We are to have a meeting of the Council of National Defense to-day, and I am going to take this matter up. I have been pushing on it for several weeks. As to the purchasing of supplies, I think we ought to protect the Allies, especially Russia, but, of course, we cannot touch their present contracts. ...
TO GEORGE W. LANE
Washington, April 15, 1917
My dear George,—I enclose a couple of confidential papers that will interest you. The situation is not as happy in Russia as it should be. The people are so infatuated with their own internal reforms that there is danger of their making a separate peace, which would throw the entire strength of Germany on the west front, and compel us to go in with millions of men where we had thought that a few would suffice.
My work on the National Council of Defense lately has been dealing with many things, chiefly mobilization of our railroads and the securing of new shipping. At my suggestion to Mr. Willard he called together the leading forty-five railroad presidents of the United States, and I addressed them upon the necessity of tying together all of the railroads within one unit and making a single operating system of the 250,000 miles. They met the proposition splendidly and appointed a committee to effect this. It will require some sacrifice on the part of the railroads, and considerable on the part of the shippers; for free time on cars will have to be cut down, some passenger trains taken off, and equipment allowed to flow freely from one system to the other under a single direction, no matter who owns the locomotives or the cars. I put it up to them as a test of the efficiency of private ownership.
On the shipping side we are not only going about the task of building a thousand wooden ships, under the direction of Denman and Goethals, but we are going to take our coastwise shipping off, making the railroads carry this freight, and put all available ships into the trans-Atlantic business. We want, also, to get some steel ships built. The great trouble with this is the shortage of plates and the shortage of shipyards. In order to effect this, I expect we will have to postpone the building of some of our large dreadnaughts and battle cruisers, which could not be in service for three years anyhow. Whether we will succeed in getting the Secretary of the Navy to agree to this is a question, but I am going to try.
We, of course, are going to press into service at once the German and Austrian ships, such of them as can be repaired and will be of use in the freight business, but we will not confiscate them. We will deal with them exactly as we will deal with American ships, paying at the end of the war whatever their services were worth. This spirit of fairness is to animate us throughout the war. Of course enemy warships were seized as prizes of war, but there are very few of these, and of no considerable value. I do not believe they can be of any use.