- Historic Sites
Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson
The great tragedy of the twenty-eighth President as witnessed by his loyal lieutenant, the thirty-first
June 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 4
A few days after the President had received this memorandum, he requested me to call on him to discuss the Treaty situation. I was, perhaps, overemphatic that we join with Lloyd George although I intended no personal criticism of Mr. Wilson. The President appeared to be a very tired man. He interrupted me sharply with the startling information that “Lloyd George will not stand up against Clemenceau despite what he says.” I agreed that if this were the case, and the Germans signed the Treaty, then he must sign or there would be chaos over the whole earth.
Bernard Baruch later informed me that to satisfy the urgings of the Americans, the President (accompanied by Baruch) called upon Lloyd George and stated flatly that the Americans would go to any length to accept German amendments which the British would also accept. But inasmuch as he had in the first place opposed these very inclusions in the Treaty, which Lloyd George now proposed to amend, and as the British Prime Minister had sided with Clemenceau, he (the President) insisted that Lloyd George first obtain Clemenceau’s agreement.
Mr. Wilson has been blamed because he did not get more revisions in the Peace Treaty when the British recantation gave him the opportunity. This is obviously unjust.
The Old Tiger refused to budge.
The President concluded that the men and forces which dominated Europe could not be surmounted at this time, that the world must be saved from chaos by signing the Treaty and that there was hope that its wrongs could be cured in time by the League.
On June 16, the German Delegation was given the Allied reply to their demands with an ultimatum to sign within five days.
Certain concessions were made to the Germans, principally as to plebiscites, in the areas designated for transfer to Denmark, Belgium, and Upper Silesia.
The other modifications were minor, and an assurance was given that with good conduct Germany could become a member of the League. …
The German Delegation at Versailles refused to sign and took the train for Weimar to inform the German Ministry. They arrived in Weimar on June 19. Count Brockdorff-Rantzau recommended that the Treaty not be signed.
Chancellor Scheidemann and six members of the Ministry resigned on June 20, refusing to be a party to the Treaty. A new and weak ministry sent two obscure persons to sign. But history has proved that with the threat of starvation and Foch’s army pointed at them, the Germans signed with the belief that the Treaty would fall of its own weight, especially if they gave it systematic pushes.
On Saturday, June 28, we all went to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to witness the signing by thirtytwo nations. General Smuts signed the Treaty as a British delegate and at the same time issued a press statement denouncing it and demanding revision.
I took satisfaction in the great spiritual lift the ceremony gave to the French people, as it was in this same Hall nearly fifty years before where they had been ruthlessly humiliated by the Germans. But I had difficulty in keeping my mind on the ceremony. It was constantly traveling over the fearful consequences of many of the paragraphs which these men were signing with such pomp, and then going back to the high hopes with which I had landed in Europe eight months before. I did not come away exultant.
Before we leave the European scene I should record the unfriendly and cynical attitudes of the European leaders toward Mr. Wilson, his ideals and principles. There can be no doubt that, despite his efforts to ignore them, these emotions contributed greatly to his many ordeals and to his final tragedy.
The minutes of the Allied meetings and the statements made by the Allied leaders, published years later, reveal clearly the smoldering enmity toward the President and his “basis of peace.” …
In his book, The Truth about the Peace Treaties , Lloyd George expresses his personal attitude toward Mr. Wilson, and at the same time reveals some of Clemenceau’s attitudes: Clemenceau followed his movements [Wilson’s] like an old watchdog keeping an eye on a strange and unwelcome dog who has visited the farmyard and of whose intentions he is more than doubtful. …
I really think that at first the idealistic President regarded himself as a missionary whose function it was to rescue the poor European heathen from their age-long worship of false and fiery gods. He was apt to address us in that vein, beginning with a few simple and elementary truths about right being more important than might, and justice being more eternal than force. … They [the Allies] were therefore impatient at having little sermonettes delivered to them, full of rudimentary sentences about things which they had fought for years to vindicate when the President was proclaiming that he was too proud to fight for them. …
… He was the most extraordinary compound I have ever encountered of the noble visionary, the implacable and unscrupulous partisan, the exalted idealist and the man of rather petty personal rancours.
Other British leaders who were skeptical or downright opposed to the President included Mr. Balfour, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lord Curzon, Walter Long and Winston Churchill—all members of the British Cabinet.
Mr. Churchill, in his book, The Aftermath , is most bitter toward Mr. Wilson, saying: The American peace argosy wended on across the waters bearing a man who had not only to encounter the moral obliquity of Europe, but to produce world salvation in a form acceptable to political enemies whom he had deeply and newly offended. Upon him centered the hopes of the world. Before him lay the naughty entanglements of Paris; and behind him, the sullen veto of the Senate.