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Part III: The Rationing System and the American Embargo   (cont'd.)

Chapter 28: American Policy During the Year 1916

The hardening temper of the British administration. – The state of the public controversy at the end of the year 1915. – The debates in congress show that the party leaders were disinclined to interfere with the blockade of Germany. – The president opens negotiations for slacking down economic warfare in order to prepare for his mediation later; his conflict with congress. – Why Anglo-American relations deteriorated after the Sussex controversy. – American suspicions about the allied economic conferences during the spring and summer of 1916. – American accusations about the interception and censoring of neutral mails; anger at the British black lists. – The retaliatory legislation passed by congress during the last days of the session.

The toleration that the neutral governments of Europe granted to the rationing system, and all that it implied, is of small importance when compared with the toleration granted by the United States; for our whole system of economic warfare was stable only for so long as the government at Washington allowed it to be operated. An enquiry into the intentions of the United States government must, therefore, supplement any review of the stability that the system acquired in Europe; and this enquiry is very difficult to conduct accurately, because, notwithstanding that the American government have published great collections of state papers, these documents do not disclose the inner motives of American policy, which was never comparable to the consistent line of conduct followed by other neutral governments. European neutrals were each and all determined to maintain their overseas supplies; to keep the German market open to their goods; and to remain neutral: their public acts were determined by these three dominant preoccupations. American policy was the outcome of more calculations than these: the president's intention to mediate; the estimates that he made of what would advance or obstruct his mediation; the manoeuvres he was forced to undertake in order to maintain himself in power, each, in turn, influenced American diplomacy, for which reason it is impossible to state anything positive about it: some of these preoccupations were the dominant influence at one moment, others at another. By close investigation, we can discover when any particular influence was strongest; but American diplomacy, as a whole, can only be likened to those bodies in certain ancient systems of philosophy, which are for ever altering their shape and substance, on account of the movements of their component particles. It is, however, well established, that, during the year 1916, the president and his advisers were more inclined to interfere with the economic campaign than they had ever been before, and that their exasperation against the British government was the product of unforeseeable influences - political forces, which, when traced and reviewed in detail, illustrate the accidents and dangers to which the operation was exposed, when, to all appearances, it was most firmly established.

i) The hardening temper of the British administration

It should be stated, first of all, by way of preamble to everything that follows, that there was a great hardening and stiffening on the British side during the year 1916  - a conviction that all shared, that every attempt to conciliate the American government had been made and had failed, and that the moment had arrived, when the operation must be persisted in without flinching. Thus, when Sir Cecil Spring-Rice warned the Foreign Office that the temper of the new congress was very uncertain, the paper was minuted:

      Nothing will so much impress the people of the United States as the certainty that we will not stoop either to cajolery or irritation; but will proceed calmly with the destruction of modern Germany by blockade.

[544] A few days later Lord Robert Cecil wrote upon a telegram from America:

      In view of the extraordinary variation in tone of the successive telegrams describing the congressional situation, I think it better to disregard all such information......

Almost at the same time Sir Eyre Crowe wrote:

      I am convinced that what we have to do is to study carefully, by the light of the advice of our own and of the French authorities, how we can effectively kill German overseas trade with the legal machinery at our disposal and stick to our guns.

To this Lord Robert Cecil added:

      I confess I share Sir E. Crowe's bewilderment. About the action he suggests there can be little doubt because the country will put up with nothing else...... I should recommend a clear statement by us and our allies that we regard the blockade of Germany as legitimate and essential.

Even Sir Edward Grey, who had so consistently counselled moderation and compromise seems, at this time, to have been convinced that no further compromise was possible:

      To prevent disappointment (he wrote on 6th January) it would be as well to observe that the contentions in the last United States note are equivalent to asking us to abandon any attempt to stop even contraband from reaching Germany. The concessions necessary for this will never be granted.

To these indications of policy must be added an appreciation that was circulated in the early weeks of the year, when the first agitations in congress were reported. It was written by Lord Eustace Percy, who was then minuting all the reports from America. Inasmuch as Lord Eustace was a trusted expert upon American affairs, and inasmuch as his paper was cordially endorsed by Sir Eyre Crowe and Lord Robert Cecil, it may be assumed that it was an influence, among many others, to stiffen and harden the department's temper:

      In view of present discussions regarding our blockade policy (he wrote) it may be as well to examine a little more thoroughly, the present attitude of the United States. In a private minute, written some months ago, I ventured to express the opinion, that the friendship of the United States, which we have tried so hard to secure in recent years, is now an asset on which we can count. I venture to reiterate that opinion which is not at all shaken by Sir C. Spring-Rice's recent telegrams...... Sir C. Spring-Rice's reports are mainly conditioned by the state of Washington politics in the year of a presidential election. The diplomatists are at one end of Washington, the capitol is at the other. In the four months before the presidential primaries, which take place in the spring, the capitol swarms with intriguers. A dozen different politicians are playing for their own hands in the coming presidential election. All the rest are playing for some pet candidate. Ballons d'essai of the wildest description are set up. Sir C. Spring-Rice's reports amount to this: anything is possible; but of course that is precisely the atmosphere which each party tries to create. Chronically uncertain of the real trend of public opinion, any politician not possessed of positive genius can only try to make the electorate believe, that anything and everything may be expected from the party to which he belongs, and the candidate he favours. This is the old doctrine of the available man on which American politics has been run for a century. But this state of things has another side. If you are to offer the widest range of mutually exclusive possibilities to the electorate your only refuge is vagueness. You must talk; but you mustn't do anything. You may foreshadow drastic action against England, if she does not behave herself; but you mustn't enact an embargo. To do so would give some opponent a handle. That is why congress, in presidential years, does so very little, and that is why, I believe, we need not fear any drastic action until July, after the national conventions have been held...... If the above is anything like correct, it follows, I think, that we need not be deterred from any development in our blockade policy, by the fear of an embargo, or other hostile action, during the year. Of course no gift of prophecy enables me to say what may happen a year hence, when the dust of the presidential election has cleared away, but the danger of any hostile action even then is so remote that it can safely be disregarded. We can, I believe, adopt any naval policy we please so far as America is concerned. We can carry out the rationing policy to any extent; we can institute a blockade as soon as our submarines can show any activity in the Baltic; we could even, if necessary, institute a blockade now, on the ground that the Baltic is a mare clausum. Any of these courses might cause friction with the United States but none of them would move the United States to do us positive injury.

[545] In view of what subsequently transpired, it is hardly an exaggeration to call Lord Eustace's paper a prophecy.

It would, of course, be uncritical to attach great importance to these, and many other, departmental minutes of the same kind; but it would be still more uncritical to attach no importance to them at all. They are indications of the temper that prevailed amongst those who were administering the blockade of Germany; and, as the temper of a collegiate body is no more to be concealed than the building in which it assembles, the American authorities were conscious of it. Our known stubbornness of purpose must, therefore, have entered into their calculations, when their own political projects were being incubated.

ii) The state of the public controversy at the end of the year 1915

The last note of protest was presented on 5th November, 1915. In it, the United States government withdrew all the acquiescent propositions of their earlier note, and stated, roundly, that the allies were not making the distinction between neutral and enemy trade, which alone would justify the blockade of Germany; then, after making a long and critical review of all that had been accomplished, the secretary of state concluded:

      I believe it has been conclusively shown that the methods sought to be employed by Great Britain to obtain and use evidence of enemy destination of cargoes bound for neutral ports and to impose a contraband character upon such cargoes are without justification; that the blockade, upon which such methods are partly founded, is ineffective, illegal and indefensible; that the judicial procedure offered as a means of reparation for an international injury is inherently defective for the purpose; and that in many cases jurisdiction is asserted in violation of the law of nations. The United States, therefore, cannot submit to the curtailment of its neutral rights by these measures, which are admittedly retaliatory, and therefore illegal, in conception and in nature, and intended to punish the enemies of Great Britain for alleged illegalities on their part. The United States might not be in a position to object to them if its interests and the interests of all neutrals were unaffected by them, but being affected, it cannot with complacence suffer further subordination of its rights and interests to the plea that the exceptional geographic position of the enemies of Great Britain require or justify oppressive and illegal practices.

Why this note was presented, and what weight should be given to these harsh, defiant, propositions are matters that can only be ascertained by a brief review of other circumstances.

The note was presented about a month before congress assembled; and it seems tolerably certain, that President Wilson then anticipated considerable pressure from the party managers; and that he had determined to outmanoeuvre those who were about to attack him for being too easy about the British blockade, and those others who intended to attack him for being too easy about the submarine campaign, by making strong representations, on each subject, just before congress assembled. This explanation is certainly conjectural, but it seems not unreasonable to accept it, if it be remembered that this note to Great Britain synchronised roughly with another diplomatic move, which was avowedly made to outwit the party managers. Notwithstanding that, in July, the president asked the German government to send no reply to his last note of protest about the Lusitania (thereby giving them to understand that the matter was settled), the question was formally re-opened, five months later, when the secretary of state, suddenly and without warning, demanded that the sinking be disavowed. When Bernstorff expressed surprise that so dangerous a controversy should thus be re-awakened, after so much trouble and ingenuity had been expended in composing its lullaby, the secretary of state answered that the president was forced to it, in order to placate some sections of congress. In all probability, therefore, the peculiarly harsh and defiant passages in the note of 5th November, were inserted into it, for the same reason that the secretary of [546] state re-opened the Lusitania controversy. As soon as the balance of the parties in congress was better known, the secretary of state brought the second Lusitania controversy to a settlement: he probably attached no importance to the note of 5th November, when he was more familiar with the temper of the new congress.

iii) The debates in congress show that the party leaders were disinclined to interfere with the blockade of Germany

Congress assembled early in December, and a number of resolutions and bills for intervening in the conflict, without declaring war, were at once presented by members of both houses. Three motions for prohibiting the export of arms and munitions to all belligerents, which, it was claimed, would end the war in thirty days; and two resolutions for refusing passports to American citizens who desired to travel in armed ships, were sent to committees of the senate and of the lower house, during the first days of the session. More business than can be transacted in a session is, however, always presented to congress when it opens; so that there is usually a pause during the first fortnight, when the administration, and the political managers on both sides, estimate the strength and weakness of the political forces, which support these various bills and resolutions, and, having made their estimate, decide upon what shall, and what shall not, be considered.

European affairs were not discussed until 5th January, when there was a brief and inconclusive discussion in the senate about prohibiting the export of arms. The press were unanimous that the debate was of no significance. A fortnight later, however, those managers whom the president and the secretary of state had tried to outmanoeuvre, by making the last note to Great Britain a note of open challenge, moved a resolution that was intended to test the strength of their party. Senator Hoke Smith led the attack upon the government, and he charged them: first, with having enunciated principles which they had not acted upon; and, secondly, with having failed in their duty, by allowing the indirect trade of Germany to be stopped, after expressly stating:

      Innocent shipments may be freely transported to and from the United States through neutral countries to belligerent territory, without being subject to the penalties of contraband traffic or breach of blockade, much less to detention, requisition or confiscation.

This motion was debated on 18th and 20th January; thereafter European affairs were repeatedly discussed in both houses, and the draft of a retaliatory bill against Great Britain was presented and supported by Senator Walsh.

Great caution must be exercised in deciding what can be inferred from the debates of the following fortnight; for it is never safe to judge the temper of any parliamentary assembly from its written records. It is, however, significant that although the debates were frequent, and although some speakers showed great passion, no vote was taken on any motion; and also, that although the motions considered were all partisan motions, the senate did, nevertheless, consider all the implications of economic warfare, in a dispassionate spirit, and declined to pass any resolution that was advanced by those managers who maintained that the submarine campaign and the blockade of Germany were equally objectionable, or, as, one senator put it, the two sides of the scissors. The salient points in these long debates were these. Senator Hoke Smith and Senator Walsh reviewed all the legal precedents at great length, and with singular moderation. Both senators were, it is true, urging retaliatory legislation, but they refrained from vituperative expressions and appeals to prejudice, and argued, merely, that British practices were not justifiable by American precedents. The weakness of these arguments was not that they were strained and illogical (an impartial court might have endorsed a good many of them); but that they were a mere repetition of what had been argued in the press, and in state papers, for years past. The American people were probably as tired of the Peterhof and Springbok [547] cases, and of these interminable quotations from Moore's digest, as the British Foreign Office. The house was therefore more impressed by those senators who forced their colleagues to consider economic warfare as a whole, and so broke down the boundaries within which Mr. Smith and Mr. Walsh would have confined the controversy.

Senator Nelson was the first speaker to enlarge the discussion. After stating that he agreed with Senator Hoke Smith's review of the law of contraband, Senator Nelson continued:

      I want to present another side of the picture. There are those four little countries that I have referred to in northern Europe. I have a list in my hand here of the number of merchant ships of those countries which have been sunk by German submarines and German mines since the war began, and the list is startling...... Now there is this difference to which I wish to call the senator's attention between the British method and the German method. The British have held up our ships, taken them into port, searched their cargo, and taken out what they conceived to be improper and either confiscated it or commandeered it, but, in the main, they have let the ships go; they have not destroyed the ships. The Germans have not only destroyed the cargo, but they have destroyed the ships and in many instances, they have killed the crews of those vessels...... So Mr. President without intending to take up the senate's time any further, in view of the able speech of the senator from Georgia, and in view of the fact that he presented one side of the picture, I felt it incumbent upon me to present the other side, that the people of this country may see what has transpired.

Mr. Nelson therefore moved that a list of all neutral vessels sunk by German submarines should be printed in the record, and this was agreed to. Mr. Nelson was followed by Senator Williams, a speaker who was, perhaps, better qualified than any member of the senate to explain both the abstract principles, and the actual practice, of war. He was a lawyer of high standing at the Tennessee bar; his father and uncles had all fought in the civil war; he himself was eleven years old, when Sherman burst into the southern states, and he well remembered the stream of terrified fugitives, who heralded the northern army's advance, and the blazing villages that beaconed their line of march. This gentleman's speech was admitted by all to have made a deep impression, which is not surprising, for it was an utterance of exceptional eloquence and power.

At the outset, and by way of preamble, Mr. Williams reminded all who heard him, or who read the report of his speech, that the civil war had created other precedents than those established in the prize courts, and subsequently argued by learned men: the greatest of all these additional precedents was that an American government, supported by the nation that they represented, had themselves waged economic warfare without restraint or mitigation.

      Mr. President (he began) we had a war over here between the States not very many years ago, as history goes; a great many years ago as the ordinary individual life goes, and what did your people do to mine? Was it your army that whipped us? You know it was not. If it had not been for the women and children and men, whom you starved to death, and the soldiers, who could no longer wear a uniform and shoot because they had nothing to eat, I imagine we might be fighting even now. Your navy whipped us. Your sea power strangled us. Your sea power starved our population first, and then starved our army afterwards. Now I am not complaining here. My forefathers did not complain; war is war; it is not a system of caressing, and there never was a confederate, from Jeff Davis down to the humblest soldier, who ever pleaded the baby act, because he and his wife and children were starved by your navy.

Senator Williams now turned fiercely upon Senator Smith's arguments about cotton, and maintained that the British empire and the allies normally bought three-quarters of the American cotton crop, and were actually buying eighty per cent of it. Could more be expected when Europe was at war? And supposing that Senator Hoke Smith's motion for economic reprisals were adopted, what would be the consequence?

      You stand here and say to Great Britain, and the allies, and to the balance of the world, that you propose to put an embargo on the shipment of ammunition and munitions of war (contrary to our traditional theory), unless they change their paper blockade - if you choose to call it a [548] paper blockade, but which seems to be wonderfully effective, because it stops every ship, which is more than your northern blockade did during the war between the states - you stand there and say that to them, and then expect them to lie down in a fight, which they believe to be a fight for the liberty and independence of the world against a new Roman empire revamped and revarnished - expect them to keep quiet and purr without even growling. Will they? Of course not. Then what will follow? Commercial non-intercourse. Then what becomes of cotton? Cut off the British market, cut off the French and Italian market, and their colonies and dependencies, and cotton will not be worth four cents a pound the week after next. You will not even have helped, but would have murdered the price of cotton after you had been base enough to make that the chief consideration of your policy...... Mr. President, I think I know my people...... and I know that the men who followed Jackson and Lee, whose wives and children starved, and who themselves starved in what they thought a holy cause - the men who followed Stonewall Jackson in his last campaign up the valley when they had nothing to eat but parched corn and were rationed like the horses...... are not ready to put human life and cotton on the same level, especially when they have sense enough to know that it would not help cotton if they did......

At this point, Mr. Hitchcock, the senator from Nebraska intervened, and tried to test the temper of the house, by asserting that the British authorities were searching neutral mails to discover trade secrets, and to communicate them to British manufacturers. Mr. Hitchcock concluded:

      I ask the senator, suppose that right, that sovereign right of the United States to send its mails to a neutral country is not acknowledged by Great Britain, what would the senator do under the circumstances if he would not fight and would not pass legislation?

This accusation about mails was widely believed in America and was exciting great passion. Mr. Hitchcock's challenge was therefore well timed and well issued; but Mr. Williams met it unflinchingly, by answering, that whenever a government passed retaliatory legislation, they set a course towards war, and that he would never agree that human lives should be risked, to reseal a packet of envelopes. Enlarging upon this, Mr. Williams argued that the issues with Great Britain were distinct in kind from the issues with Germany; the one involved money: the other blood.

      The distinction seems to me pretty plain. It is plain to men who were raised as I was raised. I never heard in the time of the duello in the south, about gentlemen challenging one another about money. I never heard that the worst duel fanatic in the world ever wanted to kill another man about a bill or a property damage, and I am not going to do it now.

These debates ended on 28th January; while they were in progress a petition to prohibit the export of arms, which was signed by over a million persons, was presented to the senate. Despite these incitements, the senate declined to come to a vote, and sent petitions and draft bills to a committee. When the discussions were thus temporarily adjourned, the press in the capital reported that an unofficial canvas of the senate had been taken, and that it showed a clear majority against an embargo on the export of arms. It would seem, indeed, as though the party managers flinched, when the implications of what they proposed to do were fairly presented to them.

iv) The president opens negotiations for slacking down economic warfare in order to prepare for his mediation later; his conflict with congress

This temporary adjournment by no means abated congressional pressure upon the administration; for any one of the bills and resolutions that had been referred to committees could still have been called up and debated. Sir Cecil Spring-Rice reported, however, that, for the moment, congress was very disinclined to act, and this seems to have been the president's appreciation; for he pressed on with his plan for a general accommodation with Germany and the allies, confident that congress would support him if he appealed for support. A few words of explanation are here necessary.

[549] Colonel House was now in Europe, and was empowered to inform the governments of France and Great Britain that the president contemplated active intervention. What the president did actually contemplate is doubtful; he had seen and approved the guarded statements which Colonel House made to M. Briand and M. Cambon in the first days of February; and he had seen and approved a paper presented to Sir Edward Grey, soon after, in which Colonel House stated, that, if the president's mediation failed, the United States would probably join the allies. It must be remembered, however, that few papers and letters signed and written by President Wilson are to be found in the collection that is the only documentary record of his diplomacy. When the editor refers to a paper written by Wilson himself, he generally paraphrases it. It would, therefore, be very hazardous to think it certain that President Wilson contemplated active intervention in the autumn of the year 1916. It is safer to suppose, that he was determined to summon a conference of belligerent powers, during the course of the year, and thereafter, to act as circumstances required. This much, however, seems tolerably certain. President Wilson was convinced, that, if he was forced to declare war, the American people would be more united, if he could invite them to take up arms in order to impose a general peace, than if he came to a breach with Germany upon an issue so entangled in technicalities as submarine war. His next manoeuvre was, therefore, intended to secure a temporary accommodation on all outstanding issues - an accommodation which he thought essential, if his plans for summoning a conference were to succeed.

It has been shown, that, during the long controversy about the Lusitania and the Arabic, the president had virtually sanctioned the submarine campaign against commerce; but had stood firm that passenger ships should not be sunk without warning. Since then, however, the American government had realised that this general immunity for passenger ships could only be secured, if the Germans could be persuaded to agree that no vessel should be sunk, unless she had been brought to and examined; for this was the only safeguard against the misadventures that provoked such dangerous controversies between the two governments.1 It required but little knowledge of sea warfare, however, to understand that the practice of arming merchantmen, as a defence against submarines, was the great obstacle to the accommodation that the president wished to come to. Early in January, therefore, he instructed the secretary of state to present a note to all powers at war, which was styled: A modus vivendi for the observance of rules of international law and the principles of humanity by submarines. This paper is remarkable, in that it granted far more toleration to submarine operations against commerce, than had ever been given to the blockade of Germany. The secretary of state's last pronouncement upon the blockade was that it was illegal and unjustifiable: in the preamble to this note upon submarine war, Mr. Lansing stated explicitly:

      I do not feel that a belligerent should be deprived of the proper use of submarines in the interruption of enemy commerce, since those instruments of war have proven their effectiveness in this particular branch of warfare.

The proposals were, therefore, that visit and search should be admitted to be a universal obligation upon belligerent submarines, and that powers at war should disarm their merchantmen. These proposals for a general accommodation were of some consequence in the domestic politics of America, for they became the battle ground of a conflict between the president and the congress, on which the president proved himself the stronger.

[550] A fortnight after the note was presented, the German authorities announced that their submarines were going to act with great severity, and treat all armed merchantmen as war vessels. By making this announcement (and they only did so because a young submarine commander recommended it) the German government put the president into a great difficulty; for it required but little foresight to understand, that, inasmuch as many passenger steamers were known to be armed, and inasmuch as the Germans obviously intended to sink any vessel that they suspected to be armed, without ascertaining for certain whether she was or not, so, the few mitigations that the president had secured during the previous summer were all threatened. This, in itself, made him resentful and suspicious of the German intentions; but the announcement raised yet another difficulty for him. The parties who maintained that the president had compromised the nation's honour, by being so easy about the submarine campaign, had never been so noisy as those who wished him to obstruct the blockade of Germany; but, at least, they were strong enough to give him serious misgivings a few weeks before congress assembled; and it was to be expected, that they would gather additional strength, if he gave a good countenance to the last German announcement. He was, therefore, being forced by circumstances to stand on his old contention, that he would never bargain away the rights of American citizens; but he was not free to do even this; for how could he repeat this to the German government, when the next incident at sea compelled him to do so, if the political managers on the other side succeeded in passing a resolution that an American citizen's right to travel be limited by law; for this was one of those rights which the president had pronounced inalienable. The president was, therefore, obliged to test the temper of congress before deciding what answer he should give to the German announcement. He is said to have been confident that the nation preferred his diplomacy to that of congress, but very resentful at the embarrassments in which the German government had involved him.

As the German announcement that all armed merchantmen would be sunk at sight at once provoked an agitation that American citizens should be forbidden, by law, to travel in vessels that had been armed, even defensively, the president's first move was to write a polite, but challenging, letter to Senator Stone, the manager of the agitatory party. In this paper, the president stated what was to him the important matter, with something bordering on bluntness.

      For my own part, I cannot consent to any abridgement of the rights of American citizens in any respect. The honour and self-respect of the nation is involved. We covet peace, and shall preserve it at any cost but the loss of honour. To forbid our people to exercise their rights for fear we might be called upon to vindicate them would be a deep humiliation indeed. It would be an implicit, all but an explicit, acquiescence in the violation of the rights of mankind everywhere, and of whatever nation or allegiance. It would be a deliberate abdication of our hitherto proud position as spokesmen, even amidst the turmoils of war, for the law and the right. It would make everything this government has attempted, and everything that it has achieved during this terrible struggle of nations meaningless and futile.

The polite circumlocutions, and the assurance of sincere and devoted friendship that followed this, may have softened, but they certainly did not disguise, the president's announcement that he would resist Senator Stone's manoeuvres with all the means in his power. Having thus announced his opinions publicly, the president challenged congress by writing to one of the party leaders, Mr. Pou, and asking him to bring up one of the resolutions that would most embarrass his diplomacy, if passed, and to take a vote on it. As a consequence, what was called the MacLemore resolution was debated in both houses. This resolution was: That the president be requested to warn all citizens of the United States to refrain from travelling on armed vessels. It was a party resolution; but at least it was discussed without prejudice or passion, for congressmen and senators examined the law of self-defence at sea with an industry and learning which do them honour. Never since the days of the church councils in Asia Minor, has a representative [551] assembly discussed fine points of law and ethics so conscientiously; for a good textbook upon the law of armed merchantmen could be compiled from the speeches and written papers of the congressmen.2

Nevertheless, the leading senators and congressmen did not allow the political issues to be hidden behind this great cloud of learning; and, before the debates were closed, those issues were fairly presented. On the one side it was argued: it was now patent, that the controversy with Germany would be settled, if passengers travelling to Europe could be made safe against accident; and that, if this could not be done, any accident at sea might involve the country in war: as those who travelled by sea were an infinitesimally small part of the whole nation, was it proper that a handful of merchants, tourists, and globe trotters should be allowed this controlling influence over the nation's destinies? If it were not proper, then the only remedy was so to circumscribe their right to travel by sea, that, when exercised, it would have no ill consequences to the nation at large. The argument was so reasonable, and the American dislike of being engaged in the war so universal, that it is surprising the projected legislation was not better supported. It was not supported, however, because the managers of the government party represented that the president could not perform his constitutional duty of negotiating with foreign powers, if congress imposed rules and regulations upon his diplomacy. The houses were therefore told, by the managers of the government party, that they must decide whether the president was to be free or bound. As a recent canvass of the press showed that all papers which disassociated themselves from partisan politics were supporting the president's diplomacy, the senators and congressmen flinched again, and the vote taken in both houses was that these resolutions should be laid upon the table, which meant that they should be no more discussed.3 The majority in each house was substantial.

[552] The press all over the country acclaimed this as a great success for the president, and it is certain, that, during the succeeding months, his own personal sympathies and political plans were the dominating influence; congressional diplomacy had failed, and the appreciation circulated in the Foreign Office at the beginning of the year had proved accurate.

Soon after these votes had been taken, the Sussex was torpedoed in the Channel, as the result of which the United States and the German governments were in a sharp controversy during March and April. The president felt himself so well supported that he risked a war; and neither the senate nor the house of representatives intervened at all during the dangerous controversy. The congressmen received the president's address of 19th April with a round of cheering; but they never discussed the subject matter. Congress had, in fact, withdrawn entirely from the diplomatic theatre, nor did it advance into it again for many months.4

v) Why Anglo-American relations deteriorated after the Sussex controversy

The Sussex controversy was settled at the end of April. During the first four months of the session, therefore, that is, from January to April, the German government had themselves checked all those partisan manoeuvres in the American congress, which might have turned to their advantage, by diverting attention from the British operations, and, fastening it upon their own campaign against commerce. It would be imagined that the German government's mismanagement would have been of permanent prejudice to them; but the very contrary occurred. Every observer: Spring-Rice, Bernstorff, Jusserand and House agree, that, during the months following upon the Sussex controversy, relations between Washington and Berlin became progressively cordial, and that Anglo-American relations steadily deteriorated. These summer months may, therefore, be taken as the period during which the American administration, and American opinion, were most exasperated with Great Britain.

It would be hasty to explain this deterioration by any one circumstance; but it seems safe to say, that there was one very strong damaging influence at work during the whole period: the president's resentment against the allied governments. Very little can be said for certain about this, because so little of the president's political correspondence has been published. The following points seem, however, to be well established. During the first two years of the war, the president's sympathies for the entente powers were strong; he stated, in writing, that they were fighting for everything he held dear in the world; and, according to Colonel House, he did not disguise his sympathies from his own ministers. But these sympathies, being more supported by emotion than by interest, were not enduring; they were not affected by the long controversy upon contraband (to which the president seems to have attached but little importance); but they were changed to resentment, when he learned that the allied governments could not endorse his plans for a conference. This rapid, impulsive change of sympathy occurred during the spring and summer. On 8th April, while the president was still much preoccupied with the controversy with Germany, he received a letter, in which Sir Edward Grey stated, that public opinion in France and Germany would make it very difficult to assemble a peace conference under American guidance. This was confirmed on 17th April, and again on 12th May; so that, by the middle of May, the president knew that his diplomacy had come to a check. Thereafter, all his public utterances contained passages that he knew would be wounding to the entente powers, and he could never be persuaded to leave them out.5 Nevertheless, the president by no means abandoned his plan, and determined to persevere in it; for the German ambassador's telegrams to his government during the remainder of the summer were all, or nearly all, reports upon the president's plans for mediation in the coming winter. The president's determination to summon a conference, notwithstanding that the allies did not desire it, must be remembered, for it has some connection with the last manoeuvres made by congress. It must be remembered, also, that it was the determination of a statesman who was now in sole control of foreign policy. Congress was no longer a check upon him.

The only influence to which the president was still exposed was public opinion. To this, he was always very attentive and very sensitive, and it is, to a historian, most baffling, that a movement of opinion that exerted great influence upon the president, and upon his diplomacy, is a movement recorded in no state paper and in very few documents: it was that, during this second year of the war, the first sympathies of all nations not engaged were being replaced by a general disgust at the butchery on the great battlefields, and fatigue at a war that seemed nothing but a long bombardment, and a succession of storming attacks, conducted on no [554] strategic principle, and accompanied by no manoeuvre that could make them interesting. In no country was this disgust so strong as it was in America, and it was a sort of natural corollary to it, that people began to believe that their first sympathies for the allies, or for the Germans, had been misplaced; and to conceive of the struggle as one in which no principle of honour or justice was engaged, but as a madness that had been infused into the nations of Europe by the ambitions of monarchs long since dead, or by systems of policy long since discredited, and which had now become a raging frenzy, after centuries of incubation. This was not a scientific appreciation, but it was popular, as presenting a strong contrast between the enlightenment of America and the entenebrations of Europe; it was especially popular among persons whose first inclination for one, or the other, side had not been sustained. The mass of people must have been very great, who thought it patriotic to be contemptuous of both sides; for a song expressing these sentiments carried its author from obscurity to fame, in a few days, and was recited in congress when diplomatic affairs were being considered.6 If that Scots philosopher is correct, who maintained that a nation's temper is more determined by its songs than by its laws, the popularity of this mediocre poetry must be judged a very significant circumstance.

[555] It was also unfortunate for the British cause in America, that the numbers of those who began to doubt the justice of the allied cause (though without thereby acquiring any liking for the German) were strongly reinforced by a curious accident. In April, 1916, a number of Irish patriots rose in a rebellion, which was almost immediately crushed. As the funds for the rising had largely been collected in America, and as the Irish rebels had influential friends in both houses of congress, it was inevitable that the rebellion should receive some encouragement in the United States. There were, however, special reasons why it stirred Americans, who had no interest in Irish affairs. With one or two exceptions, the leaders of the rebellion were persons of the highest character: brave, unworldly men, who rose in arms, well knowing that they would not survive the attempt, and who did so only because they were determined to set an example of courage and endurance to their countrymen. It followed, therefore, that the lives and the deaths of these Irishmen became the subject matter of a moving pamphlet literature. All through the summer, stories of their courage, their patience, and above all, of their stoicism and piety during their last hours of life, passed from hand to hand, and so stimulated the rising prejudice that the parties at war in Europe were both equally friends to oppression and cruelty. This did not follow from the premises, but it was unfortunate for us that those Americans, who were genuinely horrified that such men as Tom Peirse should be shot as felons, were Americans whose sympathies were valuable to us: persons of good standing, who had hitherto supported the allied cause, because they were convinced that it was the cause of human freedom. Moreover, the British government did not answer these charges by a very manly method; for, instead of showing that the rebellion in Ireland had not been provoked by any oppression on our part, and instead of maintaining, openly, that it is not tyranny to shoot a rebel (however good a man he may be), we apparently did no more than furnish the American ambassador with documentary proof that Sir Roger Casement was the devotee of some disgusting vices.7

Ostensibly, this movement of opinion from partisan sympathy to indifference had nothing to do with controversies upon contraband, or with commercial policy; actually, it influenced both, in that a mass of people, who had never been vociferous, but had yet been determined to bestir themselves vigorously, if the controversy between Great Britain and the United States ever grew dangerous, now became careless whether things between the two nations went well or ill. This weakened the deadening influence that had so strongly exerted itself a year before, when the March order was published, and when the Dacia and Wilhelmina set out on voyages that were a defiance to our system. The outcome was, that a number of disputes that were trivial in comparison to the matters in dispute a year before were allowed to be more inflammatory and provocative than their importance warranted; and that accusations of bad faith, and of unscrupulous ambitions, circulated more freely in the nation than they would have done, when our friends in that country were more active on our behalf. The first of the charges made against us was that the economic campaign was only by accident an act of war, and that our purpose in prosecuting it was to erect a vast commercial empire in Europe and Asia. This accusation was supported by no facts. A glance at our falling trade returns, and an estimate of the immense debts that we were contracting ought to have satisfied everybody that this new empire was not likely to be great or powerful. Nevertheless, the belief, though irrational, was so in harmony with the correlative belief that the parties at war in Europe were both equally ambitious for conquest, and equally unscrupulous, that it was widely held; and it is curious and instructive to examine the circumstances that many Americans of good standing thought to be proof that the charges levelled against us were true.

vi) American suspicions about the allied economic conferences during the spring and summer of 1916

It can be said, without exaggeration, that nothing excited so much suspicion in the United States as the allied conferences upon economic policy; for it was after they had been assembled that accusations, which, up to then, had been made only in the Hearst press, were repeated in newspapers with an enormous aggregate circulation. The actual facts were these.

Late in February, the Germans opened their attack upon Verdun. They gained ground at first, but, early in March, the French had so stiffened their resistance that no immediate victory was to be anticipated, and it was clear that this battle, like all others on the western front, would be a long drawn out affair. On 12th March, therefore, General Joffre assembled a conference of commanders-in-chief at Chantilly, to discuss what was most proper to be done, and the allied commanders decided that the German onslaught would be most effectively countered, if the allied armies attacked simultaneously, on all fronts, during the course of the summer. Resolutions for a combined allied offensive were passed, and there was added to them a resolution: La Conférence émet le voeu que le blocus économique de l'Allemagne soit resserré dans toute la mesure où il sera possible de le faire. What was meant by this is not quite clear; but the gossip that the blockade of Germany was not being properly administered had apparently infected the naval and military services very much. Resolutions that it be tightened or, made more stringent, were easy to draft, and easy to pass, for nobody present was obliged to explain what was meant. These resolutions of the Chantilly conference were laid before a conference of allied ministers on 26th March, and by them examined. The purpose of the conference was to determine what were the obstacles to this combined offensive, and how they could best be overcome, so that the most important matters considered were: how many troops should be allotted to the secondary theatres; how munitions, and guns could be distributed to the armies most in need of them; and how shipping and tonnage could be more economically used. At the last meeting, however, Admiral Lacaze moved that effect could best be given to the final resolution of the Chantilly conference by setting up a permanent advisory committee upon economic warfare. This was agreed to, and a body called the comité permanent international d'action économique sat in Paris thereafter.

If those who were administrating the blockade of Germany had been overcoming difficulties similar to the difficulty of setting the armies of four great nations in motion at the same time, and if they had needed a general staff to plan, advise, and co-ordinate, this committee would have served a useful purpose. Nothing of the kind was needed, however, because those who were then managing the economic campaign were executing a single plan, according to an agreed system. What the allied generals were trying to do, the British and French administrations had already done: they were agreed that the rationing of neutral Europe should be the great operation of the year; and it had become a matter of practice that the British administered the rationing of the northern neutrals; that France acted as the principal in the rationing of Switzerland; and that France should carry as much of the American controversy as could be loaded upon her. In the economic campaign, therefore, the operating forces had been distributed over the theatres, and were executing one plan, the difficulties of which were known and appreciated. From this it will be understood that the new committee for economic action was not an organ of the blockade which contributed anything to the operation: by its constitution it was advisory, and its advice was not needed. It is, therefore, a great peculiarity of the controversy between the United States and Great Britain, that this superfluous committee excited suspicion, by its mere existence. The American ambassador in Paris reported that a conference had been held, that economic policy had been [557] discussed at it, and that it would serve as a preliminary to a greater conference to be held later. Being thus very ill-informed as to the purposes for which the allied ministers had actually been convened, the American government were probably ready to attach more importance to this second conference than it deserved.

The French ministers may have thought that the conference in March prepared the way for the conference in June, but, in truth, the two were not closely connected. The reason why this second conference assembled was that the French ministry were anxious, lest the Germans should secure great advantages over France, by entering upon the peace with their industrial plant intact, while a great part of the French plant would still be in ruins in the invaded districts. In order to protect French industries against this, the French ministry assembled a second allied conference, and persuaded the allied representatives to recommend that the allied governments should support and protect one another, after peace was signed. The purposes for which the conference was convened were therefore innocent and natural; but the French managers drafted the resolutions in such abstract and sweeping language, that the American government may be excused for wondering whether the allies were not contemplating some great economic union.8 Nor were the Americans alone in their suspicions: the Japanese government also thought that the French were preparing an economic alliance between the entente powers.9

If, however, the American government entertained these suspicions at the beginning, they were presumably soon relieved of them; for their enquiries must have shown them, that the allied governments were very sceptical whether even the French programme of mutual support, for a few years after the war, could be executed. The Russian cabinet were the first to express their doubts. Knowing that, as soon as peace was signed, the country would need large quantities of machinery and plant, which the Germans could best supply, the Russian government ratified the resolutions, but made such sweeping reservations to them that the Board of Trade doubted whether the resolutions were not thereby made inoperative.

British ministers and high officials were equally sceptical:

      Personally, I have no great faith in the efficacy of the Paris resolutions (wrote Sir Victor Wellesley) if only for the simple reason that general agreement as to the manner in which effect should be given to them is impossible of attainment. The reservations which the Russian government make in the draft declaration are so wide as to enable any of the signatory powers to drive a coach and four through the resolutions. Is it to be wondered at that the Russian government refuse to tie themselves down to purchasing in the dearest market, for this is what the resolutions mean. To this Lord Grey added: I am in favour of all possible restrictions to German trade during the war; I do not believe in artificial restraints after the war.

Seeing therefore that the conference had been convened and managed entirely by the French, and that our government were, possibly, more sceptical than any other whether effect could be given to any single one of the resolutions agreed to, [558] it was ironical that large sections of the American press should have represented the whole business as a British manoeuvre for raising barriers against American trade. As nothing came of the resolutions except a technical discussion about trade-marks and copyrights, the agitation could not be indefinitely maintained: the American press did, nevertheless, misrepresent the matter consistently, for several weeks during the summer, and the agitation was an exciting and disturbing influence, which, when added to others, damaged the relations between the two countries.

vii) American accusations about the interception and censoring of neutral mails; anger at the British black lists

Another agitation was started upon the subject of mails, and again what was being done was represented as part of an unscrupulous commercial policy. This belief was not, perhaps, quite so irrational as the belief about Great Britain's new commercial empire, because it was certainly true that British traders in neutral countries denounced their trade rivals to the British government, and gave particulars of their business, which were often invented, in the hope that they would thereby persuade the British authorities to place the rival firm upon the black list. American observers in South America may therefore be excused, if they thought there was something sinister in this universal endeavour to turn the censorship to a commercial advantage. The organ of the censorship was, however, rather a check than an assistance to these practices; for every denunciation was compared with the intercepted telegrams, letters, and documents that did actually establish the accused firm's connections, and many British traders would have hesitated before they put their wild inventions on paper, if they had known how rapidly their cheating and lying were detected.

It is, however, of some interest to juxtapose what Americans believed the censorship to be doing, with what the censorship was actually performing. Of all the accusations levelled against the censors Senator Hitchcock's was perhaps the best expressed:

      The senator does not care if the business mails of the United States are opened and the bills of lading are examined, and the weights and prices are taken and they are all taken to a central authority in Great Britain where they can be transferred to the British manufacturers, and the British ship agents, so that they may know the secrets of the United States business men and may steal away their trade in the midst of war.

As against this, we have a long and curious account of what was actually done, from a German patriot, who insinuated himself into the censor's office in the hope that he would thereby be able to collect information that would be useful to his country, and transmit it.10 It might be doubted whether everything that this gentleman has said about his own operations is true; but there can be no doubt whatever that he served in the censor's department, that his conduct was considered exemplary by our authorities, and that his account of the daily work of the department, the only account ever published, is reliable and vivid. He describes the office as a great collection of men and women, each so intent upon the small task allotted to him, and so busy in the performance of it, that all were nearly strangers to one another. It is, however, on the speed and the secrecy of the work that he is most explicit. Nobody was allowed to speak about his particular task, either to his next door neighbour, or to anybody else; when the news that was being searched [559] for was discovered, it was reported only to the officer in charge of the section; and extraordinary care was always taken that the censored mail should be redelivered to the post office with the least possible delay. In the end, this strange examiner grew disheartened at the part he was playing: he did, it is true, pass a few reports into his own country; but he confessed that his greatest achievements were childish pranks, against an operation so embracing, so methodical, and so regular, that no individual, however highly placed, could have interfered with it. Anybody who reads this curious and interesting work with an open mind will at once be persuaded, that the one purpose for which this great office was ill-adapted was the purpose attributed to it by Senator Hitchcock. Speed and secrecy were the essence of its operations, and both would have been prejudiced, if the discoveries made in the office had been communicated to city merchants.

The American administration did not, it is true, repeat the accusation that we were using the censor's office to damage trade rivals; but they protested in strong language against our practices. This also was ironical; for the best substantiated charge that the Americans had laid against us was that the blockade of Germany was no blockade at all, because our discrimination between enemy and neutral trade was rough and haphazard. Their strong protests against what they called a lawless practice, their haughty announcement: That they could no longer tolerate the wrongs which citizens of the United States have suffered and continue to suffer, were, therefore, denunciations of the one practice that was likely to make the discrimination between enemy and neutral trade more regular and scientific.

It has been assumed, in this chapter, that Anglo-American relations deteriorated during the summer of 1916, under the influence of a general movement of opinion which is only partially recorded in documents. There were, however, secondary causes which assisted the deterioration, and of these none was so powerful as the anger provoked by the blacklisting of certain American firms. This was first done in July. The state papers subsequently exchanged between Washington and London, and the reports of the American representatives in Europe, have all been collected and published: in addition to this, an American scholar has written a historical summary of the matter.11 The whole may be called unprofitable reading; for it contains no explanation of the only point that is any longer interesting: why the black list of some eighty American firms, first issued in July, 1916, should have angered the Americans more than all the restraints we had previously imposed; or why the American people should have acquiesced in the rationing of northern Europe, and yet have been enraged at a proclamation that forbad British coal, British ships, and British money from being put into the enemy's service. The reasons for publishing a black list, and our right to do it were so well established, that there was an inclination to make light of this storm of anger; but there are no good grounds for supposing that the American anger was artificial or theatrical: on the contrary, the people and the administration appear to have been thoroughly roused. President Wilson was angry; Mr. Polk,12 who was by nature a very temperate man, did not disguise his exasperation; even Mr. Page, who was always so staunch a friend to the British government, spoke of the black list as a gross mistake. The people, who ignored our legal right to issue it, described the black list as a British proclamation against American trade, made operative upon American soil.

viii) The retaliatory legislation passed by congress during the last days of the session

This statutory black list was certainly the operating, though it may not have been the only, cause for the retaliatory act that congress passed before the adjournment. Nothing about the origins of this act is to be found in the congressional record: it was simply added to the revenue bill by the lower house, sent up to the senate, and there passed. These two assemblies, which had so keenly debated neutrality and law in the first part of the session, thus never passed an opinion upon legislation that was intended as an open challenge to Great Britain.13

There are, however, vague indications that President Wilson designed these retaliatory acts himself, or at least intimated to the political managers that he desired them to be passed. On 25th July Colonel House wrote to Mr. Polk that the president was very disturbed, and inclined to take drastic measures; on the same day he wrote to the president:

      Before asking congress for authority to prohibit loans and restrict exportations I would suggest that you let Jusserand and Spring-Rice inform their governments that you intend to do this....

Some time later Mr. Polk wrote:

      It is a dangerous subject but I feel it would be a good idea for the president to get some powers from congress to be used as a club for Great Britain......

Such records as have survived, therefore, suggest that the president initiated the retaliatory clauses of the revenue bill; nevertheless, the records furnish nothing that could be called proof. If, however, the president's wishes were conveyed to the lobbies of congress, the party managers were very anxious to give effect to them: four14 alternative retaliatory bills were at once presented, and the one finally selected contained the following provisions:

First, the president was empowered to refuse clearance to any vessel, if it was established that the vessel was giving undue preference or advantage to persons resident in the United States, or, contrariwise, if it were subjecting them to any undue or unreasonable prejudice. This was, presumably, directed against our bunker regulations, and shipping agreements with Scandinavian firms.

Secondly, the president was empowered to refuse clearance to vessels belonging to the powers at war:

      If there are reasonable grounds for believing that United States ships or citizens are not accorded any of the facilities of commerce, which ships or citizens of belligerent countries enjoy in the United States, or are not accorded equal privileges or facilities of trade with vessels of citizens of any nationality other than belligerent......

Thirdly, the president was empowered to prohibit exports to any country that prohibited the importation of United States goods contrary to the law and practice of nations.

Having been warned, many months before, of the agitations that were likely, when congress assembled, the Foreign Office had already asked that the probable consequences of non-intercourse, or of fierce economic reprisals, should be examined [561] by the Board of Trade: also, the ministry of munitions had been warned of the projects for prohibiting the export of arms, and had made arrangements for increasing the output of the Canadian factories. The retaliatory amendments thus contained nothing for which we were not prepared, in so far as preparation could be made for so great a convulsion as an economic conflict between Great Britain and the United States. The American administration, on the other hand, would appear to have initiated this legislation hastily and impulsively, under the stimulus of a temporary irritation, and without properly considering the consequences; for the bill was not subjected to expert examination, until after it had been passed, and the report of the experts in the department of commerce, who alone were qualified to pass judgment, was little but a grave warning against attempting to operate such legislation.

The secretary of commerce argued, that, as the countries at war had now accustomed themselves to treating commerce as an instrument of war, so, they would at once order counter retaliation, if the president exercised the powers granted to him. Far from easing restraints upon American commerce, this would add new restraints to the old, and would aggravate the evil.

      They would not hesitate (wrote the secretary) to enforce, more strictly, existing embargoes, besides extending the present embargo list in retaliation for any commercial restrictions that we might impose. At present, rubber, wool, jute, tin, plumbago and certain other raw products, essential to our industries are under export prohibition in Great Britain, and in the various colonies and self-governing dominions which are the principal sources of supply. Shipments of these articles have been continuously imported into the United States, however, from British countries, under special agreements between the British government and associations of leading importers of the various products. It is obvious, that, by terminating these agreements, Great Britain could paralyse many of our industries. On the whole matter the secretary reported, That immediate reprisals, as authorised by recent laws afford no assurance of success, and threaten even the present basis of neutral commerce.

This report was not presented until the late autumn; but it may be assumed that some kind of preliminary warning was given to Mr. Lansing and Mr. Polk; for they took the first opportunity that offered of belittling what had been done, and of denying that anything serious was contemplated. They gave these assurances repeatedly in the following circumstances.

As soon as the amendments were printed and circulated, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice and Sir Richard Crawford each, in turn, asked the state department for explanations. At the first interview, Mr. Lansing stated that congress had passed the retaliatory amendments on their own initiative, and that the state department had intervened to make the powers conferred on the president optional, instead of mandatory. Two days later, he repeated this, and stated it was most improbable that the president would order retaliation. At another interview, Mr. Polk said the retaliatory amendments would only be used to obtain concessions on minor points, and denied that there was any intention to break the blockade. The Belgian ambassador now intervened: leaving all details of the retaliatory amendments alone, as being highly technical, and concerning himself only with the policy foreshadowed in the legislation, the ambassador asked whether there were any intention of forming a neutral league to oppose the allies; Mr. Lansing most vehemently denied it. Sir Richard Crawford then continued the conversations, and explained that the matters complained of in the legislation (refusal of cargo and so on) could probably be remedied by instituting civil suits for damages; why then had the president been granted such tremendous powers to deal with matters that could be disposed of so simply? The secretary of state answered, that the president would only exercise these powers in the last resort, and said the legislation was only an electoral manoeuvre. At the end of the month, the embassy received a message that the president thought ill of the retaliatory amendments, as he was persuaded he could not operate them [562] without causing great confusion. By this time (28th September), the campaign for the presidential election had begun, and there was no prospect that the retaliatory amendments would be operated for many weeks. Actually nothing more was heard of them; but it cannot be said that they were made inoperative by design: they were pushed aside, and then overlaid, by circumstances that will be examined later.

Being unaware that President Wilson might himself have initiated this retaliatory legislation, the Foreign Office regarded it as a congressional manoeuvre, and were, on that account, contemptuous of it:

      This does not frighten me (wrote Lord Eustace Percy), when the legislation was first reported. I am convinced that for so long as President Wilson is at White House, the powers cannot be used...... Senators and congressmen will now be able to tell their constituents that they have done their duty. Most of them will pray fervently that the president will not disturb the beauty of their perorations by translating safe threats into dangerous practice.

If Mr. Phelan and a few others were the sole designers of these retaliatory amendments, and if their party colleagues were the only persons concerned in passing it, this appreciation would probably be correct; for it is inconceivable that an assembly that had been so timid and evasive, when the implications of submarine war were considered, would ever have declared in favour of an economic conflict with Great Britain. If, however, President Wilson was author, or part author, of the legislation, it may have been the first move in his larger plan of mediating at the end of the year. We know for certain, that, after he received Sir Edward Grey's messages in April and May, he was much affronted; but that he determined to persevere with his plans for assembling a conference at the end of the year. He may therefore have drafted this retaliatory legislation, and have asked his friends in congress to pass it quickly, in order that he might have some means of intimidating the entente powers, if they continued to thwart him. This is certainty conjecture, but it is not wild and improbable conjecture, for the following known facts support it.

(i) At a later date, soon after the president's proposals were issued, Count von Bernstorff had a long conversation with Colonel House; after it, he telegraphed, that the American administration were convinced that strong pressure would have to be exercised against the entente powers to make them agree, and that they would exert it if needs be.

(ii) After a further interview, a fortnight later, Count von Bernstorff telegraphed:

      At this moment, the president has no other intention than to bring about peace, and will attempt to carry out his purpose with the utmost energy, and with all possible means. It is still impossible to say whether it is really coming to the point of an embargo on all exports. It is possible that the mere threat may force our enemies to a conference.

(iii) Mr. Gerard was summoned to the United States during the autumn, in order that he might be made more conversant with the president's intentions, and returned to his post in December, shortly before the president's summons was issued to the powers at war. When at Copenhagen, he informed the Austro-Hungarian minister to Denmark, that, if the entente powers made exorbitant conditions, then, the United States government would force the peace, by imposing an embargo upon arms, munitions, and even foodstuffs.

(iv) On 12th December, 1916, the German government invited all the powers at war to start a negotiation for a general settlement, and presented their note at Washington. On the following day, an American journalist visited Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, and reported a conversation he had engaged in with the president: the journalist informed our ambassador: That the president was considering cutting [563] off supplies in case Great Britain refused the note. Sir Cecil at once made enquiries, and was assured by another person, that the president was likely: To incite congress to put pressure on the allies. Sir Cecil was not the only diplomat in Washington who thought that this was in contemplation; for the Brazilian ambassador paid a special visit to the secretary of state to warn him, that, if the president coerced the democracies of Europe to accept peace conditions which they would consider unjust, he would be composing a bad chapter of American history.

There are thus reasons for believing that the president laid plans for coercing the entente powers, when he learned that they were likely to decline his invitation; if this is so, and if the retaliatory amendments to the revenue act were the first part of the plan, then, they were more dangerous than was imagined. Even if the alternative explanation is accepted: that the retaliatory amendments were the handiwork of an executive that had lost their temper, and of an assembly that was engaged in political manoeuvres, the passing of them cannot, on that account, be dismissed as a trivial, or an insignificant, incident. This legislation gave the executive of the greatest neutral country in the world the power to impede and obstruct the blockade, and it was certainly a signal to other neutrals. Whether it could have been operated to any good effect is doubtful. In the first place, as Sir Richard Crawford explained to the secretary of state, the greatest restraints upon trade were then being imposed by the agreements with the American exporters, and by the navicerting certificates. These organs of restraint certainly reduced the total volume of trade between the United States and northern Europe; but they also permitted the allowed trade to run freely. Could the administration interpret these agreements as illegal restraints upon American trade, and if they did, what advantage would they get by wrecking a system, which, whatever could be said against it, had ensured the safe delivery of 259 million dollars worth of American goods; for that was the value of the American exports to Europe during the course of a year? No specific answer was given to these questions, but at least they may be assumed to have set in motion that steadying influence to which reference has so often been made: the influence exerted by a great volume of business transactions.

Again, it may be asserted that the blockade of Germany had forcibly reminded the administration of a matter not often brought to their notice: that the United States imported goods from Europe, which were of great importance to American industries. As soon as German exports were stopped, the American administration were subjected to severe pressure from a large number of importing firms. Their telegrams to their representatives in Europe are a curious and interesting record of the complaints lodged in White House by disappointed dealers in German goods. In the space of three months, the importers of dye stuffs, of beet seeds, of porcelain insulators, of hops, and of knitting needles, each, in turn, forced the state department to engage in a long and troublesome correspondence with the British Foreign Office. It must therefore have been patent to the American executive, that the inconveniences they suffered by the loss of German imports would be slight in comparison to the inconveniences consequent upon a trade war with Great Britain; for the United States imported £121,000,000 worth of goods from the British empire, which was their sole supply for tin plates, rubber, and jute, and one of their most important sources of supply for wool, cocoa, skins, and asbestos. If then, the importers of German dye stuffs, hops, and knitting needles, were able to exert such pressure, it can be imagined how much more would have been exercised by the meat and food packers, by the motor car makers, and by the packers of agricultural produce; for all their concerns would have been threatened with ruin, from the moment when the British government even contemplated meeting reprisals [564] with reprisals.15 Moreover, although Great Britain and the allies were importing, grain, foodstuffs and metals from the United States in such quantities that they could not be dispensed with, the American executive would surely have been very reluctant to tamper with these sources of revenue, simply because the revenues drawn from them were so large: for these reasons, it seems safe to assume that the first reprisals attempted would have been reprisals, which would not have done much damage, either to American, or to British, supplies. Nevertheless it cannot be said that these retaliatory amendments were harmless, merely because they would not have been good instruments for exerting economic pressure upon Great Britain: on the contrary, they were dangerous on that very account; for if they had ever been operated, their authors, seeing their defects, would have been driven to remedy them, and it would be pedantic to prove by figures and statistics, that, if the United States government had substituted a good and thorough system of retaliation for the very bad one they actually constructed, then, the allies would have been compelled to yield every demand that was made of them.

[565] Finally, these retaliatory amendments are a significant reminder, that the minor operations of economic warfare may provoke more anger and resistance than the great ones. During the months when congress was alternately discussing, and avoiding discussion, upon economic warfare, the blockade of Germany was rigorously and scientifically administered, in that the imports of all states bordering upon Germany were reduced to such quantities that little or nothing could be re-exported. This great operation provoked no resistance, or even comment: half a continent was therefore rationed, while congress examined the law of armed merchantmen, and listened to learned explanations of the law of contraband. The president's anger that his diplomacy had been checked; an irrational belief that Great Britain was not executing an operation of war, but was pursuing a commercial policy; and an even more irrational anger against the posting of a few firms provoked an opposition that the whole operation had not provoked; and this is surely proof, that the acquiescence of all the neutral governments of Europe; the active co-operation of over two hundred neutral shipping firms, companies, and agencies; and the diplomatic skill with which the operation was conducted did not protect it against those trivial, but decisive, accidents of fortune, which have often determined the fate of empires.

1A later incident had evidently shown the American government that the immunity of passenger ships was a matter which needed to be elaborated by positive rules. Early in November American citizens travelling in the Italian ship Ancona lost their lives because von Arnauld de Perière, the commander of U38, opened fire on the Ancona. Arnauld's explanation was that he summoned the Ancona, and only opened fire when it was evident that she was trying to escape. The secretary of state presented a haughty and peremptory note to the Austrian government but it may be assumed that the facts made some impression. ...back...

2It is customary for senators and congressmen to ask that an: Extension of their speech be printed in the congressional record. These extensions are always carefully written essays, and are sometimes learned and instructive monographs upon law and history. The senators and deputies attach great importance to these compositions, and circulate them all over their constituencies. It is an open question how far these essays upon current topics affect public opinion. The press are inclined to treat them as contaminated literature: papers in which senators and congressmen use the learning and research of men more eminent than they for party manoeuvres. It is certainly difficult to believe, that Senator Hoke Smith's learned reviews of the law of contraband were his own compositions. ...back...

3This canvass of the American press is interesting and deserves to be put on record.

Table LX:
Sympathies of the American Press and attitude to the President.

Circulation Sympathies Attitude to
New York American

New York Journal
Anti-British Against
New York Times 175,000
(Ind. Dem.)
Very pro-Ally For
New York World 358,000
Friendly For
New York Sun 100,000
Friendly For
New York Tribune 80,000
Very pro-Ally For
New York Evening Mail Pro-German Against
New York Herald 100,000
Ardently pro-Ally For
Washington Post 30,000
Pro-German Against
Philadelphia Public Ledger 60,000
Pro-Ally For
Providence Journal 21,000
Pro-Ally For
Springfield Republican 16,000
Friendly For
Middle West
Chicago Tribune 174,000
Unfriendly Against
Chicago Herald 211,000
Neutral-friendly For
Chicago Daily News 325,000
Neutral-friendly For
Chicago Examiner (Hearst) Anti-British Against
St. Louis Globe Democrat 111,000
Unfriendly For
Milwaukee Sentinel 51,000
Pro-German Against
Cleveland Plain Dealer 99,000
Unfriendly For
Indianapolis News 95,000
Pro-Ally For
San Francisco Call 250,000
Anti-British Against
San Francisco Chronicle 84,000
Slightly pro-German Against
Sacramento Bee 24,000
Unfriendly Against
Portland Oregonian 52,000
Friendly For
South and South-West
Dalls [sic] News 52,000
Friendly For
New Orleans Times Picayune (Dem.) Pro-Ally For
Galveston News 27,000
Friendly For

4Congress's disinclination to intervene in diplomatic affairs continued throughout the summer. Shortly after the Sussex controversy was closed, congress was presented with a draft bill for increasing the navy, and in the long and rambling debates upon it little or nothing was said about the controversies with Great Britain and Germany - which were matters that could very properly have been introduced into a discussion upon America's strength at sea. In so far as they defended the increase upon political grounds senators and congressmen argued that all the nations then at war were very incensed against the United States, which would be an object of universal enmity when war was over. See Congressional Record 64th Congress, 1st session, pp. 8752-83; 8902-22; 8958-9000; 9088-9146; 9171-9190. ...back...

5See in particular the address delivered to the first annual assemblage of the League to Enforce Peace. 27th May, 1916. ...back...

6The ditty, which is not bad on the point of composition, but of an insipid and whining sentiment, runs as follows. It became the hymn of the six of one and half a dozen of the other parties.

Loquuntur milites gregarii e vita excessi:

      I was a peasant of the Polish plain;
          I left my plough because the message ran:
          Russia, in danger, needed every man
      To save her from the Teuton; and was slain.
          I gave my life for freedom - this I know,
          For those who bade me fight had told me so.

      I was a Tyrolese, a mountaineer;
          I gladly left my mountain home to fight
          Against the brutal, treacherous Muscovite;
      And died in Poland on a Cossack spear.
          I gave my life for freedom - this I know,
          For those who bade me fight had told me so.

      I worked in Lyons at my weaver's loom,
          When suddenly the Prussian despot hurled
          His felon blow at France and at the world;
      Then I went forth to Belgium and my doom.
          I gave my life for freedom - this I know,
          For those who bade me fight had told me so.

      I owned a vineyard by the wooded Main,
          Until the Fatherland, begirt by foes
          Lusting her downfall, called me, and I rose -
      Swift to the call - and died in fair Lorraine.
          I gave my life for freedom - this I know,
          For those who bade me fight had told me so.

      I worked in a great shipyard by the Clyde;
          There came a sudden word of wars declared;
          Of Belgium, peaceful, helpless, unprepared,
      Asking our aid; I joined the ranks, and died.
          I gave my life for freedom - this I know,
          For those who bade me fight had told me so.

      I was a soldier of the Prince of Peace;
          "Thou shalt not kill" is writ among His laws,
          So I refused to fight, and for this cause
      Myself was slain. 'Twas thus I gained release.
          I gave my life for freedom - this I know,
          For He for whom I fought has told me so.

See Congressional Record, 1st March, 1917, p. 4661. ...back...

7See report of a conversation between Mr. Page and Mr. Asquith in United States Foreign Relations, 1916. Supplement, pp. 45, 871. ...back...

8As, for instance, Section C, Les alliés decident de prendre, sans delai, les mesures nécessaires pour s'affranchir de toute dépendence des pays ennemis relativement aux matières premières et objets fabriqués essentiels pour le développement normal de leur activité èconomique.
      Ces mesures devront tendre à assurer l'independence des alliés non seulement en ce qui concerne les sources d'approvisionnement mais aussi en ce qui touche à l'organisation financière commerciale et maritime.
And also, Section D: Les gouvernements alliés constatant que pour leur commune défense contre l'ennemi les puissances allies sont d'accord pour adopter, une même politique économique, dans les conditions definies par les résolutions qu'ils ont arrêtés. ...back...

9See United States Ambassador, Tokio, to the Secretary of State, 17th April, 1916. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1916. Supp., p. 973. Baron Sakatani, Japanese envoy to the Entente economic conference leaves for Paris last of month. He tells me confidentially that he does not favour the suggested economic alliance between Entente powers to regulate trade after the war as its effect would be to divide the world into three hostile camps...... ...back...

10J. C. Silber: Unsichtbare Waffen - I have here repeated the account that Silber gives of himself, and of his activities. My own personal opinion is that he entered the censor's office intending to act the spy, and that, when he found this to be impossible, he settled down to work allotted to him, and performed it conscientiously after the manner of his race. As he wrote his reminiscences in German, for circulation in Germany, he was bound, in common prudence, to represent that he had done some service to the Fatherland. ...back...

11For official documents on the mail controversy and Mr. Page's reports on British practices see: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1916. Supplement, pp. 593-616.
      For official notes upon the black lists and Consul Skinner's reports to his government see: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1916. Supplement, pp. 411-421, 462-6.
      See also: Journal of Modern History, March, 1934. (University of Chicago Press.) ...back...

12The counsellor to the state department. ...back...

13The parliamentary history of the amendments is: It was proposed in the Senate by Senator Phelan, and agreed to on 5th September. On 6th September Mr. Byrns of Tennessee made a statement in the lower house to the effect that the retaliatory amendments were not sufficient; he was supported by Mr. Barklay of Kentucky. On 8th September, the bill was signed by the president. Public discussion was therefore only possible during three days. ...back...

14The Phelan amendment, connecting the retaliation with mails, not proceeded with.
The Thomas amendment, adopted.
The James amendment, adopted and incorporated into the Thomas amendment.
The Chamberlain amendment, for reprisals in the fisheries, not proceeded with. ...back...

15See memorandum on the effect on the industries of the United States of a policy of non-intercourse with the British Dominions. Board of Trade paper, undated. H.S. collection of miscellaneous papers. The conclusions of this paper ran thus:
      1. By withholding British tin, we could injure, and if we were able to buy up a substantial part of the Bolivian, Chinese and Dutch East Indian tin output, we could cripple the United States tinplate industry and her home and foreign trade industries using tinplates, the aggregate value of whose products in 1909 amounted to 1,468,000,000 dollars.
      2. By withholding British rubber we could, especially if we were able, in conjunction with our allies, to acquire a larger quantity of Brazilian rubber, cripple their rubber industry as well as the home and foreign trade of numerous industries, including the automobile industry, the combined value of whose products in 1909 amounted to at least 228,000,000 dollars.
      3. By withholding British wool and by buying up Argentine wool we could seriously injure their woollen industry, whose home and foreign trade has a value of at least 1,300,000,000 dollars annually.
      4. By withholding Indian jute and jute goods we should destroy their jute industry and very seriously injure many other industries needing jute bagging and bags for the preservation of their goods while in course of transport. The value of the manufactures consisting wholly or partly of jute annually produced in the United States is approximately 95,000,000 dollars.
      5. By withholding British hides and skins and Argentine quebracho we should strike a heavy blow at the leather and allied trades of the United States and destroy an amount of American trade in such goods of a value estimated at 180,000,000 dollars per annum; while the aggregate value of United States trade, home and foreign, that would be seriously affected may be put at not less than 997,000,000 dollars.
      6. By withholding British graphite and asbestos we should cripple industries to which these commodities are of prime importance, the aggregate value of which, in 1909, amounted to at least 46,000,000 dollars, while the inconvenience to machinery and power users throughout the United States cannot be estimated.
      From the stoppage of their trade with the British empire the United States would suffer:
      7. A loss of imports valued at 121,000,000l. and exports valued at 223,000,000l. annually, with all the accompanying insurances, commissions, inland freight charges, etc.
      8. A loss of revenue from import duties, estimated at 18,000,000l. annually.
      9. A loss of railway earnings of about 32,500,000l. annually.
      10. A deficiency of merchant tonnage of about 1,700,000 tons inwards and 1,500,000 tons outwards in connection with their remaining foreign trade.
      11. The cessation of the investment of British capital in the United States, which, in normal times, amounts to 20,000,000-25,000,000l. per annum, and by the complete or partial withdrawal of British capital already invested there, estimated by Sir George Paish to have amounted to 763,000,000l. up to the end of 1914.
      12. The risk of other retaliatory measures, such as the imposition of duties on United States products imported into the United Kingdom or products of the British Empire sent to the United States, and of legislation on the lines of the old Navigation Laws.
      13. The risk of our allies, France, Russia, and Italy, adopting a similar strong attitude. ...back...

A History of the Blockade of Germany
and of the countries associated with her in the Great War:
Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

by A. C. Bell (Historical Section, Committee of Imperial Defence).