- Historic Sites
He wanted only what every journalist of the time did: an exclusive interview with the Duke of Windsor. What he got was an astonishing proposition that sent him on an urgent top-secret visit to the White House and a once-in-a-lifetime story that was too hot to print—until now.
December 1991 | Volume 42, Issue 8
Finally he came to the point. Drury said, “Would you enter into a Machiavellian conspiracy?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Will you see your President and tell him these things?”
I said, “Yes.”
Drury said, “Tell Mr. Roosevelt that if he will make an offer of intervention for peace, that before any one in England can oppose it, the Duke of Windsor will instantly issue a statement supporting it and that will start a revolution in England and force peace.”
That was the message he asked me to carry to the President of the United States. He said he was perfectly well aware that if I were to print anything of what the Duke had said that the lid would be blown off the British Empire.
I told him that I was perfectly well aware of that when the Duke was speaking but that the secret was safe with me.
He then explained to me that when the request came from one of the President’s secretaries for the interview that the British Embassy in Washington had written them, the Duke and Drury, that I was believed not to be friendly to the British cause. Drury had replied that he could not understand how the President could allow one of his secretaries to ask for such an interview if that were true. The British Embassy had then replied that they had further investigated the matter and found it was not so. Drury said that they had never believed it was so but had raised this question because they did not want the Duke to talk to Americans. The amazing part to me was that what had seemed to recommend me to the Duke was the suspicion that I was not friendly to Great Britain. This threw some added light on the attitude of the Colonial Secretary. He was opposed to this interview and that was why in the Duke’s absence he had snubbed me. The Duke’s prompt reception of me had thrown the Colonial Secretary into confusion.
Drury finally left and I went off to lunch with Grace and the Taussigs at the Victoria Hotel. When I separated from Captain Drury he warned me to be very careful when I wrote to him not to be explicit; he would understand guarded references. Back at the hotel again to pack I had another call from Captain Drury. He wanted to tell me that the Duke looked forward to writing articles for Liberty a little later on. This was the first thing that smacked of a bribe in the whole transaction, and perhaps it was not that at all.
We flew back to Miami, had dinner at the Macfadden Deauville Hotel and I told Mr. Macfadden the whole story.…He said he was god dammed if I wasn’t the god damndest journalist ever born, and he recognized the fact that I carried around in my bosom the greatest news story on earth. Was I going to call on the President?
I said yes, but that I would not stop off at Washington; that would be too obvious. I would go to New York and try to make the appointment from there.
We left Miami that night at eleven fifty-nine and arrived at La Guardia Field the next morning. We spent Saturday quietly in New York, and on Sunday Grace and April left for Sandalwood [our home in Cape Cod].
I telephoned the White House and talked with Grace Tully. I asked her to ask Missy to try to make an appointment for me with the President. I received a call from Missy. The President would see me. On Sunday night [December 22] I left on the train for Washington.
At ten-thirty [on the morning of December 23] I presented myself at the White House. I had been told not to go to the executive offices but to go to the front door like any tourist. I did this and waited in the red room for about fifteen minutes. Then I was taken upstairs to the oval study where I had spent so many hours with the President and found him entirely alone with his new little Scottie dog. He was very friendly, asked all about April and her school, about which he seemed to be well informed. Finally we settled down for a talk, and I began as follows:
“Mr. President, I am perfectly aware that there is more than a slight air of the preposterous about what I have to tell you, but it is all factual. It all happened and I think it is my duty to report it to you.”
Here the President interrupted. “Fulton,” he said, “nothing can surprise me these days. Nothing will seem too fantastic. Why do you know,” he went on earnestly, but with a very cunning, cousining [sic] smile, “why do you know that I am amazed to find some of the greatest people in the British Empire, men of the so-called upper classes, men of the highest rank, secretly want to appease Hitler and stop the war?”
I gasped. It was perfectly apparent that agents of the Colonial Secretary had been listening to what the Duke had said and to what Drury had said to me, and that this report had been sent to the British Embassy and the embassy had sent it to Roosevelt. Roosevelt knew exactly what I had come to tell him before I opened my mouth.
He went on. “I call these people ignorant, uneducated. They are well schooled but they don’t understand. Do you know who is carrying on the war in England today? Not the upper classes but the laboring man. I don’t mean the organized labor. I mean all men who work with their hands. They know their government may compromise between ideals. Now, go on Fulton, and tell me what you have to say.”