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Personal Messages to Congress
1AM very glad, indeed, to have this opportunity to address the two Houses directly and to verify for myself the impression that the President of the United States is a person, not a mere department of the Government hailing Congress from some isolated island of jealous power, sending messages, not speaking naturally and with his own voice—that he is a human being trying to cooperate with other human beings in a common service After this pleasant experience I shall feel quite normal in all our dealings with one another.—From the President's First Address to Congress, April 8, 1913
President had indeed avoided war with Mexico, but had become involved in two invasions of the country and in an expensive mobilization. During the 1916 election the nation had in Mexico most of the drawbacks of war without any of the possible benefits. In forcing out Huerta the President had indeed won a notable diplomatic triumph, but he had not succeeded either in winning greater security for American life and property or in getting a Mexican Government more disposed to good relations with the United States; and the Republicans maintained that war had been avoided only at the sacrifice of both American prestige and American interests.
But Mexico, despite the emphasis placed upon it by the Republicans, was a secondary issue in the campaign of 1916. The great issue was the conduct of American relations with Germany, and the ultimate Republican failure in the election may be laid primarily to the inability of the Republican Party to decide just where it stood on the main issue.
The President had in this field also won a diplomatic victory. Like his victory over Huerta, it was more apparent than real, for the submarines were still active, and even during the campaign several incidents occurred which looked very much like violations of the German promise made in May. The most serious incident, that of the Lusitania, was still unsettled and the \/ opponents of the President charged him with having bought peace with Germany, like peace with Mexico, at the cost of national interest and honor. Still the technical victory in the submarine negotiations had remained with the President, and he had succeeded in winning at least a nominal recognition of American rights without going into a war which, as every one realized, would be a much more serious enterprise than an invasion of Mexico. German propaganda and terrorist outrages, which had been so serious in 1915, fell off materially in 1916 largely on account of the energetic work of the Department of Justice, which had sent some of the most prominent conspirators to jail and driven others out of the country. But a considerable section of the population had made up its mind that Germany was already an enemy and was dissatisfied with the President's continual efforts to preserve impartiality of thought as well as of action.
The President was renominated at the Democratic Convention in St. Louis, and the platform expressed a blanket endorsement of the achievements of his Administration. But the chief incident of that convention was the keynote speech of Martin H. Glynn, which was based on the text, "He kept us out of war." His recital of the long list of past occasions in American history when foreign violations of American rights and injuries to American interests had not led to war was received with uproarious enthusiasm by the convention and completely overturned the plans which had been made by the Administration managers to emphasize the firmness of the President in defense of American rights.
But the Republicans presently gave that issue back to them. The party passed over Colonel Roosevelt; the memory of 191a was still too bitter to permit the old-line leaders to accept him. On the other hand, the Colonel and his following had to be conciliated, so the Republican Convention nominated Charles E. Hughes, who had viewed the party conflict of 1912 from the neutrality of the Supreme Court bench. The Progressive Party duly had its convention and nominated Roosevelt; and when Roosevelt announced that Hughes's views on the preservation of American interests were satisfactory and that the main duty was to beat Wilson, a good many Progressives followed the Colonel back into camp. A rump convention, however, nominated a Vice Presidential candidate, and virtually went over to Wilson.
Justice Hughes's views on public issues were not known before he was nominated, and on the great issue of the campaign they were never very clearly known until after the election, when it was too late. He had strong opinions on Democratic misgovernment and maladministration and outspoken opinions on Mexico, but whenever he tried to say anything about the war in Europe he used up most of his energy clearing his throat. A large element in the American people, which was influential out of proportion to its numbers because it included most of the intelligent classes and most of the organs of public opinion, felt that the President had been too weak in the face of German provocation. To this element, chiefly in the East, Colonel Roosevelt appealed with his denunciation of German aggression and of the President's temporizing with Germany; but Colonel Roosevelt was not running for President. There was another minority, considerably smaller and far less reputable, which consisted of bitter partisans of the German cause. This minority was fiercely against the President because he had dared to challenge Germany at all; and though Mr. Hughes gave it no particular encouragement, it supported him because there was nobody else to support.
So, in the Eastern States, where anti-German sentiment was strongest, the Democrats advocated the re-election of Wilson as the defender of American rights against foreign aggression, while in the West he was praised as the man who had endured innumerable provocations and "kept us out of war." When Hughes swept everything in the East, it was confidently assumed on election night that Wilson had been repudiated by the country; but later reports showed that the East was no longer symptomatic of the country's sentiment. For three days the election was in doubt. It was finally decided by California, where the Republican Senator whom Hughes had snubbed was re-elected by 300,000 majority, while the Democratic electoral ticket won by a narrow margin. Wilson had carried almost everything in the West. Those parts of the country which lay further away from Europe and European interests had re-elected him because he had "kept us out of War."
^Mediation Efforts, IQI6-IQIJ
'JT has been stated by Count von Bernstorff that, if Hughes J. had been elected, President Wilson would immediately have resigned, along with the Vice President, after appointing Hughes as Secretary of State, in order to give the President-elect an opportunity to come into office at once and meet the urgent problems already pressing on the Executive. Whether the President actually entertained any such intention or not, it would have been a logical development of his theory of the Chief Executive as Premier/But the President-Premier had received a vote of confidence, and was free to deal with the new situation created by the various peace proposals of the Winter of 1916-1917. The negotiations which followed during December and January were obscure at the time and are by no means clear even yet. The fullest account of them is that of Bernstorff, whose personal interest in vindicating himself would make him a somewhat unreliable witness even if there were nothing else against him. And at the time, when the President's motives were unknown to a public which had not his advantage of information as to what was going: to happen in Europe, almost every step which he took was miscon-! strued, and his occasional infelicities of language aroused suspicions which later events have shown to be entirely unjustified.
Reports of American diplomats in the Fall of 1916 indicated that the party in Germany which favored unrestricted submarine war without consideration for neutrals was growing in strength. It was opposed by most of the civilian officials of the Government, including the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg; Jagow and Zimmermann, the successive Foreign Secretaries, and Bernstorff, the Ambassador in Washington. But the Admirals who supported it were gradually winning over the all-powerful Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, and it appeared only a question of time until the promise to America of May, 1916, should be broken. And, as Bernstorff has expressed it, the President realized after the Sussex note there could be no more notes; any future German aggression would have to be met by action or endured with meekness.
In these circumstances the President was driven to seek opportunity for the mediation which he had been ready to offer, if asked, from the very beginning of the war. But to offer mediation, so long as the war was undecided, was a matter of extreme delicacy. The majority of intelligent Americans were strong partisans of * the allied cause and firmly believed that that cause was bound to win in the long run. There was a minority which had equal sympathy for Germany and equal confidence in her ultimate success.