The Under Secretary of State ( Welles ) to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: With reference to our conversation of last Saturday, I submit herewith for your consideration a draft of a proposal which you may wish to make to other governments covering the suggestion we had previously discussed.

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I recommend that you adhere to your original idea and invite all of the diplomatic representatives accredited to Washington to meet with you in the East Room of the White House on the afternoon of Armistice Day, that you then read to them a message along the lines suggested in the draft herewith attached, and that the text of this message be simultaneously communicated by us by telegraph to each one of our Ambassadors and Ministers abroad for immediate transmission to the Chief of State to which he is accredited. It seems to me that Armistice Day is a singularly appropriate day for you to make announcement of this proposal should you determine to proffer it.

Furthermore, by the time November 11 is reached, the Brussels Conference4 will have been in session for at least eight days. A proposal of the character suggested will, I think, definitely strengthen the hands of the powers that are seeking to avert world anarchy. We have, of course, discussed the idea with no other government, but I do not see how any other government could refuse to approve the proposal except perhaps Italy and Japan, and I doubt if the former under present conditions would wish to place herself in such a position. The reference in the suggested draft to the probable need for readjustment of the settlements arrived at after the conclusion of the World War would, I think, almost inevitably create a favorable reaction on the part of Germany.

From the standpoint of public opinion at home, I would think that your making this proposal four days before the opening of the Special Session of the Congress would put a very definite quietus upon those individuals who have been deliberately attempting to misinterpret your Chicago speech.

The Secretary of State has gone over the draft and has asked me to let you know that he considers it “entirely sound”.

Believe me

Faithfully yours,

Sumner Welles

Draft of Proposal for Concerted International Effort to Reach Common Agreement on the Principles of International Conduct Necessary to Maintain Peace

At the end of the Great War the common feeling of all peoples was that they had a right to lasting peace. Countless men and women in all portions of the earth trusted that with the ending of that catastrophe there might be brought into being a new epoch of lasting peace between nations. They have seen that ideal year by year grow more remote. New generations have reached adult age since that time and [Page 669] find themselves in a world surcharged with anxiety, where governments are frantically rearming, where whole peoples live in constant fear, and where physical and economic security for the individual are lacking.

Those standards of conduct between nations which were gradually and painfully evolved over a period of many centuries, and upon which modern civilization is in great part founded, would seem to be obsolescent. Moreover, due to recent scientific discoveries modern warfare has assumed an aspect more cruel than ever before, and in the employment of these new inventions war is waged in such fashion as frequently to involve the destruction of undefended and civilian populations—the slaughter of women and children—of the aged and the helpless—in utter contravention of those rules of warfare which earlier international instruments had laid down.

I have felt warranted in addressing to you this communication because of my considered belief that unless the nations of the earth strive by concerted effort to come rapidly to a renewed agreement upon those fundamental principles which the experience of the past, and the best judgment of present times, demonstrate as being wise and salutary in the governing of relations between states, world peace cannot be maintained. Furthermore, should war once more break out, notwithstanding all efforts to avert it, and no binding international accord be had prior thereto as to rules and measures which may mitigate its horrors and especially to civilian populations, no man can say that another great war would not destroy all that was salvaged from the last.

For these reasons I lay before you for your consideration the suggestion that all governments at an early date strive to reach an unanimous agreement upon the following matters:

The essential and fundamental principles which should be observed in international relations.
The methods through which all peoples may obtain the right to have access upon equal and effective terms to raw materials and other elements necessary for their economic life.
The methods by which international agreements may be pacifically revised.
In the unhappy event of war, the rights and obligations of neutrals both on land and at sea, except in so far as in the case of certain nations they may be determined by existing international agreements; and the laws and customs of warfare whose observance neutrals may be entitled to require.

Should it be found, as I hope it may, that the other governments of the world are favorably disposed to this suggestion, and should they so desire, the Government of the United States will be prepared to request a number of other governments to join it immediately in the formulation of tentative proposals in elaboration of the points above enumerated [Page 670] for subsequent submission to all nations for such disposal as they may in their wisdom determine.

I recognize that however essential it may be for the nations of the earth to reach a joint accord as to these norms of international conduct, such agreement alone may not necessarily secure the maintenance of peace. It is possible that before the foundations of a lasting peace can be secured, international adjustments of various kinds must be found in order to remove those inequities which exist by reason of the nature of certain of the settlements reached at the termination of the Great War. The traditional policy of freedom from political involvement which the Government of the United States has maintained and will maintain is well known. In the determination of political adjustments the Government of the United States can play no part. But it has seemed to me that every kind of adjustment, if undertaken, might perhaps be more readily arrived at if all nations come to a common agreement as to the principles upon which healthy international relationships should be based.

Today in the greater part of the world, governments and peoples commemorate the armistice which terminated the Great War. I have deemed it singularly fitting on this anniversary to proffer this suggestion to the other governments of the world, and should it be found acceptable, to pledge the cooperation of the Government of the United States in seeking the attainment of the objectives sought. The quest of peace under law and equity is imposed by the deepest instincts of humanity; it can have no end save in success.

[After further consideration, the plan to present the proposal on November 11 to the Diplomatic Corps in Washington and to communicate it simultaneously to foreign Chiefs of State through American diplomatic representatives abroad was abandoned on the advice of the Secretary of State; see Memoirs of Cordell Hull (Macmillan Company, New York, 1948), volume I, pages 546 ff.]