XII "WAGING NEUTRALITY"
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him with astonishment and dismay. "We must be impartial in
him with astonishment and dismay. "We must be impartial in
thought as well as in action," said the President on August
thought as well as in action," said the President on August
19th,<ref>In a letter addressed to " My fellow Countrymen" and presented to the Senate by Mr. Chilton.</ref> "
19th,<ref>In a letter addressed to " My fellow Countrymen" and presented to the Senate by Mr. Chilton.</ref>
"put a curb upon our sentiments as well as upon every transaction
that might be construed as a prejudice of one party to the prejudice
that might be construed as a prejudice of one party to the prejudice
of another." Page was prepared to observe all the traditional
of another." Page was prepared to observe all the traditional
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war in the spring of 1915. At a cabinet meeting held to consider
war in the spring of 1915. At a cabinet meeting held to consider
this question, Sir Edward Grey set forth this view and strongly
this question, Sir Edward Grey set forth this view and strongly
advised that cotton should not be made contraband at that time.<ref>This was in October, 1914. In August, 1915, when conditions had changed, cotton was declared contraband.</ref> The Cabinet
advised that cotton should not be made contraband at that time.<ref>This was in October, 1914. In August, 1915, when conditions had changed, cotton was declared contraband.</ref>
supported him and events justified the decision. Afterward, in
The Cabinet supported him and events justified the decision. Afterward, in
Washington, several of the most influential Senators informed
Washington, several of the most influential Senators informed
Sir Edward that this action had averted a great crisis.
Sir Edward that this action had averted a great crisis.
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[[Main Page | WWI Document Archive]] > [[Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences]] > [[The_Life_and_Letters_of_Walter_H._Page|Walter H. Page]] > '''Chapter XII'''
[[Main Page | WWI Document Archive]] > [[Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences]] > [[The_Life_and_Letters_of_Walter_H._Page|Walter H. Page]] > '''Chapter XII'''
Latest revision as of 07:12, 18 January 2009
THE foregoing letters sufficiently portray Page's attitude toward the war; they also show the extent to which he suffered from the daily tragedy. The great burdens placed upon the Embassy in themselves would have exhausted a physical frame that had never been particularly robust; but more disintegrating than these was the mental distress---the constant spectacle of a civilization apparently bent upon its own destruction. Indeed there were probably few men in Europe upon whom the war had a more depressing effect. In the first few weeks the Ambassador perceptibly grew older; his face became more deeply lined, his hair became grayer, his body thinner, his step lost something of its quickness, his shoulders began to stoop, and his manner became more and more abstracted. Page's kindness, geniality, and consideration had long since endeared him to all the embassy staff, from his chief secretaries to clerks and doormen; and all his associates now watched with affectionate solicitude the extent to which the war was wearing upon him. "In those first weeks," says Mr. Irwin Laughlin, Page's most important assistant and the man upon whom the routine work of the Embassy largely fell, "he acted like a man who was carrying on his shoulders all the sins and burdens of the world. I know no man who seemed to realize so poignantly the misery and sorrow of it all. The sight of an England which he loved bleeding to death in defence of the things in which he most believed was a grief that seemed to be sapping his very life."
Page's associates, however, noted a change for the better after the Battle of the Marne. Except to his most intimate companions he said little, for he represented a nation that was "neutral"; but the defeat of the Germans added liveliness to his step, gave a keener sparkle to his eye, and even brought back some of his old familiar gaiety of spirit. One day the Ambassador was lunching with Mr. Laughlin and one or two other friends.
"We did pretty well in that Battle of the Marne, didn't we?" he said.
"Isn't that remark slightly unneutral, Mr. Ambassador? " asked Mr. Laughlin.
At this a roar of laughter went up from the table that could be heard for a considerable distance.
About this same time Page's personal secretary, Mr. Harold Fowler, came to ask the Ambassador's advice about enlisting in the British Army. To advise a young man to take a step that might very likely result in his death was a heavy responsibility, and the Ambassador refused to accept it. It was a matter that the Secretary could settle only with his own conscience. Mr. Fowler decided his problem by joining the British Army; he had a distinguished career in its artillery and aviation service as he had subsequently in the American Army. Mr. Fowler at once discovered that his decision had been highly pleasing to his superior.
"I couldn't advise you to do this, Harold," Page said, placing his hand on the young man's shoulder, "but now that you've settled it yourself I'll say this---if I were a young man like you and in your circumstances, I should enlist myself."
Yet greatly as Page abhorred the Prussians and greatly as his sympathies from the first day of the war were enlisted on the side of the Allies, there was no diplomat in the American service who was more "neutral" in the technical sense. "Neutral!" Page once exclaimed. "There's nothing in the world so neutral as this embassy. Neutrality takes up all our time." When he made this remark he was, as he himself used to say, "the German Ambassador to Great Britain." And he was performing the duties of this post with the most conscientious fidelity. These duties were onerous and disagreeable ones and were made still more so by the unreasonableness of the German Government. Though the American Embassy was caring for the more than 70,000 Germans who were then living in England and was performing numerous other duties, the Imperial Government never realized that Page and the Embassy staff were doing it a service. With characteristic German tactlessness the German Foreign Office attempted to be as dictatorial to Page as though he had been one of its own junior secretaries. The business of the German Embassy in London was conducted with great ability; the office work was kept in the most shipshape condition; yet the methods were American methods and the Germans seemed aggrieved because the routine of the Imperial bureaucracy was not observed. With unparallelled insolence they objected to the American system of accounting---not that it was unsound or did not give an accurate picture of affairs---but simply that it was not German. Page quietly but energetically informed the German Government that the American diplomatic service was not a part of the German organization, that its bookkeeping system was American, not German, that he was doing this work not as an obligation but as a favour, and that, so long as he continued to do it, he would perform the duty in his own way. At this the Imperial Government subsided. Despite such annoyances Page refused to let his own feelings interfere with the work. The mere fact that he despised the Germans made him over-scrupulous in taking all precautions that they obtained exact justice. But this was all that the German cause in Great Britain did receive. His administration of the German Embassy was faultless in its technique, but it did not err on the side of over-enthusiasm.
His behaviour throughout the three succeeding years was entirely consistent with his conception of "neutrality." That conception, as is apparent from the letters already printed, was not the Wilsonian conception. Probably no American diplomat was more aggrieved at the President's definition of neutrality than his Ambassador to Great Britain. Page had no quarrel with the original neutrality proclamation; that was purely a routine governmental affair, and at the time it was issued it represented the proper American attitude. But the President's famous emendations filled him with astonishment and dismay. "We must be impartial in thought as well as in action," said the President on August 19th, "wemust put a curb upon our sentiments as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a prejudice of one party to the prejudice of another." Page was prepared to observe all the traditional rules of neutrality, to insist on American rights with the British Government, and to do full legal justice to the Germans, but he declined to abrogate his conscience where his personal judgment of the rights and wrongs of the conflict were concerned. "Neutrality," he said in a letter to his brother, Mr. Henry A. Page, of Aberdeen, N. C, "is a quality ---of government---an artificial unit. When a war comes a government must go in it or stay out of it. It must make a declaration to the world of its attitude. That's all that neutrality is. A government can be neutral, but no man can be."
"The President and the Government," Page afterward wrote, "in their insistence upon the moral quality of neutrality, missed the larger meaning of the war. It is at bottom nothing but the effort of the Berlin absolute monarch and his group to impose their will on as large a part of the world as they can overrun. The President started out with the idea that it was a war brought on by many obscure causes---economic and the like; and he thus missed its whole meaning. We have ever since been dealing with the chips which fly from the war machine and have missed the larger meaning of the conflict. Thus we have failed to render help to the side of Liberalism and Democracy, which are at stake in the world."
Nor did Page think it his duty, in his private communications to his Government and his friends, to maintain that attitude of moral detachment which Mr. Wilson's pronouncement had evidently enjoined upon him. It was not his business to announce his opinions to the world, for he was not the man who determined the policy of the United States; that was the responsibility of the President and his advisers. But an ambassador did have a certain role to perform. It was his duty to collect information and impressions, to discover what important people thought of the United States and of its policies, and to send forward all such data to Washington. According to Page's theory of the Ambassadorial office, he was a kind of listening post on the front of diplomacy, and he would have grievously failed had he not done his best to keep headquarters informed. He did not regard it as "loyalty" merely to forward only that kind of material which Washington apparently preferred to obtain; with a frankness which Mr. Wilson's friends regarded as almost ruthless, Page reported what he believed to be the truth. That this practice was displeasing to the powers of Washington there is abundant evidence. In early December, 1914, Colonel House was compelled to transmit a warning to the American Ambassador at London. "The President wished me to ask you to please be more careful not to express any unneutral feeling, either by word of mouth, or by letter and not even to the State Department. He said that both Mr. Bryan and Mr. Lansing had remarked upon your leaning in that direction and he thought that it would materially lessen your influence. He feels very strongly about this."
Evidently Page did not regard his frank descriptions of England under war as expressing unneutral feeling; at any rate, as the war went on, his letters, even those which he wrote to President Wilson, became more and more outspoken. Page's resignation was always at the President's disposal; the time came, as will appear, when it was offered; so long as he occupied his post, however, nothing could turn him from his determination to make what he regarded as an accurate record of events. This policy of maintaining an outward impartiality, and, at the same time, of bringing pressure to bear on Washington in behalf of the Allies, he called "waging neutrality."
Such was the mood in which Page now prepared to play his part in what was probably the greatest diplomatic drama in history. The materials with which this drama concerned itself were such apparently lifeless subjects as ships and cargoes, learned discourses on such abstract matters as the doctrine of continuous voyage, effective blockade, and conditional contraband; yet the struggle, which lasted for three years, involved the greatest issue of modern times---nothing less than the survival of those conceptions of liberty, government, and society which make the basis of English-speaking civilization. To the newspaper reader of war days, shipping difficulties signified little more than a newspaper headline which he hastily read, or a long and involved lawyer's note which he seldom read at all---or, if he did, practically never understood. Yet these minute and neglected controversies presented to the American Nation the greatest decision in its history. Once before, a century ago, a European struggle had laid before the United States practically the same problem. Great Britain fought Napoleon, just as it had now been compelled to fight the Hohenzollern, by blockade; such warfare, in the early nineteenth century, led to retaliations, just as did the maritime warfare in the recent conflict, and the United States suffered, in 1812, as in 1914, from what were regarded as the depredations of both sides. In Napoleon's days France and Great Britain, according to the international lawyers, attacked American commerce in illegal ways; on strictly technical grounds this infant nation had an adequate cause of war against both belligerents; but the ultimate consequence of a very confused situation was a declaration of war against Great Britain. Though an England which was ruled by a George III or a Prince Regent---an England of rotten boroughs, of an ignorant and oppressed peasantry, and of a social organization in which caste was almost as definitely drawn as in an Oriental despotism---could hardly appeal to the enthusiastic democrat as embodying all the ideals of his system, yet the England of 1800 did represent modern progress when compared with the mediaeval autocracy of Napoleon. If we take this broad view, therefore, we must admit that, in 1812, we fought on the side of darkness and injustice against the forces that were making for enlightenment. The war of 1914 had not gone far when the thinking American foresaw that it would present to the American people precisely this same problem. What would the decision be? Would America repeat the experience of 1812, or had the teachings of a century so dissipated hatreds that it would be able to exert its influence in a way more worthy of itself and more helpful to the progress of mankind?
There was one great difference, however, between the position of the United States in 1812 and its position in 1914. A century ago we were a small and feeble nation, of undeveloped industries and resources and of immature character; our entrance into the European conflict, on one side or the other, could have little influence upon its results, and, in fact, it influenced it scarcely at all; the side we fought against emerged triumphant. In 1914, we had the greatest industrial organization and the greatest wealth of any nation and the largest white population of any country except Russia; the energy of our people and our national talent for success had long been the marvel of foreign observers. It mattered little in 1812 on which side the United States took its stand; in 1914 such a decision would. inevitably determine the issue. Of all European statesmen there was one man who saw this point with a definiteness which, in itself, gives him a clear title to fame. That was Sir Edward Grey. The time came when a section of the British public was prepared almost to stone the Foreign Secretary in the streets of London, because they believed that his "subservience" to American trade interests was losing the war for Great Britain; his tenure of office was a constant struggle with British naval and military chiefs who asserted that the Foreign Office, in its efforts to maintain harmonious relations with America, was hamstringing the British fleet, was rendering almost impotent its control of the sea, and was thus throwing away the greatest advantage which Great Britain possessed in its life and death struggle. "Some blight has been at work in our Foreign Office for years," said the Quarterly Review, "steadily undermining our mastery of the sea.
"The fleet is not allowed to act," cried Lord Charles Beresford in Parliament; the Foreign Office was constantly interfering with its operations. The word "traitor" was not infrequently heard; there were hints that pro-Germanism was rampant and that officials in the Foreign Office were drawing their pay from the Kaiser. It was constantly charged that the navy was bringing in suspicious cargoes only to have the Foreign Office order their release. "I fight Sir Edward about stopping cargoes," Page wrote to Colonel House in December, 1914; "literally fight. He yields and promises this or that. This or that doesn't happen or only half happens. I know why. The military ministers balk him. I inquire through the back door and hear that the Admiralty and the War Office of course value American good-will, but they'll take their chances of a quarrel with the United States rather than let copper get to Germany. The cabinet has violent disagreements. But the military men yield as little as possible. It was rumoured the other day that the Prime Minister threatened to resign; and I know that Kitchener's sister told her friends, with tears in her eyes, that the cabinet shamefully hindered her brother."
These criticisms unquestionably caused Sir Edward great unhappiness, but this did not for a moment move him from his course. His vision was fixed upon a much greater purpose. Parliamentary orators might rage because the British fleet was not permitted to make indiscriminate warfare on commerce, but the patient and far-seeing British Foreign Secretary was the man who was really trying to win the war. He was one of the few Englishmen who, in August, 1914, perceived the tremendous extent of the struggle in which Great Britain had engaged. He saw that the English people were facing the greatest crisis since William of Normandy, in 1066, subjected their island to foreign rule. Was England to become the "Reichsland " of a European monarch, and was the British Empire to pass under the sway of Germany? Proud as Sir Edward Grey was of his country, he was modest in the presence of facts; and one fact of which he early became convinced was that Great Britain could not win unless the United States was ranged upon its side. Here was the country---so Sir Edward reasoned---that contained the largest effective white population in the world; that could train armies larger than those of any other nation; that could make the most munitions, build the largest number of battleships and merchant vessels, and raise food in quantities great enough to feed itself and Europe besides. This power, the Foreign Secretary believed, could determine the issue of the war. If Great Britain secured American sympathy and support, she would win; if Great Britain lost this sympathy, and support, she would lose. A foreign policy that would estrange the United States and perhaps even throw its support to Germany would not only lose the war to Great Britain, but it would be perhaps the blackest crime in history, for it would mean the collapse of that British-American cooperation, and the destruction of those British-American ideals and institutions which are the greatest facts in the modern world. This conviction was the basis of Sir Edward's policy from the day that Great Britain declared war. Whatever enemies he might make in England, the Foreign Secretary was determined to shape his course so that the support of the United States would be assured to his country. A single illustration shows the skill and wisdom with which he pursued this great purpose.
Perhaps nothing in the early days of the war enraged the British military chiefs more than the fact that cotton was permitted to go from the United States to Germany. That Germany. was using this cotton in the manufacture of torpedoes to sink British ships and of projectiles to kill British soldiers in trenches was well known; nor did many people deny that Great Britain had the right to put cotton on the contraband list. Yet Grey, in the pursuit of his larger end, refused to take this step. He knew that the prosperity of. the Southern States depended exclusively upon the cotton crop. He also knew that the South had raised the 1914 crop with no knowledge that a war was impending and that to deny the Southern planters their usual access to the German markets would all but ruin them. He believed that such a ruling would immediately alienate the sympathy of a large section of the United States and make our Southern Senators and Congressmen enemies of Great Britain. Sir Edward was also completely informed of the extent to which the German-Americans and the Irish-Americans were active and he was familiar with the aims of American pacifists. He believed that declaring cotton contraband at this time would bring together in Congress the Southern Senators and Congressmen, the representatives of the Irish and the German causes and the pacifists, and that this combination would exercise an influence that would be disastrous to Great Britain. Two dangers constantly haunted Sir Edward's mind at this time. One was that the enemies of Great Britain would assemble enough votes in Congress to place an embargo upon the shipment of munitions from this country. Such an embargo might well be fatal to Great Britain, for at this time she was importing munitions, especially shells, in enormous quantities from the United States. The other was that such pressure might force the Government to convoy American cargoes with American warships. Great Britain then could stop the cargoes only by attacking our cruisers, and to attack a cruiser is an act of war. Had Congress taken either one of these steps the Allies would have lost the war in the spring of 1915. At a cabinet meeting held to consider this question, Sir Edward Grey set forth this view and strongly advised that cotton should not be made contraband at that time. The Cabinet supported him and events justified the decision. Afterward, in Washington, several of the most influential Senators informed Sir Edward that this action had averted a great crisis.
This was the motive, which, as will appear as the story of our relations with Great Britain progresses, inspired the Foreign Secretary in all his dealings with the United States. His purpose was to use the sea power of Great Britain to keep war materials and foodstuffs out of Germany, but never to go to the length of making an unbridgeable gulf between the United States and Great Britain. The American Ambassador to Great Britain completely sympathized with this programme. It was Page's business to protect the rights of the United States, just as it was Grey's to protect the rights of Great Britain.
Both were vigilant in protecting such rights, and animated differences between the two men on this point were not infrequent. Great Britain did many absurd and highhanded things in intercepting American cargoes, and Page was always active in "protesting" when the basis for the protest actually existed. But on the great overhanging issue the two men were at one. Like Grey, Page believed that there were more important things involved than an occasional cargo of copper or of oil cake. The American Ambassador thought that the United States should protect its shipping interests, but that it should realize that maritime law was not an exact science, that its principles had been modified by every great conflict in which the blockade had been an effective agency, and that the United States itself, in the Civil War, had not hesitated to make such changes as the changed methods of modern transportation had required. In other words he believed that we could safeguard our rights in a way that would not prevent Great Britain from keeping war materials and foodstuffs out of Germany. And like Sir Edward Grey, Page was obliged to contend with forces at home which maintained a contrary view. In this early period Mr. Bryan was nominally Secretary of State, but the man who directed the national policy in shipping matters was Robert Lansing, then counsellor of the Department. It is somewhat difficult to appraise Mr. Lansing justly, for in his conduct of his office there was not the slightest taint of malice. His methods were tactless, the phrasing of his notes lacked deftness and courtesy, his literary style was crude and irritating; but Mr. Lansing was not anti-British, he was not pro-German; he was nothing more nor less than a lawyer. The protection of American rights at sea was to him simply a "case" in which he had been retained as counsel for the plaintiff. As a good lawyer it was his business to score as many points as possible for his client and the more weak joints he found in the enemy's armour the better did he do his job. It was his duty to scan the law books, to look up the precedents, to examine facts, and to prepare briefs that would be unassailable from a technical standpoint. To Mr. Lansing this European conflict was the opportunity of a lifetime. He had spent thirty years studying the intricate problems that now became his daily companions. His mind revelled in such minute details as ultimate destination, the continuous voyage as applied to conditional contraband, the searching of cargoes upon the high seas, belligerent trading through neutral ports, war zones, orders in council, and all the other jargon of maritime rights in time of war. These topics engrossed him as completely as the extension of democracy and the significance of British-American cooperation engrossed all the thoughts of Page and Grey.
That Page took this larger view is evident from the communications which he now began sending to the President. One that he wrote on October 15, 1914, is especially to the point. The date is extremely important; so early had Page formulated the standards that should guide the United States and so early had he begun his work of attempting to make President Wilson understand the real nature of the conflict. The position which Page now assumed was one from which he never departed.
In this great argument about shipping I cannot help being alarmed because we are getting into deep water uselessly. The Foreign Office has yielded unquestioningly to all our requests and has shown the sincerest wish to meet all our suggestions, so long as it is not called upon to admit war materials into Germany. It will not give way to us in that. We would not yield it if we were in their place. Neither would the Germans. England will risk a serious quarrel or even hostilities with us rather than yield. You may look upon this as the final word.
Since the last lists of contraband and conditional contraband were published, such materials as rubber and copper and petroleum have developed entirely new uses in war. The British simply will not let Germany import them. Nothing that can be used for war purposes in Germany now will be used for anything else. Representatives of Spain, Holland, and all the Scandinavian states agree that they can do nothing but acquiesce and file protests and claims, and they admit that Great Britain has the right to revise the list of contraband. This is not a war in the sense in which we have hitherto used that word. It is a world-clash of systems of government, a struggle to the extermination of English civilization or of Prussian military autocracy. Precedents have gone to the scrap heap. We have a new measure for military and diplomatic action. Let us suppose that we press for a few rights to which the shippers have a theoretical claim. The American people gain nothing and the result is friction with this country; and that is what a very small minority of the agitators in the United States would like. Great Britain can any day close the Channel to all shipping or can drive Holland to the enemy and blockade her ports.
Let us take a little farther view into the future. If Germany win, will it make any difference what position Great Britain took on the Declaration of London? The Monroe Doctrine will be shot through. We shall have to have a great army and a great navy. But suppose that England win. We shall then have an ugly academic dispute with her because of this controversy. Moreover, we shall not hold a good position for helping to compose the quarrel or for any other service.
The present controversy seems here, where we are close to the struggle, academic. It seems to us a petty matter when it is compared with the grave danger we incur of shutting ourselves off from a position to be of some service to civilization and to the peace of mankind.
In Washington you seem to be indulging in a more or less theoretical discussion. As we see the issue here, it is a matter of life and death for English-speaking civilization. It is not a happy time to raise controversies that can be avoided or postponed. We gain nothing, we lose every chance for useful cooperation for peace. In jeopardy also are our friendly relations with Great Britain in the sorest need and the greatest crisis in her history. I know that this is the correct view. I recommend most earnestly that we shall substantially accept the new Order in Council or acquiesce in it and reserve whatever rights we may have. I recommend prompt information be sent to the British Government of such action. I should like to inform Grey that this is our decision.
So far as our neutrality obligations are concerned, I do not believe that they require us to demand that Great Britain should adopt for our benefit the Declaration of London. Great Britain has never ratified it, nor have any other nations except the United States. In its application to the situation presented by this war it is altogether to the advantage of Germany.
I have delayed to write you this way too long. I have feared that I might possibly seem to be influenced by sympathy with England and by the atmosphere here. But I write of course solely with reference to our own country's interest and its position after the reorganization of Europe.
Anderson and Laughlin agree with me emphatically.
WALTER H. PAGE.
The immediate cause of this protest was, as its context shows, the fact that the State Department was insisting that Great Britain should adopt the Declaration of London as a code of law for regulating its warfare on German shipping. Hostilities had hardly started when Mr. Bryan made this proposal; his telegram on this subject is dated August 7, 1914. "You will further state," said Mr. Bryan, "that this Government believes that the acceptance of these laws by the belligerents would prevent grave misunderstandings which may arise as to the relations between belligerents and neutrals. It therefore hopes that this inquiry may receive favourable consideration." At the same time Germany and the other belligerents were asked to adopt this Declaration.
The communication was thus more than a suggestion; it was a recommendation that was strongly urged. According to Page this telegram was the first great mistake the American Government made in its relations with Great Britain. In September, 1916, the Ambassador submitted to President Wilson a memorandum which he called "Rough notes toward an explanation of the British feeling toward the United States." "Of recent years," he said, "and particularly during the first year of the present Administration, the British feeling toward the United States was most friendly and cordial. About the time of the repeal of the tolls clause in the Panama Act, the admiration and friendliness of the whole British public (governmental and private) reached the highest point in our history. In considering the change that has taken place since, it is well to bear this cordiality in mind as a starting point. When the war came on there was at first nothing to change this attitude. The hysterical hope of many persons that our Government might protest against the German invasion of Belgium caused some feeling of disappointment, but thinking men did not share it; and, if this had been the sole cause of criticism of us, the criticism would have died out. The unusually high regard in which the President---and hence our Government---was then held was to a degree new. The British had for many years held the people of the United States in high esteem: they had not, as a rule, so favourably regarded the Government at Washington, especially in its conduct of foreign relations. They had long regarded our Government as ignorant of European affairs and amateurish in its cockiness. When I first got to London I found evidence of this feeling, even in the most friendly atmosphere that surrounded us. Mr. Bryan was looked on as a joke. They forgot him---rather, they never took serious notice of him. But, when the Panama tolls incident was closed, they regarded the President as his own Foreign Secretary; and thus our Government as well as our Nation came into this high measure of esteem.
"The war began. We, of course, took a neutral attitude, wholly to their satisfaction. But we at once interfered---or tried to interfere---by insisting on the Declaration of London, which no Great Power but the United States (I think) had ratified and which the British House of Lords had distinctly rejected. That Declaration would probably have given a victory to Germany if the Allies had adopted it. In spite of our neutrality we insisted vigorously on its adoption and aroused a distrust in our judgment. Thus we started in wrong, so far as the British Government is concerned."
The rules of maritime warfare which the American State Department so disastrously insisted upon were the direct outcome of the Hague Conference of 1907. That assembly of the nations recognized, what had long been a palpable fact, that the utmost confusion existed in the operations of warring powers upon the high seas. About the fundamental principle that a belligerent had the right, if it had the power, to keep certain materials of commerce from reaching its enemy, there was no dispute. But as to the particular articles which it could legally exclude there were as many different ideas as there were nations. That the blockade, a term which means the complete exclusion of cargoes and ships from an enemy's ports, was a legitimate means of warfare, was also an accepted fact, but as to the precise means in which the blockade could be enforced there was the widest difference of opinion. The Hague Conference provided that an attempt should be made to codify these laws into a fixed system, and the representatives of the nations met in London in 1908, under the presidency of the Earl of Desart, for this purpose. The outcome of their two months' deliberations was that document of seven chapters and seventy articles which has ever since been known as the Declaration of London. Here at last was the thing for which the world had been waiting so long---a complete system of maritime law for the regulation of belligerents and the protection of neutrals, which would be definitely binding upon all nations because all nations were expected to ratify it.
But the work of all these learned gentlemen was thrown away. The United States was the only party to the negotiations that put the stamp of approval upon its labours. All other nations declined to commit themselves. In Great Britain the Declaration had an especially interesting course. In that country it became a football of party politics. The Liberal Government was at first inclined to look upon it favourably; the Liberal House of Commons actually ratified it. It soon became apparent, however, that this vote did not represent the opinion of the British public. In fact, few measures have ever aroused such hostility as this Declaration, once its details became known. For more than a year the hubbub against it filled the daily press, the magazines, the two Houses of Parliament and the hustings; Rudyard Kipling even wrote a poem denouncing it. The adoption of the Declaration, these critics asserted, would destroy the usefulness of the British fleet. In many quarters it was described as a German plot---as merely a part of the preparations which Germany was making for world conquest. The fact is that the Declaration could not successfully stand the analysis to which it was now mercilessly submitted; the House of Lords rejected it, and this action met with more approbation than had for years been accorded the legislative pronouncements of that chamber. The Liberal House of Commons was not in the least dissatisfied with this conclusion, for it realized that it had made a mistake and it was only too happy to be permitted to forget it..
When the war broke out there was therefore no single aspect of maritime law which was quite so odious as the Declaration of London. Great Britain realized that she could never win unless her fleet were permitted to keep contraband out of Germany and, if necessary, completely to blockade that country. The two greatest conflicts of the nineteenth century were the European struggle with Napoleon and the American Civil War. In both the blockade had been the decisive element, and that this great agency would similarly determine events in this even greater struggle was apparent. What enraged the British public against any suggestion of the Declaration was that it practically deprived Great Britain of this indispensable means of weakening the enemy. In this Declaration were drawn up lists of contraband, non-contraband, and conditional contraband, and all of these, in English eyes, worked to the advantage of Germany and against the advantage of Great Britain. How absurd this classification was is evident from the fact that airplanes were not listed as absolute contraband of war. Germany's difficulty in getting copper was one of the causes of her collapse; yet the Declaration put copper forever on the non-contraband list; had this new code been adopted, Germany could have imported enormous quantities from this country, instead of being compelled to reinforce her scanty supply by robbing housewives of their kitchen utensils, buildings of their hardware, and church steeples of their bells. Germany's constant scramble for rubber formed a diverting episode in the struggle; there are indeed few things so indispensable in modern warfare; yet the Declaration included rubber among the innocent articles and thus opened up to Germany the world's supply. But the most serious matter was that the Declaration would have prevented Great Britain from keeping foodstuffs out of the Fatherland.
When Mr. Bryan, therefore, blandly asked Great Britain to accept the Declaration as its code of maritime warfare, he was asking that country to accept a document which Great Britain, in peace time, had repudiated and which would, in all probability, have caused that country to lose the war. The substance of this request was bad enough, but the language in which it was phrased made matters much worse. It appears that only the intervention of Colonel House prevented the whole thing from becoming a tragedy.
115 East 53rd Street,
New York City.
October 3, 1914.
The American Ambassador,
I have just returned from Washington where I was with the President for nearly four days. He is looking well and is well. Sometimes his spirits droop, but then, again, he is his normal self.
I had the good fortune to be there at a time when the discussion of the Declaration of London had reached a critical stage. Bryan was away and Lansing, who had not mentioned the matter to Sir Cecil, prepared a long communication to you which he sent to the President for approval. The President and I went over it and I strongly urged not sending it until I could have a conference with Sir Cecil. I had this conference the next day without the knowledge of any one excepting the President, and had another the day following. Sir Cecil told me that if the dispatch had gone to you as written and you had shown it to Sir Edward Grey, it would almost have been a declaration of war; and that if, by any chance, the newspapers had got hold of it as they so often get things from our State Department, the greatest panic would have prevailed. He said it would have been the Venezuela incident magnified by present conditions.
At the President's suggestion, Lansing then prepared a cablegram to you. This, too, was objectionable and the President and I together softened it down into the one you received.
E. M. HOUSE.
In justice to Mr. Lansing, a passage in a later letter of Colonel House must be quoted: "It seems that Lansing did not write the particular dispatch to you that was objected to. Someone else prepared it and Lansing rather too hastily submitted it to the President, with the result you know."
This suppressed communication is probably for ever lost, but its tenor may perhaps be gathered from instructions which were actually sent to the Ambassador about this time. After eighteen typewritten pages of not too urbanely expressed discussion of the Declaration of London and the general subject of contraband, Page was instructed to call the British Government's attention to the consequences which followed shipping troubles in previous times. It is hard to construe this in any other way than as a threat to Great Britain of a repetition of 1812:
Confidential. You will not fail to impress upon His Excellency the gravity of the issues which the enforcement of the Order in Council seems to presage, and say to him in substance as follows:
It is a matter of grave concern to this Government that the particular conditions of this unfortunate war should be considered by His Britannic Majesty's Government to be such as to justify them in advancing doctrines and advocating practices which in the past aroused strong opposition on the part of the Government of the United States, and bitter feeling among the American people. This Government feels bound to express the fear, though it does so reluctantly, that the publicity, which must be given to the rules which His Majesty's Government announce that they intend to enforce, will awaken memories of controversies, which it is the earnest desire of the United States to forget or to pass over in silence. . . .
Germany, of course, promptly accepted the Declaration, for the suggestion fitted in perfectly with her programme; but Great Britain was not so acquiescent. Four times was Page instructed to ask the British Government to accede unconditionally, and four times did the Foreign Office refuse. Page was in despair. In the following letter he notified Colonel House that if he were instructed again to move in this matter he would resign his ambassadorship.
American Embassy, London,
October 22, 1914.
This is about the United States and England. Let's get that settled before we try our hands at making peace in Europe.
One of our greatest assets is the friendship of Great Britain, and our friendship is a still bigger asset for her, and she knows it and values it. Now, if either country should be damfool enough to throw this away because old Stone roars in the Senate about something that hasn't happened, then this crazy world would be completely mad all round, and there would be no good-will left on earth at all.
The case is plain enough to me. England is going to keep war-materials out of Germany as far as she can. We'd do it in her place. Germany would do it. Any nation would do it. That's all she has declared her intention of doing. And, if she be let alone, she'll do it in a way to give us the very least annoyance possible; for she'll go any length to keep our friendship and good will. And she has not confiscated a single one of our cargoes even of unconditional contraband. She has stopped some of them and bought them herself, but confiscated not one. All right; what do we do? We set out on a comprehensive plan to regulate the naval warfare of the world and we up and ask 'em all, "Now, boys, all be good, damn you, and agree to the Declaration of London."
"Yah," says Germany, "if England will."
Now Germany isn't engaged in naval warfare to count, and she never even paid the slightest attention to the Declaration all these years. But she saw that it would hinder England and help her now, by forbidding England to stop certain very important war materials from reaching Germany. "Yah," said Germany. But England said that her Parliament had rejected the Declaration in times of peace and that she could now hardly be expected to adopt it in the face of this Parliamentary rejection. But, to please us, she agreed to adopt it with only two changes.
Then Lansing to the bat:
"No, no," says Lansing, "you've got to adopt it all."
Four times he's made me ask for its adoption, the last time coupled with a proposition that if England would adopt it, she might issue a subsequent proclamation saying that, since the Declaration is contradictory, she will construe it her own way, and the United States will raise no objection!
Then he sends eighteen pages of fine-spun legal arguments, (not all sound by any means) against the sections of the English proclamations that have been put forth, giving them a strained and unfriendly interpretation.
In a word, England has acted in a friendly way to us and will so act, if we allow her. But Lansing, instead of trusting to her good faith and reserving all our rights under international law and usage, imagines that he can force her to agree to a code that the Germans now agree to because, in Germany's present predicament, it will be especially advantageous to Germany. Instead of trusting her, he assumes that she means to do wrong and proceeds to try to bind her in advance. He hauls her up and tries her in court---that's his tone.
Now the relations that I have established with Sir Edward Grey have been built up on frankness, fairness and friendship. I can't have relations of any other sort nor can England and the United States have relations of any other sort. This is the place we've got to now. Lansing seems to assume that the way to an amicable agreement is through an angry controversy.
Lansing's method is the trouble. He treats Great Britain, to start with, as if she were a criminal and an opponent. That's the best way I know to cause trouble to American shipping and to bring back the good old days of mutual hatred and distrust for a generation or two. If that. isn't playing into the hands of the Germans, what would be? And where's the "neutrality" of this kind of action?
See here: If we let England go on, we can throw the whole responsibility on her and reserve all our rights under international law and usage and claim damages (and get 'em) for every act of injury, if acts of injury occur; and we can keep her friendship and good-will. Every other neutral nation is doing that. Or we can insist on regulating all naval warfare and have a quarrel and refer it to a Bryan-Peace-Treaty Commission and claim at most the self-same damages with a less chance to get 'em. We can get damages without a quarrel; or we can have a quarrel and probably get damages. Now, why, in God's name, should we provoke a quarrel?
The curse of the world is little men who for an imagined small temporary advantage throw away the long growth of good-will nurtured by wise and patient men and who cannot see the lasting and far greater future evil they do. Of all the years since 1776 this great war-year is the worst to break the 100 years of our peace, or even to ruffle it. I pray you, good friend, get us out of these incompetent lawyer-hands.
Now about the peace of Europe. Nothing can yet be done, perhaps nothing now can ever be done by us. The Foreign Office doubts our wisdom and prudence since Lansing came into action. The whole atmosphere is changing. One more such move and they will conclude that Dernburg and Bernstorff have seduced us---without our knowing it, to be sure; but their confidence in our judgment will be gone. God knows I have tried to keep this confidence intact and our good friendship secure. But I have begun to get despondent over the outlook since the President telegraphed me that Lansing's proposal would settle the matter. I still believe he did not understand it---he couldn't have done so. Else he could not have approved it. But that tied my hands. If Lansing again brings up the Declaration of London---after four flat and reasonable rejections---I shall resign. I will not be the instrument of a perfectly gratuitous and ineffective insult to this patient and fair and friendly government and people who in my time have done us many kindnesses and never an injury but Carden, and who sincerely try now to meet our wishes. It would be too asinine an act ever to merit forgiveness or ever to be forgotten. I should blame myself the rest of my life. It would grieve Sir Edward more than anything except this war. It would knock the management of foreign affairs by this Administration into the region of sheer idiocy. I'm afraid any peace talk from. us, as it is, would merely be whistling down the wind. If we break with England-not on any case or act of violence to our shipping-but on a useless discussion, in advance, of general principles of conduct during the war---just for a discussion---we've needlessly thrown away our great chance to be of some service to this world gone mad. If Lansing isn't stopped, that's what he will do. Why doesn't the President see Spring Rice? Why don't you take him to see him?
Good night, my good friend. I still have hope that the President himself will take this in hand.
W. H. P.
The letters and the cablegrams which Page was sending to Colonel House and the State Department at this time evidently ended the matter. By the middle of October the two nations were fairly deadlocked. Sir Edward Grey's reply to the American proposal had been an acceptance of the Declaration of London with certain modifications. For the list of contraband in the Declaration he had submitted the list already adopted by Great Britain in its Order in Council, and he had also rejected that article which made it impossible for Great Britain to apply the doctrine of "continuous voyage" to conditional contraband. The modified acceptance, declared Mr. Lansing, was a practical rejection---as of course it was, and as it was intended to be. So the situation remained for several exciting weeks, the State Department insisting on the Declaration in full, precisely as the legal luminaries had published it five years before, the Foreign Office courteously but inflexibly refusing to accede. Only the cordial personal relations which prevailed between Grey and Page prevented the crisis from producing the most disastrous results. Finally, on October 17th, Page proposed by cable an arrangement which he hoped would settle the matter. This was that the King should issue a proclamation accepting the Declaration with practically the modifications suggested above, and that a new Order in Council should be issued containing a new list of contraband. Sir Edward Grey was not to ask the American Government to accept this proclamation; all that he asked was that Washington should offer no objections to it. It was proposed that the United States at the same time should publish a note withdrawing its suggestion for the adoption of the Declaration, and explaining that it proposed to rest the rights of its citizens upon the existing rules of international law and the treaties of the United States. This solution was accepted. It was a defeat for Mr. Lansing, of course, but he had no alternative. The relief that Page felt is shown in the following memorandum, written soon after the tension had ceased:
"That insistence on the Declaration entire came near to upsetting the whole kettle of fish. It put on me the task of insisting on a general code---at a time when the fiercest war in history was every day becoming fiercer and more desperate---which would have prevented the British from putting on their contraband list several of the most important war materials---accompanied by a proposal that would have angered every neutral nation through which supplies can possibly reach Germany and prevented this Government from making friendly working arrangements with them; and, after Sir Edward Grey had flatly declined for these reasons, I had to continue to insist. I confess it did look as if we were determined to dictate to him how he should conduct the war---and in a way that distinctly favoured the Germans.
"I presented every insistence; for I should, of course, not have been excusable if I had failed in any case vigorously to carry out my instructions. But every time I plainly saw matters getting worse and worse; and I should have failed of my duty also if I had not so informed the President and the Department. I can conceive of no more awkward situation for an Ambassador or for any other man under Heaven. I turned the whole thing over in my mind backward and forward a hundred times every day. For the first time in this stress and strain, I lost my appetite and digestion and did not know the day of the week nor what month it was---seeing the two governments rushing toward a very serious clash, which would have made my mission a failure and done the Administration much hurt, and have sowed the seeds of bitterness for generations to come.
"One day I said to Anderson (whose assistance is in many ways invaluable): 'Of course nobody is infallible---least of all we. Is it possible that we are mistaken? You and Laughlin and I, who are close to it all, are absolutely agreed. But may there not be some important element in the problem that we do not see? Summon and nurse every doubt that you can possibly muster up of the correctness of our view, put yourself on the defensive, recall every mood you may have had of the slightest hesitation, and tell me to-morrow of every possible weak place there may be in our judgment and conclusions.' The next day Anderson handed me seventeen reasons why it was unwise to persist in this demand for the adoption of the Declaration of London. Laughlin gave a similar opinion. I swear I spent the night in searching every nook and corner of my mind and I was of the same opinion the next morning. There was nothing to do then but the most unwelcome double duty: (1) Of continuing to carry out instructions, at every step making a bad situation worse and running the risk of a rupture (which would be the only great crime that now remains uncommitted in the world); and (2) of trying to persuade our own Government that this method was the wrong method to pursue. I know it is not my business to make policies, but I conceive it to be my business to report when they fail or succeed. Now if I were commanded to look throughout the whole universe for the most unwelcome task a man may have, I think I should select this. But, after all, a man has nothing but his own best judgment to guide him; and, if he follow that and fail---that's all he can do. I do reverently thank God that we gave up that contention. We may have trouble yet, doubtless we shall, but it will not be trouble of our own making, as that was.
"Tyrrell came into the reception room at the Foreign Office the day after our withdrawal, while I was waiting to see Sir Edward Grey, and he said: 'I wish to tell you personally---just privately between you and me---how infinite a relief it is to us all that your Government has withdrawn that demand. We couldn't accept it; our refusal was not stubborn nor pig-headed: it was a physical necessity in order to carry on the war with any hope of success.'
Then, as I was going out, he volunteered this remark: 'I make this guess---that that programme was not the work of the President but of some international prize court enthusiast (I don't know who) who had failed to secure the adoption of the Declaration when parliaments and governments could discuss it at leisure and who hoped to jam it through under the pressure of war and thus get his prize court international.' I made no answer for several reasons, one of which is, I do not know whose programme it was. All that I know is that I have here, on my desk at my house, a locked dispatch book half full of telegrams and letters insisting on it, which I do not wish (now at least) to put in the Embassy files, and the sight of which brings the shuddering memory of the worst nightmare I have ever suffered.
"Now we can go on, without being a party to any general programme, but in an independent position vigorously stand up for every right and privilege under law and usage and treaties; and we have here a government that we can deal with frankly and not (I hope) in a mood to suspect us of wishing to put it at a disadvantage for the sake of a general code or doctrine. A land and naval and air and submarine battle (the greatest battle in the history of the belligerent race of man) within 75 miles of the coast of England, which hasn't been invaded since 1066 and is now in its greatest danger since that time; and this is no time I fear, to force a great body of doctrine on Great Britain. God knows I'm afraid some American boat will run on a mine somewhere in the Channel or the North Sea. There's war there as there is on land in Germany. Nobody tries to get goods through on land on the continent, and they make no complaints that commerce is stopped. Everybody tries to ply the Channel and the North Sea as usual, both of which have German and English mines and torpedo craft and submarines almost as thick as batteries along the hostile camps on land. The British Government (which now issues marine insurance) will not insure a British boat to carry food to Holland en route to the starving Belgians; and I hear that no government and no insurance company will write insurance for anything going across the North Sea. I wonder if the extent and ferocity and danger of this war are fully realized in the United States?
"There is no chance yet effectively to talk of peace. The British believe that their civilization and their Empire are in grave danger. They are drilling an army of a million men here for next spring; more and more troops come from all the Colonies, where additional enlistments are going on. They feel that to stop before a decisive result is reached would simply be provoking another war, after a period of dread such as they have lived through the last ten years; a large and increasing proportion of the letters you see are on black-bordered paper and this whole island is becoming a vast hospital and prisoners' camp---all which, so far from bringing them to think of peace, urges them to renewed effort; and all the while the bitterness grows.
"The Straus incident, produced the impression here that it was a German trick to try to shift the responsibility of continuing the war, to the British shoulders. Mr. Sharp's bare mention of peace in Paris caused the French censor to forbid the transmission of a harmless interview; and our insistence on the Declaration left, for the time being at least, a distinct distrust of our judgment and perhaps even of our good-will. It was suspected---I am sure---that the German influence in Washington had un.wittingly got influence over the Department. The atmosphere (toward me) is as different now from what it was a week ago as Arizona sunshine is from a London fog, as much as to say, 'After all, perhaps, you don't mean to try to force us to play into the hands of our enemies!' "
And so this crisis was passed; it was the first great service that Page had rendered the cause of the Allies and his own country. Yet shipping difficulties had their more agreeable aspects. Had it not been for the fact that both Page and Grey had an understanding sense of humour, neutrality would have proved a more difficult path than it actually was. Even amid the tragic problems with which these two men were dealing there was not lacking an occasional moment's relaxation into the lighter aspect of things. One of the curious memorials preserved in the British Foreign Office is the cancelled $15,000,000 check with which Great Britain paid the Alabama claims. That the British should frame this memento of their great diplomatic defeat and hang it in the Foreign Office is an evidence of the fact that in statesmanship, as in less exalted matters, the English are excellent sportsmen. The real justification of the honour paid to this piece of paper, of course, is that the settlement of the Alabama claims by arbitration signalized a great forward step in international relations and did much to heal a century's troubles between the United States and Great Britain. Sir Edward Grey used frequently to call Page's attention to this document. It represented the amount of money, then considered large, which Great Britain had paid the United States for the depredations on American shipping for which she was responsible during the Civil War.
One day the two men were discussing certain detentions of American cargoes---high-handed acts which, in Page's opinion, were unwarranted. Not infrequently, in the heat of discussion, Page would get up and pace the floor. And on this occasion his body, as well as his mind, was in a state of activity. Suddenly his eye was attracted by the framed Alabama check. He leaned over, peered at it intensely, and then quickly turned to the Foreign Secretary:
"If you don't stop these seizures, Sir Edward, some day you'll have your entire room papered with things like that!"
Not long afterward Sir Edward in his turn scored on Page. The Ambassador called to present one of the many State Department notes. The occasion was an embarrassing one, for the communication was written in the Department's worst literary style. It not infrequently happened that these notes, in the form in which Page received them, could not be presented to the British Government; they were so rasping and undiplomatic that Page feared that he would suffer the humiliation of having them returned, for there are certain things which no self-respecting Foreign Office will accept. On such occasions it was the practice of the London Embassy to smooth down the language before handing the paper to the Foreign Secretary. The present note was one of this kind; but Page, because of his friendly relations with Grey, decided to transmit the communication in its original shape.
Sir Edward glanced over the document, looked up, and remarked, with a twinkle in his eye,
"This reads as though they thought that they are still talking to George the Third."
The roar of laughter that followed was something quite unprecedented amid the thick and dignified walls of the Foreign Office.
One of Page's most delicious moments came, however, after the Ministry of Blockade had been formed, with Lord Robert Cecil in charge. Lord Robert was high minded and conciliatory, but his knowledge of American history was evidently not without its lapses. One day, in discussing the ill-feeling aroused in the United States by the seizure of American cargoes, Page remarked banteringly:
"You must not forget the Boston Tea Party, Lord Robert."
The Englishman looked up, rather puzzled.
"But you must remember, Mr. Page, that I have never been in Boston. I have never attended a tea party there."
It has been said that the tact and good sense of Page and Grey, working sympathetically for the same end, avoided many an impending crisis. The trouble caused early in 1915 by the ship Dacia and the way in which the difficulty was solved, perhaps illustrate the value of this cooperation at its best. In the early days of the War Congress passed a bill admitting foreign ships to American registry. The wisdom and even the "neutrality" of such an act were much questioned at the time. Colonel House, in one of his early telegrams to the President, declared that this bill "is full of lurking dangers." Colonel House was right. The trouble was that many German merchant ships were interned in American harbours, fearing to put to sea, where the watchful British warships lay waiting for them. Any attempt to place these vessels under the American flag, and to use them for trade between American and German ports, would at once cause a crisis with the Allies, for such a paper change in ownership would be altogether too transparent. Great Britain viewed this legislation with disfavour, but did not think it politic to protest such transfers generally; Spring Rice contented himself with informing the State Department that his government would not object so long as this changed status did not benefit Germany. If such German ships, after being transferred to the American flag, engaged in commerce between American ports and South American ports, or other places remotely removed from the Fatherland, Great Britain would make no difficulty. The Dacia, a merchantman of the Hamburg-America line, had been lying at her wharf in Port Arthur, Texas, since the outbreak of the war. In early January, 1915, she was purchased by Mr. E. N. Breitung, of Marquette, Michigan. Mr. Breitung caused great excitement in the newspapers when he announced that he had placed the Dacia under American registry, according to the terms of this new law, had put upon her an American crew, and that he proposed to load her with cotton and sail for Germany. The crisis had now arisen which the well-wishers of Great Britain and the United States had so dreaded. Great Britain's position was a difficult one. If it acquiesced, the way would be opened for placing under American registry all the German and Austrian ships that were then lying unoccupied in American ports and using them in trade between the United States and the Central Powers. If Great Britain seized the Dacia, then there was the likelihood that this would embroil her with the American Government-and this would serve German purposes quite as well.
Sir Cecil. Spring Rice, the British Ambassador at Washington, at once notified Washington that the Dacia would be seized if she sailed for a German port. The cotton which she intended to carry was at that time not contraband, but the vessel itself was German and was thus subject to apprehension as enemy property. The seriousness of this position was that technically the Dacia was now an American ship, for an American citizen owned her, she carried an American crew, she bore on her flagstaff the American flag, and she had been admitted to American registry under a law recently passed by Congress. How could the United States sit by quietly and permit this seizure to take place? When the Dacia sailed on January 23rd the excitement was keen; the voyage had obtained a vast amount of newspaper advertising, and the eyes of the world were fixed upon her. German sympathizers attributed the attitude of the American Government in permitting the vessel to sail as a "dare" to Great Britain, and the fact that Great Britain had announced her intention of taking up this "dare" made the situation still more tense.
When matters had reached this pass Page one day dropped into the Foreign Office.
"Have you ever heard of the British fleet, Sir Edward?" he asked.
Grey admitted that he had, though the question obviously puzzled him.
"Yes," Page went on musingly. "We've all heard of the British fleet. Perhaps we have heard too much about it. Don't you think it's had too much advertising?"
The Foreign Secretary looked at Page with an expression that implied a lack of confidence in his sanity.
"But have you ever heard of the French fleet?" the American went on. "France has a fleet too, I believe."
Sir Edward granted that.
"Don't you think that the French fleet ought to have a little advertising?"
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Well," said Page, "there's the Dacia. Why not let the French fleet seize it and get some advertising?"
A gleam of understanding immediately shot across Grey's face. The old familiar twinkle came into his eye.
"Yes," he said, "why not let the Belgian royal yacht seize it?"
This suggestion from Page was one of the great inspirations of the war. It amounted to little less than genius. By this time Washington was pretty wearied of the Dacia, for mature consideration had convinced the Department that Great Britain had the right on its side. Washington would have been only too glad to find a way out of the difficult position into which it had been forced, and this Page well understood. But this government always finds itself in an awkward plight in any controversy with Great Britain, because the hyphenates raise such a noise that it has difficulty in deciding such disputes upon their merits. To ignore the capture of this ship by the British would have brought all this hullabaloo again about the ears of the Administration. But the position of France is entirely different; the memories of Lafayette and Rochambeau still exercise a profound spell on the American mind; France does not suffer from the persecution of hyphenate populations, and Americans will stand even outrages from France without getting excited. Page knew that if the British seized the Dacia, the cry would go up in certain quarters for immediate war, but that, if France committed the same crime, the guns of the adversary would be spiked. It was purely a case of sentiment and "psychology." And so the event proved. His suggestion was at once acted on; a French cruiser went out into the Channel, seized the offending ship, took it into port, where a French prize court promptly condemned it. The proceeding did not cause even a ripple of hostility. The Dacia was sold to Frenchmen, rechristened the Yser and put to work in the Mediterranean trade. The episode was closed in the latter part of 1915 when a German submarine torpedoed the vessel and sent it to the bottom.
Such was the spirit which Page and Sir Edward Grey brought to the solution of the shipping problems of 1914-1917. There is much more to tell of this great task of "waging neutrality," and it will be told in its proper place. But already it is apparent to what extent these two men served the cause of English-speaking civilization. Neither would quibble or uphold an argument which he thought unjust, even though his nation might gain in a material sense, and neither would pitch the discussion in any other key than forbearance and mutual accommodation and courtliness. For both men had the same end in view. They were both thinking, not of the present, but of the coming centuries. The cooperation of the two nations in meeting the dangers of autocracy and Prussian barbarism, in laying the foundations of a future in which peace, democracy, and international justice should be the directing ideas of human society--such was the ultimate purpose at which these two statesmen aimed. And no men have ever been more splendidly justified by events. The Anglo-American situation of 1914 contained dangers before which all believers in real progress now shudder. Had Anglo-American diplomacy been managed with less skill and consideration, the United States and Great Britain would have become involved in a quarrel beside which all their previous differences would have appeared insignificant. Mutual hatreds and hostilities would have risen that would have prevented the entrance of the United States into the war on the side of the Allies. It is not inconceivable that the history of 1812 would have been repeated, and that the men and resources of this country might have been used to support purposes which have always been hateful to the American conscience. That the world was saved from this calamity is owing largely to the fact that Great Britain had in its Foreign Office a man who was always solving temporary irritations with his eyes constantly fixed upon a great goal, and that the United States had as ambassador in London a man who had the most exalted view of the mission of his country, who had dedicated his life to the world-wide spread of the American ideal, and who believed that an indispensable part of this work was the maintenance of a sympathetic and helpful cooperation with the English-speaking peoples.
- ↑ In a letter addressed to " My fellow Countrymen" and presented to the Senate by Mr. Chilton.
- ↑ This was in October, 1914. In August, 1915, when conditions had changed, cotton was declared contraband.
- ↑ Mr. Chandler P. Anderson, of New York, at this time advising the American Embassy on questions of international law.
- ↑ Mr. Irwin Laughlin, first secretary of the Embassy.
- ↑ Sir Cecil Spring Rice, British Ambassador at Washington.
- ↑ Sir Edward Grey.
- ↑ Senator William J. Stone, perhaps the leading spokesman of the pro-German cause in the United States Senate. Senator Stone represented Missouri, a state with a large German-American element.
- ↑ See Chapter VII.
- ↑ Private secretary to Sir Edward Grey.
- ↑ The reference is to an attempt by Germany to start peace negotiations in September, 1914, after the Battle of the Marne. This is described in the next chapter.