File No. 763.72119/451½

The German Ambassador ( Bernstorff) to Colonel House

My Dear Colonel House: I have received a telegram from Berlin, according to which I am to express to the President the thanks of the Imperial Government for his communication made through you. The Imperial Government has complete confidence in the President and hopes that he will reciprocate such confidence. As [Page 35] proof I am to inform you in confidence that the Imperial Government will be very glad to accept the services kindly offered by the President for the purpose of bringing about a peace conference between the belligerents. My Government, however, is not prepared to publish any peace terms at present, because our enemies have published such terms which aim at the dishonor and destruction of Germany and her allies. My Government considers that as long as our enemies openly proclaim such terms, it would show weakness, which does not exist, on our part if we publish our terms and we would in so doing only prolong the war. However, to show President Wilson our confidence, my Government through me desires to inform him personally of the terms under which we would have been prepared to enter into negotiations, if our enemies had accepted our offer of December 12.1

  • Restitution of the part of Upper Alsace occupied by the French;
  • Gaining of a frontier which would protect Germany and Poland economically and strategically against Russia;
  • Restitution of colonies in form of an agreement which would give Germany colonies adequate to her population and economic interest;
  • Restitution of those parts of France occupied by Germany under reservation of strategical and economic changes of the frontier and financial compensations;
  • Restoration of Belgium under special guaranty for the safety of Germany which would have to be decided on by negotiations with Belgium;
  • Economic and financial mutual compensation on the basis of the exchange of territories conquered and to be restituted at the conclusion of peace;
  • Compensation for the German business concerns and private persons who suffered by the war; abandonment of all economic agreements and measures which would form an obstacle to normal commerce and intercourse after the conclusion of peace, and instead of such agreements reasonable treaties of commerce;
  • The freedom of the seas.

The peace terms of our allies run on the same lines.

My Government further agrees, after the war has terminated, to enter into the proposed second international conference on the basis of the President’s message to the Senate.

My Government would have been glad to postpone the submarine blockade, if they had been able to do so. This, however, was quite impossible on account of the preparations which could not be canceled. My Government believes that the submarine blockade will terminate the war very quickly. In the meantime my Government will do everything possible to safeguard American interests and [Page 36] begs the President to continue his efforts to bring about peace, and my Government will terminate the submarine blockade as soon as it is evident that the efforts of the President will lead to a peace acceptable to Germany.

The motives of my Government for beginning the submarine blockade are the following: After bluntly refusing Germany’s peace offer the Entente powers stated in their note addressed to the American Government1 that they are determined to continue the war in order to deprive Germany of German provinces in the West and the East, to destroy Austria-Hungary, and to annihilate Turkey. In waging war with such aims, the Entente Allies are violating all rules of international law, as they prevent the legitimate trade of neutrals with the Central powers, and of the neutrals among themselves. Germany has, so far, not made unrestricted use of the weapon which she possesses in her submarines. Since the Entente powers, however, have made it impossible to come to an understanding based upon equality of rights of all nations as proposed by the Central powers, and have instead declared only such a peace to be possible which shall be dictated by the Entente Allies and shall result in the destruction and the humiliation of the Central powers, Germany is unable further to forego the full use of her submarines.

The Imperial Government, therefore, does not doubt that the Government of the United States will understand the situation thus forced upon Germany by the Entente Allies’ brutal methods of war and by their determination to destroy the Central powers and that the Government of the United States will further realize that the now openly disclosed intentions of the Entente Allies give back to Germany the freedom of action which she reserved in her note addressed to the Government of the United States on May 4, 1916.2

I am always at your disposal if I can be of any service.

Yours very sincerely,

J. Bernstorff

P. S. I could not get the translation of the official answer to the President’s message ready in time to send it to you. I was in such a hurry to give you the above most important news; namely, that the blockade will be terminated, if a conference can be brought about on reasonable terms.

[The German Government’s note of January 31, 1917, delivered by the German Ambassador on that date, transmitting memoranda regarding the establishment of a new zone of naval warfare, is in the form of a reply to the President’s address of January 22, as is also the Austro-Hungarian Government’s note of January 31, received [Page 37] by telegraph from the Ambassador in Austria-Hungary, February 3, 8.15 a.m., post, pages 97, 104.]