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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

PART THREE

Attrition and Compromise

WHEN Wilson came back to Paris in March, he was still ostensibly a political leader, offering peace and freedom to the people of the world. However, forced as he was to attempt to reconcile the demands of American politics with the requirements of the world's diplomacy, he encountered tensions that threatened to destroy him. He would be vulnerable when Europeans demanded concessions to their purposes as a condition of their acceptance of American amendments to the Covenant. He had much to learn about the work of diplomats and was in danger of failing in their essential task: that of negotiating precise agreements that can be ratified.

Three days after Wilson's return to Paris, a question was raised that revealed the seriousness of his predicament. In the meeting of the Supreme Council on March 17 the chairman of the drafting committee of the Peace Conference sought a precise ruling as to the character of the document that was being framed. Were the military terms that had been drafted by Foch's committee to be considered final conditions of the peace? It was a question that challenged the American prophet to clarify his strategy.

Before his departure from Paris, Wilson had told the council that he wished the preparation of a preliminary peace to go forward during his absence provided that the League Covenant was given due regard. Although he did not want the consideration of territorial adjustments and reparations to be held up, what he had in mind particularly was a military convention that would be in the nature of an exalted armistice, the terms of which would be included eventually in a formal treaty.

The president was not sure that a separate and prior military treaty could be concluded without submission of it to the Senate. In the meeting of March 17 he asked for time to obtain technical counsel. Although he was told by his legal advisers that it was within his power as commander in chief to conclude any kind of armistice convention without reference to the Senate, and though a revised draft of military terms recognized a relationship of the treaty to the Armistice of Rethondes, even a tentative state of peace could not be attained legally without ratification by the Senate. According to Lansing's record, Wilson leaned toward him in a meeting of the Supreme Council and said in a low voice: "You do not mean to say that all these preliminaries have to be ratified by our Senate?" When the secretary of state replied: "Why, of course they have to be, Mr. President," Wilson showed surprise

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