Page images


President Wilson's messages and addresses, delivered during his first term of office and within the first few months of his second inauguration, cover a wide range of subjects, as was natural, given the international situation and the measures necessary to be taken in order to cope with it. They fall, logically, into two classes: those dealing with foreign and those dealing with domestic affairs. The first category is susceptible of a threefold division: those dealing with the neutrality of the United States in the war which may be said. to have begun by Germany's declaration of a state of war against Russia on the 1st day of August, 1914; those delivered when war between the United States and Germany loomed large upon the horizon and seemed, unless the unexpected should happen, to be but a mere question of time; and those delivered after the outbreak of war, when the ship of state, so to speak, had cast off its neutral moorings, and had put out to sea with its allies in the contest of democracy against autocratic rulers apparently bound on world domination.

And yet, if we analyze President Wilson's messages and addresses on foreign policy-for his views on domestic questions may be omitted, except in so far as they relate to foreign policy-we find that, whether delivered before the war of 1914, during the period of American neutrality, or after the outbreak of the war between Germany and the United States, when President Wilson was speaking as the chief executive of a belligerent country, they are but the varying expressions of a single, definite, conscious purpose, namely, the strengthening of constitutional government where it existed, leavened with democracy, and the introduction of constitutional government where it did. not exist, of a democratic nature or tendency. The future, in President Wilson's conception, belongs to democracy-the world must be made safe for democracy; and, although he does not say it in express terms, democracy must be made safe for the world by instruction in its duties as well as in its rights and by the performance of its duties in the same degree as the insistence upon its rights. The strain of democracy runs through all of his messages and addresses as a golden thread, and the means to bring about constitutional government—

[ocr errors]

which, in the President's mind, is apparently synonymous with democratic government-is from within, not from without, is by moral, not by physical force. Thus, in an address delivered on June 30, 1916, before the Press Club in New York City, President Wilson said:

I have not read history without observing that the greatest forces in the world and the only permanent forces are the moral forces.

We have the evidence of a very competent witness, namely, the first Napoleon, who said that as he looked back in the last days of his life upon so much as he knew of human history he had to record the judgment that force had never accomplished anything that was permanent.

Force will not accomplish anything that is permanent, I venture to say, in the great struggle which is now going on on the other side of the sea. The permanent things will be accomplished afterwards, when the opinion of mankind is brought to bear upon the issues, and the only thing that will hold the world steady is this same silent, insistent, all-powerful opinion of mankind.

Force can sometimes hold things steady until opinion has time to form, but no force that was ever exerted, except in response to that opinion, was ever a conquering and predominant force.

I think the sentence in American history that I myself am proudest of is that in the introductory sentences of the Declaration of Independence, where the writers say that a due respect for the opinion of mankind demands that they state the reasons for what they are about to do.

President Wilson believes and therefore states, as will be apparent even to the casual reader of his messages and addresses on foreign policy, that there is but one standard of justice for the individual as well as for the state; that what is wrong for the individual cannot be right for the state, and what is right for the state should not be wrong for the individual. Thus, in the fateful address to the Congress of the United States on April 2, 1917, advocating the declaration of war against the Imperial German Government, he said, after referring to his addresses of the 22d of January, of the 3d of February, and of the 26th of February to the Congress:

Our object now, as then, is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth insure the observance of those principles. We are at the beginning of an age in which it will be insisted that the same standards of conduct and of responsibility for wrong done shall be observed

among nations and their governments that are observed among the individual citizens of civilized states.

This standard which he set for others he has exacted of the United States; and to public opinion, which he asserts to be the greatest of forces, both he and the nation whereof he is the chief executive, have bowed. Thus, President Wilson urged the Congress to repeal the provision of the Panama Canal Act of August 24, 1912, exempting vessels engaged in the coastwise trade of the United States from the payment of tolls, on the ground that the exemption of American vessels-for it is only American vessels that can engage in the coastwise trade of the United States-if not contrary in fact to the provisions of the Hay-Pauncefote treaty of November 18, 1901, between the United States and Great Britain, came nevertheless in conflict with the public opinion of the world and was inconsistent with the provisions of that treaty and therefore with the plighted word of the United States. In his address to the Congress on March 5, 1914, he said:

Whatever may be our own differences of opinion concerning this much debated measure, its meaning is not debated outside the United States. Everywhere else the language of the treaty is given but one interpretation, and that interpretation precludes the exemption I am asking you to repeal. We consented to the treaty; its language we accepted, if we did not originate it; and we are too big, too powerful, too self-respecting a nation to interpret with a too strained or refined reading the words of our own promises just because we have power enough to give us leave to read them as we please. The large thing to do is the only thing we can afford to do, a voluntary withdrawal from a position everywhere questioned and misunderstood. We ought to reverse our action without raising the question whether we were right or wrong, and so once more deserve our reputation for generosity and for the redemption of every obligation without quibble or hesitation.

It will be observed that, in this statement of the case, a strained or even a defensible interpretation was not to be made in order to profit the United States, for morality and justice go hand in hand. An acquisition at the expense of morality and of justice and the possessions of nations are not to be seized by physical force, any more than the property of the individual is to be taken by the strong hand. This conception, axiomatic with President Wilson, has been repeatedly stated by him in his public addresses, and never more solemnly than in his address of April 2, 1917, to the Congress, advocating the war with Germany :

« PreviousContinue »