File No. 763.72119/8985
The Special Representative ( House ) to the Secretary of State
[Received October 31, 5.50 a.m.]
12. For the President:
Lloyd George, Clemenceau and I met for 45 minutes this morning alone at the office of the Minister of War. Just before we entered Clemenceau’s office George handed me a proposed answer to the President which the British authorities had drafted. I quote the draft in full.
The Allied Governments have given careful consideration to the correspondence which has passed between the President of the United States and the German Government. Subject to the qualifications which follow, they declare their willingness to make peace with the Government of Germany on the terms of peace laid down in the President’s address to Congress of January 8, 1918, and the principles of settlement enunciated in his subsequent addresses. They point out, however, that clause 2, relating to what is usually described as the freedom of the seas, is open to various interpretations, some of which they could not accept. They must therefore reserve to themselves complete freedom on this subject when they enter the peace conference.
Further, in the conditions of peace laid down in his address to Congress of January 8, 1918, the President declared that invaded territories must be restored as well as evacuated and freed. The Allied Governments feel that no doubt ought to be allowed to exist as to what this provision implies. By it they understand that compensation will be made by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies, and their property (by the forces of Germany?), by land, by sea, and from the air.
I told George that I was afraid his attitude at yesterday’s meeting had opened the flood gates; Clemenceau, Sonnino would have elaborate memoranda to submit containing their objections to the President’s fourteen points, and that I doubted whether Clemenceau would accept (another version?) [the answer] drafted by British which was in marked contrast to the position taken by George yesterday.
It [at once] developed at the conference that Clemenceau was having prepared an elaborate brief setting forth France’s objections to the President’s fourteen points. I promptly pointed out to Clemenceau that undoubtedly Sonnino was preparing a similar memorandum and that if the Allied Governments felt constrained to submit an elaborate answer to the President containing many objections to his program it would doubtless be necessary for the President to go to Congress and to place before that body exactly what [Page 426] Italy, France, and Great Britain were fighting for and to place the responsibility upon Congress for the further continuation of the war by the United States in behalf of the aims of the Allies. As soon as I had said this George and Clemenceau looked at each other significantly.
Clemenceau at once abandoned his idea of submitting an elaborate memorandum concerning the President’s fourteen points and apparently accepted the proposed answer drafted by the British. I suggested that the word “illegal” be placed before the words “damage done to the civilian population of the Allies,” in the last sentence of draft of proposed answer. George accepted this suggestion but Clemenceau stated [that he] preferred that the draft should be left as it was. I believe that the suggestion would be accepted by all if the President sees fit to insist upon it. I am not entirely clear yet that this is necessary.
I ascertained that George and Clemenceau believed that the terms of the armistice, both naval and military, were too severe and that they should be modified. George stated that he thought it might be unwise to insist on the occupation of the east bank of the Rhine; Clemenceau stated that he could not maintain himself in the Chamber of Deputies unless this was made a part of the armistice to be submitted to the German forces and that the French Army would also insist on this as their due after the long occupation of French soil by the Germans, but he gave us his word of honor that France would withdraw after the peace conditions had been fulfilled. I am inclined to sympathize with position taken by Clemenceau.
I pointed out the danger of bringing about a state of Bolshevism in Germany if terms of armistice were made too stiff, and the consequent danger to England, France, and Italy. Clemenceau refused to recognize that there was any danger of Bolshevism in France. George admitted it was possible to create such a state of affairs in England and both agreed that anything might happen in Italy.
I asked Clemenceau where he thought it would be wise to hold the peace conference. He answered, “Versailles,” but however, did not argue with us when George stated that he and I had agreed on Geneva. I stated that I thought this matter should be discussed later. Upon leaving the conference, George and I again agreed that the conference had better be held in neutral territory than in a belligerent country and I still have in mind to urge Lausanne.
It was agreed that this afternoon we would discuss, first, results [terms?] of an armistice with Austria; second, the terms of the armistice with Turkey (with this I explained we have nothing to do); third, the terms of the armistice with Germany. It was agreed that there should be a meeting at my headquarters tomorrow morning [Page 427] of Clemenceau, George, Orlando, Marshal Foch, and myself, with Geddes at hand to advise concerning naval questions. Uninterruptedly, I am in constant consultation with our military and naval authorities.
In the event that answer drafted by British and quoted above is adopted by Allies as their answer to your communication I would strongly advise your accepting it without alteration.