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parently wanted to remain on good terms with the United States and opposed unrestricted submarine activity. Ambassador Gerard is of the opinion that both the chancellor, Von Bethmann-Holweg and the foreign minister, Von Jagow, were sincere in their professions of friendship for America and were favorably inclined toward peace negotiations. The chancellor expressed the hope that President Wilson would make an effort to bring the war to a close, saying that if he did not “public opinion in Germany would undoubtedly force a resumption of a ruthless submarine war.” It looked, therefore, as if peace alone could prevent the accession to power of the party in favor of the cancellation of the Sussex pledge.
Ambassador Gerard was urged by Von Jagow and the chancellor to visit America and try to induce the President to take the initiative in an endeavor to end the war. Mr. Gerard did return to the United States for a short visit and had an interview with President Wilson in October, 1916. He was greatly impressed with President Wilson's desire for peace, and reported to the German chancellor on his return that he believed “the President was ready to go very far in the way of coercing any nation which
2 Gerard, 345, 346, 349, 358–9, 368.
Whether the German Government was sincerely desirous of peace or only wanted to drive a wedge in between the Entente Allies cannot at this time be determined. At any rate the Teutonic allies sent notes to neutrals on December 12, 1916, announcing their willingness to negotiate for peace and asked these neutral powers to notify the Allied belligerents of their proposal. They did not, however, indicate what terms would be acceptable to them.3
Our Secretary of State passed on this proposal (December 16) and at the same time indicated that our Government would soon make, of its own accord, an overture of peace to the belligerents, which would, however, be in no sense connected with the Teutonic offer to negotiate.* This overture came two days later (December 18) when President Wilson sent notes to all the belligerent nations asking them to state the terms on which they would be willing to conclude the war. The reply of the Teutonic allies to this note came on December 26, 1916. It did not give the terms that would be acceptable to them but only reiterated their willingness to negotiate and suggested a peace congress on neutral territory. The Entente powers replied to both the Teutonic pro3 Dip. Cor., 305–309.
5 Ibid., 321–26. 4 Ibid., 309–11.
6 Ibid., 327–8, 333.
posals and President Wilson's note, stating in a general way the conditions on which they would stop fighting. These were based on the principle of restitution, reparation, and guarantees for the future. While the Teutonic allies had not put down their demands in a formal note, yet in a conversation with Mr. Gerard the chancellor had indicated (January, 1917) what concessions would be expected. These were out of all reason, and so the belligerents were still poles apart as to peace terms.
These abortive efforts at peace ended on January 22, 1917, when President Wilson made a speech before the United States Senate giving in a general way his idea as to the principles on which a just settlement should be based. A peace founded on such principles would, he thought, be lasting, and only such a peace would the United States be willing to assist in guaranteeing: 8
The peace moves had now failed and the chauvinists and advocates of ruthless submarine warfare were in control in Germany. Whether they owed their ascendency to the failure of the peace drive cannot as yet be determined. If we can accept at face value statements made by the chancellor and foreign min
7 Ibid., 311-313, 335–39; Gerard, 365–6. 8 Ibid., 381–86.
ister, this party had in its favor the belief on the part of the German Government that America would not go to war even if unrestricted submarine activity were resumed. This conviction was also shared by the German people, in the opinion of Mr. Gerard. They considered that inasmuch as President Wilson had run on his peace record, his re-election was equivalent to a mandate from the American people to keep out of war at any cost.
Before President Wilson had made his peace address, the German foreign office had decided to cancel all its previous pledges and to enter upon a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.10 Accordingly, on July 31, our State Department was notified by Count Bernstorff, German ambassador at Washington, that on the next day Germany would declare the sea areas around Great Britain, France, and Italy and in the eastern Mediterranean as war zones and would sink all vessels, neutral as well as belligerent, that should venture into these prohibited areas. “All sea traffic,” the memorandum continued, “will be stopped with every available weapon and without further notice." An exception to this general policy would be made in favor of American passenger vessels 9 Gerard, 364.
10 We know that this policy was decided on as early as January 19 because the Zimmermann note which refers to it bears that date. See War Cyclopedia, p. 312.
if they would adhere to the following regulation: They must go to Falmouth only and in a certain lane designated in the memorandum. Only one trip each way was to be made each week; the ships were to be marked with broad vertical stripes; and their cargoes must include no articles that Germany had defined as contraband.11
The situation was now worse than it had ever been before. President Wilson was faced by two alternatives. He had either to back down from the position he had taken in the Sussex note and thereby announce his inability or unwillingness to protect American citizens in their recognized rights, or break relations with Germany and thereby declare his intention to uphold the dignity and right of his country. He chose the latter alternative and relations between the two Governments were broken off on February 3, 1917. On that same day President Wilson made a speech before Congress announcing the break with Germany and giving his reasons for such important action. In this address he said, in part:
Notwithstanding this unexpected action of the German Government, this sudden and deeply deplorable renunciation of the assurances given this Government at one of the most critical moments of tension in the relations of the two Governments, I refuse to believe that it is the intention of the German authorities to
11 Dip. Cor., 403–407.