President Wilson's Peace Note, December 18, 1916

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WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > President Wilson's Peace Note, December 18, 1916


President Wilson's Peace Note, December 18, 19161

The Secretary of State to Ambassador W. H. Page2

                                        [TELEGRAM]

                                                  DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
                                             Washington, December 18, 1916.

     The President directs me to send you the following communication
to be presented immediately to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the
Government to which you are accredited:
     "The President of the United States has instructed me to suggest
to His Majesty's Government a course of action with regard to the
present war which he hopes that the British Government will take
under consideration as suggested in the most friendly spirit and as
coming not only from a friend but also as coming from the representa-
tive of a neutral nation whose interests have been most seriously
affected by the war and whose concern for its early conclusion arises
out of a manifest necessity to determine how best to safeguard those
interests if the war is to continue.
     "The suggestion which I am instructed to make the President has
long had it in mind to offer. He is somewhat embarrassed to offer it
at this particular time because it may now seem to have been prompted
by the recent overtures of the Central Powers. It is in fact in no way
associated with them in its origin and the President would have de-
layed offering it until those overtures had been answered but for the
fact that it also concerns the question of peace and may best be
considered in connection with other proposals which have the same
end in view. The President can only beg that his suggestion be con-
sidered entirely on its own merits and as if it had been made in other
circumstances.3
     "The President suggests that an early occasion be sought to call
out from all the nations now at war such an avowal of their respective
views as to the terms upon which the war might be concluded and the
arrangements which would be deemed satisfactory as a guaranty
against its renewal or the kindling of any similar conflict in the future
as would make it possible frankly to compare them. He is indifferent
as to the means taken to accomplish this. He would be happy himself
to serve or even to take the initiative in its accomplishment in any way
that might prove acceptable, but he has no desire to determine the
method or the instrumentality. One way will be as acceptable to him
as another if only the great object he has in mind be attained.
     "He takes the liberty of calling attention to the fact that the objects
which the statesmen of the belligerents on both sides have in mind in
this war are virtually the same, as stated in general terms to their
own people and to the world. Each side desires to make the rights
and privileges of weak peoples and small States as secure against
aggression or denial in the future as the rights and privileges of the
great and powerful States now at war. Each wishes itself to be made
secure in the future, along with all other nations and peoples, against
the recurrence of wars like this and against aggression of selfish in-
terference of any kind. Each would be jealous of the formation of
any more rival leagues to preserve an uncertain balance of power
amidst multiplying suspicions ; but each is ready to consider the forma-
tion of a league of nations to insure peace and justice throughout the
world. Before that final step can be taken, however, each deems it
necessary first to settle the issues of the present war upon terms which
will certainly safeguard the independence, the territorial integrity,
and the political and commercial freedom of the nations involved.
     "In the measures to be taken to secure the future peace of the
world the people and Government of the United States are as vitally
and as directly interested as the Governments now at war. Their
interest, moreover, in the means to be adopted to relieve the smaller
and weaker peoples of the world of the peril of wrong and violence is
as quick and ardent as that of any other people or Government. They
stand ready, and even eager, to cooperate in the accomplishment of
these ends, when the war is over, with every influence and resource
at their command. But the war must first be concluded. The terms
upon which it is to be concluded they are not at liberty to suggest:
but the President does feel that it is his right and his duty to point
out their intimate interest in its conclusion, lest it should presently be
too late to accomplish the greater things which lie beyond its con-
elusion, lest the situation of neutral nations, now exceedingly hard to
endure, be rendered altogether intolerable, and lest, more than all, an
injury be done civilization itself which can never be atoned for or
repaired.
     "The President therefore feels altogether justified in suggesting an
immediate opportunity for a comparison of views as to the terms
which must precede those ultimate arrangements for the peace of the
world, which all desire and in which the neutral nations as well as
those at war are ready to play their full responsible part. If the con-
test must continue to proceed towards undefined ends by slow attrition
until the one group of belligerents or the other is exhausted, if million
after million of human lives must continue to be offered up until on
the one side or the other there are no more to offer, if resentments
must be kindled that can never cool and despairs engendered from
which there can be no recovery, hopes of peace and of the willing
concert of free peoples will be rendered vain and idle.
     "The life of the entire world has been profoundly affected. Every
part of the great family of mankind has felt the burden and terror of
this unprecedented contest of arms. No nation in the civilized world
can be said in truth to stand outside its influence or to be safe against
its disturbing effects. And yet the concrete objects for which it is
being waged have never been definitively stated.
     "The leaders of the several belligerents have, as has been said,
stated those objects in general terms. But, stated in general terms,
they seem the same on both sides. Never yet have the authoritative
spokesmen of either side avowed the precise objects which would, if
attained, satisfy them and their people that the war had been fought
out. The world has been left to conjecture what definitive results,
what actual exchange of guarantees, what political or territorial changes
or readjustments, what stage of military success even, would bring the
war to an end.
     "It may be that peace is nearer than we know; that the terms which
the belligerents on the one side and on the other would deem it neces-
sary to insist upon are not so irreconcilable as some have feared ; that
an interchange of views would clear the way at least for conference
and make the permanent concord of the nations a hope of the imme-
diate future, a concert of nations immediately practicable.
     "The President is not proposing peace; he is not even offering
mediation. He is merely proposing that soundings be taken in order
that we may learn, the neutral nations with the belligerent, how near
the haven of peace may be for which all mankind longs with an
intense and increasing longing. He believes that the spirit in which
he speaks and the objects which he seeks will be understood by all
concerned, and he confidently hopes for a response which will bring
a new light into the affairs of the world."
                                                                      LANSING.


1Official prints of the Department of State.

2 Same mutatis mutandis to the American Diplomatic Representatives accredited
to all the belligerent Governments and to all neutral Governments for their in-
formation.

3In the note addressed to the Representatives of the Central Powers, this
paragraph reads as follows:
     "The suggestion which I am instructed to make the President has long had it
in mind to offer. He is somewhat embarrassed to offer it at this particular time
because it may now seem to have been prompted by a desire to play a part in
connection with the recent overtures of the Central Powers. It has in fact been
in no way suggested by them in its origin and the President would have delayed
offering it until those overtures had been independently answered but for the
fact that it also concerns the question of peace and may best be considered in
connection with other proposals which have the same end in view. The Presi-
dent can only beg that his suggestion be considered entirely on its own merits
and as if it had been made in other circumstances."