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REPLY TO THE PEACE NOTE OF THE IMPERIAL GERMAN GOVERNMENT
DATED DECEMBER 12, 1916
President Wilson's preoccupation from the outbreak of the European War on August 1, 1814, to April 6, 1917, was two-fold; first, to bring this war to a conclusion in the interest of our common humanity; second, to maintain peaceful relations between the United States, on the one hand, and the belligerents, on the other. In pursuance of these purposes, he addressed the following message to the nations at war, under date of August 5, 1914: "As official head of one of the powers signatory to The Hague Convention, I feel it to be my privilege and my duty, under Article 3 of that Convention, to say to you in a spirit of most earnest friendship that I should welcome the opportunity to act in the interest of European peace, either now or at any other time that might be thought more suitable, as an occasion to serve you and all concerned in a way that would afford me lasting cause for gratitude and happiness."
These overtures were not accepted and apparently no encouragement offered for their future presentation. President Wilson's action in this matter, however, was then and later, in his more formal offer, in strict accordance with Article 3 of The Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, to which all the belligerent and neutral powers are contracting parties. This article is so important that the material portion of it is quoted: "Powers, strangers to the dispute, have the right to offer good offices or mediation, even during the course of hostilities.
"The exercise of this right can never be regarded by one or the other of the parties in conflict as an unfriendly act.”
On December 12, 1916, the Imperial German Government addressed a note to all the neutral powers and to the Vatican, proposing "to enter forthwith into peace negotiations" with the Allied Powers, and asking the neutral powers to bring this communication to the notice of the belligerent governments. Terms were not stated, but were apparently reserved, to be laid before a conference of the belligerents when it should meet. A separate statement at the same time was made by the Government of Austria-Hungary, although Germany acted for its allies, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. On December 18th President Wilson directed the Secretary of State to transmit to the Imperial German Government and its allies and to all neutral governments, for their information, a request that the belligerents thus addressed should make more definite proposals. On the same day a communication was addressed to the Allied Powers and to all neutral governments, for their information, requesting a specific statement of the terms upon which they would agree to consider the conclusion of peace, in order that, by this exchange of views, a basis might be found for negotiotions. The belligerent governments answered the request, the Allies stating specific
terms, whereas Germany and its allies, while commending the "noble initiative of the President," refused to state terms to the President, while declaring themselves ready to enter into direct negotiations with the belligerents. Thus:
"A direct exchange of views appears to the Imperial Government as the most suitable way of arriving at the desired result. .
"It is also the view of the Imperial Government that the great work for the prevention of future wars can first be taken up only after the ending of the present conflict of exhaustion."
THE SECRETARY OF STATE TO AMBASSADOR GERARD.1
DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
Washington, December 18, 1916.
The President directs me to send you the following communication to be presented immediately to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government to which you are accredited:
"The President of the United States has instructed me to suggest to the Imperial German Government a course of action with regard to the present war which he hopes that the Imperial Government will take under consideration as suggested in the most friendly spirit and as coming not only from a friend but also as coming from the representative of a neutral nation whose interests have been most seriously affected by the war and whose concern for its early conclusion arises out of a manifest necessity to determine how best to safeguard those interests if the war is to continue.
"The suggestion which I am instructed to make the President has long had it in mind to offer. He is somewhat embarrassed to offer it at this particular time because it may now seem to have been prompted by a desire to play a part in connection with the recent overtures of the Central Powers. It has in fact been in
1 Same, mutatis mutandis, to the American Diplomatic Representatives accredited to the Governments of Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria, and to all neutral Governments for their information.
no way suggested by them in its origin and the President would have delayed offering it until those overtures had been independently answered but for the fact that it also concerns the question of peace and may best be considered in connection with other proposals which have the same end in view. The President can only beg that his suggestion be considered entirely on its own merits and as if it had been made in other circumstances.
"The President suggests that an early occasion be sought to call out from all the nations now at war such an avowal of their respective views as to the terms upon which the war might be concluded and the arrangements which would be deemed satisfactory as a guaranty against its renewal or the kindling of any similar conflict in the future as would make it possible frankly to compare them. He is indifferent as to the means taken to accomplish this. He would be happy himself to serve, or even to take the initiative in its accomplishment, in any way that might prove acceptable, but he has no desire to determine the method or the instrumentality. One way will be as acceptable to him as another if only the great object he has in mind be attained.
"He takes the liberty of calling attention to the fact that the objects which the statesmen of the belligerents on both sides have in mind in this war are virtually the same, as stated in general terms to their own people and to the world. Each side desires to make the rights and privileges of weak peoples and small states as secure against aggression or denial in the future as the rights and privileges of the great and powerful states now at war. Each wishes itself to be made secure in the future, along with all other nations and peoples, against the recurrence of wars like this, and against aggression of selfish interference of any kind. Each would be jealous