Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson


Back in Paris, the President at once put into action his idea, expressed on the George Washington , of direct and secret negotiations between himself and the Prime Ministers with no one present but interpreters. This now became the Supreme Council, or the Big Four. The sessions lasted for many hours each day and Colonel House was not included at this time. The records of these conversations are very imperfect, and different versions do not agree. In any event, Woodrow Wilson went into battle for his ideas.

Unfortunately by the secrecy of these discussions the President had disarmed himself of his greatest weapon—appeal to the great world public that regarded him as the rightful leader of the crusade for the emancipation of mankind. The President up to this time certainly had not fully realized the dynamism of European emotions which controlled their statesmen, nor the age-old forces which dominated them.

On March 25 Lloyd George issued a long memorandum demanding a treaty of moderation with Germany. The “moderation” lay mostly in an insistence that there should be no dismemberment of Germany and in modest reparations. He advocated a “guiding principle” that in all states so far as humanly possible the different races should be unified, thus excluding many annexations by the new Eastern European states of the territory of other races. Lloyd George also described the many dangers of the spread of Bolshevism. He advocated early admission of Germany to the League and that the United States should join in a military alliance with Britain and France, guaranteeing France against future German aggression.

On March 31 André Tardieu, Clemenceau’s man Friday, drew up Clemenceau’s answer to these proposals, representing the French point of view. In his book he states that he pointed out that Germany had already surrendered all of her navy, a large part of her merchant ships, all of her colonies, and her foreign markets. He denounced “appeasement” of Germany; favored the strengthening of the small states by inclusion of Germans; advocated the reduction of the size of the German state to military impotency; and pointed out that otherwise the future security of France would be jeopardized.

Nowhere in these documents was there any reference to the “Fourteen Points and the subsequent addresses.” Nowhere does Tardieu mention the League of Nations. Parts of these “secret” documents appeared in the press and it became obvious that the terms of the treaty with Germany were to be dictated by the “Old Tiger.”


This intrepid old Frenchman personified all the emotions and sufferings of the French people. Twice in his lifetime he had witnessed German hobnailed boots on French soil. Constantly in his mind’s eye were German brutalities, destroyed French homes, the dead and injured, the widows and orphans. In this last aggression the Germans had left behind about 1,400,000 French dead and 740,000 seriously wounded and they had taken 400,000 French prisoners. The Old Tiger had no confidence that Germany had gone through any spiritual transformation either by defeat or by the Reichstag revolution against the Kaiser and the militarist group. Nor did he have any faith in President Wilson or his “Fourteen Points and the subsequent addresses.”

On April 3, after about two weeks of this malignant atmosphere, the President’s doctor, Admiral Grayson, announced that Mr. Wilson had a severe attack of influenza and would be out of action for some days, and that Colonel House would take his place in the meetings of the Big Four. The President’s trouble was not the flu but a much more painful matter, being an infection of the prostate and bladder. I am able to make this statement on the authority of Dr. Albert R. Lamb, who, although not Mr. Wilson’s doctor, was physician to the American Mission and in constant contact with Admiral Grayson.∗

∗ This was given to me in a personal communication on July 4, 1957.

Some historians have contended that this illness impaired his clarity of mind and his vitality. Some even consider his stroke five months later as being connected with it.

I do not accept these views. This record will show that his subordinates transacted many important measures after this time. But though he was a very tired man, his mind and judgment were clear. He was sometimes impatient, which I could readily understand. In my world of smaller responsibilities, I sometimes reached the point when I could almost bite the devoted men of my own staff.

Mrs. Wilson herself, in her Memoir , gives the best account of the stirring events that came in the wake of her husband’s illness: Under this terrific strain of work and anxiety a more robust man might have broken. But had not a severe attack of grippe laid him low the fight would have gone on without respite. When the dread disease struck there was little reserve to fight with. He was too ill to rise from his bed. …

More days of tense anxiety. Getting better, the President insisted on knowing what had gone forward while he had been incapacitated. Alas, his absence had been taken advantage of again. The news that came to him was so grave we trembled for the effect on him. But the spirit was stronger than the flesh, and instead of causing a relapse it stiffened his will. Silently I sat beside his bed, knowing that he was formulating his course. At length he said: “I can never sign a Treaty made on these lines, and if all the rest of the delegates have determined on this, I will not be a party to it. If I have lost my fight, which I would not have done had I been on my feet, I will retire in good order; so we will go home. Call Grayson for me, please.”