He asked Secretary Wilson if the press really represented the sentiment of the country as to unconditional surrender. Wilson said it did. He said that the press was brutal in demanding all kinds of punishment for the Germans, including the hanging of the Kaiser. At the end of the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, he asked to be relieved of Departmental matters as he was unable to think longer. I wrote a summary of the position he took, and read it after Cabinet meeting to Houston and Wilson, who agreed. It follows:—
If they (the Allies) ask you (the President), “Are you satisfied that we can get terms that will be satisfactory to us without unconditional surrender?”
You will answer, “Yes—through the terms of the Armistice.”
“By an armistice can you make sure that all the fourteen propositions will be effectively sustained, so that militarism and imperialism will end?”
“Yes, because we will be masters of the situation and will remain in a position of supremacy until Germany puts into effect the fourteen propositions.”
“Will that be a lasting peace?”
“It will do everything that can be done without crushing Germany and wiping her out—everything except to gratify revenge.”
At last week’s Cabinet we talked of Austria—again we talked like a Cabinet. The President said that he did not know to whom to reply, as things were breaking up so completely. There was no Austria-Hungary. Secretary Wilson suggested that, of course, their army was still under control of the Empire, and that the answer would have to go to it.
Theoretically, the President said, German-Austria should go to Germany, as all were of one language and one race, but this would mean the establishment of a great central Roman-Catholic nation which would be under control of the Papacy, and would be particularly objectionable to Italy. I said that such an arrangement would mean a Germany on two seas, and would leave the Germans victors after all. The President read despatches from Europe on the situation in Germany—the first received in many months.
Nothing was said of politics—although things are at a white heat over the President’s appeal to the country to elect a Democratic Congress. He made a mistake. ... My notion was, and I told him so at a meeting three or four weeks ago, that the country would give him a vote of confidence because it wanted to strengthen his hand. But Burleson said that the party wanted a leader with guts—this was his word and it was a challenge to his (the President’s) virility, that was at once manifest.
The country thinks that the President lowered himself by his letter, calling for a partisan victory at this time. ... But he likes the idea of personal party-leadership—Cabinet responsibility is still in his mind. Colonel House’s book, Philip Dru, favors it, and all that book has said should be, comes about slowly, even woman suffrage. The President comes to Philip Dru in the end. And yet they say that House has no power. ...