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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

24

Self-Determination and Minorities

We have seen the complications that beset the diplomats as a result of appeals to the principle of self-determination, which in the diplomacy of Europe had served less as a moving force than as a formula that was useful in coping with existing circumstances.

American policy in 1919 was subject to particular stress from two minorities that appealed to Wilson's predilection for self-determination. Advocates of Irish independence and those of a Zionist establishment in Palestine, wielding a political influence in the United States that was disproportionate to their numbers, looked eagerly to the delegates at the Peace Conference for sympathy and support.

Irish-Americans, determined to aid their kin who were in revolt against the British government, 1. had tried unsuccessfully to induce McAdoo to represent them at Paris, and both Tumulty and Creel had importuned the president to give heed to their cause. 2. Wilson, however, deemed it unwise to press the matter. On January 26 the president cabled: "I frankly dread the effect on British public opinion ... of a Home Rule resolution by the House of Representatives.... It is not a question of sympathy but of international tactics at a very critical moment. " 3. The conflict between responsible diplomacy and political expediency was embarrassing.

Nevertheless, when agitation for Irish independence rose to a crest on St. Patrick's Day, the House of Representatives passed a resolution asking that the Peace Conference "favorably consider the claims of Ireland to self-determination." There was danger that if the American commission at Paris failed to act aggressively to get a hearing for the rebels, the Irish in America would oppose the League of Nations. 4.

While in Washington in February the president gave assurance to Lord Reading that he would do nothing that could commit the British government in any way to bring the Irish question before the Peace Conference. At the same time, Reading

____________________
1.
Sixty members of the Irish Parliamentary party, which on November 5, 1918, introduced in the House of Commons a resolution that the Irish question should be settled in accord with President Wilson's principles, signed an appeal to Wilson that was transmitted through the American embassy at London, brief no. 490, doc. 841D.00 / 2, Y.H.C. Alan J. Ward, Ireland and Anglo-American Relations, 1899-1921 (London, 1969), pp. 167-168. Joseph P. O'Grady, "The Irish," in The Immigrants' Influence on Wilson's Peace Policies, ed. O'Grady, pp. 59 ff.
2.
Tumulty to Wilson, December 29, 1918, Tumulty papers, box 2. Creel to Wilson, March 3, 1919; letter, five senators to Wilson, March 28, 1919, stating that both the future of the Democratic party and early ratification of the treaty required that the Peace Conference do something "to meet the reasonable expectations of the Irish People," Wilson papers. See Tillman, Anglo-American Relations at the Paris Peace Conference, pp. 197-198.
3.
Tumulty to Wilson, December 31, 1918; Wilson to Tumulty, January 7, 1919. Tumulty replied that to convey Wilson's message to Congressman Flood would be to put the president in the role of an opponent of "deep sentiment" in the House, Tumulty to Wilson, January 28, 1919, Wilson papers.
4.
Weekly Intelligence Review, March 23, 1919, Bliss papers, box 127. The New York Times of March 16 quoted a boast by a representative of the Sinn Fein: "We can stop ratification of this League of Nations in Congress if the Irish question is not settled."

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