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The President was right in his impression that, “while we were still in Paris,” I had accepted his guidance and direction with reluctance. It was as correct as my statement that, as early as January, 1919, I was conscious that he was no longer disposed to welcome my advice in matters pertaining to the peace negotiations at Paris.
There have been obvious reasons of propriety for my silence until now as to the divergence of judgment, the differences of opinion and the consequent breach in the relations between President Wilson and myself. They have been the subject of speculation and inference which have left uncertain the true record. The time has come when a frank account of our differences can be given publicity without a charge being made of disloyalty to the Administration in power.
The President, in his letter of February 11, 1920, from which the quotation is made, indicated my unwillingness to follow him in the course which he adopted at Paris, but he does not specifically point out the particular subjects as to which we were not in accord. It is unsatisfactory, if not criticizable, to leave the American people in doubt as to a disagreement between two of their official representa
a tives upon a matter of so grave importance to the country as the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles. They are entitled to know the truth in order that they may pass judgment upon the merits of the differences which existed. I am not willing that the present uncertainty as to the facts should continue. Possibly some may think that I have remained silent too long. If I have, it has been only from a sense of obligation to an Administration of which I was so long a member. It has not been through lack of desire to lay the record before the public.
The statements which will be made in the succeeding pages will not be entirely approved by some of my readers. . In the circumstances it is far too much to expect to escape criticism. The review of facts and the comments upon them may be characterized in certain quarters as disloyal to a superior and as violative of the seal of silence which is considered generally to apply to the intercourse and communications between the President and his official advisers. Under normal conditions such a characterization would not be unjustified. But the present case is different from the usual one in which a disagreement arises between a President and a high official of his Administration.
Mr. Wilson made our differences at Paris one of the chief grounds for stating that he would be pleased to take advantage of my expressed willingness to resign. The manifest imputation was that I had advised him wrongly and that, after he had decided to adopt a course contrary to my advice, I had continued to oppose his views and had with reluctance obeyed his instructions. Certainly no American official is in honor bound to remain silent under such an imputation which approaches a charge of faithlessness and of a secret, if not open, avoidance of duty. He has, in my judgment, the right to present the case to the American people in order that they may decide
whether the imputation was justified by the facts, and whether his conduct was or was not in the circumstances in accord with the best traditions of the public service of the United States.
A review of this sort becomes necessarily a personal narrative, which, because of its intimate nature, is embarrassing to the writer, since he must record his own acts, words, desires, and purposes, his own views as to a course of action, and his own doubts, fears, and speculations as to the future. If there were another method of treatment which would retain the authoritative character of a personal statement, it would be a satisfaction to adopt it. But I know of none. The true story can only be told from the intimate and personal point of view. As I intend to tell the true story I offer no further apology for its personal character.
Before beginning a recital of the relations existing between President Wilson and myself during the Paris Conference, I wish to state, and to emphasize the statement, that I was never for a moment unmindful that the Constitution of the United States confides to the President the absolute right of conducting the foreign relations of the Republic, and that it is the duty of a Commissioner to follow the President's instructions in the negotiation of a treaty. Many Americans, some of whom are national legislators and solicitous about the Constitution, seem to have ignored or to have forgotten this delegation of exclusive authority, with the result that they have condemned
the President in intemperate language for exercising this executive right. As to the wisdom of the way in which Mr. Wilson exercised it in directing the negotiations at Paris individual opinions may differ, but as to the legality of his conduct there ought to be but one mind. From first to last he acted entirely within his constitutional powers as President of the United States.
The duties of a diplomatic representative commissioned by the President and given full powers to negotiate a treaty are, in addition to the formal carrying out of his instructions, twofold, namely, to advise the President during the negotiation of his views as to the wise course to be adopted, and to prevent the President, in so far as possible, from taking any step in the proceedings which may impair the rights of his country or may be injurious to its interests. These duties, in my opinion, are equally imperative whether the President directs the negotiations through written instructions issuing from the White House or conducts them in person. For an American plenipotentiary to remain silent, and by his silence to give the impression that he approves a course of action which he in fact believes to be wrong in principle or contrary to good policy, constitutes a failure to perform his full duty to the President and to the country. It is his duty to speak and to speak frankly and plainly.
With this conception of the obligations of a Commissioner to Negotiate Peace, obligations which were the more compelling in my case because of my official position
as Secretary of State, I felt it incumbent upon me to offer advice to the President whenever it seemed necessary to me to consider the adoption of a line of action in regard to the negotiations, and particularly so when the indications were that the President purposed to reach a decision which seemed to me unwise or impolitic. Though from the first I felt that my suggestions were received with coldness and my criticisms with disfavor, because they did not conform to the President's wishes and intentions, I persevered in my efforts to induce him to abandon in some cases or to modify in others a course which would in my judgment be a violation of principle or a mistake in policy. It seemed to me that duty demanded this, and that, whatever the consequences might be, I ought not to give tacit assent to that which I believed wrong or even injudicious.
The principal subjects, concerning which President Wilson and I were in marked disagreement, were the following: His presence in Paris during the peace negotiations and especially his presence there as a delegate to the Peace Conference; the fundamental principles of the constitution and functions of a League of Nations as proposed or advocated by him; the form of the organic act, known as the “Covenant,” its elaborate character and its inclusion in the treaty restoring a state of peace; the treaty of defensive alliance with France; the necessity for a definite programme which the American Commissioners could follow in carrying on the negotiations; the employment of private interviews and confidential agreements in reaching