File No. 763.72119/8112

The Ambassador in France ( Sharp) to the Secretary of State


3016. I have received a letter under date of December 29 from Professor George D. Herron, temporarily residing at Geneva, in which, after stating that he had recently had two or three experiences in German mentality and method, [indicating] that country’s determination to secure a peace that would be to her advantage before America can reach Europe in adequate force, he writes as follows:

A former Dutch Minister of Justice, Doctor B. de Jong van Beek en Donk, now settled at Berne and equipped with everything necessary for his work, is carrying on an urgent propaganda for a German peace. He asked a British military attaché, who is also my intimate friend, for an introduction to me and made an appointment at my house. When he sent up his card I went down to find him accompanied by Mr. Haussmann, the leader of the Progressive or Liberal Party of Germany and for thirty years a member of the Reichstag and one of the most influential German politicians; also by Mr. Meinl, one of the most powerful financiers of the Austrian Empire and very close to the Emperor Charles. I let them speak for an hour without interruption.

Professor Herron then goes on to say that his callers had announced at the outset that Germany and Austria were very anxious for peace. They had learned many lessons from the war and now wanted to resume normal relationships with the world, and enter a league of nations; that, on account of Germany’s strong position at the present time, with every reason to expect still further military gains, too many concessions should not be expected; that America is [Page 22]naturally a pacifist nation, engaged in a war that is unnatural to her people, and ought to be the first to persuade the Allies to come to terms with Germany. Mr. Herron then states that he replied that if Germany really wanted peace all she had to do was to openly transmit her request to the Allies through any neutral agency acceptable to them, and to state specifically and unreservedly her terms, that the Allies might consider them; that Germany did not need to be undermining the world with subterranean intrigues nor besieging unofficial individuals such as himself; that if she wants peace she can never obtain it by assuming the role of victor or seeking it by her present indirect methods; that she was laboring under a delusion as regards America, that though it was a pacifist nation, having once drawn the sword it would never sheath it until either the thing called Germanism or we ourselves were destroyed.

Mr. Herron also states that after considerable further talk, the discussion finally resolved itself into this question on the part of his visitors: If Germany now takes the initiative, if Germany makes a great beau geste proposing what she would regard as definite and generous terms of peace, what would be the attitude of President Wilson and the Government at Washington? Germany might be ready now to take this initiative, so they said, if she knew in advance that she would not be turned down by America. Mr. Herron states that he told the gentlemen that there was only one way to ascertain the attitude of America and that was to make their proposition; that he himself was only a private citizen, did not know the attitude of Washington and had no authority to express any opinion. Some other talk was indulged in by him along the same lines.

The callers then wanted to know if he would undertake to find out the probable American attitude, to which he replied that such a proposition was absurd, saying in substance that if Kaiser William and Chancellor Hertling wished to know what President Wilson and Secretary Lansing would think, under certain circumstances, their business was to transmit their inquiry directly to our President and our Secretary of State.

Mr. Herron said that they left with him this last interrogation: “Suppose we do come back to you with a mandate signed by either the Kaiser or Chancellor Hertling, a confidential mandate, of course [predicating] a confidential answer, inquiring as to the probable attitude of Washington if Germany should take the initiative in proposing definite and generous terms of peace, would you take or transmit that imperially signed and confidential question?”

Mr. Herron adds: “I submit the whole interview to you asking your immediate and urgent judgment about the matter. If the utterly incredible thing should happen, [if these men … should,] [Page 23]as the Americans say, ‘call my bluff,’ should I transmit the question to you or should I flatly refuse to receive both the question and the men? I certainly should have refused to see them in the first place had I known they were coming as they did or what they had to propose.

“I suppose they sought me out rather than some other American for the reason that I have written so much for the European press in defense and interpretation of President Wilson and America’s action that I am to their minds an available or obvious person to see unofficially; possibly they imagine that I possess some personal power or authority which I do not in the least possess.”

“I have not answered Mr. Herron’s letter and of course could only say that I have no authority whatever to give him advice concerning the matter [about] which he writes me. I am transmitting in the next pouch a copy of the letter in full which covers seven pages.1 Professor Herron had written me undoubtedly because [of] having called to see me while he was in Paris during the stay of Mr. House. He told me many interesting things regarding the situation existing in Germany and Austria, as he learned it, at short range. Concerning one of his interviews with Professor Foerster, having to do with that gentleman’s negotiations with Emperor Charles of Austria, I wired the President on December l.2

All the straws now blowing from the direction of Germany and Austria would seem to indicate that there is a greatly accentuated desire on the part of the German Government to bring about a speedy cessation of the war. But great as is this desire every sign points to the fact that it has been much more intensified among the masses of the German people. How to effectuate these desires, by what methods and through what channels voice can be given to them without facing danger of too much loss of prestige at home or rejection of their concessions by the Allies, is the problem now acutely facing those Governments.