Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White— Volume 2

Author: Andrew Dickson White

Chapter XLIX as President of the American Delegation at the Peace Conference of the Hague: V—1899

July 4.

On this day the American delegation invited their colleagues to celebrate our national anniversary at the tomb of Grotius, first in the great church, and afterward in the town hall of Delft. Speeches were made by the minister of foreign affairs of the Netherlands De Beaufort; by their first delegate, Van Karnebeek; by Mr. Asser, one of their leading jurists; by the burgomaster of Delft; and by Baron de Bildt, chairman of the Swedish delegation and minister at Rome, who read a telegram from the King of Sweden referring to Grotius’s relations to the Swedish diplomatic service; as well as by President Low of Columbia University and myself: the duty being intrusted to me of laying the wreath upon Grotius’s tomb and making the address with reference to it. As all the addresses are to be printed, I shall give no more attention to them here. A very large audience was present, embracing the ambassadors and principal members of the conference, the Netherlands ministers of state, professors from the various universities of the Netherlands, and a large body of other invited guests.

The music of the chimes, of the organ, and of the royal choir of one hundred voices was very fine; and, although the day was stormy, with a high wind and driving rain, everything went off well.

After the exercises in the church, our delegation gave a breakfast, which was very satisfactory. About three hundred and fifty persons sat down to the tables at the town hall, and one hundred other guests, including the musicians, at the leading restaurant in the place. In the afternoon the Americans gathered at the reception given by our minister, Mr. Newel, and his wife, and in the evening there was a large attendance at an "American concert" given by the orchestra at the great hall in Scheveningen.

July 5.

Early in the morning to the second committee of the conference, where I spoke in behalf of the Beldiman resolution, doing justice to Switzerland as regards the continuance of the Red Cross interests in Swiss hands; and on going to a vote we were successful.

Then, the question of a proper dealing with our memorial regarding the immunity of private property on the high seas coming up, I spoke in favor of referring it to the general conference, and gave the reasons why it should not simply be dropped out as not coming within the subjects contemplated in the call to the conference. Though my speech was in French, it went off better than I expected.

In the afternoon, at the full conference, the same subject came up; and then, after a preface in French, asking permission to speak in English, I made my speech, which, probably, three quarters of all the delegates understood, but, at my request, a summary of it was afterward given in French by Mr. van Karnebeek.

The occasion of this speech was my seconding the motion, made in a very friendly manner by M. de Martens, to refer the matter to a future conference; but I went into the merits of the general subject to show its claims upon the various nations, etc., etc., though not, of course, as fully as I would have done had the matter been fully under discussion. My speech was very well received, and will, I hope, aid in keeping the subject alive.

In the afternoon drove to Ryswyck, to the house of M. Cornets de Groot, the living representative of the Grotius family. The house and grounds were very pleasant, but the great attraction was a collection of relics of Grotius, including many manuscripts from his own hand, —among these a catechism for his children, written in the prison of Loewenstein; with official documents, signed and sealed, connected with the public transactions of his time; also letters which passed between him and Oxenstiern, the great Swedish chancellor, some in Latin and some in other languages; besides sundry poems. There were also a multitude of portraits, engravings, and documents relating to Olden-Barneveld and others of Grotius’s contemporaries.

The De Groot family gave us a most hearty reception, introducing their little girl, who is the latest-born descendant of Grotius, and showing us various household relics of their great ancestor, including cups, glasses, and the like. Mr. De Groot also gave me some curious information regarding him which I did not before possess; and, among other things, told me that when Grotius’s body was transferred, shortly after his death, from Rostock to Delft, the coffin containing it was stoned by a mob at Rotterdam; also that at the unveiling of the statue of Grotius in front of the church at Delft, a few years ago, the high-church Calvinists would not allow the children from their church schools to join the other children in singing hymns. The old bitterness of the extreme Calvinistic party toward their great compatriot was thus still exhibited, and the remark was made at the time, by a member of it, that the statue was perfectly true to life, since "its back was turned toward the church"; to which a reply was made that "Grotius’s face in the statue, like his living face, was steadily turned toward justice." This latter remark had reference to the fact that a court is held in the city hall, toward which the statue is turned.

In the evening to a dinner given by Mr. Piersoon, minister of finance and prime minister of the Netherlands, to our delegation and to his colleagues of the Dutch ministry. Everything passed off well, Mr. Piersoon proposing a toast to the health of the President of the United States, to which I replied in a toast to the Queen of the Netherlands. In the course of his speech Mr. Piersoon thanked us for our tribute to Grotius, and showed really deep feeling on the subject. There is no doubt that we have struck a responsive chord in the hearts of all liberal and thoughtful men and women of the Netherlands; from every quarter come evidences of this.

A remark of his, regarding arbitration, especially pleased us. He said that the arbitration plan, as it had come from the great committee, was like a baby:—apparently helpless, and of very little value, unable to do much, and requiring careful nursing; but that it had one great merit:—IT WOULD GROW.

This I believe to be a very accurate statement of the situation. The general feeling of the conference becomes better and better. More and more the old skepticism has departed, and in place of it has come a strong ambition to have a share in what we are beginning to believe may be a most honorable contribution to the peace of the world. I have never taken part in more earnest discussions than those which during the last two weeks have occupied us, and especially those relating to arbitration.

I think I may say, without assuming too much, that our Grotius celebration has been a contribution of some value to this growth of earnestness. It has, if I am not greatly mistaken, revealed to the conference, still more clearly than before, the fact that it is a historical body intrusted with a matter of vast importance and difficulty, and that we shall be judged in history with reference to this fact.

July 6.

At 5.30 P.M. off in special train with the entire conference to Amsterdam. On arriving, we found a long train of court carriages which took us to the palace, the houses on each side throughout the entire distance being decorated with flags and banners, and the streets crowded with men, women, and children. We were indeed a brave show, since all of us, except the members of our American delegation, wore gorgeous uniforms with no end of ribbons, stars, and insignia of various offices and orders.

On reaching our destination, we were received by the Queen and Queen-mother, and shortly afterward went in to dinner. With the possible exception of a lord mayor’s feast at the Guildhall, it was the most imposing thing of the kind that I have ever seen. The great banqueting-hall, dating from the glorious days of the Dutch Republic, is probably the largest and most sumptuous in continental Europe, and the table furniture, decorations, and dinner were worthy of it. About two hundred and fifty persons, including all the members of the conference and the higher officials of the kingdom, sat down, the Queen and Queen-mother at the head of the table, and about them the ambassadors and presidents of delegations. My own place, being very near the Majesties, gave me an excellent opportunity to see and hear everything. Toward the close of the banquet the young Queen arose and addressed us, so easily and naturally that I should have supposed her speech extemporaneous had I not seen her consulting her manuscript just before rising. Her manner was perfect, and her voice so clear as to be heard by every one in the hall. Everything considered, it was a remarkable effort for a young lady of seventeen. At its close an excellent reply was made by our president, M. de Staal; and soon afterward, when we had passed into the great gallery, there came an even more striking exhibition of the powers of her youthful Majesty, for she conversed with every member of the conference, and with the utmost ease and simplicity. To me she returned thanks for the Grotius tribute, and in very cordial terms, as did later also the Queen-mother; and I cannot but believe that they were sincere, since, three months later, at the festival given them at Potsdam, they both renewed their acknowledgments in a cordial way which showed that their patriotic hearts were pleased. Various leading men of the Netherlands and of the conference also thanked us, and one of them said, "You Americans have taught us a lesson; for, instead of a mere display of fireworks to the rabble of a single city, or a ball or concert to a few officials, you have, in this solemn recognition of Grotius, paid the highest compliment possible to the entire people of the Netherlands, past, present, and to come."

July 7.

In the morning to the great hall of the "House in the Wood," where the "editing committee" (comite de redaction) reported to the third committee of the conference the whole arbitration plan. It struck me most favorably, —indeed, it surprised me, though I have kept watch of every step. I am convinced that it is better than any of the plans originally submitted, not excepting our own. It will certainly be a gain to the world.

At the close of the session we adjourned until Monday, the 17th, in order that the delegates may get instructions from their various governments regarding the signing of the protocols, agreements, etc.

July 8.

In the evening dined with M. de Mier, the Mexican minister at Paris and delegate here, and had a very interesting talk with M. Raffalovitch, to whom I spoke plainly regarding the only road to disarmament. I told him that he must know as well as any one that there is a vague dread throughout Europe of the enormous growth of Russia, and that he must acknowledge that, whether just or not, it is perfectly natural. He acquiesced in this, and I then went on to say that the Emperor Nicholas had before him an opportunity to do more good and make a nobler reputation than any other czar had ever done, not excepting Alexander II with his emancipation of the serfs; that I had thought very seriously of writing, at the close of the conference, to M. Pobedonostzeff, presenting to him the reasons why Russia might well make a practical beginning of disarmament by dismissing to their homes, or placing on public works, say two hundred thousand of her soldiers; that this would leave her all the soldiers she needs, and more; that he must know, as everybody knows, that no other power dreams of attacking Russia or dares to do so; that there would be no disadvantage in such a dismissal of troops to peaceful avocations, but every advantage; and that if it were done the result would be that, in less than forty years, Russia would become, by this husbanding of her resources, the most powerful nation on the eastern continent, and able to carry out any just policy which she might desire. I might have added that one advantage of such a reduction would certainly be less inclination by the war party at St. Petersburg to plunge into military adventures. (Had Russia thus reduced her army she would never have sunk into the condition in which she finds herself now (1905), as I revise these lines. Instead of sending Alexeieff to make war, she would have allowed De Witte to make peace—peace on a basis of justice to Japan, and a winter access to the Pacific, under proper safeguards, for herself.)

Raffalovitch seemed to acquiesce fully in my view, except as to the number of soldiers to be released, saying that fifty or sixty thousand would do perfectly well as showing that Russia is in earnest.

He is one of the younger men of Russia, but has very decided ability, and this he has shown not only in his secretaryship of the conference, but in several of his works on financial and other public questions published in Paris, which have secured for him a corresponding membership of the French Institute.

It is absolutely clear in my mind that, if anything is to be done toward disarmament, a practical beginning must be made by the Czar; but the unfortunate thing is that with, no doubt, fairly good intentions, he is weak and ill informed. The dreadful mistake he is making in violating the oath sworn by his predecessors and himself to Finland is the result of this weakness and ignorance; and should he attempt to diminish his overgrown army he would, in all probability, be overborne by the military people about him, and by petty difficulties which they would suggest, or, if necessary, create. It must be confessed that there is one danger in any attempted disarmament, and this is that the military clique might, to prevent it, plunge the empire into a war.

The Emperor is surrounded mainly by inferior men. Under the shade of autocracy men of independent strength rarely flourish. Indeed, I find that the opinion regarding Russian statesmen which I formed in Russia is confirmed by old diplomatists, of the best judgment, whom I meet here. One of them said to me the other day: "There is no greater twaddle than all the talk about far-seeing purposes and measures by Russian statesmen. They are generally weak, influenced by minor, and especially by personal, considerations, and inferior to most men in similar positions in the other great governments of Europe. The chancellor, Prince Gortchakoff, of whom so much has been said, was a weak, vain man, whom Bismarck found it generally very easy to deal with."

As to my own experience, I think many of those whom I saw were far from the best of their kind with whom I have had to do. I have never imagined a human being in the position of minister of the interior of a great nation so utterly futile as the person who held that place at St. Petersburg in my time; and the same may be said of several others whom I met there in high places. There are a few strong men, and, unfortunately, Pobedonostzeff is one of them. Luckily, De Witte, the minister of finance, is another.

July 10.

The evil which I dreaded, as regards the formation of public opinion in relation to the work of our conference, is becoming realized. The London "Spectator," just received, contains a most disheartening article, "The Peace Conference a Failure," with an additional article, more fully developed, to the same effect. Nothing could be more unjust; but, on account of the "Spectator’s" "moderation," it will greatly influence public opinion, and doubtless prevent, to some extent, the calling of future conferences needed to develop the good work done in this. Fortunately the correspondent of the "Times" gives a better example, and shows, in his excellent letters, what has been accomplished here. The "New York Herald," also, is thus far taking the right view, and maintaining it with some earnestness.

July 17.

This morning, at ten, to the "House in the Wood" to hear Mr. van Karnebeek’s report on disarmament, checking invention, etc., before the session of committee No. 1. It was strongly attacked, and was left in shreds: the whole subject is evidently too immature and complicated to be dealt with during the present conference.

In the afternoon came up an especially interesting matter in the session of the arbitration committee, the occasion being a report of the subcommittee. Among the points which most interested us as Americans was a provision for an appeal from the decision of the arbitration tribunal on the discovery of new facts.

De Martens of Russia spoke with great force against such right of appeal, and others took ground with him. Holls really distinguished himself by a telling speech on the other side—which is the American side, that feature having been present in our original instructions; Messrs. Asser and Karnebeek both spoke for it effectively, and the final decision was virtually in our favor, for Mr. Asser’s compromise was adopted, which really gives us the case.

The Siamese representatives requested that the time during which an appeal might be allowed should be six instead of three months, which we had named; but it was finally made a matter of adjustment between the parties.

July 18.

The American delegation met at ten, when a cable message from the State Department was read authorizing us to sign the protocol.

July 19.

Field day in the arbitration committee. A decided sensation was produced by vigorous speeches by my Berlin colleague, Beldiman, of the Roumanian delegation, and by Servian, Greek, and other delegates, against the provision for commissions d’enquete,—De Martens, Descamps, and others making vigorous speeches in behalf of them. It looked as if the Balkan states were likely to withdraw from the conference if the commission d’enquete feature was insisted upon: they are evidently afraid that such "examining commissions" may be sent within their boundaries by some of their big neighbors—Russia, for example—to spy out the land and start intrigues. The whole matter was put over.

In the evening to Count Munster’s dinner at Scheveningen, and had a very interesting talk on conference matters with Sir Julian Pauncefote, finding that in most things we shall be able to stand together as the crisis approaches.

July 20.

For several days past I have been preparing a possible speech to be made in signing the protocol, etc., which, if not used for that purpose, may be published, and, perhaps, aid in keeping public opinion in the right line as regards the work of the conference after it has closed.

In the afternoon to the "House in the Wood," the committee on arbitration meeting again. More speeches were made by the Bulgarians and Servians, who are still up in arms, fearing that the commissionn d’enquete means intervention by the great states in their affairs. Speeches to allay their fears were made by Count Nigra, Dr. Zorn, Holls, and Leon Bourgeois. Zorn spoke in German with excellent effect, as did Holls in English; Nigra was really impressive; and Bourgeois, from the chair, gave us a specimen of first-rate French oratory. He made a most earnest appeal to the delegates of the Balkan states, showing them that by such a system of arbitration as is now proposed the lesser powers would be the very first to profit, and he appealed to their loyalty to humanity. The speech was greatly and justly applauded.

The Balkan delegates are gradually and gracefully yielding.

July 21.

In the morning to the "House in the Wood," where a plenary session of the conference was held. It was a field day on explosive, flattening and expanding bullets, etc. Our Captain Crozier, who evidently knows more about the subject than anybody else here, urged a declaration of the principle that balls should be not more deadly or cruel than is absolutely necessary to put soldiers hors de combat; but the committee had reported a resolution which, Crozier insists, opens the door to worse missiles than those at present used. Many and earnest speeches were made. I made a short speech, moving to refer the matter back to the committee, with instructions to harmonize and combine the two ideas in one article—that is, the idea which the article now expresses, and Crozier’s idea of stating the general principle to which the bullets should conform—namely, that of not making a wound more cruel than necessary; but the amendment was lost.

July 22.

Sir Julian Pauncefote called to discuss with us the signing of the Acte Final. There seems to be general doubt as to what is the best manner of signing the conventions, declarations, etc., and all remains in the air.

In the morning the American delegation met and Captain Mahan threw in a bomb regarding article 27, which requires that when any two parties to the conference are drifting into war, the other powers should consider it a duty (devoir) to remind them of the arbitration tribunal, etc. He thinks that this infringes the American doctrine of not entangling ourselves in the affairs of foreign states, and will prevent the ratification of the convention by the United States Senate. This aroused earnest debate, Captain Mahan insisting upon the omission of the word "devoir," and Dr. Holls defending the article as reported by the subcommittee, of which he is a member, and contending that the peculiar interests of America could be protected by a reservation. Finally, the delegation voted to insist upon the insertion of the qualifying words, "autant que les circonstances permettent," but this decision was afterward abandoned.

July 23.

Met at our Minister Newel’s supper Sir Henry Howard, who told me that the present Dutch ministry, with Piersoon at its head and De Beaufort as minister of foreign affairs, is in a very bad way; that its "subserviency to Italy," in opposition to the demands of the Vatican for admittance into the conference, and its difficulties with the socialists and others, arising from the police measures taken against Armenian, Finnish, New Turkish, and other orators who have wished to come here and make the conference and the city a bear-garden , have led both the extreme parties—that is, the solid Roman Catholic party on one side, and the pretended votaries of liberty on the other—to hate the ministry equally. He thinks that they will join hands and oust the ministry just as soon as the conference is over.

Some allowance is to be made for the fact that Sir Henry is a Roman Catholic: while generally liberal, he evidently looks at many questions from the point of view of his church.[9]

[9] As it turned out, he was right: the ministry was ousted, but not so soon as he expected, for the catastrophe did not arrive until about two years later. Then came in a coalition of high Calvinists and Roman Catholics which brought in the Kuyper ministry.

July 24.

For some days—in fact, ever since Captain Mahan on the 22d called attention to article 27 of the arbitration convention as likely to be considered an infringement of the Monroe Doctrine—our American delegation has been greatly perplexed. We have been trying to induce the French, who proposed article 27, and who are as much attached to it as is a hen to her one chick, to give it up, or, at least, to allow a limiting or explanatory clause to be placed with it. Various clauses of this sort have been proposed. The article itself makes it the duty of the other signatory powers, when any two nations are evidently drifting toward war, to remind these two nations that the arbitration tribunal is open to them. Nothing can be more simple and natural; but we fear lest, when the convention comes up for ratification in the United States Senate, some over-sensitive patriot may seek to defeat it by insisting that it is really a violation of time-honored American policy at home and abroad—the policy of not entangling ourselves in the affairs of foreign nations, on one side, and of not allowing them to interfere in our affairs, on the other.

At twelve this day our delegation gave a large luncheon at the Oude Doelen—among those present being Ambassadors De Staal, Count Nigra, and Sir Julian Pauncefote, Bourgeois, Karnebeek, Basily, Baron d’Estournelles, Baron de Bildt, and others—to discuss means of getting out of the above-mentioned difficulty. A most earnest effort was made to induce the French to allow some such modification as has been put into other articles—namely, the words, "autant que possible," or some limiting clause to the same effect; but neither Bourgeois nor D’Estournelles, representing France, would think of it for a moment. Bourgeois, as the head of the French delegation, spoke again and again, at great length. Among other things, he gave us a very long disquisition on the meaning of "devoir" as it stands in the article—a disquisition which showed that the Jesuits are not the only skilful casuists in the world.

I then presented my project of a declaration of the American doctrine to be made by us on signing. It had been scratched off with a pencil in the morning, hastily; but it was well received by Bourgeois, D’Estournelles, and all the others.

Later we held a meeting of our own delegation, when, to my project of a declaration stating that nothing contained in any part of the convention signed here should be considered as requiring us to intrude, mingle, or entangle ourselves in European politics or internal affairs, Low made an excellent addition to the effect that nothing should be considered to require any abandonment of the traditional attitude of the United States toward questions purely American; and, with slight verbal changes, this combination was adopted.

July 25.

All night long I have been tossing about in my bed and thinking of our declaration of the Monroe Doctrine to be brought before the conference to-day. We all fear that the conference will not receive it, or will insist on our signing without it or not signing at all.

On my way to The Hague from Scheveningen I met M. Descamps, the eminent professor of international law in the University of Louvain, and the leading delegate in the conference as regards intricate legal questions connected with the arbitration plan. He thought that our best way out of the difficulty was absolutely to insist on a clause limiting the devoir imposed by article 27, and to force it to a vote. He declared that, in spite of the French, it would certainly be carried. This I doubt. M. Descamps knows, perhaps, more of international law than of the temper of his associates.

In the afternoon to the "House in the Wood," where the "Final Act" was read. This is a statement of what has been done, summed up in the form of three conventions, with sundry declarations, voeux, etc. We had taken pains to see a number of the leading delegates, and all, in their anxiety to save the main features of the arbitration plan, agreed that they would not oppose our declaration. It was therefore placed in the hands of Raffalovitch, the Russian secretary, who stood close beside the president, and as soon as the "Final Act" had been recited he read this declaration of ours. This was then brought before the conference in plenary session by M. de Staal, and the conference was asked whether any one bad any objection, or anything to say regarding it. There was a pause of about a minute, which seemed to me about an hour. Not a word was said,—in fact, there was dead silence,—and so our declaration embodying a reservation in favor of the Monroe Doctrine was duly recorded and became part of the proceedings.

Rarely in my life have I had such a feeling of deep relief; for, during some days past, it has looked as if the arbitration project, so far as the United States is concerned, would be wrecked on that wretched little article 27.

I had before me notes of a speech carefully prepared, stating our reasons and replying to objections, to be used in case we were attacked, but it was not needed. In the evening I was asked by Mr. Lavino, the correspondent of the London "Times," to put the gist of it into an "interview" for the great newspaper which he serves, and to this I consented; for, during the proceedings this afternoon in the conference, Sir Julian Pauncefote showed great uneasiness. He was very anxious that we should withdraw the declaration altogether, and said, "It will be charged against you that you propose to evade your duties while using the treaty to promote your interests"; but I held firm and pressed the matter, with the result above stated. I feared that he would object in open conference; but his loyalty to arbitration evidently deterred him. However, he returned to the charge privately, and I then promised to make a public statement of our reasons for the declaration, and this seemed to ease his mind. The result was a recasting of my proposed speech, and this Mr. Lavino threw into the form of a long telegram to the "Times."

July 26.

At ten to a meeting of our American delegation, when another bombshell was thrown among us—nothing less than the question whether the Pope is to be allowed to become one of the signatory powers; and this question has now taken a very acute form. Italy is, of course, utterly opposed to it, and Great Britain will not sign if any besides those agreed upon by the signatory powers are allowed to come in hereafter, her motive being, no doubt, to avoid trouble in regard to the Transvaal.

Mr. Low stated that in the great committee the prevailing opinion seemed to be that the signatory powers had made a sort of partnership, and that no new partners could be added without the consent of all. This is the natural ground, and entirely tenable.

I would have been glad to add the additional requirement that no power should be admitted which would not make arbitration reciprocal—that is, no power which, while aiding to arbitrate for others, would not accept arbitration between itself and another power. This would, of course, exclude the Vatican; for, while it desires to judge others, it will allow no interests of its own, not even the most worldly and trivial, to be submitted to any earthly tribunal.

The question now came up in our American delegation as to signing the three conventions in the Acte Final—namely, those relating to arbitration, to the extension of the Geneva rules, and to the laws and customs of war. We voted to sign the first, to send the second to Washington without recommendation, and to send the third with a recommendation that it be there signed. The reason for sending the second to Washington without recommendation is that Captain Mahan feels that, in its present condition, it may bring on worse evils than it prevents. He especially and, I think, justly objects to allowing neutral hospital ships to take on board the wounded and shipwrecked in a naval action, with power to throw around them the safeguards of neutrality and carry them off to a neutral port whence they can again regain their own homes and resume their status as combatants.

The reason for submitting the third to Washington, with a recommendation to sign it there, is that considerable work will be required in conforming our laws of war to the standard proposed by the conference, and that it is best that the Washington authorities look it over carefully.

I was very anxious to sign all three conventions, but the first is the great one, and I yielded my views on the last two.

The powers are to have until the 31st of December, if they wish it, before signing.

July 27.

Early in the morning to a meeting of our American delegation, Mr. van Karnebeek being present. We agreed to sign the arbitration convention, attaching to our signatures a reservation embodying our declaration of July 25 regarding the maintenance of our American policy—the Monroe Doctrine. A telegram was received from the State Department approving of this declaration. The imbroglio regarding the forcing of the Pope into the midst of the signatory powers continues. The ultramontanes are pushing on various delegates, especially sundry Austrians and Belgians, who depend on clerical support for their political existence, and, in some cases, for their daily bread; and the result is that M. Descamps, one of the most eminent international lawyers in Europe, who has rendered great services during the conference, but who holds a professorship at the University of Louvain, and can hold it not one moment longer than the Jesuits allow him, is making a great display of feeling on the subject. Italy, of course, continues to take the strongest ground against the proposal to admit his Holiness as an Italian sovereign.

Our position is, as was well stated in the great committee by Mr. Low, that the contracting parties must all consent before a new party can come in; and this under one of the simplest principles of law. We ought also to add that any power thus admitted shall not only consent to arbitrate on others, but to be arbitrated upon. This, of course, the Vatican monsignori will never do. They would see all Europe deluged in blood before they would submit the pettiest question between the kingdom of Italy and themselves to arbitration by lay powers. All other things are held by them utterly subordinate to the restoration of the Pope’s temporal power, though they must know that if it were restored to him to-morrow he could not hold it. He would be overthrown by a revolution within a month, even with all the troops which France or Austria could send to support him; and then we should have the old miserable state of things again in Italy, with bloodshed, oppression, and exactions such as took place throughout the first half of this century, and, indeed, while I was in Italy, under the old papal authority, in 1856.

In the afternoon to the "House in the Wood" to go over documents preliminary to signing the "Final Act."

July 28.

In the afternoon in plenary session of the conference, hearing the final reports as to forms of signing, etc.

To-day appears in the London "Times" the interview which its correspondent had with me yesterday. It develops the reasons for our declaration, and seems to give general satisfaction. Sir Julian Pauncefote told Holls that he liked it much.

The committee on forms of the "Final Act," etc., has at last, under pressure of all sorts, agreed that the question of admitting non-signatory powers shall be decided by the signatory powers, hereafter, through the ordinary medium of diplomatic correspondence. This is unfortunate for some of the South American republics, but it will probably in some way inure to the benefit of the Vatican monsignori.

July 29.

The last and culminating day of the conference.

In the morning the entire body gathered in the great hall of the "House in the Wood," and each delegation was summoned thence to sign the protocol, conventions, and declarations. These were laid out on a long table in the dining-room of the palace, which is adorned with very remarkable paintings of mythological subjects imitating bas-reliefs.

All these documents had the places for each signature prepared beforehand, and our seals, in wax, already placed upon the pages adjoining the place where each signature was to be. At the request of the Foreign Office authorities for my seal, I had sent a day or two beforehand the seal ring which Goldwin Smith gave me at the founding of Cornell University. It is an ancient carnelian intaglio which he obtained in Rome, and bears upon its face, exquisitely engraved, a Winged Victory. This seal I used during my entire connection with Cornell University, and also as a member of the Electoral College of the State of New York at General Grant’s second election, when, at the request of the president of that body, Governor Woodford, it was used in sealing certificates of the election, which were sent, according to law, to certain high officials of our government.

I affixed my signature to the arbitration convention, writing in, as agreed, the proviso that our signatures were subject to the Monroe Doctrine declaration made in open session of the conference on July 25. The other members of the American delegation then signed in proper order. But the two other conventions we left unsigned. It was with deep regret that I turned away from these; but the majority of the delegation had decreed it, and it was difficult to see what other course we could pursue. I trust that the Washington authorities will rectify the matter by signing them both.

We also affixed our signatures to the first of the "declarations."

At three P.M. came the formal closing of the conference. M. de Staal made an excellent speech, as did Mr. van Karnebeek and M. de Beaufort, the Netherlands minister of foreign affairs. To these Count Munster, the presiding delegate from Germany, replied in French, and apparently extemporaneously. It must have been pain and grief to him, for he was obliged to speak respectfully, in the first place, of the conference, which for some weeks he had affected to despise; and, secondly, of arbitration and the other measures proposed, which, at least during all the first part of the conference, he had denounced as a trick and a humbug; and, finally, he had to speak respectfully of M. de Staal, to whom he has steadily shown decided dislike. He did the whole quite well, all things considered; but showed his feelings clearly, as regarded M. de Staal, by adding to praise of him greater praise for Mr. van Karnebeek, who has been the main managing man in the conference in behalf of the Netherlands Government.

Then to the hotel and began work on the draft of a report, regarding the whole work of the conference, to the State Department. I was especially embarrassed by the fact that the wording of it must be suited to the scruples of my colleague, Captain Mahan. He is a man of the highest character and of great ability, whom I respect and greatly like; but, as an old naval officer, wedded to the views generally entertained by older members of the naval and military service, he has had very little, if any, sympathy with the main purposes of the conference, and has not hesitated to declare his disbelief in some of the measures which we were especially instructed to press. In his books he is on record against the immunity of private property at sea, and in drawing up our memorial to the conference regarding this latter matter, in making my speech with reference to it in the conference, and in preparing our report to the State Department, I have been embarrassed by this fact. It was important to have unanimity, and it could not be had, so far as he was concerned, without toning down the whole thing, and, indeed, leaving out much that in my judgment the documents emanating from us on the subject ought to contain. So now, in regard to arbitration, as well as the other measures finally adopted, his feelings must be considered. Still, his views have been an excellent tonic; they have effectively prevented any lapse into sentimentality. When he speaks the millennium fades and this stern, severe, actual world appears.

I worked until late at night, and then went to Scheveningen almost in despair.

July 30.

Returned to The Hague early in the morning, and went on again with the report, working steadily through the day upon it. For the first time in my life I have thus made Sunday a day of work. Although I have no conscientious scruples on the subject, it was bred into me in my childhood and boyhood that Sunday should be kept free from all manner of work; and so thoroughly was this rule inculcated that I have borne it in mind ever since, often resisting very pressing temptation to depart from it.

But to-day there was no alternative, and the whole time until five o’clock in the afternoon was given to getting my draft ready.

At five P.M. the American delegation came together, and, to my surprise, received my report with every appearance of satisfaction. Mr. Low indicated some places which, in his opinion, needed modification; and to this I heartily agreed, for they were generally places where I was myself in doubt.

My draft having thus been presented, I turned it over to Mr. Low, who agreed to bring it to-morrow morning with such modifications, omissions, and additions as seemed best to him. The old proverb, " ’T is always darkest just before daylight," seems exemplified in the affairs of to-day, since the kind reception given to my draft of the report, and the satisfaction expressed regarding it, form a most happy and unexpected sequel to my wretched distrust regarding the whole matter last night.

July 31.

The American delegation met at eleven in the morning and discussed my draft. Mr. Low’s modifications and additions were not many and were mainly good. But he omitted some things which I would have preferred to retain: these being in the nature of a plea in behalf of arbitration, or, rather, an exhibition of the advantages which have been secured for it by the conference; but, between his doubts and Captain Mahan’s opposition, I did not care to contest the matter, and several pages were left out.

At six in the afternoon came the last meeting of our delegation. The reports, duly engrossed,—namely, the special reports, signed by Captain Mahan and Captain Crozier, from the first and second committees of the conference; the special report made by myself, Mr. Low, and Dr. Holls as members of the third committee; and the general report covering our whole work, drawn almost entirely by me, but signed by all the members of the commission,—were presented, re-read, and signed, after which the delegation adjourned, sine die.

August 1.

After some little preliminary work on matters connected with the winding up of our commission, went with my private secretary, Mr. Vickery, to Amsterdam, visiting the old church, the palace, the Zoological Gardens, etc. Thence to Gouda and saw the stained-glass windows in the old church there, which I have so long desired to study.

August 3.

At 8.30 left The Hague and went by rail, via Cologne and Ehreinbreitstein, to Homburg, arriving in the evening.

August 5.

This morning resumed my duties as ambassador at Berlin.

There was one proceeding at the final meeting of the conference which I have omitted, but which really ought to find a place in this diary. Just before the final speeches, to the amazement of all and almost to the stupefaction of many, the president, M. de Staal, handed to the secretary, without comment, a paper which the latter began to read. It turned out to be a correspondence which had taken place, just before the conference, between the Queen of the Netherlands and the Pope.

The Queen’s letter—written, of course, by her ministers, in the desire to placate the Catholic party, which holds the balance of power in the Netherlands—dwelt most respectfully on the high functions of his Holiness, etc., etc., indicating, if not saying, that it was not the fault of her government that he was not invited to join in the conference.

The answer from the Pope was a masterpiece of Vatican skill. In it he referred to what he claimed was his natural position as a peacemaker on earth, dwelling strongly on this point.

The reading of these papers was received in silence, and not a word was publicly said afterward regarding them, though in various quarters there was very deep feeling. It was felt that the Dutch Government had taken this means of forestalling local Dutch opposition, and that it was a purely local matter of political partizanship that ought never to have been intruded upon a conference of the whole world.

I had no feeling of this sort, for it seemed to me well enough that the facts should be presented; but a leading representative of one of the great Catholic powers, who drove home with us, was of a different mind. This eminent diplomatist from one of the strongest Catholic countries, and himself a Catholic, spoke in substance as follows: "The Vatican has always been, and is to-day, a storm-center. The Pope and his advisers have never hesitated to urge on war, no matter how bloody, when the slightest of their ordinary worldly purposes could be served by it. The great religious wars of Europe were entirely stirred up and egged on by them; and, as everybody knows, the Pope did everything to prevent the signing of the treaty of Munster, which put an end to the dreadful Thirty Years’ War, even going so far as to declare the oaths taken by the plenipotentiaries at that congress of no effect.

"All through the middle ages and at the Renaissance period the Popes kept Italy in turmoil and bloodshed for their own family and territorial advantages, and they kept all Europe in turmoil, for two centuries after the Reformation,—in fact, just as long as they could,—in the wars of religion. They did everything they could to stir up the war between Austria and Prussia in 1866, thinking that Austria, a Catholic power, was sure to win; and then everything possible to stir up the war of France against Prussia in 1870 in order to accomplish the same purpose of checking German Protestantism; and now they are doing all they can to arouse hatred, even to deluge Italy in blood, in the vain attempt to recover the temporal power, though they must know that they could not hold it for any length of time even if they should obtain it.

"They pretend to be anxious to ’save souls,’ and especially to love Poland and Ireland; but they have for years used those countries as mere pawns in their game with Russia and Great Britain, and would sell every Catholic soul they contain to the Greek and English churches if they could thereby secure the active aid of those two governments against Italy. They have obliged the Italian youth to choose between patriotism and Christianity, and the result is that the best of these have become atheists. Their whole policy is based on stirring up hatred and promoting conflicts from which they hope to draw worldly advantage.

"In view of all this, one stands amazed at the cool statements of the Vatican letter."

These were the words of an eminent Roman Catholic representative of a Roman Catholic power, and to them I have nothing to add.

In looking back calmly over the proceedings of the conference, I feel absolutely convinced that it has accomplished a great work for the world.

The mere assembling of such a body for such a purpose was a distinct gain; but vastly more important is the positive outcome of its labors.

First of these is the plan of arbitration. It provides a court definitely constituted; a place of meeting easily accessible; a council for summoning it always in session; guarantees for perfect independence; and a suitable procedure.

Closely connected with this is the provision for "international commissions of inquiry," which cannot fail to do much in clearing up issues likely to lead to war between nations. Thus we may hope, when there is danger of war, for something better than that which the world has hitherto heard—the clamor of interested parties and the shrieks of sensation newspapers. The natural result will be, as in the Venezuelan difficulty between the United States and Great Britain, that when a commission of this sort has been set at work to ascertain the facts, the howling of partizans and screaming of sensation-mongers will cease, and the finding of the commission be calmly awaited.

So, too, the plans adopted for mediation can hardly fail to aid in keeping off war. The plans for "special mediation" and "seconding powers," which emanated entirely from the American delegation, and which were adopted unanimously by the great committee and by the conference, seem likely to prove in some cases an effective means of preventing hostilities, and even of arresting them after they have begun. Had it been in operation during our recent war with Spain, it would probably have closed it immediately after the loss of Cervera’s fleet, and would have saved many lives and much treasure.

Secondly, the extension of the Geneva rules, hitherto adopted for war on land, to war also on the sea is a distinct gain in the cause of mercy.

Thirdly, the amelioration and more careful definition of the laws of war must aid powerfully in that evolution of mercy and right reason which has been going on for hundreds of years, and especially since the great work of Grotius.

In addition to these gains may well be mentioned the declarations, expressions of opinion, and utterance of wishes for continued study and persevering effort to make the instrumentalities of war less cruel and destructive.

It has been said not infrequently that the conference missed a great opportunity when it made the resort to arbitration voluntary and not obligatory. Such an objection can come only from those who have never duly considered the problem concerned. Obligatory arbitration between states is indeed possible in various petty matters, but in many great matters absolutely impossible. While a few nations were willing to accept it in regard to these minor matters,—as, for example, postal or monetary difficulties and the like,—not a single power was willing to bind itself by a hard-and-fast rule to submit all questions to it—and least of all the United States.

The reason is very simple: to do so would be to increase the chances of war and to enlarge standing armies throughout the world. Obligatory arbitration on all questions would enable any power, at any moment, to bring before the tribunal any other power against which it has, or thinks it has, a grievance. Greece might thus summon Turkey; France might summon Germany; the Papacy, Italy; England, Russia; China, Japan; Spain, the United States, regarding matters in which the deepest of human feelings—questions of religion, questions of race, questions even of national existence—are concerned. To enforce the decisions of a tribunal in such cases would require armies compared to which those of the present day are a mere bagatelle, and plunge the world into a sea of troubles compared to which those now existing are as nothing. What has been done is to provide a way, always ready and easily accessible, by which nations can settle most of their difficulties with each other. Hitherto, securing a court of arbitration has involved first the education of public opinion in two nations; next, the action of two national legislatures; then the making of a treaty; then the careful selection of judges on both sides; then delays by the jurists thus chosen in disposing of engagements and duties to which they are already pledged-all these matters requiring much labor and long time; and this just when speedy action is most necessary to arrest the development of international anger. Under the system of arbitration now presented, the court can be brought into session at short notice—easily, as regards most nations, within a few weeks, at the farthest. When to these advantages are added the provisions for delaying war and for improving the laws of war, the calm judgment of mankind will, I fully believe, decide that the conference has done a work of value to the world.

There is also another gain—incidental, but of real and permanent value; and this is the inevitable development of the Law of Nations by the decisions of such a court of arbitration composed of the most eminent jurists from all countries. Thus far it has been evolved from the writings of scholars often conflicting, from the decisions of national courts biased by local patriotism, from the practices of various powers, on land and sea, more in obedience to their interests than to their sense of justice; but now we may hope for the growth of a great body of international law under the best conditions possible, and ever more and more in obedience to the great impulse given by Grotius in the direction of right reason and mercy.


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Chicago: Andrew Dickson White, "Chapter XLIX as President of the American Delegation at the Peace Conference of the Hague: V— 1899," Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White— Volume 2, ed. Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907 in Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White—Volume 2 Original Sources, accessed February 6, 2023,

MLA: White, Andrew Dickson. "Chapter XLIX as President of the American Delegation at the Peace Conference of the Hague: V— 1899." Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White— Volume 2, edited by Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907, in Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White—Volume 2, Original Sources. 6 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: White, AD, 'Chapter XLIX as President of the American Delegation at the Peace Conference of the Hague: V— 1899' in Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White— Volume 2, ed. . cited in , Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White—Volume 2. Original Sources, retrieved 6 February 2023, from