supplied with bombs, and all manner of outrages go on (by Germans) in the United States. The English simply can't understand why Bernstorff is allowed to stay. They predict that nothing will come of the Ancona case, nor of any other case. Nobody wants us to get into the war---nobody who counts---but they are losing respect for us because we seem to them to submit to anything.
We've simply dropped out. No English person ever mentions our Government to me. But they talk to one another all the time about the political anæmia of the United States Government. They think that Bernstorff has the State Department afraid of him and that the Pacifists dominate opinion---the Pacifists-at-any-price. I no longer even have a chance to explain any of these things to anybody I know.
It isn't the old question we used to discuss of our having no friend in the world when the war ends. It's gone far further than that. It is now whether the United States Government need be respected by anybody.
W. H. P.
- ↑ Senator Hoke Smith, of Georgia, was at this time-and afterward---conducting a bitter campaign against the British blockade and advocating an embargo as a retaliation.
- ↑ Torpedoed off Sardinia on Nov. 7, 1915, by the Austrians. There was a large loss of life, including many Americans.