“Public life, like private life, would be very dull and dry if it were not for this belief in the essential beauty of the human spirit and the belief that the human spirit should be translated into action and into ordinance. Not entire. You cannot go any faster than you can advance the average moral judgment of the mass, but you can go at least as fast as that, and you can see to it that you do not lag behind the average moral judgments of the mass. I have in my life dealt with all sorts and conditions of men, and I have found that the flame of moral judgment burns just as bright in the man of humble life and limited experience as in the scholar and man of affairs. And I would like his voice always to be heard, not as a witness, not as speaking in his own case, but as if he were the voice of men in general, in our courts of justice, as well as the voice of the lawyers, remembering what the law has been. My hope is that, being stirred to the depths by the extraordinary circumstances of the time in which we live, we may recover from those steps something of a renewal of that vision of the law with which men may be supposed to have started out in the old days of the oracles, who commune with the intimations of divinity.”
Before this war, very few nations paid any attention to public opinion. France was probably the beginner. Some twenty years before 1914, France began to extend her civilisation to Russia, Italy, the Balkans and Syria. In Roumania, today, one hears almost as much French as Roumanian spoken. Ninety per cent of the lawyers in Bucharest were educated in Paris. Most of the doctors in Roumania studied in France. France spread her influence by education.
The very fact that the belligerents tried to mobilise public opinion in the United States in their favour shows that 1914 was a milestone in international affairs. This was the first time any foreign power ever attempted to fight for the good will—the public opinion—of this nation. The governments themselves realised the value of public opinion in their own boundaries, but when the war began they realised that it was a power inside the realms of their neighbours, too.
When differences of opinion developed between the United States and the belligerents the first thing President Wilson did was to publish all the documents and papers in the possession of the American government relating to the controversy. The publicity which the President gave the diplomatic correspondence between this government and Great Britain over the search and seizure of vessels emphasised in Washington this tendency in our foreign relations. At the beginning of England’s seizure of American merchantmen carrying cargoes to neutral European countries, the State Department lodged individual protests, but no heed was paid to them by the London officials. Then the United States made public the negotiations seeking to accomplish by publicity what a previous exchange of diplomatic notes failed to do.