October 30, 1918: Theodore Roosevelt Responds to the Fourteen Points

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As the War was nearing its close, Theodore Roosevelt responded in the Kansas City Star with a blistering assessment of  the Fourteen Points that President Wilson was seeking to make the basis of the peace:


THE European nations have been told that the fourteen points enumerated in President Wilson’s message of January last are to be the basis of peace. It is, therefore, possible that Americans may like to know what they are. It is even possible that they may like to guess what they mean, although I am not certain that such guessing is permitted by the Postmaster-General and the Attorney-General under the new theory of making democracy safe for all kinds of peoples abroad who have never heard of it by interpreting democracy at home as meaning that it is unlawful for the people to express any except favorable opinions of the way in which the public servants of the people transact the public business. The first point forbids ” all private international understandings of any kind,” and says there must be ” open covenants of peace, openly arrived at,” and announces that ” diplomacy shall always proceed frankly in the public view.” The President has recently waged war on Haiti and San Domingo and rendered democracy within these two small former republics and has kept all that he has done in the matter absolutely secret. If he means what he says, he will at once announce what open covenant of peace he has openly arrived at with these two little republics, which he has deprived of their right of self-determination. He will also announce what public international understanding, if any, he now has with these two republics, whose soil he is at present occupying with the armed forces of the United States and hundreds of whose citizens have been killed by these armed forces. If he has no such public understanding, he will tell us why, and whether he has any private international understanding, or whether he invaded and conquered them and deprived them of the right of self- determination without any attempt to reach any understanding, either private or public.

Moreover, he has just sent abroad on a diplomatic mission Mr. House, of Texas. Mr. House is not in the public service of the Nation, but he is in the private service of Mr. Wilson. He is usually
called Colonel House. In his official or semi-official biography, published in an ardently admiring New York paper, it is explained that he was once appointed colonel on a governor s staff, but carried his dislike of military ostentation to the point of giving his uniform to a negro servant to wear on social occasions. This attitude of respect for the uniform makes the President feel that he is peculiarly fit to negotiate on behalf of our fighting men abroad for whom the uniform is sacred. Associated with him is an editor of the New York World, which paper has recently been busy in denouncing as foolish the demand made by so many Americans for unconditional surrender by Germany.

I do not doubt that these two gentlemen possess charming social attributes and much private worth, but as they are sent over on a diplomatic mission, presumably vitally affecting the whole country, and as their instructions and purposes are shrouded in
profound mystery, it seems permissible to ask President Wilson why in this particular instance diplomacy does not ” proceed frankly in the public view ” ?

This first one of the fourteen points offers such an illuminating opportunity to test promise as to the future by performance in the present that I have considered it at some length. The other thirteen points and the subsequent points laid down as further requirements for peace I shall briefly take up in another article.



THE second in the fourteen points deals with freedom of the seas. It makes no distinction between freeing the seas from murder like that continually practiced by Germany and freeing them from blockade of contraband merchandise, which is the practice of a right universally enjoyed by belligerents, and at this moment practiced by the United States. Either this proposal is meaningless or it is a mischievous concession to Germany.

The third point promises free trade among all the nations, unless the words are designedly used to conceal President Wilson s true meaning. This would deny to our country the right to make a tariff to protect its citizens, and especially its working-men, against Germany or China or any other country. Apparently this is desired on the ground that the incidental domestic disaster to this country will prevent other countries from feeling hostile to us. The supposition is foolish. England practiced free trade and yet Germany hated England particularly, and Turkey practiced free trade without deserving or obtaining friendship from any one except those who desired to exploit her.

The fourth point provides that this Nation, like every other, is to reduce its armaments to the lowest limit consistent with domestic safety. Either this is language deliberately used to deceive or else it means that we are to scrap our army and navy and prevent riot by means of a national constabulary, like the state constabulary of New York or Pennsylvania.

Point five proposes that colonial claims shall all be treated on the same basis. Unless the language is deliberately used to deceive, this means that we are to restore to our brutal enemy the colonies taken by our allies while they were defending us from this enemy. The proposition is probably meaningless. If it is not, it is monstrous. Point six deals with Russia. It probably means nothing, but if it means anything, it provides that America shall share on equal terms with other nations, including Germany, Austria, and Turkey, in giving Russia assistance. The whole proposition
would not be particularly out of place in a college
sophomore s exercise in rhetoric.

Point seven deals with Belgium and is entirely proper and commonplace.

Point eight deals with Alsace-Lorraine and is couched in language which betrays Mr. Wilson s besetting sin his inability to speak in a straight forward manner. He may mean that Alsace and
Lorraine must be restored to France, in which case he is right. He may mean that a plebiscite must be held, in which case he is playing Germany s evil game.

Point nine deals with Italy, and is right.

Point ten deals with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is so foolish that even President Wilson has since abandoned it.

Point eleven proposes that we, together with other nations, including apparently Germany, Austria, and Hungary, shall guarantee justice in the Balkan Peninsula. As this would also guarantee our being from time to time engaged in war over matters in which we had no interest whatever, it is worth while inquiring whether President Wilson proposes that we wage these wars with the national constabulary to which he desired to reduce our armed forces.

Point twelve proposes to perpetuate the infamy of Turkish rule in Europe, and as a sop to the conscience of humanity proposes to give the subject races autonomy, a slippery word which in a case like this is useful only for rhetorical purposes.

Point thirteen proposes an independent Poland, which is right; and then proposes that we guarantee its integrity in the event of future war, which is preposterous unless we intend to become a military nation more fit for overseas warfare than Germany is at present.

Point fourteen proposes a general association of nations to guarantee to great and small states alike political independence and territorial integrity. It is dishonorable to make this proposition so long as President Wilson continues to act as he is now acting in Haiti and San Domingo. In its essence Mr. Wilson s proposition for a league of nations seems to be akin to the holy alliance of the nations of Europe a century ago, which worked such mischief that the Monroe Doctrine was called into being especially to combat it. If it is designed to do away with nationalism, it will work nothing but mischief. If it is devised in sane fashion as an addition to nationalism and as an addition to preparing our own strength for our own defense, it may do a small amount of good ;
but it will certainly accomplish nothing if more than a moderate amount is attempted and probably the best first step would be to make the existing league of the Allies a going concern.

As to the supplementary points or proposals, the four advanced or laid down in February were sound moral aphorisms of no value save as they may be defined in each particular case.

But the supplementary five proposals set forth by President Wilson last September were, on the whole, mischievous and were capable of a construction that would make them ruinous in their essence. They set forth the doctrine that there must be no discrimination between our friends and our enemies and no special economic or political alliances among friendly nations, but uniform treatment of all the league of nations; the said league, therefore, to include Germany, Austria, Turkey, and Russia upon a footing of equality of our allies. Either the words used mean
nothing or they mean that we are to enter a league in which we make-believe that our deadly enemies, stained with every kind of brutality and treachery, are as worthy of friendship as the Allies who have fought our battles for four years. No wonder that the proposal is enthusiastically applauded by Germany, Austria, and Turkey and by all our own pro-Germans and pacifists and Germanized Socialists and anti- American internationalists. It is the kind of proposition made by cold-blooded men who at least care nothing for the sufferings of others. It is eagerly championed by foolish and hysterical sentimentalists. It is accepted and used for sinister purposes by powerful and cynical wrongdoers. When the President was making this proposition and
during the subsequent month Germany was committing inhuman murders of the people on the Ticonderoga and Leinster at sea, and on shore was committing every species of murder, rape, enslavement, plunder, and outrage as her armies withdrew from France and Belgium.

President Wilson s announcement was a notice to the malefactors that they would not be punished for the murders. Let us treat the league of nations only as an addition to, and not as a substitute for, thorough preparedness and intense nationalism on our part. Let none of the present international criminals be admitted until a sufficient number of years has passed to make us sure it has repented. Make con duct the test of admission to the league. In every crisis judge each nation by its conduct. Therefore, at the present time let us stand by our friends and against our enemies.

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  1. Point ten deals with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is so foolish that even President Wilson has since abandoned it.

    The Hapsburg Monarchy fell to pieces spontaneously in November and December of 1918. The whole process took just a few weeks. Nothing like it seen until the same happened to he Soviet Union during the last 4 months of 1991. Don’t think Mr. Roosevelt was terribly insightful on this point.

    Point twelve proposes to perpetuate the infamy of Turkish rule in Europe, and as a sop to the conscience of humanity proposes to give the subject races autonomy, a slippery word which in a case like this is useful only for rhetorical purposes.

    Did Roosevelt not know that the only part of Europe under Turkish rule after 1913 was Thrace?

  2. Noodling around a bit, I discover two contentions about the population of the Vilayets of Thrace and Constantinople. One contends Thrace had a Turkish majority in 1912 and that the Turkish population of the Constantinople province was north of 40% of the total (with the remainder divvied up between Greeks, Armenians, Jews, &c. Another contends the majority were Turkish.

    An annotated map attributed to Justin McCarthy of the University of Louisville (who may be the leading authority writing in English or in French) contends that Turkish and non-Turkish populations migrated across national frontiers in large numbers during the period running from 1908 to 1923 and that the death toll in disputed areas of the Kingdom of Greece and the Aegean topped 800,000.

  3. The war between Greece and Turkey after World War I led to major population shifts with the Greeks, and other non-Turks, fleeing Anatolia, Istanbul and Thrace and the Turks fleeing the Balkans.

  4. “Point thirteen proposes an independent Poland, which is right; and then proposes that we guarantee its integrity in the event of future war, which is preposterous unless we intend to become a military nation more fit for overseas warfare than Germany is at present.”

    Well, there was the Kościuszko Squadron, who fought alongside the Poles in the Polish Soviet War. Guess where the US Army is now?

  5. Wasn’t it Wilson who brought Progressive-ism to us which is the crazy idea that we can play God? Experience does not confirm this notion.

  6. No, Progressivism was a very broad movement that Theodore Roosevelt was aslo a part of. However the Progressivism of those days does not neatly translate into the liberalism of our time, fools like Glenn Beck notwithstanding.

  7. Wasn’t it Wilson who brought Progressive-ism to us which is the crazy idea that we can play God?

    I’m not seeing how anti-trust law and erecting a federal meat inspectorate derive from ‘a crazy idea we can play God’.

  8. I still don’t recognize Turkey’s right as a nation to exist. They are an anomaly. Constantinople & Thrace and most of Anatolia should be returned to the Greeks. The rest back to the Armenians and Kurds.

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