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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

15

Week of Crisis

As the Peace Conference entered its most critical period, those who bore the burden of reaching agreement were more than ever obsessed by a desire for haste. There was an accumulation of fears and alarms. The popular demand for settlements increased after revolution flared in Hungary and violence in parts of Germany. The inexorable pressures of national politics made themselves felt, and a period of intense negotiation and efforts at compromise began.

Early in April the secretariat was taking account of progress made and found much still to be accomplished. The reports of only three commissions were ready, three "nearly ready," seven "not ready." 1. Moreover, matters of the first importance had not yet been entrusted to any committee. Consideration of them was thought by The Four to be too hazardous to be undertaken by any but themselves.

On the return of Wilson and Lloyd George from their national capitals, the heads of the delegations had undertaken to consider certain issues that were very controversial. For two weeks at the end of March their talks seemed only to intensify the deadlock. Clemenceau would not abate French demands for security and reparation; Lloyd George would not give way with respect to categories of war damage that Germany was to make good; Orlando persisted in his demand for the lands promised by the Treaty of London and for sovereignty over Fiume, too; and Japan adhered to its claim in China.

Wilson still insisted on imposing his concept of justice; and he was not permitted to forget what was expected of him by his idealistic friends. Ray Stannard Baker, who regarded the Peace Conference as a moral battle of the New World against the Old and who came to the president late in each day to gather news for the journalists, spoke of the frustration that he and fellow liberals felt. Moreover, a cable from Tumulty informed the president that his political enemies were holding him responsible for the delay. Wilson perhaps was reminded of this criticism by twelve congressmen whom he received when they were in Paris for a day. 2.

The negotiations that had progressed secretly under the wise ministration of House, Balfour, Kerr, and Tardieu, and from which there could be no escape if the terms of a treaty of peace were to be acceptable to the European democracies, came to a number of crises in the month of April.

The several committees to which matters relatively free from controversy had been referred had shown a capacity to function well. The diplomats and scholars sitting in these advisory bodies, appointed to deal with national demands as they

____________________
1.
Four-page brief, undated, summarizing progress on all topics under negotiation; Harrison to Close, April 7, 1919, enclosing a compendium of reports from the secretaries of the Americans sitting on various commissions; Hankey's mimeographed report on "State of Reports of Commissions," April 4, 1919, Wilson papers.
2.
Tumulty to Wilson, March 25, 1919, Tumulty papers, box 6. Grayson diary, March 30, 1919.

-277-

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