From World War I Document Archive
Revision as of 18:26, 17 January 2009 by Rdh7 (talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > Walter H. Page > Chapter VIII

Walter H. Page Signature.gif



IN THE early part of January, 1914, Colonel House wrote Page, asking whether he would consider favourably an offer to enter President Wilson's Cabinet, as Secretary of Agriculture. Mr. David F. Houston, who was then most acceptably filling that position, was also an authority on banking and finance; the plan was to make him governor of the new Federal Reserve Board, then in process of formation, and to transfer Page to the vacant place in the Cabinet. The proposal was not carried through, but Page's reply took the form of a re-view of his ambassadorship up to date, of his vexations, his embarrassments, his successes, and especially of the very important task which still lay before him. There were certain reasons, it will appear, why he would have liked to leave London; and there was one impelling reason why he preferred to stay. From the day of his arrival in England, Page had been humiliated, and his work had been constantly impeded, by the almost studied neglect with which Washington treated its diplomatic service. The fact that the American Government provided no official residence for its Ambassador, and no adequate financial allowance for maintaining the office, had made his position almost an intolerable one. All Page's predecessors for twenty-five years had been rich men who could advance the cost of the Embassy from their own private purses; to meet these expenses, however, Page had been obliged, to encroach on the savings of a lifetime, and such liberality on his part necessarily had its limitations.


To Edward M. House

London, England,

February 13, 1914.


. . . Of course I am open to the criticism of having taken the place at all. But I was both uninformed and misinformed about the cost as well as about the frightful handicap of having no Embassy. It's a kind of scandal in London and it has its serious effect. Everybody talks about it all the time: "Will you explain to me why it is that your great Government has no Embassy: it's very odd!" "What a frugal Government you have!" "It's a damned mean outfit, your American Government." Mrs. Page collapses many an evening when she gets to her room. "If they'd only quit talking about it !" The other Ambassadors, now that we're coming to know them fairly well, commiserate us. It's a constant humiliation. Of course this aspect of it doesn't worry me much---I've got hardened to it. But it is a good deal of a real handicap, and it adds that much dead weight that a man must overcome; and it greatly lessens the respect in which our Government and its Ambassador are held. If I had known this fully in advance, I should not have had the courage to come here. Now, of course, I've got used to it, have discounted it, and can "bull" it through---could "bull" it through if I could afford to pay the bill. But I shouldn't advise any friend of mine to come here and face this humiliation without realizing precisely what it means---wholly apart, of course, from the cost of it. . . .

My dear House, on the present basis much of the diplomatic business is sheer humbug. It will always be so till we have our own Embassies and an established position in consequence. Without a home or a house or a fixed background, every man has to establish his own position for himself; and unless he be unusual, this throws him clean out of the way of giving emphasis to the right things. . . .

As for our position, I think I don't fool myself. The job at the Foreign Office is easy because there is no real trouble between us, and because Sir Edward Grey is pretty nearly an ideal man to get on with. I think he likes me, too, because, of course, I'm straightforward and frank with him, and he likes the things we stand for. Outside this official part of the job, of course, we're commonplace---a successful commonplace, I hope. But that's all. We don't know how to try to be anything but what we naturally are. I dare say we are laughed at here and there about this and that. Sometimes I hear criticisms, now and then more or less serious ones. Much of it comes of our greenness; some of it from the very nature of the situation. Those who expect to find us brilliant are, of course, disappointed. Nor are we smart, and the smart set (both American and English) find us uninteresting. But we drive ahead and keep a philosophical temper and simply do the best we can, and, you may be sure, a good deal of it. It is laborious. For instance, I've made two trips lately to speak before important bodies, one at Leeds, the other at Newcastle, at both of which, in different ways, I have tried to explain the President's principle in dealing with Central American turbulent states---and, incidentally, the American ideals of government. The audiences see it, approve it, applaud it. The newspaper editorial writers never quite go the length---it, involves a denial of the divine right of the British Empire; at least they fear so. The fewest possible Englishmen really understand our governmental aims and ideals. I have delivered unnumbered and innumerable little speeches, directly or indirectly, about them; and they seem to like them. But it would take an army of oratorical ambassadors a lifetime to get the idea into the heads of them all. In some ways they are incredibly far back in mediaevalism---incredibly.

If I have to leave in the fall or in December, it will be said and thought that I've failed, unless there be some reason that can be made public. I should be perfectly willing to tell the reason---the failure of the Government to make it financially possible. I've nothing to conceal ---only definite amounts. I'd never say what it has cost ---only that it costs more than I or anybody but a rich man can afford. If then, or in the meantime, the President should wish me to serve elsewhere, that would, of course, be a sufficient reason for my going.

Now another matter, with which I shall not bother the President---he has enough to bear on that score. It was announced in one of the London papers the other day that Mr. Bryan would deliver a lecture here, and probably in each of the principal European capitals, on Peace. Now, God restrain me from saying, much more from doing, anything rash. But if I've got to go home at all, I'd rather go before he comes. It'll take years for the American Ambassadors to recover what they'll lose if he carry out this plan. They now laugh at him here. Only the President's great personality saves the situation in foreign relations. Of course the public here doesn't know how utterly unorganized the State Department is---how we can't get answers to important questions, and how they publish most secret despatches or allow them to leak out. But "bad breaks" like this occur. Mr. Z, of the 100-years'-Peace Committee,(<A NAME="n44"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#44">44</A>) came here a week ago, with a letter from Bryan to the Prime Minister! Z told me that this 100-year business gave a chance to bind the nations together that ought not to be missed. Hence Bryan had asked him to take up the relations of the countries with the Prime Minister! Bryan sent a telegram to Z to be read at a big 100-year meeting here. As for the personal indignity to me---I overlook that. I don't think he means it. But if he doesn't mean it, what does he mean? That's what the Prime Minister asks himself. Fortunately Mr. Asquith and I get along mighty well. He met Bryan once, and he told me with a smile that he regarded him as "a peculiar product of your country." But the Secretary is always doing things like this. He dashes off letters of introduction to people asking me to present them to Mr. Asquith, Mr. Lloyd George, etc.

In the United States we know Mr. Bryan. We know his good points, his good services, his good intentions. We not only tolerate him; we like him. But when he comes here as "the American Prime Minister"(<A NAME="n45"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#45">45</A>) goodbye, John! All that we've tried to do to gain respect for our Government (as they respect our great nation) will disappear in one day. Of course they'll feel obliged to give him big official dinners, etc. And---

Now you'd just as well abandon your trip if he comes; and (I confess) I'd rather be gone. No member of another government ever came here and lectured. T. R. did it as a private citizen, and even then he split the heavens asunder.(<A NAME="n46"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#46">46</A>) Most Englishmen will regard it as a piece of effrontery. Of course, I'm not in the least concerned about mere matters of taste. It's only the bigger effects that I have in mind in queering our Government in their eyes. He must be kept at home on the Mexican problem, or some other.

Yours faithfully,


P. S. But, by George, it's a fine game! This Government and ours are standing together all right, especially since the President has taken hold of our foreign relations himself. With such a man at the helm at home, we can do whatever we wish to do with the English, as I've often told you. (But it raises doubts every time the shoestring necktie, broad-brimmed black hat, oratorical, old-time, River Platte kind of note is heard.) We've come a long way in a year---a very joyful long way, full of progress and real understanding; there's no doubt about that. A year ago they knew very well the failure that had saddled them with the tolls trouble and the failure of arbitration, and an unknown President had just come in. Presently an unknown Ambassador arrived. Mexico got worse; would we not recognize Huerta? They send Carden. We had nothing to say about the tolls---simply asked for time. They were very friendly; but our slang phrase fits the situation---"nothin' doin'." They declined San Francisco.(<A NAME="n47"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#47">47</A>) Then presently they began to see some plan in Mexico; they began to see our attitude on the tolls; they began to understand our attitude toward concessions and governments run for profit; they began dimly to see that Carden was a misfit; the Tariff Bill passed; the Currency Bill; the President loomed up; even the Ambassador, they said, really believed what he preached; he wasn't merely making pretty, friendly speeches.---Now, when we get this tolls job done, we've got 'em where we can do any proper and reasonable thing we want. It's been a great three quarters of a year---immense, in fact. No man has been in the White House who is so regarded since Lincoln; in fact, they didn't regard Lincoln while he lived.

Meantime, I've got to be more or less at home. The Prime Minister dines with me, the Foreign Secretary, the Archbishop, the Colonial Secretary---all the rest of 'em; the King talks very freely; Mr. Asquith tells me some of his troubles; Sir Edward is become a good personal friend; Lord Bryce warms up; the Lord Chancellor is chummy; and so it goes.

So you may be sure we are all in high feather after all; and the President's (I fear exaggerated) appreciation of what I've done is very gratifying indeed. I've got only one emotion about it all---gratitude; and gratitude begets eagerness to go on. Of course I can do future jobs better than I have done any past ones.

There are two shadows in the background---not disturbing, but shadows none the less:

1. The constant reminder that the American Ambassador's homeless position (to this Government and to this whole people) shows that the American Government and the American people know nothing about foreign relations and care nothing---regard them as not worth buying a house for. This leaves a doubt about any continuity of any American policy. It even suggests a sort of fear that we don't really care.

The other is (2) the dispiriting experience of writing and telegraphing about important things and never hearing a word concerning many of them, and the consequent fear of some dead bad break in the State Department. The clubs are full of stories of the silly and incredible things that are said to happen there.

After all, these are old troubles. They are not new---neither of them. And we are the happiest group you ever saw.

W. H. P.



Page's letters of this period contain many references to his inability to maintain touch with the State Department. His letters remained unacknowledged, his telegrams unanswered; and he was himself left completely in the dark as to the plans and opinions at Washington.


To Edward M. House

February 28, 1914.


. . . Couldn't the business with Great Britain be put into Moore's(<A NAME="n48"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#48">48</A>) hands? It is surely important enough at times to warrant separate attention---or (I might say) attention. You know, after eight or nine months of this sort of thing, the feeling grows on us all here that perhaps many of our telegrams and letters may not be read by anybody at all. You begin to feel that they may not be deciphered or even opened. Then comes the feeling (for a moment), why send any more? Why do anything but answer such questions as come now and then? Corresponding with Nobody---can you imagine how that feels?---What the devil do you suppose does become of the letters and telegrams that I send, from which and about which I never hear a word? As a mere matter of curiosity I should like to know who receives them and what he does with them!

I've a great mind some day to send a despatch saying that an earthquake has swallowed up the Thames, that a suffragette has kissed the King, and that the statue of Cromwell has made an assault on the House of Lords---just to see if anybody deciphers it.

After the Civil War an old fellow in Virginia was tired of the world. He'd have no more to do with it. He cut a slit in a box in his house and nailed up the box. Whenever a letter came for him, he'd read the postmark and say "Baltimore---Baltimore---there isn't anybody in Baltimore that I care to hear from." Then he'd drop the letter unopened through the slit into the box. " Philadelphia? I have no friend in Philadelphia "---into the box, unopened. When he died, the big box was nearly full of unopened letters. When I get to Washington again, I'm going to look for a big box that must now be nearly full of my unopened letters and telegrams.

W. H. P.


The real reason why the Ambassador wished to remain in London was to assist in undoing a great wrong which the United States had done itself and the world. Page was attempting to perform his part in introducing new standards into diplomacy. His discussions of Mexico had taken the form of that "idealism" which he was apparently having some difficulty in persuading British statesmen and the British public to accept. He was doing his best to help bring about that day when, in Gladstone's famous words, "the idea of public right would be the governing idea" of international relations. But while the American Ambassador was preaching this new conception, the position. of his own country on one important matter was a constant impediment to his efforts. Page was continually confronted by the fact that the United States, high-minded as its foreign policy might pretend to be, was far from "idealistic" in the observance of the treaty that it had made with Great Britain concerning the Panama Canal. There was a certain embarrassment involved in preaching unselfishness in Mexico and Central America at a time when the United States was practising selfishness and dishonesty in Panama. For, in the opinion of the Ambassador and that of most other dispassionate students of the Panama treaty, the American policy on Panama tolls amounted to nothing less.

To one unskilled in legal technicalities, the Panama controversy involved no great difficulty. Since 1850 the United States and Great Britain had had a written understanding upon the construction of the Panama Canal. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, which was adopted that year, provided that the two countries should share equally in the construction and control of the proposed waterway across the Isthmus. This idea of joint control had always rankled in the United States, and in 1901 the American Government persuaded Great Britain to abrogate the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty and agree to another---the Hay-Pauncefote---which transferred the rights of ownership and construction exclusively to this country. In consenting to this important change, Great Britain had made only one stipulation. "The Canal," so read Article III of the Convention of 1901, "shall be free and open to the vessels of commerce and war of all nations observing these rules, on terms of entire equality, so that there shall be no discrimination against any such nation, or its citizens or subjects, in respect of the conditions or charges of traffic, or otherwise." It would seem as though the English language could utter no thought more clearly than this. The agreement said, not inferentially, but in so many words, that the "charges" levied on the ships of "all nations" that used the Canal should be the same. The history of British-American negotiations on the subject of the Canal had always emphasized this same point. All American witnesses to drawing the Treaty have testified that this was the American understanding. The correspondence of John Hay, who was Secretary of State at the time, makes it clear that this was the agreement. Mr. Elihu Root, who, as Secretary of War, sat next to John Hay in the Cabinet which authorized the treaty, has taken the same stand. The man who conducted the preliminary negotiations with Lord Salisbury, Mr. Henry White, has emphasized the same point. Mr. Joseph H. Choate, who, as American Ambassador to Great Britain in 1901, had charge of the negotiations, has testified that the British and American Governments "meant what they said and said what they meant."

In the face of this solemn understanding, the American Congress, in 1912, passed the Panama Canal Act, which provided that "no tolls shall be levied upon vessels engaged in the coastwise trade of the United States." A technical argument, based upon the theory that "all nations" did not include the United States, and that, inasmuch as this country had obtained sovereign rights upon the Isthmus, the situation had changed, persuaded President Taft to sign this bill. Perhaps this line of .reasoning satisfied the legal consciences of President Taft and Mr. Knox, his Secretary of State, but it really cut little figure in the acrimonious discussion that ensued. Of course, there was only one question involved; that was as to whether the exemption violated the Treaty. This is precisely the one point that nearly all the controversialists avoided. The statement that the United States had built the Canal with its own money and its own genius, that it had achieved a great success where other nations had achieved a great failure, and that it had the right of passing its own ships through its own highway without assessing tolls---this was apparently argument enough. When Great Britain protested the exemption as a violation of the Treaty, there were not lacking plenty of elements in American politics and journalism to denounce her as committing an act of high-handed impertinence, as having intruded herself in matters which were not properly her concern, and as having attempted to rob the American public of the fruits of its own enterprise. That animosity to Great Britain, which is always present in certain parts of the hyphenated population, burst into full flame.

Clear as were the legal aspects of the dispute, the position of the Wilson Administration was a difficult one. The Irish-American elements, which have specialized in making trouble between the United States and Great Britain, represented a strength to the Democratic Party in most large cities. The great mass of Democratic Senators and Congressmen had voted for the exemption bill. The Democratic platform of 1912 had endorsed this same legislation. This declaration was the handiwork of Senator O'Gorman, of New York State, who had long been a leader of the anti-British crusade in American politics. More awkward still, President Wilson, in the course of his Presidential campaign, had himself spoken approvingly of free tolls for American ships. The probability is that, when the President made this unfortunate reference to this clause in the Democratic programme, he had given the matter little personal investigation; it must be held to his credit that, when the facts were clearly presented to him, his mind quickly grasped the real point at issue---that it was not a matter of commercial advantage or disadvantage, but one simply of national honour, of whether the United States proposed to keep its word or to break it.

Page's contempt for the hair-drawn technicalities of lawyers was profound, and the tortuous effort to make the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty mean something quite different from what it said, inevitably moved him to righteous wrath. Before sailing for England he spent several days in the State Department studying the several questions that were then at issue between his country and Great Britain. A memorandum contains his impressions of the free tolls contention:

"A little later I went to Washington again to acquaint myself with the business between the United States and Great Britain. About that time the Senate confirmed my appointment, and I spent a number of days reading the recent correspondence between the two governments. The two documents that stand out in my memory are the wretched lawyer's note of Knox about the Panama tolls (I never read a less sincere, less convincing, more purely artificial argument) and Bryce's brief reply, which did have the ring of sincerity in it. The diplomatic correspondence in general seemed to me very dull stuff, and, after wading through it all day, on several nights as I went to bed the thought came to me whether this sort of activity were really worth a man's


Anything which affected British shipping adversely touched Great Britain in a sensitive spot; and Page had not been long in London before he perceived the acute nature of the Panama situation. In July, 1913, Col. Edward M. House reached the British capital. A letter of Page's to Sir Edward Grey gives such a succinct description of this new and influential force in American, public life that it is worth quoting:


<P ALIGN=CENTER>To Sir Edward Grey

Coburg Hotel, London.
[No date.]


There is an American gentleman in London, the like of whom I do not know. Mr. Edward M. House is his name. He is "the silent partner" of President Wilson---that is to say, he is the most trusted political adviser and the nearest friend of the President. He is a private citizen, a man without personal political ambition, a modest, quiet, even shy fellow. He helps to make Cabinets, to shape policies, to select judges and ambassadors and suchlike merely for the pleasure of seeing that these tasks are well done.

He is suffering from over-indulgence in advising, and he has come here to rest. I cannot get him far outside his hotel, for he cares to see few people. But he is very eager to meet you.

I wonder if you would do me the honour to take luncheon at the Coburg Hotel with me, to meet him either on July 1, or 3, or 5---if you happen to be free? I shall have only you and Mr. House.

Very sincerely yours,



The chief reason why Colonel House wished to meet the British Foreign Secretary was to bring him a message from President Wilson on the subject of the Panama tolls. The three men---Sir Edward, Colonel House, and Mr. Page---met at the suggested luncheon on July 3rd.

Colonel House informed the Foreign Secretary that President Wilson was now convinced that the Panama Act violated the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty and that he intended to use all his influence to secure its repeal. The matter, the American urged, was a difficult one, since it would be necessary to persuade Congress to pass a law acknowledging its mistake. The best way in which Great Britain could aid in the process was by taking no public action. If the British should keep protesting or discussing the subject acrimoniously in the press and Parliament, such a course would merely reenforce the elements that would certainly oppose the President. Any protests would give them the opportunity to set up the cry of "British dictation," and a change in the Washington policy would subject it to the criticism of having yielded to British pressure. The inevitable effect would be to defeat the whole proceeding. Colonel House therefore suggested that President Wilson be left to handle the matter in his own way and in his own time, and he assured the British statesman that the result would be satisfactory to both countries. Sir Edward Grey at once saw that Colonel House's statement of the matter was simply common sense, and expressed his willingness to leave the Panama matter in the President's hands.

Thus, from July 3, 1913, there was a complete understanding between the British Government and the Washington Administration on the question of the tolls. But neither the British nor the American public knew that President Wilson had pledged himself to a policy of repeal. All during the summer and fall of 1913 this matter was as generally discussed in England as was Mexico. Everywhere the Ambassador went---country houses, London dinner tables, the colleges and the clubs---he was constantly confronted with what was universally regarded as America's great breach of faith. How deeply he felt in the matter his letters show.


<P ALIGN=CENTER>To Edward M. House

August 25, 1913.


. . . The English Government and the English people without regard to party---I hear it and feel it everywhere---are of one mind about this: they think we have acted dishonourably. They really think so---it isn't any mere political or diplomatic pretense. We made a bargain, they say, and we have repudiated it. If it were a mere bluff or game or party contention---that would be one thing. We could "bull" it through or live it down. But they look upon it as we look upon the repudiation of a debt by a state. Whatever the arguments by which the state may excuse itself, we never feel the same toward it---never quite so safe about it. They say, "You are a wonderful nation and a wonderful people. We like you. But your Government is not a government of honour. Your honourable men do not seem to get control." You can't measure the damage that this does us. Whatever the United States may propose till this is fixed and forgotten will be regarded with a certain hesitancy. They will not fully trust the honour of our Government. They say, too, "See, you've preached arbitration and you propose peace agreements, and yet you will not arbitrate this: you know you are wrong, and this attitude proves it." Whatever Mr. Hay might or could have done, he made a bargain. The Senate ratified it. We accepted it. Whether it were a good bargain or a bad one, we ought to keep it. The English feeling was shown just the other week when Senator Root received an honourary degree at Oxford.

The thing that gave him fame here was his speech on this treaty.(<A NAME="n49"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#49">49</A>) There is no end of ways in which they show their feeling and conviction.

Now if in the next regular session the President takes a firm stand against the ship subsidy that this discrimination gives, couldn't Congress be carried to repeal this discrimination? For this economic objection also exists.

No Ambassador can do any very large constructive piece of work so long as this suspicion of the honour of our Government exists. Sir Edward Grey will take it up in October or November. If I could say then that the President will exert all his influence for this repeal---that would go far. If, when he takes it up, I can say nothing, it will be practically useless for me to take up any other large plain. This is the most important thing for us on the diplomatic horizon.

. <P ALIGN=CENTER>To the President

Dornoch, Scotland,
September 10, 1913.


I am spending ten or more of the dog days visiting the Englishman and the Scotchman in their proper setting---their country homes---where they show themselves the best of hosts and reveal their real opinions. There are, for example, in the house where I happen to be to-day, the principals of three of the Scotch universities, and a Member of Parliament, and an influential editor.

They have, of course---I mean all the educated folk I meet---the most intelligent interest in American affairs, and they have an unbounded admiration for the American people---their energy, their resourcefulness, their wealth, their economic power and social independence. I think that no people ever really admired and, in a sense, envied another people more. They know we hold the keys of the future.

But they make a sharp distinction between our people and our Government. They are sincere, God-fearing people who speak their convictions. They cite Tammany, the Thaw case, Sulzer, the Congressional lobby, and sincerely regret that a democracy does not seem to be able to justify itself. I am constantly amazed and sometimes dumbfounded at the profound effect that the yellow press (including the American correspondents of the English papers) has had upon the British mind. Here is a most serious journalistic problem, upon which I have already begun to work seriously with some of the editors of the better London papers. But it is more than a journalistic problem. It becomes political. To eradicate this impression will take years of well-planned work. I am going to make this the subject of one of the dozen addresses that I must deliver during the next six months ---"The United States as an Example of Honest and Honourable Government."

And everywhere---in circles the most friendly to us, and the best informed---I receive commiseration because of the dishonourable attitude of our Government about the Panama Canal tolls. This, I confess, is hard to meet. We made a bargain--a solemn compact---and we have broken it. Whether it were a good bargain or a bad one, a silly one or a wise one; that's far from the point. Isn't it? I confess that this bothers me. . . .

And this Canal tolls matter stands in the way of everything. It is in their minds all the time---the minds of all parties and all sections of opinion. They have no respect for Mr. Taft, for they remember that he might have vetoed the bill; and they ask, whenever they dare, what you will do about it. They hold our Government in shame so long as this thing stands.

As for the folly of having made such a treaty---that's now passed. As for our unwillingness to arbitrate it---that's taken as a confession of guilt. . . .

We can command these people, this Government, this tight island, and its world-wide empire; they honour us, they envy us, they see the time near at hand when we shall command the capital and the commerce of the world if we unfetter our mighty people; they wish to keep very close to us. But they are suspicious of our Government because, they contend, it has violated its faith. Is it so or is it not?

Life meantime is brimful of interest; and, despite this reflex result of the English long-blunder with Ireland (how our sins come home to roost), the Great Republic casts its beams across the whole world and I was never so proud to be an American democrat, as I see it light this hemisphere in a thousand ways.

All health and mastery to you!



The story of Sir William Tyrrell's(<A NAME="n50"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#50">50</A>) visit to the White House in November, 1913, has already been told. On this occasion, it will be recalled, not only was an agreement reached on Mexico, but President Wilson also repeated the assurances already given by Colonel House on the repeal of the tolls legislation. Now that Great Britain had accepted the President's leadership in Mexico, the time was approaching when President Wilson might be expected to take his promised stand on Panama tolls. Yet it must be repeated that there had been no definite diplomatic bargain. But Page was exerting all his efforts to establish the best relations between the two countries on the basis of fair dealing and mutual respect. Great Britain had shown her good faith in the Mexican matter; now the turn of the United States had come.


<P ALIGN=CENTER>To the President

London, 6 Grosvenor Square.
January 6, 1914.


We've travelled a long way since this Mexican trouble began---a long way with His Majesty's Government. When your policy was first flung at 'em, they showed at best a friendly incredulity: What! set up a moral standard for government in Mexico? Everybody's mind was fixed merely on the restoring of order---the safety of investments. They thought of course our army would go down in a few weeks. I recall that Sir Edward Grey asked me one day if you would not consult the European governments about the successor to Huerta, speaking of it as a problem that would come up next week. And there was also much unofficial talk about joint intervention.

Well, they've followed a long way. They apologized for Carden (that's what the Prime Minister's speech was); they ordered him to be more prudent. Then the real meaning of concessions began to get into their heads. They took up the dangers that lurked in the Government's contract with Cowdray for oil; and they pulled Cowdray out of Colombia and Nicaragua---granting the application of the Monroe Doctrine to concessions that might imperil a country's autonomy. Then Sir Edward asked me if you would not consult him about such concessions---a long way had been travelled since his other question! Lord Haldane made the Thanksgiving speech that I suggested to him. And now they have transferred Carden. They've done all we asked and more; and, more wonderful yet, they've come to understand what we are driving at.

As this poor world goes, all this seems to me rather handsomely done. At any rate, it's square and it's friendly.

Now in diplomacy, as in other contests, there must be give and take; it's our turn.

If you see your way clear, it would help the Liberal Government (which needs help) and would be much appreciated if, before February 10th, when Parliament meets, you could say a public word friendly to our keeping the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty---on the tolls. You only, of course, can judge whether you would be justified in doing so. I presume only to assure you of the most excellent effect it would have here. If you will pardon me for taking a personal view of it, too, I will say that such an expression would cap the climax of the enormously heightened esteem and great respect in which recent events and achievements have caused you to be held here. It would put the English of all parties in the happiest possible mood toward you for whatever subsequent dealings may await us. It was as friendly a man as Kipling who said to me the night I spent with him: "You know your great Government, which does many great things greatly, does not lie awake o' nights to keep its promises."

It's our turn next, whenever you see your way clear.

Most heartily yours,



<P ALIGN=CENTER>From Edward M. House

145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
January 24, 1914.


I was with the President for twenty-four hours and we went over everything thoroughly.

He decided to call the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to the White House on Monday and tell them of his intentions regarding Panama tolls. We discussed whether it would be better to see some of them individually, or to take them collectively. It was agreed that the latter course was better. It was decided, however, to have Senator Jones poll the Senate in order to find just how it stood before getting the Committee together.

The reason for this quick action was in response to your letter urging that something be done before the 10th of February. . . .

Faithfully yours,



On March 5th the President made good his promise by going before Congress and asking the two Houses to repeal that clause in the Panama legislation which granted preferential treatment to American coastwise shipping. The President's address was very brief and did not discuss the matter in the slightest detail. Mr. Wilson made the question one simply of national honour. The exemption, he said, clearly violated the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty and there was nothing left to do but to set the matter right. The part of the President's address that aroused the greatest interest was the conclusion:

"I ask this of you in support of the foreign policy of the Administration. I shall not know how to deal with other matters of even greater delicacy and nearer consequence, if you do not grant it to me in ungrudging measure."

The impression that this speech made upon the statesman who then presided over the British Foreign office is evident from the following letter that he wrote to the Ambassador in Washington.


<P ALIGN=CENTER>Sir Edward Grey to Sir C. Spring Rice

Foreign Office,
March 13, 1914.


In the course of a conversation with the American Ambassador to-day, I took the opportunity of saying how much I had been struck by President Wilson's Message to Congress about the Panama Canal tolls.

When I read it, it struck me that, whether it succeeded or failed in accomplishing the President's object, it was something to the good of public life, for it helped to lift public life to a higher plane and to strengthen its morale.

I am, &c.,



Two days after his appearance before Congress the President wrote to his Ambassador:


<P ALIGN=CENTER>From the President

The White House, Washington,
March 7, 1914.


I have your letters of the twenty-second and twenty fourth of February and I thank you for them most warmly. Happily, things are clearing up a little in the matters which have embarrassed our relations with Great Britain, and I hope that the temper of public opinion is in fact changing there, as it seems to us from this distance to be changing.

Your letters are a lamp to my feet. I feel as I read that their analysis is searching and true.

Things over here go on a tolerably even keel. The prospect at this moment for the repeal of the tolls exemption is very good indeed. I am beginning to feel a considerable degree of confidence that the repeal will go through, and the Press of the country is certainly standing by me in great shape.

My thoughts turn to you very often with gratitude and affectionate regard. If there is ever at any time anything specific you want to learn, pray do not hesitate to ask it of me directly, if you think best.

Carden was here the other day and I spent an hour with him, but I got not even a glimpse of his mind. I showed him all of mine that he cared to see.

With warmest regards from us all,

Faithfully yours,



The debate which now took place in Congress proved to be one of the stormiest in the history of that body. The proceeding did not prove to be the easy victory that the Administration had evidently expected. The struggle was protracted for three months; and it signalized Mr. Wilson's first serious conflict with the Senate---that same Senate which was destined to play such a vexatious and destructive role in his career. At this time, however, Mr. Wilson had reached the zenith of his control over the law-making bodies. It was early in his Presidential term, and in these early days Senators are likely to be careful about quarrelling with the White House---especially the Senators who are members of the President's political party. In this struggle, moreover, Mr. Wilson had the intelligence and the character of the Senate largely on his side, though, strangely enough, his strongest supporters were Republicans and his bitterest opponents were Democrats. Senator Root, Senator Burton, Senator Lodge, Senator Kenyon, Senator McCumber, all Republicans, day after day and week after week upheld the national honour; while Senators O'Gorman, Chamberlain, Vardaman, and Reed, all members of the President's party, just as persistently led the fight for the baser cause. The debate inspired an outburst of Anglophobia which was most distressing to the best friends of the United States and Great Britain. The American press, as a whole, honoured itself by championing the President, but certain newspapers made the debate an occasion for unrestrained abuse of Great Britain, and of any one who believed that the United States should treat that nation honestly. The Hearst organs, in cartoon and editorial page, shrieked against the ancient enemy. All the well-known episodes and characters in American history---Lexington, Bunker Hill, John Paul Jones, Washington, and Franklin---were paraded as arguments against the repeal of an illegal discrimination. Petitions from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other Irish societies were showered upon Congress---in almost unending procession they clogged the pages of the Congressional Record, public meetings were held in New York and elsewhere denouncing an administration that disgraced the country by "truckling" to Great Britain. The President was accused of seeking an Anglo-American Alliance and of sacrificing American shipping to the glory of British trade., while the history of our diplomatic relations was surveyed in detail for the purpose of proving that Great Britain had broken every treaty she had ever made. In the midst of this deafening hubbub the quiet voice of Senator McCumber---"we are too big in national power to be too little in national integrity"---and that of Senator Root, demolishing one after another the pettifogging arguments of the exemptionists, demonstrated that, after all, the spirit and the eloquence that had given the Senate its great fame were still influential forces in that body.

In all this excitement, Page himself came in for his share of hard knocks. Irish meetings "resolved" against the Ambassador as a statesman who "looks on English claims as superior to American rights," and demanded that President Wilson recall him. It has been the fate of practically every American ambassador to Great Britain to be accused of Anglomania. Lowell, John Hay, and Joseph H. Choate fell under the ban of those elements in American life who seem to think that the main duty of an American diplomat in Great Britain is to insult the country of which he has become the guest. In 1895 the House of Representatives solemnly passed a resolution censuring Ambassador Thomas F. Bayard for a few sentiments friendly to Great Britain which he had uttered at a public banquet. That Page was no undiscriminating idolater of Great Britain these letters have abundantly revealed. That he had the profoundest respect for the British character and British institutions, has been made just as clear. With Page this was no sudden enthusiasm; the conviction that British conceptions of liberty and government and British ideals of life represented the fine flower of human progress was one that he felt deeply. The fact that these fundamentals had had the opportunity of even freer development in America he regarded as most fortunate both for the United States and for the world. He had never concealed his belief that the destinies of mankind depended more upon the friendly cooperation of the United States and Great Britain than upon any other single influence. He had preached this in public addresses, and in his writings for twenty-five years preceding his mission to Great Britain. But the mere fact that he should hold such convictions and presume to express them as American Ambassador apparently outraged those same elements in this country who railed against Great Britain in this Panama Tolls debate.

On August 16, 1913, the City of Southampton, England, dedicated a monument in honour of the Mayflower Pilgrims---Southampton having been their original point of departure for Massachusetts. Quite appropriately the city invited the American Ambassador to deliver an address on this occasion; and quite appropriately the Ambassador acknowledged the debt that Americans of to-day owed to the England that had sent these adventurers to lay the foundations of new communities on foreign soil. Yet certain historic truths embodied in this very beautiful and eloquent address aroused considerable anger in certain parts of the United States. "Blood," said the Ambassador, "carries with it that particular trick of thought which makes us all English in the last resort. . . . And Puritan and Pilgrim and Cavalier, different yet, are yet one in that they are English still. And thus, despite the fusion of races and of the great contributions of other nations to her 100 millions of people and to her incalculable wealth, the United States is yet English-led and English-ruled." This was merely a way of phrasing a great historic truth---that overwhelmingly the largest element in the American population is British in origin(<A NAME="n51"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#51">51</A>); that such vital things as its speech and its literature are English; and that our political institutions, our liberty, our law, our conceptions of morality and of life are similarly derived from the British Isles. Page applied the word "English" to Americans in the same sense in which that word is used by John Richard Green, when he traces the history of the English race from a German forest to the Mississippi Valley and the wilds of Australia. But the anti-British elements on this side of the water, taking "English-led and English-ruled" out of its context, misinterpreted the phrase as meaning that the American Ambassador had approvingly called attention to the fact that the United States was at present under the political control of Great Britain! Senator Chamberlain of Oregon presented a petition from the Staatsverband Deutschsprechender Vereine von Oregon, demanding the Ambassador's removal, While the Irish-American press and politicians became extremely vocal.

Animated as was this outburst, it was mild compared with the excitement caused by a speech that Page made while the Panama debate was raging in Congress. At a dinner of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, in early March, the Ambassador made a few impromptu remarks. The occasion was one of good fellowship and good humour, and Page, under the inspiration of the occasion, indulged in a few half-serious, half-jocular references to the Panama Canal and British-American good-feeling, which, when inaccurately reported, caused a great disturbance in the England-baiting press. "I would not say that we constructed the Panama Canal even for you," he said, "for I am speaking with great frankness and not with diplomatic indirection. We built it for reasons of our own. But I will say that it adds to the pleasure of that great work that you will profit by it. You will profit most by it, for you have the greatest carrying trade." A few paragraphs on the Monroe Doctrine, which practically repeated President Wilson's Mobile speech on that subject, but in which Mr. Page used the expression, "we prefer that European Powers shall acquire no more territory on this continent," alarmed those precisians in language, who pretended to believe that the Ambassador had used the word "prefer" in its literal sense, and interpreted the sentence to mean that, while the United States would "prefer" that Europe should not overrun North and South America, it would really raise no serious objection if Europe did so.

Senator Chamberlain of Oregon, who by this time had apparently become the Senatorial leader of the anti-Page propaganda, introduced a resolution demanding that the Ambassador furnish the Senate a complete copy of this highly pro-British outgiving. The copy was furnished forthwith---and with that the tempest subsided.


<P ALIGN=CENTER>To the President

American Embassy, London,
March 18, 1914.


About this infernal racket in the Senate over my poor speech, I have telegraphed you all there is to say. Of course, it was a harmless courtesy---no bowing low to the British or any such thing---as it was spoken and heard. Of course, too, nothing would have been said about it but for the controversy over the Canal tolls. That was my mistake---in being betrayed by the friendly dinner and the high compliments paid to us into mentioning a subject under controversy.

I am greatly distressed lest possibly it may embarrass you. I do hope not.

I think I have now learned that lesson pretty thoroughly. These Anglophobiacs---Irish and Panama---hound me wherever I go. I think I told you of one of their correspondents, who one night got up and yawned at a public dinner as soon as I had spoken and said to his neighbours: "Well, I'll go, the Ambassador didn't say anything that I can get him into trouble about."

I shall, hereafter, write out my speeches and have them gone over carefully by my little Cabinet of Secretaries. Yet something (perhaps not much) will be lost. For these people are infinitely kind and friendly and courteous.

They cannot be driven by anybody to do anything, but they can be led by us to do anything---by the use of spontaneous courtesy. It is by spontaneous courtesy that I have achieved whatever I have achieved, and it is for this that those like me who do like me. Of course, what some of the American newspapers have said is true ---that I am too free and too untrained to be a great Ambassador. But the conventional type of Ambassador would not be worth his salt to represent the United States here now, when they are eager to work with us for the peace of the world, if they are convinced of our honour and right-mindedness and the genuineness of our friendship.

I talked this over with Sir Edward Grey the other day, and after telling me that I need fear no trouble at this end of the line, he told me how severely he is now criticized by a "certain element" for "bowing too low to the Americans." We then each bowed low to the other. The yellow press and Chamberlain would give a year's growth for a photograph of us in that posture!

I am infinitely obliged to you for your kind understanding and your toleration of my errors.

Yours always heartily,


To the President.

P. S. The serious part of the speech---made to convince the financial people, who are restive about Mexico, that we do not mean to forbid legitimate investments in Central America---has had a good effect here. I have received the thanks of many important men.

W. H. P.

. <P ALIGN=CENTER>From the President

The White House, Washington,
March 25, 1914.


Thank you for your little note of March thirteenth.(<A NAME="n52"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#52">52</A>)

You may be sure that none of us who knew you or read the speech felt anything but admiration for it. It is very astonishing to me how some Democrats in the Senate themselves bring these artificial difficulties on the Administration, and it distresses me not a little. Mr. Bryan read your speech yesterday to the Cabinet, who greatly enjoyed it. It was at once sent to the Senate and I hope will there be given out for publication in full.

I want you to feel constantly how I value the intelligent and effective work you are doing in London. I do not know what I should do without you.

The fight is on now about the tolls, but I feel perfectly confident of winning in the matter, though there is not a little opposition in Congress---more in the House, it strangely turns out, where a majority of the Democrats originally voted against the exemption, than in the Senate, where a majority of the Democrats voted for it. The vicissitudes of politics are certainly incalculable.

With the warmest regard, in necessary haste,

Cordially and faithfully yours,


American Embassy,
London, England.

. <P ALIGN=CENTER>To the President

American Embassy, London,
March 2, 1914.


I have read in the newspapers here that, after you had read my poor, unfortunate speech, you remarked to callers that you regarded it as proper. I cannot withhold this word of affectionate thanks.

I do not agree with you, heartily as I thank you. The speech itself, in the surroundings and the atmosphere, was harmless and was perfectly understood. But I ought not to have been betrayed into forgetting that the subject was about to come up for fierce discussion in Congress. . . .

Of course, I know that the whole infernal thing is cooked up to beat you, if possible. But that is the greater reason why you must win. I am willing to be sacrificed, if that will help---for forgetting the impending row or for any reason you will.

I suppose we've got to go through such a struggle to pull our Government and our people up to an understanding of our own place in the world---a place so high and big and so powerful that all the future belongs to us. From an economic point of view, we are the world; and from a political point of view also. How any man who sees this can have any feeling but pity for the Old World, passes understanding. Our role is to treat it most courteously and to make it respect our character---nothing more. Time will do the rest.

I congratulate you most heartily on the character of most of your opposition---the wild Irish (they must be sat upon some time, why not now?), the Clark(<A NAME="n53"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#53">53</A>) crowd (characteristically making a stand on a position of dishonour), the Hearst press, and demagogues generally. I have confidence in the people.

This stand is necessary to set us right before the world, to enable us to build up an influential foreign policy, to make us respected and feared, and to make the Democratic Party the party of honour, and to give it the best reason to live and to win.

May I make a suggestion?

The curiously tenacious hold that Anglophobia has on a certain class of our people---might it not be worth your while to make, at some convenient time and in some natural way, a direct attack on it---in a letter to someone. which could be published, or in some address, or possibly in a statement to a Senate committee, which could be given to the press? Say how big and strong and sure-of-the-future we are; so big that we envy nobody, and that those who have Anglophobia or any Europe-phobia are the only persons who "truckle" to any foreign folk or power; that in this tolls-fight all the Continental governments are a unit; that we respect them all, fear none, have no favours, except proper favours among friendly nations, to ask of anybody; and that the idea of a "trade" with England for holding off in Mexico is (if you will excuse my French) a common gutter lie.

This may or may not be wise; but you will forgive me for venturing to suggest it. It is we who are the proud and erect and patriotic Americans, fearing nobody; but the other fellows are fooling some of the people in making them think that they are.

Yours most gratefully,


To the President.

. <P ALIGN=CENTER>From the President

The White House, Washington,
April 2, 1914.


Please do not distress yourself about that speech. I think with you that it was a mistake to touch upon that matter while it was right hot, because any touch would be sure to burn the finger; but as for the speech itself, I would be willing to subscribe to every bit of it myself, and there can be no rational objection to it. We shall try to cool the excited persons on this side of the water and I think nothing further will come of it. In the meantime, pray realize how thoroughly and entirely you are enjoying my confidence and admiration.

Your letter about Cowdray and Murray was very illuminating and will be very serviceable to me. I have come to see that the real knowledge of the relations between countries in matters of public policy is to be gained at country houses and dinner tables, and not in diplomatic correspondence; in brief, that when we know the men and the currents of opinion, we know more than foreign ministers can tell us; and your letters give me, in a thoroughly dignified way, just the sidelights that are necessary to illuminate the picture. I am heartily obliged to you.

All unite with me in the warmest regards as always.

In haste,

Faithfully yours,


American Embassy,

London, England.

A note of a conversation with Sir Edward Grey touches the same point:

"April 1, 1914. Sir Edward Grey recalled to me to-day that he had waited for the President to take up the Canal tolls controversy at his convenience. 'When he took it up at his own time to suit his own plans, he took it up in the most admirable way possible.' This whole story is too good to be lost. If the repeal of the tolls clause passes the Senate, I propose to make a speech in the House of Commons on 'The Proper Way for Great Governments to Deal with One Another,' and use this experience.

"Sir Edward also spoke of being somewhat 'depressed' by the fierce opposition to the President on the tolls question---the extent of Anglophobia in the United States.

"Here is a place for a campaign of education---Chautauqua and whatnot.

"The amount of Anglophobia is great. But I doubt if it be as great as it seems; for it is organized and is very vociferous. If you collected together or thoroughly organized all the people in the United States who have birthmarks on their faces, you'd

be 'depressed' by the number of them."

Nothing could have more eloquently proved the truth of this last remark than the history of this Panama bill itself. After all the politicians in the House and Senate had filled pages of the Congressional Record with denunciations of Great Britain---most of it intended for the entertainment of Irish-Americans and German-Americans in the constituencies---the two Houses proceeded to the really serious business of voting. The House quickly passed the bill by 216 to 71, and the Senate by 50 to 35. Apparently the amount of Anglophobia was not portentous, when it came to putting this emotion to the test of counting heads. The bill went at once to the President, was signed---and the dishonour was atoned for.

Mr. and Mrs. Page were attending a ball in Buckingham Palace when the great news reached London. The gathering represented all that was most distinguished in the official and diplomatic life of the British capital. The word was rapidly passed from guest to guest, and the American Ambassador and his wife soon found themselves the centre of a company which could hardly restrain itself in expressing its admiration for the United States. Never in the history of the country had American prestige stood so high as on that night. The King and the Prime Minister were especially affected by this display of fair-dealing in Washington. The slight commercial advantage which Great Britain had obtained was not the thought that was uppermost in every body's mind. The thing that really moved these assembled statesmen and diplomats was the fact that some thing new had appeared in the history of legislative chambers. A great nation had committed an outrageous wrong---that was something that had happened many times before in all countries. But the unprecedented thing was that this same nation had exposed its fault boldly to the world---had lifted up its hands and cried, "We have sinned!" and then had publicly undone its error. Proud as Page had always been of his country, that moment was perhaps the most triumphant in his life. The action of Congress emphasized all that he had been saying of the ideals of the United States, and gave point to his arguments that justice and honour and right, and not temporary selfish interest, should control the foreign policy of any nation which really claimed to be enlightened. The general feeling of Great Britain was perhaps best expressed by the remark made to Mrs. Page, on this occasion, by Lady D-----:

"The United States has set a high standard for all nations to live up to. I don't believe that there is any other nation that would have done it."

One significant feature of this great episode was the act of Congress in accepting the President's statement that the repeal of the Panama discrimination was a necessary preliminary to the success of American foreign policy. Mr. Wilson's declaration, that, unless this legislation should be repealed, he would not "know how to deal with other matters of even greater delicacy and nearer consequence" had puzzled Congress and the country. The debates show the keenest curiosity as to what the President had in mind. The newspapers turned the matter over and over, without obtaining any clew to the mystery. Some thought that the President had planned to intervene in Mexico, and that the tolls legislation was the consideration demanded by Great Britain for a free hand in this matter. But this correspondence has already demolished that theory. Others thought that Japan was in some way I involved---but that explanation also failed to satisfy.

Congress accepted the President's statement trustfully and blindly, and passed the asked-for legislation. Up to the present moment this passage in the Presidential message has been unexplained. Page's papers, however, disclose what seems to be a satisfactory solution to the mystery They show that the President and Colonel House and Page were at this time engaged in a negotiation of the utmost importance. At the very time that the tolls bill was under discussion Colonel House was making arrangements for a visit to Great Britain, France, and Germany, the purpose of which was to bring these nations to some kind of an understanding that would prevent a European war. This evidently was the great business that could not be disclosed at the time and for which the repeal of the tolls legislation was the necessary preliminary.

<p align="right"> WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > Walter H. Page > Chapter VIII