Memorandum by the Secretary of State

At 10 o’clock this morning Crane handed me a secret copy of telegram to the War Department received by it at 8:55 which read “Armistice signed” and signed “Warburton”, (a military attaché) at Paris. I showed it to Polk and said that there must be some mistake as it was physically impossible for the German parliamentaries to have reached the French lines and much less to have conferred with Marshal Foch. It seemed best, however, to wire Colonel House at once after getting a clear line to Paris.26

A short time later General March came to my office smiling and asked what I thought of the telegram. I told him that I thought it was physically impossible. He said that he was sure that it was a [Page 172] false report and he had not sent it to the President. I told him we were telegraphing for confirmation or denial.

Some time after 11:30 Crane said that the United Press had a “flash” from Paris saying that the armistice was signed and also another saying hostilities ceased at 2 p. m. Paris time. I told him to say that we had no official confirmation of the report and that I did not believe it.

The President, whom I had asked to call me up on another matter, telephoned me over our private wire about 11:45. I then told him of the press report and also Warburton’s telegram and that I did not believe them. I also said we were wiring Colonel House for information and that the only reason for paying any attention to the extraordinary statement, which seemed to me absurd, was that the French and British censors had permitted the press telegram to come through, which, if without foundation, seemed to me a strange neglect of duty.

When I went to the Club for luncheon at 12:45 the Washington Times extras were being called announcing “Germany Surrenders”. At the Club I told inquirers that there was no official corroboration of the report and that I considered it most improbable. During luncheon Frank Polk came to the table and gave me a telegram from Warburton denying his previous telegram and saying the German commissioners would not arrive until 5 p. m. of that day.

Meanwhile the public had gone wild over the report. Crowds swarmed through the streets cheering and waving flags. Thousands collected in front of the White House and shouted themselves hoarse. I was informed that the President came out on the White House portico and waved to the multitude of frantic people. A dozen aeroplanes were flying overhead performing feats, whistles and syrens were blowing, horns were sounding, bands playing, while trucks passed along with waving flags and rejoicing people. Reports from New York and Boston were that similar scenes of wild rejoicing were occurring in those cities.

At two o’clock a telegram came from Colonel House27 denying the report and saying that the German representatives could probably not reach Marshal Foch’s headquarters until midnight. I at once telephoned the President and then had Patchin28 see the newspapermen and announce the falsity of the story.

The Washington Evening Star published the denial at three but the final edition of the Times reprinted its fictitious report in glaring headlines and did not refer to the denial.

[Page 173]

The popular jollification in spite of the denial, continued all the afternoon and evening. Whether this was because the people did not know the truth or else having started to celebrate enjoyed it so much that the object of the celebration was lost sight of, I do not know. In the evening on the way to the Theater we found about the Treasury Building and on Pennsylvania Avenue an automobile blockade and immense crowds of people, so dense that with difficulty we made our way to our destination.

I wondered whether the rejoicing was over peace or over victory?

  1. See Foreign Relations, 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 480.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 480.
  3. P. H. Patchin, of the Division of Foreign Intelligence, Department of State.