Chapter 12-The Perfect Friendship

Chapter 12 of the book Fabian Freeway.

By far the most influential of Woodrow Wilson’s advisers (who always disclaimed responsibility, however, for any errors in Mexican policy) was a gray, neat, quiet, almost wraith-like little man, with luminous blue eyes and receding chin, Edward M. House of Texas. He held the honorary title of Colonel, conferred on him by Governor Hogg, one of two Texas “reform” governors he had propelled into office. In disgust, House gave the gold-braided uniform and regalia that went with the title to his Negro coachman, preferring to be addressed simply as “Mister.”

He was a potent but anonymous figure in Democratic Party councils and knew politics from the grass roots up. His support, pre-convention strategy and adroit instructions to floor lieutenants insured Wilson’s nomination at Baltimore in 1912. So confident was House about the outcome that he felt no need to watch the proceedings and sailed for Europe the day the convention opened. Without his help Wilson could not have been nominated—nor without the Texas delegation and its resounding “Forty Votes for Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey,” repeated throughout 48 ballots.

Since 1902, the very year Woodrow Wilson became president of conservative and Presbyterian Princeton University, House had waited patiently for this moment. He was looking for a fail-proof candidate to replace William Jennings Bryan, perennial Democratic candidate for the Presidency. A brilliant orator, the Great Commoner thundered against the trusts, “the interests” and the gold standard, (1) and deified labor and the common man. Bryan held audiences spellbound, but he could not win elections and would not stop running. What House wanted was a candidate who might be trusted to carry out a program fully as radical but more systematic than Bryan’s—quietly and without alarming the public.

A southerner born and bred, who had migrated to the North and captured the governorship of an important industrial state, Woodrow Wilson seemed the ideal candidate—in fact, almost too good to be true. He was a respected scholar who had been exposed since 1885 to Fabian Socialist views on economics and the social sciences; he was a specialist in American history and constitutional law who wanted to see the Constitution revised; and to top it all, he was a perfect model of decorum and schoolmasterly rectitude. From Sidney Mezes—the brother-in-law whom House elevated by political leverage to the presidency of the University of Texas—and from other professorial friends, House heard about the battles waged by Dr. Wilson at Princeton in the interests of academic “liberalism.”

During what he sometimes referred to as his twilight years from 1902 to 1911, House made a point of cultivating key persons in the academic world. Even President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard was numbered among his friends. As one who had failed to meet the entrance requirements at Yale and barely squeezed through a few years at Cornell, it gave House a good deal of quiet satisfaction to move among the academic mandarins—and even be able through his political connections to name the heads of certain city and state universities. At a later date he arranged to have his brother-in-law made president of the City College of New York, where Mezes instituted a regime of hospitality towards radical professors and students. (2)

From afar House watched Wilson’s progress as governor of New Jersey, previously a Republican stronghold, where the former professor was being educated for still higher things. When the two men finally met in 1911 through publisher Walter Hines Page of World’s Work, afterwards Ambassador to England, an immediate bond of sympathy was established. It was the beginning of what Woodrow Wilson called “the perfect friendship,” one of the strangest friendships in American political history.

Of his second meeting with Wilson, House said: “It was remarkable. We found ourselves in agreement upon practically every one of the issues of the day. I never met a man whose thoughts ran so identically with mine.” And a few weeks later, when Woodrow Wilson again visited him, House could not resist saying as his caller rose to go: “Governor, isn’t it strange that two men, who never knew each other before, should think so much alike?”

Wilson answered: “My dear fellow, we have known each other all our lives?” (3)

Edward M. House has been described by another friend, who actually did know him for more than twenty-five years, as being “highly conventional in the social sense” and “highly radical, more than liberal, in the politico-social sense.” (4) House believed the United States Constitution, creation of eighteenth century minds, was “not only outmoded, but grotesque” and ought to be scrapped or rewritten. (5) As a practical politician, he realized this could not be done all at once, given the existing state of popular education; so he favored gradual changes which, in the long run, would produce the same results.

A similar point of view was expressed in Woodrow Wilson’s campaign speeches, afterwards printed as The New Freedom. Previously it had been voiced by both American and British Fabians. Perhaps the voters who read or heard Wilson’s speeches at the time dismissed the point as mere campaign oratory; but it was one of those basic issues on which Wilson and House found themselves in full agreement, having reached identical conclusions by alternate routes. As a man who never held an official position, though for nearly seven years he was to wield extraordinary power, the Texas Colonel was technically free to subscribe to any ideas he chose. One cannot help wondering, however, by what superior intellectual process President Wilson was able to reconcile such convictions with the oath he took on March 4, 1913, to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The political and social credo of Colonel House, in which Wilson so warmly concurred, was unveiled in fictional form shortly after the presidential election. Late in the fall of 1912 there appeared a curious novel entitled Philip Dru, Administrator. It was published by B. W. Huebsch, a favorite publisher of the Left and for many years a valued collaborator of American Fabian Socialist groups. (6) Though the book was anonymous, some people surmised that House was the author, and he confessed as much to intimates. The Colonel had written the first draft in December, 1911, while in Austin, Texas, recovering from an illness.

Its radical ideas attracted a degree of attention unwarranted by the book’s literary merits, or lack of them. Philip Dru was a young West Pointer who led an armed rebellion against a tyrannical and reactionary government in Washington subservient to the privileged “interests.” He became the ruler of America and by a series of Executive decrees proceeded to remold the mechanics of administration, revise the Judiciary, reshape the laws affecting labor and capital, revamp the nation’s military forces, and arrange to set up an international body or league of nations.

More specifically, the Administrator appointed a board of economists to work out a tariff law leading to “the abolition of the theory of protection as a government policy.” He also instructed the board to work out a graduated income tax. Philip Dru further called for “a new banking law, affording a flexible currency bottomed largely on commercial assets”; and proposed to make corporations “share with the government and states a certain part of their earnings.” (7) The former foreshadowed the Federal Reserve Bank; the latter, the corporation income tax.

Labor, said Dru, should “no longer be classed as an inert commodity to be bought and sold according to the law of supply and demand.” The Government would give employment to all who needed it. Dru “prepared an old-age pension law and also a laborers’ insurance law,” and provided for certain reforms “in the study and practice of medicine.” Finally, he “incorporated in the Franchise Law the right of labor to have one representative on the boards of corporations and to share a certain per cent of the earnings above wages, after a reasonable per cent upon the capital had been earned.” In return, labor was to submit all grievances to compulsory arbitration.

When the newly installed Democratic Administration announced the legislative program it wished enacted, House’s novel aroused even more pointed comments. Cabinet members remarked on the similarity between Dru’s program and the legislation requested over the years by Woodrow Wilson. “All that book has said should be, comes about,” wrote Franklin K. Lane, Wilson’s Secretary of the Interior, in 1918 to a personal friend. “The President comes to Philip Dru in the end.” (8)

Among the junior officials who read the novel and took it to heart was a handsome young Assistant Secretary of the Navy. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his doting mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, was then and always a close friend of Colonel House. The Texas Colonel was the first important Democrat to support Roosevelt’s nomination for the Presidency in 1932.(9) Whether House presented a copy of Philip Dru, Administrator to the dowager Mrs. Roosevelt or to her son, (10) its contents unquestionably played a part in the political education of still another American president. It even recommended “fireside chats.”

Few works of fiction have so deeply affected, for better or worse, the trends of contemporary life in the United States. In effect, Philip Dru, Administrator became a kind of handbook or Cooke’s Guide for Democratic presidents, who proceeded to throw away the old book of presidential protocol spelling out the Chief Executive’s relation to the Congress, the Judiciary and the military. Those tried and true precepts had been honored by every American president, irrespective of party, until Woodrow Wilson and, whatever the personal inadequacies of the incumbent, had served to hold the country together along constitutional lines and preserve it from the dangers noted by de Tocqueville as inherent in any democratic system of government.

Strongly opposed to the division of powers prescribed in the Constitution, Edward M. House was one of the first Americans to foresee the possibility of evading constitutional safeguards by Executive decree and to perceive the vast power to be derived from control over the mechanics of administration—two lush possibilities further explored by other White House advisers since 1932 on a scale unimagined by Colonel House. In 1963, a Chief Executive even induced the Congress to convey its traditional and long-cherished tariff-making authority to his office, with hardly a voice throughout the country raised in protest.

There was nothing so very mysterious about the source of Woodrow Wilson’s radicalism, which he preferred to call “liberalism.” It developed (and in his case was perhaps deliberately fostered by far-seeing associates) in an academic atmosphere already tinged with Socialist thinking, where the “scientific” approach to economics and sociology was being extended to history and to the law. From John Stuart Mill, whom Wilson admired, it was not such a far cry to Sidney Webb, who claimed Mill had died a Socialist. The real mystery is how a man like Edward M. House, product of the Old Frontier and the pistol-packing politics of the Southwest, happened to become a vehicle for ideas and programs that were plainly Socialist in origin. For some reason, this has never been explained.

Two years younger than Wilson, House was born in Houston, Texas, in 1858. Reared in an era of gunplay, Comanche raids and rule-of-thumb law in the wild Southwest, he was soft-spoken and courteous; but to the end of his life, prided himself on his skill with a pistol. His father, Thomas William House, was an Englishman who had gone to Texas to fight under General Sam Houston and stayed on to make a fortune there. The elder House often remarked that he wanted to raise his sons to “know and serve England.”

Thomas William House acted as an American agent for London banking interests, said by some to be the House of Rothschild, which had invested in Texas rice, cotton and indigo from 1825. At any rate, he was one of the few residents of a Confederate state to emerge from the Civil War with a handsome personal fortune in cotton, land and private banking. (11) He gave his seventh son, Edward, the middle name of Mandell, after a Houston merchant who was a family friend. In later years, this gave rise to a rumor that Edward Mandell House, who became a friend and ally of Kuhn, Loeb and Company in New York City, was of Jewish origin—which was not the case.

As a small boy, Edward attended school for several years in England Much of his youth and adult life was spent in the British Isles, which he regularly revisited. Like his well-cut suits and proper boots, the radical views he affected so unobtrusively from early manhood were made to order for him in London. Being his father’s son, he was readily accepted into those prosperous middle class circles that voted traditionally for a Liberal Party which was increasingly penetrated, after the turn of the century, by Fabian Socialists. Concerning the period from 1895 to 1911 in Britain, a distinguished European visitor, Professor Francisco J. Nitti of Milan, observed:

“Indeed, in no country of the world are the middle classes so much inclined towards Socialism as in England, where eminent men of science, dignitaries of the Church and profound thinkers tend more and more towards Socialist doctrines.” (12)

Personally, House preferred the company of authors, playwrights and professors, of which the British Fabian Society boasted a noteworthy assortment. Among other connections, Edward M. House formed a lasting friendship with the journalist, George Lansbury, (13) a lifelong pillar of the Fabian Society, who for some years represented its more outspokenly radical wing inside the Independent Labour Party and finally became Parliamentary Leader of the Labour Party. Lansbury’s biographer tells how he once persuaded the American soap millionaire, Joseph Fels (a member of the London Fabian Society, thanks to the prodding of Mrs. Fels, nee Rothschild (14)), to lend five hundred pounds sterling to underground Russian Social Democrats including Lenin and Trotsky, when they were stranded in England. (14a) From 1912 to 1925 George Lansbury was the editor of the London Daily Herald, organ of the Fabian-dominated Labour Party until it ceased publication in 1964.

Though few historians mention it, the medical history of Edward M. House accounts in part for a career that might otherwise seem a marplot’s dream. An attack of brain fever in boyhood, followed by a severe sunstroke, had permanently impaired his health. House lived to be nearly eighty, but only by taking precautions not to over exert himself. His preference for remaining in the shadow of large events he had helped shape was due, in the first instance, to a physical inability to endure strong sunlight or heat. He could never spend a summer in Washington.

Passionately interested in politics, domestic and international, House faced the fact as a very young man that he could not hope to withstand the strain and stress of public office. After his father’s death, he arranged matters so as to be assured of a regular income of $25,000 a year—an amount he judged suitable to support him comfortably throughout a lifetime of anonymous and unsalaried “public service.” A similar notion of Socialist “public service,” subsidized by capitalist dividends, was popular among leading British Fabians of Victorian and Edwardian days, notably Sidney Webb, and has its modern counterpart in the support received by outstanding Fabian Socialists from private foundations in the United States.

It is hard to say just when House conceived the bold plan of penetrating America’s Democratic Party at the apex and molding the policies of a sympathetic Chief Executive in the interests of a Socialist program to change the face of America. Whether the idea was his own or inspired by Fabian friends in Britain, every step he took over the years appeared to be directed toward its fulfillment. Though it involved years of obscure political chores and patient waiting, in the end House came closer to achieving his purpose than England’s Fabian Socialists were ever able to do within the framework of the Liberal Party. His career was a living example of Socialist gradualism at work.

With the election of Woodrow Wilson, House became a power at home and abroad. From then until their final break at Paris in 1918, the President relied on House, trusted him completely and never made a move without consulting him. While previous Presidents had their confidants, nothing quite like the association between House and Wilson had ever been seen before in America. The understanding between them was based on ideology as well as affection. It was as if they shared a mutual secret not to be divulged to the American people.

As Bernard Baruch said, and he had reason to know, “the Colonel’s hand was in everything”—from Cabinet appointments to decisions affecting war and peace. The small apartment Colonel House had rented in an unfashionable block on East Thirty-fifth Street in New York City became a nerve center of the nation. There was a switchboard with direct telephone lines to the White House and the State, War and Navy Departments, and a constant stream of callers. People came to House, as they had been doing all his life, because he was too fragile in health to go to them; and this merely enhanced his importance. Even the President visited him incognito, almost as often as the Colonel visited the White House.

From the time the United States declared war on Germany, the apartment above Colonel House’s was occupied by Sir William Wiseman, wartime chief of the British Secret Service in America, whose functions included counterespionage as well as high politics. Introduced to the President by House, the young and enterprising Sir William had already become a great favorite with Wilson, who naively used him as a personal emissary on various confidential missions to London and Paris. When the war ended, Sir William Wiseman remained in the United States and joined the firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Company.

Just after the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany as a preliminary to declaring war, an episode involving Sir William occurred, which shows the partiality that highly placed American liberals felt for the outbreak of revolution in Russia. In New York City Leon Trotsky—then employed as an electrician at the Fox Film Studios—was the leader of a Russian revolutionary group with headquarters at 63 West 107th Street. (15) Wiseman was interested in this group principally because its activities were financed by a German-language newspaper in New York known to be receiving funds from German Government sources. Following the Kerensky Revolution, Trotsky sailed for Russia with a group of associates on March 27, 1917, via the Norwegian American Line. He was carrying a substantial amount of money.

When the vessel stopped at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canadian authorities picked Trotsky off the ship and held him. (16) From Petrograd the gentle Social Democrat, Kerensky, cabled Woodrow Wilson asking the latter to intervene. Colonel House informed Wiseman of the President’s desire that Trotsky be allowed to proceed. Wishing to oblige its new and powerful Ally in what did not appear to be a very important matter, London instructed the Canadians to send Trotsky on his way—leaving Sir William Wiseman, who had forwarded the President’s request, technically blameless.

So Washington and London innocently furthered the plans of German Military Intelligence, which at about the same time passed Lenin in a sealed railway car through Germany to Russia, there to assume with Trotsky the leadership of the Bolsheviki. Together, Lenin and Trotsky soon overthrew Kerensky, pulled Russia out of the war, and freed German armies on the Eastern front to fight Allied troops in the West. The release of Trotsky was a prime instance of the dangerous results of high-level civilian meddling in wartime; (17) as well as a classic demonstration, the first in history, of how Socialism opens the door to Communism.

This remarkable episode has been preserved for posterity by the usually well-informed Sir Arthur Willert, London Times correspondent in Washington, who worked closely with Sir William Wiseman. Willert was distressed by what he called the “deplorable” tendencies of a good many British lecturers and travelers who roved the United States during the earlier part of the war “saying whatever their politics and prejudices dictated.” (18) Conspicuous among them was Mrs. F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, distaff member of a well-known British Fabian husband-and-wife team, who waged an energetic “peace campaign” in America after her own country was at war.

Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence stayed at Hull House in Chicago, rallying feminists, social workers and college professors and receiving the wholehearted backing of Jane Addams and her many Socialist friends. (19) Jane Addams, an American Fabian Socialist and an eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner, became a world celebrity as a result of her pacifist activities, which continued throughout the war. Even Colonel House had conferred with her before departing for Berlin on his own peace mission preceding the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. (20) In June, 1915, on her way to the Hague Conference as a leading representative of the “neutral women,” Jane Addams was the admired guest in London of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who had visited her at Hull House seventeen years before. (21)

What troubled Willert and other more or less official British observers was the fact that so many of these self-styled peace movements were also fostered by representatives of the German Foreign Office, (22) eager to deter the United States at any cost from joining the war on the side of the Allies. Among the groups supporting Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence was the Organization of American Women for Strict Neutrality, founded by a Miss L. N. Miller of Roland Park Baltimore. Supposedly an independent movement, this organization received monetary and other aid from German Government sources and had branches in many American cities. (23) It was reported that the Chicago membership list included Nina Nitze, wife of a University of Chicago professor.

Nina Nitze’s brother, Paul Hilken (24) of Roland Park, Baltimore, was later discovered to have served as the chief paymaster for German saboteurs in the United States, who on instructions from the Dritte Abteilung in Berlin set off the notorious Black Tom and Kingsland explosions.(25) Her son, Paul Nitze, has risen in our own day to become Secretary of the Navy in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations and a spokesman for civilian as opposed to military defense planning—which only goes to show how neatly World War I memories have been swept under the rug.


In March, 1916, Sir Arthur Willert wrote to his editor in London: “We ought to make it impossible for people like _____, _____, _____ , or _____ to find here the hearing they are refused in England. It is really extraordinary how the country is being penetrated by the wrong sort of Englishmen . . . . I imagine there are plenty of German Social Democrats who would be only too glad to come over here from Germany and air their views. But they do not come for obvious reasons; and I cannot see why our own precautions should be so patently inferior to those of Germany.” (26)

As a result of this pointed suggestion, some official steps seem to have been taken. Soon Willert was pleased to report a “different” type of British lecturer and traveler coming to the United States. Among the “right sort,” he guilelessly listed Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragist; Granville Barker, the playwright; G. M. Trevelyan, the historian; and S. K. Ratcliffe, author and editor.(27) Ironically enough, they too all belonged to the London Fabian Society which, like American Socialism, was divided on the war issue. S. K. Ratcliffe was a member of the Fabian Executive and its chief wartime courier to the United States. He was an editor of the Fabian-controlled New Statesman (28) and became the London representative of the New Republic, a so-called liberal weekly which had been founded in New York in 191314 as an opposite number to the New Statesman.

Financed by Dorothy Whitney Straight, whose brother was a J. P. Morgan partner, the New Republic was staffed in the beginning by a number of talented, ambitious and socially acceptable young Socialists from Harvard, who dropped the Socialist label but not its program soon after graduation. Among them was the pundit and columnist, Walter Lippmann, who had joined the Fabian Society of London in 1909.(29)

The British Marxist and Fabian, Professor Harold J. Laski, teaching at Harvard from 1915 to 1919, was a frequent wartime contributor, though his articles were discreetly signed H. J. L. The New Republic (30) supported Woodrow Wilson and continued to support him throughout the war—in contrast to its more overtly radical sister weekly, The Nation, which maintained a pacifist and anti-war stand, idolized conscientious objectors like Eugene V. Debs and Scott Nearing, yet did not blanch at bloody revolution in Russia.

Always limited in circulation, the New Republic catered to an intellectual and professional elite rather than to the perfervid mass of Socialist sympathizers in New York City. Apparently, it was in high favor with key personages in the Wilson Administration, especially Colonel House. By what Lippmann prudently calls “a certain parallelism of reasoning,” the New Republic often suggested policies that President Wilson followed. In those years the paper enjoyed a kind of mysterious importance which it never quite equaled again, not even under the New Frontier.

During the winter of 1916 young Lippmann had several interviews, “such as any journalist has,” with the President; but he denied that his personal relations with Wilson were ever close. Thereafter, Herbert Croly, senior editor of the New Republic, and Walter Lippmann met about once every fortnight with Colonel House to discuss problems “relating to the management of neutrality” prior to the reelection of President Wilson in 1916. (31) With S. K. Ratcliffe commuting from London to attend editorial luncheons at the New Republic, the Fabian circuit was complete.

Following the example of top-level British Fabians, New Republic editors moved in good society and were considered eminently respectable. Penetration and permeation were their tasks. Like the Webbs and other worldly-wise leaders of the London Fabian Society, they accepted the war as inevitable and concentrated on planning for the New Order, which all good Socialists felt sure must emerge from social unrest anticipated after the war. (32)

It was no accident that the Fabian Socialist Walter Lippmann, while on the staff of the New Republic, was named by Colonel House in 1917 as executive secretary of a confidential group to formulate war aims and postwar policy for President Wilson. There the famous—or infamous—slogan, “Peace Without Victory” was born, to be revived in a more literal sense many years later during the Korean War.

That postwar planning group, dubbed The Inquiry (or Enquiry), was headed by Dr. Sidney Mezes, president of the City College of New York and brother-in-law of Colonel House. On the pretext that any publicity might give rise to rumors that the United States was preparing to accept a negotiated peace, the existence of the group was kept secret. Meetings were held in the New York headquarters of the National Geographic Society at 156th Street and Broadway by courtesy of Dr. Isaiah Bowman, a director of the Geographical Society and longtime president of Johns Hopkins University. According to Lippmann, some 150 college professors and other “specialists” (who included the Reverend Norman Thomas, later head of the American Socialist Party) were recruited to collect data for eventual use at the Peace Conference. Since no government funds were provided in those days for such lofty projects, the working expenses of the group were privately paid—presumably by President Wilson himself, although he was not a wealthy man.

Eight memoranda, the so-called territorial sections of the Fourteen Points, were prepared by The Inquiry. This document, with several additions, was given by the President to Congress and to a waiting world on January 8, 1918. One impromptu addition was some kind words uttered by President Wilson about the “sincerity of purpose” of the Russian Bolsheviki—though the same might also be said of any forthright thug. While the implications of the Fourteen Points, wrapped as they were in high-flown verbiage, were not generally understood, the document was widely applauded by members of President Wilson’s own party in Congress as well as by Progressive Republicans and Socialists—and, of course, by the college professors whose thinking was guided by the New Republic. (33)

Since then, it has sometimes been said that Walter Lippmann “wrote the Fourteen Points for President Wilson,” a claim Lippmann has taken pains to disavow. Obviously, he assisted at the birth in more ways than one. When a clarification of the Fourteen Points was asked by Allied Prime Ministers in November, 1918, thirteen of the fourteen interpretive sections were written by Walter Lippmann at the request of Colonel House. The fourteenth (relating to the League of Nations) was written by Frank Cobb, editor of the Pulitzer-owned New York World, where Lippmann was subsequently employed as chief editorial writer. The demands outlined in the Fourteen Points, however, did not originate with Lippmann nor with The Inquiry. They were conceived by Sidney Webb and the Fabian Society of London.

In December, 1917, a statement of war aims, prepared by Fabian members of the International Socialist Bureau in London, had been laid before a special conference of the British Labour Party and Trades Union Council. Its authors were Camille Huysmans, a Belgian Socialist, then secretary of the International Socialist Bureau; British Fabians Arthur Henderson and Sidney Webb; and the alleged “ex”Fabian, Ramsay MacDonald. Sidney Webb, whose skill in drafting memoranda has rarely been equaled, did the actual writing. Promptly published as Labour’s War Aims, it was the first general statement of British Fabian Socialist policy in world affairs and was designed to be copied by Socialists in other countries and to establish the primacy of the Fabian Society within the postwar Socialist International.

Labour’s War Aims antedated the Fourteen Points and included every item covered in the later document: universal “democracy”; an end to imperialism and secret diplomacy; arms limitation, and abolition of profits from armaments; plans for settling such thorny issues as Alsace-Lorraine, Poland and Palestine, and for the self-determination of subject nationalities in the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires; economic controls and an international commission for reparations and war damage. Moreover, it called for collective security, a supranational authority, an international court of justice and international legislation on labor and social matters, (34) in what its Fabian authors fondly hoped might soon be an all-Socialist world.

These were the high-sounding aims which afterwards became the stock in trade of liberal-Socialist and Socialist-labor groups in every Allied country. Somehow, Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States, became a mouthpiece for the selfsame demands. Walter Lippmann, always gifted at double-talk, would doubtless attribute the resemblance to “a certain parallelism of reasoning.” It hardly seems necessary, however, to invoke extrasensory perception when such well-placed physical facilities existed for transmitting the original Fabian program verbally and textually to the President. How far Woodrow Wilson was aware of his debt to the British Fabian Socialist planners, we may never know; but it seems impossible that the alert, omniscient Colonel House, who shortly before the New Year, 1918, carried all documentary material relating to the Fourteen Points to the White House, could have failed to be informed of or to connive in the transmission.

That view is confirmed by the curious mission on which Ray Stannard Baker, the former muckraker who became press chief at the Paris Peace Conference, was sent by House in February, 1918. Baker was to “report fully for the information of the President and the State Department on the state of radical opinion and organization, especially the attitude of labor in England, and later possibly in France and Italy.” (35) He was given confidential introductions to various left wing leaders in Great Britain and instructed to send his letters via Embassy pouch and his cabled reports in secret code. At House’s suggestion that it would be better if Baker were not known to be an agent of the government, he was accredited as a correspondent of the New Republic and the New York World—though he never sent dispatches to either.

The first person Baker met in England was Professor Gilbert Murray, an Asquith Liberal of long-standing Fabian sympathies. Murray told him that the Asquith faction, opposing Prime Minister Lloyd George, was prepared to accept Wilson’s leadership and program of action, and in this was supported by nearly all of the labor groups, including the Labour Party. The next Englishman he saw was Graham Wallas, one of the original Big Four of the Fabian Society, who had delivered the Lowell Lectures at Harvard and dedicated his book, The Great Society, to young Walter Lippmann. A further list of the persons interviewed by Baker reads like a Who’s Who of the London Fabian Society—G. M. Trevelyan, Arthur Ponsonby, Philip Snowden, H. W. Massingham, George Lansbury, Arthur Henderson, Bertrand Russell and Mary Agnes Hamilton, to mention only a few.

Though he met several Lords of the Round Table group, who backed Lloyd George and the Empire, Baker felt they had outlived their time. His real enthusiasm was reserved for the Fabians; although he did not appear to be aware of the existence or function of that discreet Socialist Society. To him the Fabians were merely “thoughtful intellectuals” and Labourites. Finally, at the invitation of the playwright, Granville Barker, he lunched with Sidney and Beatrice Webb —and pronounced it one of the great experiences of his life to sit between them and be instructed in the laws of economic affairs. Baker found the Webbs “great admirers of President Wilson, and anxious for a better understanding between the ‘democratic’ groups of England and the United States.” (36)

Even now, almost half a century after the fact, it is humiliating for an American to find an emissary of the White House displaying such worshipful admiration for the leaders of a foreign secret society, anxious only to utilize the world-wide prestige of the President of the United States to further their own radical intrigues at home and abroad. Yet Baker’s abject performance was praised by House’s man in the State Department, the then-Counselor, Frank Polk. And much later, Wilson himself told Baker, “Your letters at that time helped me.” (37) Ray Stannard Baker was the individual finally chosen by Wilson to be his official biographer.

As Sidney Webb’s honored guest, Baker was present at the fateful conference of June, 1918, when the British Labour Party was formally constituted under Fabian Socialist control and adopted Webb’s blueprint for chaos, Labour and the New Social Order, as its permanent platform. Baker appraised that managed conference as being quite the most revealing exhibit of British opinion he had yet seen. In a lyric report to Washington he described the new Party as “the most precious and vital force in British life today”—differing sharply with America’s wise old labor chieftain, Samuel Gompers, who said the Labour Party in England did not really represent the rank-and-file of the British working class. (38)

The confidential reports sent by Baker were calculated to persuade President Wilson that labor in Britain, as well as on the Continent, regarded him as a man of supreme vision, called by destiny to unite the forces of “true liberalism” throughout the world. Slightly reversing the true order of events, Baker assured Wilson that British labor was not only in sympathy with his “democratic” policies, but “indeed, had incorporated them in its own statement of War Aims!” At the same time, Baker’s letters warned that “Mr. Wilson can never hope for whole-hearted support upon the reconstructive side of his program from those at present in power, either here or in France.” Thus the ground was prepared for the Peace Conference, even before the bloodshed had ended; and seeds of personal prejudice were planted in the President’s mind against the Allied statesmen, representing old-line Liberal Parties, with whom he would be obliged to deal.

Such advice from a trusted source naturally tended to strengthen Wilson in his determination to hold out for unconditional acceptance of the Fourteen Points as a basis for peace, and to insist that the League of Nations be considered an integral part of any peace treaty. The first American version of a “convention” for a League was drafted by the President’s friend, Colonel House, on July 13 and 14, 1918, in his summer home at Magnolia, Massachusetts, with the aid of Professor David H. Miller of The Inquiry group. Colonel House did not undertake this task until after he received a copy of the British Government’s draft plan, which was forwarded to him, unread, by the President.(39) It was by no means the first plan for a supranational authority, purporting to be a preventive against war, that had come to the Colonel’s attention.

Fully three years earlier the Fabian Research Department in London, then shepherded by Beatrice Webb, had prepared two reports of its own on the subject, together with a project by a Fabian Committee for an international authority along Socialist lines. Bearing the signature of Leonard Woolf, it was printed in 1915 as a special supplement of the New Statesman and hailed with rapture by Herbert Croly’s New Republic. Under the title International Government, this Fabian Socialist document was published the following year by Brentano’s in New York.

The draft so speedily produced by Colonel House on two summer days m Massachusetts bore a striking resemblance to the Fabian proposals, whose Socialist authors were not otherwise in a position to impose their ideas on the British Foreign Office. House’s twenty-three articles formed the basis for the President’s tentative draft, which adopted all but five of those articles and became the first official American plan for a League of Nations. Eventually the so-called Wilson plan was incorporated with a revised British Government version for presentation to the League of Nations Commission at the Paris Peace Conference.

From such motley materials the Covenant of the League was stitched together. And yet, when it was finally completed, Woodrow Wilson considered it so peculiarly his own that he was willing to invite personal and political defeat, to sacrifice the fortunes of his Party and his own far from robust health rather than allow a single line of it to be changed. To a practical politician like Colonel House —who had long since learned, as Sidney Webb also had, the necessity for graceful compromise when no better recourse offered—Wilson’s attitude must have seemed fantastic as well as suicidal.

The perfect friendship of Woodrow Wilson and Edward M. House ended as abruptly as it began. All the world knows that the break between the two men, predicted annually for seven years by newsmen, occurred at the Peace Conference in Paris. No two historians agree on the reasons, and the principals have never divulged them. Certain facts, however, are evident. Public sentiment in America had turned against the President and his internationalist views. In November, 1918, he lost the Congress and with it any hope of securing rubber-stamp approval for the Treaty or the League. House attributed this, in part, to Wilson’s own indiscretion. For Wilson, House had lost his political magic.

In December, 1918, Woodrow Wilson went to the Peace Conference in Paris, a defeated man too unfamiliar with defeat to recognize it. Such authority as he enjoyed was derived from popular acclaim in Europe and was largely ceremonial. Though hailed as a savior by millions, his power was strictly limited. He was a president nearing the end of his second term who had forfeited his support at home— and every politician in the world knew it. While he might persuade, he could not command.

Shrewdly, House had advised Wilson to make no more than a brief appearance and a few speeches in Europe, and return to pull strings from the White House. The Colonel also recommended sending a bipartisan committee of Congress to the Peace Conference. But their relationship had already changed: Wilson no longer listened to anything so unflattering as common sense. As Sir William Wiseman cynically remarked, the President was drawn to Paris as a debutante is entranced by the prospect of her first ball.

In those days it was a generally accepted fact that the treaty-making power of the United States resided not merely in the President, but in the President with two-thirds of the Senate present and voting. The Constitution said so; and as yet no techniques had been devised by faceless bureaucrats or Executive aides for diverting or assigning that power, or preempting it piecemeal. Philip Dru, Administrator, was not yet in the saddle—Yalta and Teheran were still undreamed of—and nobody in America except a handful of Socialist intellectuals and foreign-born radicals wanted any part of International Government. So Wilson, the bitter-ender, went home to failure and~collapse; while House, the gradualist who never stopped trying, remained in Paris, attempting to salvage by negotiation whatever fragments of his program could still be saved. As it had been from the beginning, their real quarrel was still with the Constitution, and on that rock they foundered separately.

The first attempt by Fabian Socialists to penetrate and permeate the Executive branch of the United States Government failed in the end. But they would try again, and go on trying, until fortress America was leveled, or until their own long-range subversion was definitely exposed. Colonel House was only one man, where a multitude was needed. He had set the pattern and outlined goals for the future, and he still had a scheme or two in mind. In particular, he foresaw it would be necessary for the Fabians to develop a top-level Anglo-American planning group in the field of foreign relations which could secretly influence policy on the one hand and gradually “educate” public opinion on the other. His experience in Paris had shown him that it must be a bipartisan group.

To the ambitious young Fabians, British and American, who had flocked to the Peace Conference as economists and junior officials, it soon became evident that a New World Order was not about to be produced at Paris. Most of the younger men in whom House placed his hopes for the future of liberalism and a positive foreign policy in America had already departed—Walter Lippmann, Felix Frankfurter, and above all, young Franklin D. Roosevelt. The few American intellectuals still remaining in Paris, who clustered around Professor James T. Shotwell, were young men of still undefined political affiliations and excellent social standing—such as John Foster and Allen Dulles, nephews of Wilson’s Secretary of State, Robert Lansing; Christian Herter, and Tasker Bliss, the political general who did not get along well with Pershing.

For them, Colonel House arranged a dinner meeting at the Hotel Majestic on May 19, 1919, together with a select group of Fabian-certified Englishmen—notably, Arnold Toynbee, R. H. Tawney and John Maynard Keynes. All were equally disillusioned, for varied reasons, by the consequences of the peace. They made a gentlemen’s agreement to set up an organization, with branches in England and America, “to facilitate the scientific study of international questions.” As a result two potent and closely related opinion-making bodies were founded, which only began to reach their full growth in the nineteen-forties, coincident with the formation of the Fabian International Bureau. The English branch was called the Royal Institute of International Affairs. The American branch, first known as the Institute of International Affairs, was reorganized in 1921 as the Council on Foreign Relations.

Edward M. House, the lifelong radical whose name was listed in the New York Social Register, in his quiet way had set the wave of the future in motion.


1. Bryan’s famous Cross of Gold speech proclaimed, “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold!”

2. See Appendix II for names of professors at the City College of New York who were student-leaders and/or valued “cooperators” of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society and its successor, the League for Industrial Democracy.

3. Arthur D. Howden Smith, Mr. House of Texas (New York, Funk and Wagnalls, Co., Inc., 1940), p. 43.

4. Ibid., p. 23.

5. Ibid., pp. 23; 93.

6. In 1922, B. W. Heubsch was a member of the Executive Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union, a Socialist-inspired organization; and in April, 1961 he was one of the sponsors of a rally in New York City to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee.

7. The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, Charles Seymour ed. (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1926), pp. 152-159.

8. Smith, op. cit., pp. 49-50.

9. Arthur Willert, The Road to Safety (London, Derek Verschoyle, 1952), p. 172. From a letter of Sir William Wiseman to Lord Grey of Falloden.

10. Smith, op. cit., pp. 366-367.

11. Ibid., pp. 8-11.

12. Francisco, J. Nitti, Catholic Socialism (London, Sonnenschein, 1895; New York, The Macmillan Co., 1911), p. 312.

13. Smith, op. cit., pp. 35; 102.

14. Fabian News (March, 1905), in an article entitled “New Farm Colonies,” refers to Joseph Fels as “one of our members.” Beatrice Webb, in her diary during May, 1904 quoted by Margaret Cole, Beatrice Webb (New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1946), p. 189 confirms the fact that both Joseph and Mary Fels belonged to the Fabian Society of London. A descendant, Joseph Fels Barnes, currently on the editorial staff of a New York publishing house, was in Moscow on a Rockefeller fellowship during 1931-32, where he was warmly received in deference to his family history.

14a. Raymond Postgate, The Life of George Lansbury (New York, Longmans, Green and Company, Ltd., 1951), pp. 69-70.

15. Willert, op. cit., p. 29.

16. On the night before his departure, Trotsky had made a speech before a joint meeting of German and Russian Socialists at Harlem River Park Casino in New York City. Speaking in both German and Russian, he said: “I am going back to Russia to overthrow the provisional government and stop the war with Germany and allow no interference from any outside government.” A report on this meeting had been submitted to Colonel Van Deman and General Churchill of United State Military Intelligence. Senate Document No. 62, 66th Congress, Report and Hearings of the Subcommittee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 1919, Vol. II, p. 2680.

17. Willert, op. cit., p. 29. Based on information obtained from the private papers of Sir William Wiseman.

18. Ibid., p. 89.

19. Revolutionary Radicalism, Its History, Purpose and Tactics. Report of the Joint Legislative committee Investigating Seditious Activities, filed April 24, 1920, in the Senate of the State of New York (Albany, J. P. Lyon Co., 1920), Vol. I, p. 974. Report by Louis P. Lochner, January 18, 1915: “Almost coincident with Mme. (Rosika) Schwimmer (A German agent) came a noted Englishwoman, Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence of London, England. For several weeks she was a guest of Miss Addams, and came before many organizations with her Woman’s Movement for Constructive Peace.”

20. Smith, op. cit., p. 102.

21. Cole, Beatrice Webb, p. 40.

22. Senate Document No. 62, 66th Congress. Extensive testimony and exhibits to this effect are presented throughout Vol. I and Vol. II. See especially Vol. II, pp. 1394-95; 1791-1795.

23. Ibid., p. 1792.

24. A special Act of congress was passed compelling Paul Hilken to testify concerning his World War I dealings with German sabotage agents. This testimony became a part of the Mixed Claims Commission Record, now preserved at the National Archives in Washington. It was reviewed in Justice Owen D. Roberts’ report on his decision of October 30, 1939, rendered as Umpire for the Commission.

25. The Dritte Abteilung, or Section III of German Military Intelligence, planned for and recruited volunteers for sabotage and terrorist acts abroad. See Records of the Mixed Claims Commission, National Archives, Washington.

26. Willert, op. cit., p. 89.

27. Ibid., p. 93.

28. In the Jubilee Issue of the New Statesman (April 19, 1963, p. 543) the editor, John Freeman, stated: “We were founded in April, 1913, by a group of Fabians, among whom Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Bernard Shaw and J. C. Squire were most closely concerned. Clifford Sharp was the first editor. He was succeeded in 1931 by Kingsley Martin, who occupied the editorial chair for 30 years.” In the same issue, R. H. S. Crossman, a former chairman of the Fabian Society, stated (p. 551): “During 50 years the fortunes of the New Statesman and the Labour Party have been more intimately linked than either side would care to admit. Why have successive editors and successive Party Leaders deliberately underestimated this intimacy?”

29. Fabian News (October, 1909).

30. In addition to Lippmann, the original staff of the New Republic included Herbert Croly, author of The Promise of American Life, who secured the financial backing; Philip Littell, Walter Weyl, Charles Rudyard and Francis Hackett. Soon Charles Merz and Alvin Johnson, later to head the New School for Social Research, joined the board of editors. In 1922 Robert Morss Lovett became its book review editor.

31. Walter Lippmann, “Notes for a Biography,” New Republic (July 16, 1930).

32. In 1919, the Reverend Lyman P. Powell, President Wilson’s old friend, edited a two volume symposium published by The Review of Reviews Company, entitled Social Unrest. It contained articles by many well-known British and American Fabian Socialists as well as some non-Socialists.

33. John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War, Lewis Gannett, ed. (New York, Doubleday & Co., 1962), p. 307.

34. Margaret Cole, The Story of Fabian Socialism (London, Heinemann Educational Books, Ltd., 1961), pp 169-171.

35. Ray Stannard Baker, An American Chronicle (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945), p. 306.

36. Baker, op. cit., p. 339.

37. Ibid., p. 355.

38. Ibid., pp. 343-345.

39. Smith, op. cit., pp. 259-260.

Chapter 11 << | >> Chapter 13

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *