Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

1

The Battle of the Peace Begins

In Paris, after the end of the last year of France's epic struggle for survival, the Seine was in flood and a damp chill clung to the earth. The venerable city, long accustomed to high affairs of state, looked to the future with hope but also with many fears. In the first week of 1919 the process of peacemaking seemed to be retrogressing. President Wilson was wooing the Italian people; Prime Minister Lloyd George was in London, meeting political challenges; and Georges Clemenceau complained to President Poincaré that the peace conference was becoming more of a myth each day. 1.

The French government had placed the Murat Palace, which had been the residence of Napoleon's marshal, at the disposal of the president of the United States. There, enjoying privacy behind high garden walls with sentry boxes at an entrance guarded by French soldiers, Woodrow Wilson was remote from the masses of people to whom he wished to bring peace. In a bedroom decorated in green, spotted with the golden bees of the First French Empire, the American democrat sat at a Napoleonic writing table to work out the charter of a new world.

Living with the Wilsons in this relic of imperial grandeur was Dr. Cary T. Grayson. This Navy physician would be constantly at the side of the president and, dressed in his admiral's uniform, would on occasion act as an aide. He vigilantly guarded Wilson against fatigue and vetoed every plan for him to work amidst the hubbub at the Hôtel Crillon, where the American Commission to Negotiate Peace had its headquarters. Two days of complete rest were ordered at the beginning of January so that the president might recuperate after strenuous journeys to England and to Italy. 2.

The four American plenipotentiaries who with the president made up the American Commission to Negotiate Peace (ACTNP) took up residence in the Crillon. Three of the men—Secretary of State Robert Lansing, General Tasker H. Bliss, and Henry White—were lodged on the floor immediately above the entresol, in rooms ornate with tapestry, mirrors, and gilding. On the story above, where Admiral William S. Benson, the military attachés, and the advisers on economic matters had their quarters, Navy yeomen stood guard before a door that led to the inner sanctum of Colonel Edward M. House. This seat of authority became known as "upstairs." 3.

The president gave House few explicit instructions. The Texan "colonel," an intimate friend and counselor for eight years past, could be useful only so long as

____________________
1.
Raymond Poincaré, Au Service de la France, vol. 11, p. 47.
2.
Charles Swem and Charles C. Wagner to the author. Walworth, America's Moment: 1918, pp. 146-153, 166-170. Charles T. Thompson, The Peace Conference Day by Day, p. 83.
3.
House's staff numbered thirty-two, more than twice the size of that of any other American commissioner. It served the entire delegation, House diary, January 7, 1919. On the personnel of the American Commission, see Walworth, pp. 121-124.

-7-

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