The war came, too, during the holiday season in Europe. Over 90,000 Americans were in the war zones. The State Department was flooded with telegrams. Senators and Congressmen were urged to use their influence to get money to stranded Americans to help them home. The 235 U.S. diplomatic and consular representatives were asked to locate Americans and see to their comfort and safety. Not until Americans realised how closely they were related to Europe could they picture themselves as having a direct interest in the war. Then the stock market began to tumble. The New York Stock Exchange was closed. South America asked New York for credit and supplies, and neutral Europe, as well as China in the Far East, looked to the United States to keep the war within bounds. Uncle Sam became the Atlas of the world and nearly every belligerent requested this government to take over its diplomatic and consular interests in enemy countries. Diplomacy, commerce, finance and shipping suddenly became dependent upon this country. Not only the belligerents but the neutrals sought the leadership of a nation which could look after all the interests, except those of purely military and naval operations. The eyes of the world centred upon Washington. President Wilson, as the official head of the government, was signalled out as the one man to help them in their suffering and to listen to their appeals. The belligerent governments addressed their protests and their notes to Wilson. Belgium sent a special commission to gain the President’s ear. The peace friends throughout the world, even those in the belligerent countries, looked to Wilson for guidance and help.
In August, 1914, Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, the President’s wife, was dangerously ill. I was at the White House every day to report the developments there for the United Press. On the evening of the 5th of August Secretary Tumulty called the correspondents and told them that the President, who was deeply distressed by the war, and who was suffering personally because of his wife’s illness, had written at his wife’s bedside the following message:
“As official head of one of the powers signatory to The Hague Convention, I feel it to be my privilege and my duty, under Article III of that Convention, to say to you in the spirit of most earnest friendship that I should welcome an opportunity to act in the interests of European peace, either now or at any other time that might be thought more suitable, as an occasion to serve you and all concerned in a way that would afford me lasting cause for gratitude and happiness.
“(Signed) Woodrow Wilson.”
The President’s Secretary cabled this to the Emperors of Germany and Austria-Hungary; the King of England, the Czar of Russia and the President of France. The President’s brief note touched the chord of sympathy of the whole world; but it was too late then to stop the war. European statesmen had been preparing for a conflict. With the public support which each nation had, each government wanted to fight until there was a victory.