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By the accident of history the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, which he designed to utilize for a series of social reforms, was characterized by the supreme importance of foreign affairs. Whatever the significance of the legislative enactments of his first year of office, he will be remembered as the neutrality President, the war President, and the peace President. Each phase of his administration represents a distinct aspect of his policy and called into prominence distinct aspects of his character. It is the third, however, which gives to his administration the place of importance which it will hold in history; not merely because of the stamp which he attempted to place upon the peace, but because the two earlier phases are in truth expressive of his whole-hearted devotion to the cause of peace. The tenacity with which he held to neutrality in the face of intense provocation resulted less from his appreciation of the pacific sentiments of the nation, or a desire to assure its economic prosperity, than it did from his instinctive abhorrence of war. When finally forced into war, he based his action upon the hope of securing a new international order which would make war in the future impossible or less frequent. In his mind the war was always waged in order to ensure peace.
Whatever his mistakes or successes as neutrality President or war President, therefore, it is as peace President that he will be judged by history. Inevitably future generations will study with especial attention the unfolding of his constructive peace policy, from his declaration of the Fourteen Points to the Peace Conference. In reality his policy of international service, to be rendered by the strong nations of the world in behalf of peace and of absolute justice toward the weaker nations, was developed all through the year 1916. It was then that he seized upon a League of Nations as the essential instrument. But the true significance of this policy was hardly perceived before the speech of the Fourteen Points, in January, 1918. That speech gave to Wilson his position in the world, as preëminent exponent of the new ideals of international relations.
What the President demanded was nothing new. The principle of justice, as the underlying basis of intercourse between nations, has received wide support at all epochs of history; the cause of international peace, as an ultimate ideal, has always been advocated in the abstract; the idea of a League of Nations has frequently been mooted. But it was Wilson's fate to be ruler of a great nation at the moment when the need of peace, justice, and international organization was more clearly demonstrated than ever before in the world's history. Germany's cynical disregard of Belgian independence, the horrors and waste of the war for which Germany was chiefly responsible, the diplomatic disorganization of Europe, which permitted this world disaster, desired by merely a handful of firebrands — all these tragic and pitiful facts had been burned into the mind of the age. There was a definite determination that a recurrence of such catastrophes should not be permitted. The period of the war will be regarded by future historians as one of transition from the international chaos of the nineteenth century to an organization of nations, which, however loose, should crystallize the conscience of the world, preserve its peace, and translate into international politics the standards of morality which have been set up for the individual.
In this transition President Wilson played a part of the first importance. His rôle was not so much that of the executive leader as of the prophet. He was not the first to catch the significance of the transition, nor did he possess the executive qualities which would enable him to break down all obstacles and translate ideals into facts. But he alone of the notable statesmen of the world was able to express adequately the ill-defined hopes of the peoples of all nations. He gave utterance to the words which the world had been waiting for, and they carried weight because of his position. Alone of the great powers the United States had no selfish designs to hide behind fair promises of a better future. As President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson might look for the confidence of Europe; there was no European Government which could arouse similar trust. So long as the war lasted, the President's success as a prophet of the ideal was assured, alike by his ability to voice inarticulate hopes and by reason of his position as chief of the most powerful and most disinterested nation of the world.
But with the end of the war he faced a new task
and one which was infinitely more difficult. The flush of victory obliterated from the minds of many in the Allied countries the high ideals which they had nourished during the bitterness of the struggle. The moment had arrived when practical advantage might be taken from the defeat of the enemy, and it seemed madness to surrender such advantage for the sake of quixotic ideals. The statesmen of Europe once more viewed affairs through the colored prism of national selfishness. In America, where Wilsonian ideals had at best been imperfectly appreciated, men were wearied by international problems and longed for a return to the simple complexity of the business life which they understood. The President was confronted by a double problem. He must win from Europe acceptance of his programme, crystallized in the League of Nations; from his fellow countrymen he must secure the support necessary if the United States were to continue to play the rôle in world affairs which she had undertaken during the war, and which alone would make possible an effective League of Nations. To meet the difficulties of the task, President Wilson was imperfectly equipped. He lacked the dynamic qualities of a Roosevelt, which might have enabled him to carry his