At the next meeting of the Cabinet on February 6th, the main question discussed was whether we should convoy, or arm, our merchant ships. Secretary Baker said that unless we did our ships would stay in American ports, and thus Germany would have us effectively locked up by her threat. The St. Louis, of the American line, wanted to go out with mail but asked the right to arm and the use of guns and gunners. After a long discussion, the decision of the President was that we should not convoy because that made a double hazard,—this being the report of the Navy,— but that ships should be told that they might arm, but that without new power from Congress they should not be furnished with guns and gunners.
The President said that he was “passionately” determined not to over-step the slightest punctilio of honor in dealing with Germany, or interned Germans, or the property of Germans. He would not take the interned ships, not even though they were being gutted of their machinery. He wished an announcement made that all property of Germans would be held inviolate, and that interned sailors on merchant ships could enter the United States. If we are to have war we must go in with our hands clean and without any basis for criticism against us. The fact that before Bernstorff gave the note telling of the new warfare, the ships had been dismantled as to their machinery, was not to move us to any act that would look like hostility.
Yesterday we talked of the holding of Gerard as a hostage. Lansing said there was no doubt of it. He thought it an act of war in itself. But did not know on what theory it was done, except that Germany was doing what she thought we would do. Germany evidently was excited over her sailors here, fearing that they would be interned, and over her ships, fearing that they would be taken. I said that it seemed to be established that Germany meant to do what she said she would do, and that we might as well act on that assumption. The President said that he had always believed this, but thought that there were chances of her modifying her position, and that he could do nothing, in good faith toward Congress, without going before that body. He felt that in a few days something would be done that would make this necessary.
So there you are up to date—in a scrappy way. Now don’t tell what you know. Ned is flying at Newport News. He sent me a telegram saying that the President could go as far as he liked, “the bunch” would back him up. Strange how warlike young fellows are, especially if they think that they are preparing for some usefulness in war. That’s the militaristic spirit that is bad. Much love to you and Frances. Give me good long letters telling me what is in the back of that wise old head.
To George W. Lane
February 16, 
My dear George,—That letter and proposed wire were received and your spirit is mine—the form of your letter could not be improved upon—and you are absolutely sound as to policy.