1: A World League for Peace
First Publisher's Note || 2: The Severance of Diplomatic Relations with Germany >>
Message to the Senate
January 22, 1917
Gentlemen of the Senate:
On the 18th of December last I addressed an identic note to the
Governments of the nations now at war, requesting them to state,
more definitely than they had yet been stated by either group of
belligerents, the terms upon which they would deem it possible to make
peace. I spoke on behalf of humanity and of the rights of all neutral
nations like our own, many of whose most vital interests the war puts
in constant jeopardy.
The Central Powers united in a reply which stated merely that they were
ready to meet their antagonists in conference to discuss terms of peace.
Entente Reply Was More Definite
The Entente Powers have replied much more definitely and have stated,
in general terms, indeed, but with sufficient definiteness to imply
details, the arrangements, guarantees, and acts of reparation which
they deem to be the indispensable conditions of a satisfactory
We are that much nearer a definite discussion of the peace which shall
end the present war. We are that much nearer the discussion of the
international concert which must thereafter hold the world at peace.
In every discussion of the peace that must end this war it is taken
for granted that that peace must be followed by some definite concert
of power which will make it virtually impossible that any such
catastrophe should ever overwhelm us again. Every lover of mankind,
every sane and thoughtful man, must take that for granted.
I have sought this opportunity to address you because I thought that
I owed it to you, as the council associated with me in the final
determination of our international obligations, to disclose to you,
without reserve, the thought and purpose that have been taking form in
my mind in regard to the duty of our Government in these days to come
when it will be necessary to lay afresh and upon a new plan the
foundations of peace among the nations.
Decales Peace is not Far Off
It is inconceivable that the people of the United States should play
no part in that great enterprise. To take part in such a service will
be the opportunity for which they have sought to prepare themselves by
the very principles and purposes of their polity and the approved
practices of their Government, ever since the days when they set up a
new nation in the high and honorable hope that it might in all that it
was and did show mankind the way to liberty.
They cannot, in honor, withhold the service to which they are now
about to be challenged. They do not wish to withhold it. But they owe
it to themselves and to the other nations of the world to state the
conditions under which they will feel free to render it. That service
is nothing less than this—to add their authority and their power to
the authority and force of other nations to guarantee peace and
justice throughout the world. Such a settlement cannot now be long
postponed. It is right that before it comes this Government should
frankly formulate the conditions upon which it would feel justified in
asking our people to approve its formal and solemn adherence to a
league for peace. I am here to attempt to state those conditions.
Must Not Serve Selfish Aims
The present war must first be ended; but we owe it to candor and to
a just regard for the opinion of mankind to say that so far as our
participation in guarantees of future peace is concerned it makes a
great deal of difference in what way and upon what terms it is ended.
The treaties and agreements which bring it to an end must embody terms
which will create a peace that is worth guaranteeing and preserving,
a peace that will win the approval of mankind; not merely a peace that
will serve the several interests and immediate aims of the nations
We shall have no voice in determining what those terms shall be, but
we shall, I feel sure, have a voice in determining whether they shall
be made lasting or not by the guarantees of a universal covenant, and
our judgment upon what is fundamental and essential as a condition
precedent to permanency should be spoken now, not afterward, when it
may be too late.
No covenant of co-operative peace that does not include the peoples of
the New World can suffice to keep the future safe against war, and yet
there is only one sort of peace that the peoples of America could join
The elements of that peace must be elements that engage the confidence
and satisfy the principles of the American Governments, elements
consistent with their political faith and the practical convictions
which the peoples of America have once for all embraced and undertaken
World Alliance is Necessary
I do not mean to say that any American Government would throw any
obstacle in the way of any terms of peace the Governments now at war
might agree upon, or seek to upset them when made, whatever they might
be. I only take it for granted that mere terms of peace between the
belligerents will not satisfy even the belligerents themselves.
Mere agreements may not make peace secure. It will be absolutely
necessary that a force be created as a guarantor of the permanency of
the settlement so much greater than the force of any nation now
engaged in any alliance hitherto formed or projected that no nation,
no probable combination of nations, could face or withstand it.
If the peace presently to be made is to endure it must be a peace made
secure by the organized major force of mankind.
The terms of the immediate peace agreed upon will determine whether it
is a peace for which such a guarantee can be secured. The question
upon which the whole future peace and policy of the world depends is
Is the present war a struggle for a just and secure peace or only for
a new balance of power? If it be only a struggle for a new balance of
power, who will guarantee, who can guarantee, the stable equilibrium
of the new arrangement?
No Victory For Either Side
Only a tranquil Europe can be a stable Europe. There must be not only
a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries,
but an organized common peace.
Fortunately, we have received very explicit assurances on this point.
The statesmen of both of the groups of nations now arrayed against one
another have said, in terms that could not be misinterpreted, that it
was no part of the purpose they had in mind to crush their
antagonists. But the implications of these assurances may not be
equally clear to all—may not be the same on both sides of the water.
I think it will be serviceable if I attempt to set forth what we
understand them to be.
They imply, first of all, that it must be a peace without victory.
It is not pleasant to say this. I beg that I may be permitted to put
my own interpretation upon it and that it may be understood that no
other interpretation was in my thought.
I am seeking only to face realities and to face them without soft
concealments. Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser,
a victor's terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted
in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would
leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory, upon which terms of
peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand.
Only a peace between equals can last; only a peace the very principle
of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit.
The right state of mind, the right feeling between nations, is as
necessary for a lasting peace as is the just settlement of questions
of territory or of racial and national allegiance.
Must Equalize Rights of Nations
The equality of nations upon which peace must be founded, if it is to
last, must be an equality of rights; the guarantees exchanged must
neither recognize nor imply a difference between big nations and
small, between those that are powerful and those that are weak.
Right must be based upon the common strength, not upon the individual
strength, of the nations upon whose concert peace will depend.
Equality of territory or of resources there, of course, cannot be;
nor any other sort of equality not gained in the ordinary peaceful and
legitimate development of the peoples themselves. But no one asks or
expects anything more than an equality of rights. Mankind is looking
now for freedom of life, not for equipoises of power.
And there is a deeper thing involved than even equality of rights
among organized nations. No peace can last, or ought to last, which
does not recognize and accept the principle that Governments derive
all their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that no
right anywhere exists to hand people about from sovereignty to
sovereignty as if they were property.
I take it for granted, for instance, if I may venture upon a single
example, that statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a
united, independent, and autonomous Poland, and that henceforth
inviolable security of life, of worship, and of industrial and social
development should be guaranteed to all peoples who have lived
hitherto under the power of Governments devoted to a faith and purpose
hostile to their own.
I speak of this, not because of any desire to exalt an abstract
political principle which has always been held very dear by those who
have sought to build up liberty in America, but for the same reason
that I have spoken of the other conditions of peace which seem to me
clearly indispensable—because I wish frankly to uncover realities.
Crushed People Will Revolt
Any peace which does not recognize and accept this principle will
inevitably be upset. It will not rest upon the affections or the
convictions of mankind. The ferment of spirit of whole populations
will fight subtly and constantly against it, and all the world will
sympathize. The world can be at peace only if its life is stable,
and there can be no stability where the will is in rebellion, where
there is not tranquillity of spirit and a sense of justice, of freedom,
and of right.
So far as practicable, moreover, every great people now struggling
toward a full development of its resources and of its powers should be
assured a direct outlet to the great highways of the sea. Where this
cannot be done by the cession of territory, it can no doubt be done by
the neutralization of direct rights of way under the general guarantee
which will assure the peace itself. With a right comity of arrangement
no nation need be shut away from free access to the open paths of the
And the paths of the sea must alike in law and in fact be free.
The freedom of the seas is the sine qua non of peace, equality,
No doubt a somewhat radical reconsideration of many of the rules
of international practice hitherto sought to be established may be
necessary in order to make the seas indeed free and common in
practically all circumstances for the use of mankind, but the motive
for such changes is convincing and compelling. There can be no trust
or intimacy between the peoples of the world without them.
The free, constant, unthreatened intercourse of nations is an
essential part of the process of peace and of development. It need not
be difficult to define or to secure the freedom of the seas if the
Governments of the world sincerely desire to come to an agreement
Requires Limitation of Armaments
It is a problem closely connected with the limitation of naval
armaments and the cooperation of the navies of the world in keeping
the seas at once free and safe. And the question of limiting naval
armaments opens the wider and perhaps more difficult question of the
limitation of armies and of all programs of military preparation.
Difficult and delicate as these questions are. they must be faced with
the utmost candor and decided in a spirit of real accommodation if
peace is to come with healing in its wings and come to stay. Peace
cannot be had without concession and sacrifice. There can be no sense
of safety and equality among the nations if great preponderating
armies are henceforth to continue here and there to be built up and
The statesmen of the world must plan for peace, and nations must
adjust and accommodate their policy to it as they have planned for
war and made ready for pitiless contest and rivalry. The question of
armaments, whether on land or sea, is the most immediately and
intensely practical question connected with the future fortunes of
nations and of mankind.
I have spoken upon these great matters without reserve and with the
utmost explicitness because it has seemed to me to be necessary if the
world's yearning desire for peace was anywhere to find free voice and
utterance. Perhaps I am the only person in high authority among all
the peoples of the world who is at liberty to speak and hold nothing
I am speaking as an individual, and yet I am speaking also, of course,
as the responsible head of a great Government, and I feel confident
that I have said what the people of the United States would wish me to
say. May I not add that I hope and believe that I am in effect
speaking for liberals and friends of humanity in every nation and of
every program of liberty?
I would fain believe that I am speaking for the silent mass of mankind
everywhere who have as yet had no place or opportunity to speak their
real hearts out concerning the death and ruin they see to have come
already upon the persons and the homes they hold most dear.
Sees World-wide Monroe Doctrine
And in holding out the expectation that the people and Government of
the United States will join the other civilized nations of the world
in guaranteeing the permanence of peace upon such terms as I have
named, I speak with the greater boldness and confidence because it is
clear to every man who can think that there is in this promise no
breach in either our traditions or our policy as a nation, but a
fulfilment, rather, of all that we have professed or striven for.
I am proposing, as it were, that the nations should with one accord
adopt the doctrine of President Monroe as the doctrine of the world;
that no nation should seek to extend its policy over any other nation
or people, but that every people should be left free to determine its
own policy, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened,
unafraid, the little along with the great and powerful.
I am proposing that all nations henceforth avoid entangling alliances
which would draw them into competitions of power, catch them in a net
of intrigue and selfish rivalry, and disturb their own affairs with
influences intruded from without. There is no entangling alliance in
a concert of power. When all unite to act in the same sense and with
the same purpose, all act in the common interest and are free to live
their own lives under a common protection.
I am proposing government by the consent of the governed; that freedom
of the seas which in international conference after conference
representatives of the United States have urged with the eloquence of
those who are the convinced disciples of liberty; and that moderation
of armaments which makes of armies and navies a power for order
merely, not an instrument of aggression or of selfish violence.
These are American principles, American policies. We can stand for
no others. And they are also the principles and policies of
forward-looking men and women everywhere, of every modern nation,
of every enlightened community. They are the principles of mankind,
and must prevail.
First Publisher's Note || 2: The Severance of Diplomatic Relations with Germany >>