The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: As a matter of precaution I return these setters4 and answer your note concerning them with my pen. The one sent out by O’Laughlin5 is frank and bears evidence of correctly stating the situation. There is no doubt as to the sentiment in Germany and the view they take is a natural one. 1st, They have warned Americans not to travel on British ships. Why do Americans take the risk? Not an unreasonable question. 2nd, If we allow the use of our flag, how can we complain, if in the confusion one of our boats is sunk by mistake? 3rd, Why be shocked at the drowning of a few people, if there is no objection to starving a nation? Of course Germany insists that by careful use she will have enough food, but if Great Britain cannot succeed in starving the noncombatants, why does she excite retaliation by threatening to do so?

If we are to prove our neutrality—and unless we do, we are likely to be drawn into the conflict by the growing feeling in Germany—it [Page 12]seems to me we must prevent the misuse of our flag and warn Americans not to use British vessels in the war zone unless we can bring pressure on Great Britain to withdraw threat to make bread or food contraband. Our identical note6 was well intended and Germany indicated a willingness to negotiate—would it not be wise to make another effort to persuade Great Britain to join in some agreement which will, by permitting food to go into Germany, do away with the torpedoing of merchant vessels? Otherwise, the continued export of arms is likely to get us into trouble. So much for the O’Laughlin letter.

The Münsterburg7 letter indicates that Germany is ready for peace. I doubt if the terms he proposes are possible. I doubt if it is wise to propose terms, but I feel and have felt for some time that we should urge the Allies to consent to a conference at which terms shall be discussed.

It is impossible for either side to annihilate the other, and a continuance of the struggle not only adds to the horrors but endangers neutrals who have already suffered greatly. I doubt if secret proposals will suffice—a public appeal strongly worded might have effect, and would it not be justified considering the nature of the contest and our relation to the nations at war? All the neutral nations would at once indorse it and it might end the war. I do not see that it could do harm.

I agree with Münsterburg that you are the one to act—no self-appointed com. could or should take the lead. “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

With assurances [etc.]

W. J. Bryan
  1. No copies of these letters found in Department files.
  2. J. C. O’Laughlin, of the Chicago Herald.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1915, supp., p. 119.
  4. Professor Hugo Münsterburg, of Harvard University.