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Peace between the United States and Germany

The treaty of peace was laid before the Senate by the President of the United States with a message, with a view to its advice and consent to ratification, on July 10, 1919. The substance, form, and the [Page 14]order of negotiation of its various parts had, however, been under debate in the Senate since the previous December. Since the convening of the first session of the 66th Congress on May 19, the presumed contents of the treaty had been daily under critical discussion on the floor.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported the treaty to the Senate on September 10, 1919, after 45 days devoted to reading its text and to hearings. Two minority reports were also submitted (S. Rept. 176, 66th Cong., 1st sess., serial 7590).

The majority of the committee proposed 46 amendments, of which 40 were designed to remove the United States from participation in all commissions or bodies for which continuing action was provided under the treaty. These amendments called for striking out the words “and Associated” from the term “Allied and Associated Powers” wherever it appeared. All amendments were defeated in Committee of the Whole by November 6.

Four reservations were originally proposed by the committee. Following the extensive debate on the amendments ranging over the entire treaty, those reservations were superseded by 16 reservations reported by the committee on October 23 (S. Doc. 143, 66th Cong., 1st sess., serial 7610). The resolution of ratification embodying 14 reservations was prepared in the Committee of the Whole. The resolution failed in the Senate on November 19 to receive the required two-thirds vote by a vote of 39 to 55. Of the 14 reservations, all except four related to the Covenant of the League of Nations or the Constitution of the International Labour Organisation, which are physically Parts I and XIII of the treaty.

On the same day in the Senate, a resolution to advise and consent to the ratification of the treaty without reservations failed by a vote of 38 to 53.

An effort to agree on compromise reservations was made in the next session. A resolution somewhat revised and embodying 15 reservations failed of the two-thirds requirement in the Senate on March 19, 1920, by a vote of 49 to 35.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, who was the leader of the Republican majority, thereupon submitted a resolution “to return to the President the Treaty of Peace with Germany”. It was adopted by a vote of 43 to 37.

On December 20, 1919 the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had before it S.J. Res. 136 (66th Cong., 2d sess.), by Mr. Knox, which consisted of the single sentence: “That peace exists between the United States and Germany.” Also before the committee was S. [Page 15]Con. Res. 17, by Mr. Lodge, to the same effect, but with a preamble, the form of this proposal enabling it to take effect without approval by the President. After discussion the committee adopted a substitute joint resolution by a vote of 7 to 3 which would repeal the joint resolution of April 6, 1917 declaring a state of war, assert rights under the treaty of peace with Germany, and reaffirm the policy expressed in the act of August 29, 1916 (39 Stat. 556, 618) by requesting the President to “invite all the great governments of the world” to formulate in conference plans for an international court and for disarmament. This was submitted to the Senate as S.J. Res. 139 (66th Cong., 2d sess.) from the committee. It was put on the calendar and reposed there (Congressional Record, Dec. 20, 1919, p. 960).

This approach to the problem was sidetracked after the Christmas holidays for the second attempt of the Senate to reach agreement on a resolution advising and consenting to ratification of the treaty of peace. The Senate vote of March 19 closed that line of action.

The Senate having failed, the House of Representatives took over, and on April 9 the chairman of its Committee on Foreign Affairs introduced H.J. Res. 327 (66th Cong., 2d sess.), “terminating the state of war declared to exist April 6, 1917, between the Imperial German Government and the United States, permitting on conditions the resumption of reciprocal trade, and for other purposes”. This came from the committee without amendment on April 6 but with both majority and minority reports (H. Rept. 801, serial 7653). The debate on April 8 and 9 was limited in time by a rule adopted 214 to 155. An effort to recommit the proposal with an amendment was defeated 177 to 222, and the adoption of the joint resolution as it stood was by a vote of 242 to 150.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations discussed it at length without action on April 15. On the 16th Senator McCumber proposed a substitute providing for the resumption of commercial relations with Germany and the repeal of laws prohibiting trade and commerce enacted since April 6, 1917 to establish conditions “as though no war had existed”. Senator Knox suggested reverting to S.J. Res. 139. Not until April 29 did the committee resolve its quandary, and then it reported out a substitute for the House proposal by a vote of 9 to 6 (U. S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Proceedings … 63d–67th Cong. (1913–23), pp. 232–35).

On April 30, 1920 the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reported out an amended form of this joint resolution, which was passed by the House on May 9, 1920 by a vote of 250 to 242. It was again amended in the Senate, to include ending of the state of [Page 16]war with the Austro–Hungarian Government and was there passed on May 15 by a vote of 43 to 38. The House concurred in the Senate amendments on May 21 by a vote of 226 to 139. The President vetoed the joint resolution on May 27, and the House on May 28 failed to pass the measure over the veto, two thirds being required, by a vote of 220 to 152 (H. Rept. 801, 66th Cong., 2d sess., pts. 1 and 2, serial 7653; S. Rept. 568, serial 7649; President’s veto message, H. Doc. 799, 66th Cong., 2d sess., serial 7768).

In a conversation with René Viviani, former premier of France on a mission to the United States, the Secretary of State on March 30, 1921 told him that “he felt that there was today in the United States greater opposition to the Treaty of Versailles than at the time of the last election even”, and that “the idea of separate peace with Germany gained ground”. However, the memorandum of the conversation ended ( Foreign Relations, 1921, i, 967): “Mr. Jusserand [the French Ambassador] then stated that the President had informed him that he was not in favor of a separate peace. Secretary Hughes replied that while the President felt so with respect to a separate peace at this time, yet in view of the strong public opinion in this country with reference to the Treaty and League, unless an alternative were suggested which would have the general support of public opinion here, a separate peace might be the only course left open to us.”

For the consideration of the 67th Congress, the new President (Harding) submitted a message on April 12, 1921 ( ibid., p. xviii) in which, adverting to the pledge “to seek an early establishment of peace”, he said:

“The United States alone among the allied and the associated powers continues in a technical state of war against the Central Powers of Europe. This anomalous condition ought not to be permitted to continue. To establish the state of technical peace without further delay, I should approve a declaratory resolution by Congress to that effect, with the qualifications essential to protect all our rights. Such action would be the simplest keeping of faith with ourselves, and could in no sense be construed as a desertion of those with whom we shared our sacrifices in war, for these powers are already at peace.

“Such a resolution should undertake to do no more than thus to declare the state of peace, which all America craves. It must add no difficulty in effecting, with just reparations, the restoration for which all Europe yearns, and upon which the world’s recovery must be founded. Neither former enemy nor ally can mistake America’s [Page 17]position, because our attitude as to responsibility for the war and the necessity for just reparations already has had formal and very earnest expression.

“It would be unwise to undertake to make a statement of future policy with respect to European affairs in such a declaration of a state of peace. In correcting the failure of the, Executive, in negotiating the most important treaty in the history of the Nation, to recognize the constitutional powers of the Senate we would go to the other extreme, equally objectionable, if Congress or the Senate should assume the function of the Executive. Our highest duty is the preservation of the constituted powers of each, and the promotion of the spirit of cooperation so essential to our common welfare.

“It would be idle to declare for separate treaties of peace with the Central Powers on the assumption that these alone would be adequate, because the situation is so involved that our peace engagements can not ignore the Old World relationship and the settlements already effected, nor is it desirable to do so in preserving our own rights and contracting our future relationships.

“The wiser course would seem to be the acceptance of the confirmation of our rights and interests as already provided and to engage under the existing treaty, assuming of course, that this can be satisfactorily accomplished by such explicit reservations and modifications as will secure our absolute freedom from inadvisable commitments and safeguard all our essential interests.”

In the 67th Congress, 1st session, Senator Knox introduced the counterpart of the 1920 proposal, S.J. Res. 16, on April 13, 1921. Reported out on April 25 with amendment (S. Rept. 2, serial 7918), the resolution was amended again and then passed by the Senate on April 30, the vote being 49 to 23. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs amended it again and reported out a complete substitute on June 7 (H. Rept. 148, serial 7920).

The House debate was limited by a special rule (H. Res. 110) adopted by a vote of 212 to 105 on June 11 (H. Rept. 166, serial 7923). The substitute was passed by the House on June 13 by a vote of 304 to 61 after the defeat of a motion to recommit, 112 to 254. The Senate on June 14 disagreed to the House version and asked for a conference. In effect, the Senate insisted on maintaining what became section 5 of the act. The House debated and agreed to the conference report (H. Rept. 237, serial 7920; S. Doc. 42, serial 7932) on June 30 by a vote of 263 to 59, and the Senate followed on July 1 with a vote of 38 to 19. Accordingly, the joint resolution became law by approval of the President on July 2, 1921 (42 Stat. 105).

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Joint Resolution Terminating the state of war between the Imperial German Government and the United States of America and between the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government and the United States of America. 1

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war declared to exist between the Imperial German Government and the United States of America by the joint resolution of Congress approved April 6, 1917 [40 Stat. 1], is hereby declared at an end.

Sec. 2. That in making this declaration, and as a part of it, there are expressly reserved to the United States of America and its nationals any and all rights, privileges, indemnities, reparations, or advantages, together with the right to enforce the same, to which it or they have become entitled under the terms of the armistice signed November 11, 1918, or any extensions or modifications thereof; or which were acquired by or are in the possession of the United States of America by reason of its participation in the war or to which its nationals have thereby become rightfully entitled; or which, under the treaty of Versailles, have been stipulated for its or their benefit; or to which it is entitled as one of the principal allied and associated powers; or to which it is entitled by virtue of any Act or Acts of Congress; or otherwise.

Sec. 3. That the state of war declared to exist between the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government and the United States of America by the joint resolution of Congress approved December 7, 1917 [40 Stat. 429], is hereby declared at an end.

Sec 4. That in making this declaration, and as a part of it, there are expressly reserved to the United States of America and its nationals any and all rights, privileges, indemnities, reparations, or advantages, together with the right to enforce the same, to which it or they have become entitled under the terms of the armistice signed November 3, 1918, or any extensions or modifications thereof; or which were acquired by or are in the possession of the United States of America by reason of its participation in the war or to which its nationals have thereby become rightfully entitled; or which, under the treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye or the treaty of Trianon, have been stipulated for its or their benefit; or to which it is entitled as one of the principal allied and associated powers; or to which it is entitled by virtue of any Act or Acts of Congress; or otherwise.

Sec 5. All property of the Imperial German Government, or its successor or successors, and of all German nationals which was, on April 6, 1917, in or has since that date come into the possession or under control of, or has been the subject of a demand by the United States of America or of any of its officers, agents, or employees, from any source or by any agency whatsoever, and all property of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government, or its successor or successors, and of all Austro-Hungarian nationals which was on December 7, 1917, in or has since that date come into the possession or under control of, or has been the subject of a demand by the United States of America or any of its officers, agents, or employees, from any source or by any agency whatsoever, shall be retained by the United States of America and no disposition [Page 19]thereof made, except as shall have been heretofore or specifically hereafter shall be provided by law until such time as the Imperial German Government and the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government, or their successor or successors, shall have respectively made suitable provision for the satisfaction of all claims against said Governments respectively, of all persons, wheresoever domiciled, who owe permanent allegiance to the United States of America and who have suffered, through the acts of the Imperial German Government, or its agents, or the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government, or its agents, since July 31, 1914, loss, damage, or injury to their persons or property, directly or indirectly, whether through the ownership of shares of stock in German, Austro-Hungarian, American, or other corporations, or in consequence of hostilities or of any operations of war, or otherwise, and also shall have granted to persons owing permanent allegiance to the United States of America most-favored-nation treatment, whether the same be national or otherwise, in all matters affecting residence, business, profession, trade, navigation, commerce and industrial property rights, and until the Imperial German Government and the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government, or their successor or successors, shall have respectively confirmed to the United States of America all fines, forfeitures, penalties, and seizures imposed or made by the United States of America during the war, whether in respect to the property of the Imperial German Government or German nationals or the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government or Austro-Hungarian nationals, and shall have waived any and all pecuniary claims against the United States of America.

Sec. 6. Nothing herein contained shall be construed to repeal, modify or amend the provisions of the joint resolution “declaring that certain Acts of Congress, joint resolutions and proclamations shall be construed as if the war had ended and the present or existing emergency expired,” approved March 3, 1921 [41 Stat. 1359], or the passport control provisions of an Act entitled “An act making appropriations for the diplomatic and consular service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1922,” approved March 2, 1921 [41 Stat. 1217]; nor to be effective to terminate the military status of any person now in desertion from the military or naval service of the United States, nor to terminate the liability to prosecution and punishment under the Selective Service law, approved May 18, 1917 [40 Stat. 76], of any person who failed to comply with the provisions of said Act, or of Acts amendatory thereof.

Approved, July 2, 1921.

The text of the public resolution was cabled to Berlin on July 5 and was followed on the same day by a telegram to the commissioner at Berlin inquiring whether the German Government intended to question in any way any of the rights, interests, and advantages stipulated for the benefit of the United States in the treaty of peace. The resolution indicated, said the Secretary of State, “that the United States will not enter into any treaty which fails to secure them”. The commissioner’s communication was to “be informal, but we desire an authoritative and definite answer” ( Foreign Relations, 1921, ii, 6). On the 22d the German Minister for Foreign Affairs transmitted a paper “which shows the attitude taken by the [Page 20]Reichskabinett”, which, however, was “not to be regarded as an official communication to the Government of the United States”. It was, said the German minister, a statement on the contents of the memorandum on the assumption that its text as presented by the commissioner “fully corresponds with the views of the American Government”.

The German Minister for Foreign Affairs next wished assurance that the United States would recognize any condition, limitation, or right accorded to Germany in any treaty provision under which the United States claimed a right, privilege, or advantage. The Secretary of State understood this inquiry to mean “that each provision of the Versailles Treaty must be construed in the light of its context, that is, according to its true meaning”. There was “not the slightest objection to this view”. It was, however, undesirable that the specific advantages claimed by the United States or the rights in Germany’s favor be set forth, since that “would amount to an attempt to insert a commentary upon the Treaty of Versailles into the proposed treaty” ( ibid., p. 10). This did not satisfy the Germans, and the United States agreed to insert what is the second paragraph of article II(1) of the treaty. In transmitting assent to this on August 11, the Secretary of State declined to include any reference to disposition of the holdings of the Alien Property Custodian and added that opposition or delay to completing the treaty “cannot in any possible contingency be helpful to Germany”. Germany further desired to introduce the idea of reciprocity but was eventually satisfied with the statement that the United States could reach no agreement inconsistent with the resolution of July 2 and the assurance that its intention was to maintain all rights obtained through participation in the War and thus to maintain equal footing with co-belligerents”.

The treaty restoring friendly relations was signed on behalf of the United States and Germany at Berlin on August 25, 1921 and took effect by the exchange of ratifications at Berlin on November 11, 1921, in accordance with article III.

It did not reestablish peace between the United States and Germany. As to the United States the state of war, which had existed since April 6, 1917, was “declared at an end” by virtue of the public resolution of July 2, 1921. In the proclamation promulgating the treaty as in force, the President proclaimed on November 14, 1921 “that the war between the United States and Germany terminated on July 2, 1921”.

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The actual status of war had been modified in several respects prior to either date. A general license had been issued by the War Trade Board of the Department of State on March 3, 1919; a joint resolution of Congress approved March 3, 1921 (41 Stat. 1359) had suspended much war legislation; and the rest of the war powers became suspended as of July 2, 1921. By article II(5) of the treaty the United States was entitled to date any act or election under the Treaty of Versailles from January 10, 1920.

As to Germany the transition from war to peace with respect to the United States was regarded by the German Government as marked by the entrance of the treaty into force on November 11, 1921. Full diplomatic relations were resumed by the United States with Germany as from November 16.

The treaty restoring friendly relations between the United States and Germany did not meet with the complete approval of the Senate, which gave its advice and consent to ratification on October 18, 1921 subject to understandings, made a part of the resolution of ratification, as follows:

“that the United States shall not be represented or participate in any body, agency or commission, nor shall any person represent the United States as a member of any body, agency or commission in which the United States is authorized to participate by this Treaty, unless and until an Act of the Congress of the United States shall provide for such representation or participation;

“that the rights and advantages which the United States is entitled to have and enjoy under this Treaty embrace the rights and advantages of nationals of the United States specified in the Joint Resolution or in the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles to which this Treaty refers”.

The instrument of ratification by the President, dated October 21, 1921, records that he does “ratify and confirm the same and every clause thereof, subject to the understandings hereinabove recited”.

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  1. 42 Stat. 105; Public Res. 8 (67th Cong., 1st sess.); S.J. Res. 16.