Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson


When Admiral Grayson came in the President said: “Grayson, I wish you would send word to Captain McCauley that I want the George Washington put in shape at once for my return home as soon as you think it is safe for me to make the trip.”

… However, the President’s aides in Paris all felt that before taking any such abrupt step as withdrawing the American Delegation there must be vigorous clarification by the President of the failure of the Allies to make the Treaty along the lines to which they had agreed on November 4, 1918. The White House Secretary, Joseph P. Tumulty, in Washington, had the same reaction, and on April 9 cabled the President through Admiral Grayson: The ordering of the George Washington to return to France looked upon here as an act of impatience and petulance on the President’s part and not accepted here in good grace by either friends or foes. It is considered as an evidence that the President intends to leave the Conference if his views are not accepted. I think this method of withdrawal most unwise and fraught with the most dangerous possibilities here and abroad, because it puts upon the President the responsibility of withdrawing when the President should by his own act place the responsibility for a break of the Conference where it properly belongs. …

I, too, made a suggestion for bringing [the Allies] to their senses. In a note of mine to the President on April 11 in connection with other subjects, I said: It grows upon me daily that the United States is the one great moral reserve in the world today and that we cannot maintain the independence of action through which this reserve is to be sustained if we allow ourselves to be dragged into detailed European entanglements over a period of years.

In my view, if the Allies cannot be brought to adopt peace on the basis of the Fourteen Points, we should retire from Europe lock, stock and barrel, and we should lend to the whole world our economic and moral strength, or the world will swim in a sea of misery and disaster worse than the Dark Ages. If they cannot be brought to accept peace on this basis, our national honor is at stake and we should have to make peace independently and retire.

… However, the President decided to try it again with the Big Four. As to this, Ray Stannard Baker writes: But the days from April 9 onward were not happy days for any of the negotiators, least of all for Wilson. …

Today, when I went into his study, he looked old and worn. Things are not going well. He had two conferences of the Big Four today, and the League of Nations Commission last evening until midnight. …

I discuss later what took place during the ensuing weeks, but I may recount here a development which began the day after the President resumed his Big Four conferences, for it provides light on the attitudes of his Allied colleagues and on subsequent events.

In the sessions of the Big Four, on April 10 the Italians contended that the territories allotted to them for annexation in the secret Pact of London were not sufficient recognition of their needs. They set up a demand for Fiume and a larger part of Dalmatia.

The President had never agreed to the secret Treaty of London and this expansion was a blatant violation of his principles. His efforts to persuade Prime Minister Orlando had no effect and, at a session of the Big Four on April 19, Lloyd George and Clemenceau agreed with the President and promised that if he brought the matter into the open by denouncing the Italian claims they would publicly support him. He did so on April 23 with an elaborate and eloquent statement denying the Italian demands.


Mrs. Wilson, in her Memoir , gives the best account of this incident under date of April 19, 1919: Italy’s great grievance was Fiume. Mr. Wilson had steadfastly refused to give this port to Italy, on the ground that, by right of nationality, it belonged to the new Jugo-Slav State. France and England concurred, but let Wilson do most of the fighting. On a Saturday Orlando, Clemenceau, Balfour and my husband met at our house for a final discussion. Orlando remained obdurate in his opposition to the other three. …

The Italian Delegation withdrew from the Conference on April 25 and on its return to Italy there were many fiery speeches denouncing the President. The Italian people tore down their tributes to Mr. Wilson and burned him in effigy. However, Prime Minister Orlando did not engage in criticism of the President.

Tumulty had sent a message of approval to the President. In Mr. Wilson’s reply is this sentence: “The difficulties here would have been incredible to me before I got here.” But the President was to meet with an ordeal even more serious.

The President’s ordeal of compromise

Within two weeks after recovery from his illness, President Wilson found himself in deep troubles besides those with the Italians. By their withdrawal from the Conference it was presumed they would neither sign the Treaty nor join the League.

The Japanese were quick to see the President’s difficulties and demanded immediate agreement to their assumption of the German rights in Shantung Province in China, which had been arranged in their secret treaty with the British and French. They implied that they, too, would withdraw from the Conference if their claims were not met.

The Germans had been invited by the Big Four to be in Paris on April 28—presumably to receive the peace terms. The whole world was expecting the signing of the peace.

In the latter part of April, the President, being faced with pressures from every quarter, began to compromise all along the line for the best terms he could obtain in order to rescue the League.