September 29, 1915.
Dear Miss Addams:
Miss Squire sent you yesterday a copy of a memorandum I drew up following the Henry Street meeting. In view of the shift in the situation which came with your letter from Bar Harbor as to the form of negotiation -- and as also the speakers represented so many points of view -- we didn't attempt to make it a meeting for action, but for report.
Nor did I read your letter, as Miss Wald felt that that was meant for our executive committee, rather than for the general meeting, as the whole trend of the speakers was for a conference of neutrals as the machinery for starting continuous mediation, in line with The Hague meeting, it was not necessary to read it to stave off action on the resolution as written by our committee last August.
At the close of the meeting Mme. Schwimmer said that an effort would be made by Dr. Jacobs, Miss Macmillan and herself to confer with you and Miss Balch and make some joint statement; and argue that our committee defer action until that was before us. This seemed an excellent thing to hang a movement for adjournment on, and this was done.
The meeting was not satisfactory. In a way it seemed as if we were back where we were at the beginning; especially as the judgment of the speakers including Professor Battin was against a voluntary group; as he felt it undesirable for the United States to take the initiative at this time; and as Mr. Straus felt that all agitation or bruiting of the question was of no avail whatever, as when any belligerent wanted mediation he would let his wishes be known in the right quarter, and until then it was fruitless. But this reactionary statement provoked a strong plea for action -- for putting it up to public opinion among the people of the neutrals -- and if we do not do that, of course we leave the whole question of settlement to the war parties in the belligerent governments -- from Miss Kirchwey and Mrs. Benedict, among others.
Miss Peck took down the discussion at length and I called her on the telephone today and asked her to send you her notes as fast as they were transcribed, thinking that would give you the general range of the discussion. The ribbon from her machine filled a great wastebasket and ran over onto the floor, and you will only want to skim through the [page 2] notes, but they will give you the different reactions of the different types of people as nothing else. Miss Wald has written you and I called up Mrs. Benedict asking her to write.
I went away from the meeting pretty well out of patience with trying to bring people of such various counsels together; whose very differences inhibited action, and throw in such time and energies as I have into some group that would be for action, even if it were in the wrong direction. But this morning, while I am equally keen for action and impatient to be at something, this is just the juncture where those of us who have been wrestling with the problem and found it so intangible, need to hold together if we can, and keep from striking off at tangents.
And yet I believe with Mr. Holt -- as you will see in the abbreviated minutes -- that the two methods are not mutually exclusive; that they are both worth trying.
CONFERENCE OF NEUTRALS.
I. This The Hague meeting came out for; this has been put before the diplomats of the different capitals. I can't sympathize with those who feel that it should not be abandoned until we are absolutely sure it cannot be carried out. There are two ways:
A. That the administration in Washington will not act, either in calling it, or in [cooperating] if Holland calls it; and we will not know this until we have really made [illegible] the issue a live one before public opinion, and thus both bring pressure on the White House and give the White House the feeling of the sentiments toward the plan which should uphold the President's hands if he should so act.
B. Until we are sure that such an official conference could not be called together, [illegible] which would have those qualities of flexibility, of not committing the governments, or being bound by the action of the conference, of international experience which you have urged all along as essential. You will see by the enclosed letter from Miss Balch that she is for a conference of neutrals of that [caliber]; and then as a reserve or second choice, she would be first for a commission appointed by the President, and second for a voluntary group. Her letter is pretty clarifying as to a possible common program for all of us.
II. John Haynes Holmes urged the adoption of the voluntary plan at last night's meeting. Mr. Peabody in a letter would go further, and wants it entirely an unofficial group of citizens. Miss Wald, I think, has come to feel more and more that this plan is the practical one; and is, like all of us, anxious to act. And her action would, I think, take the form of practically setting about getting a group together and sending it abroad. If that were possible I should be decidedly for it; as the work that the women at The Hague and Professor Battin have been able to do certainly shows that such time is not misspent. Perhaps it would be possible for the Henry Street group to push this voluntary plan; while the [page 3] Woman's Peace Party and the National Peace Federation could carry forward the agitation for a conference of neutrals. Both plans have certain large elements in common, so that instead of hurting each other, the two movements might help each other. On the other hand, Mme. Schwimmer feels that the voluntary movement will stand in the way of getting official conferences of neutrals. Perhaps some of those committed to the voluntary plan think the agitation for the conference of neutrals will lead nowhere and would block a really practical voluntary scheme. If there is this essential conflict, and it came to a choice between the two, I think without question I would be for pushing the conference of neutrals at this time, and shelving the draft at least temporarily the movements for a voluntary group. I do not think that that choice is necessary; but if it were, the reasons for making it seem to me sufficient; i.e., it is the plan which has been canvassed and won favorable response in Europe. It is possible to mold the personnel of the conference so that its makeup would be as good as that of a voluntary conference; and it is something on which public opinion can be aroused and we can get people behind.
And with respect to that I say only one thing, and that is that we should pin our energies in the next months to rousing public opinion.
As a first step in that direction I am all for a joint public statement by you and Dr. Jacobs, Miss Balch, Mme. Schwimmer and Miss Macmillan -- which can put it out as [missing text] soil, after [missing text]. It could [missing text] [America], could [missing text] a wide vogue [missing text] the keynote [missing text].
[missing text] Miss Macmillan drafting a rough framework for such a statement, which I enclose. It is of course a very slapdash thing and they were planning to work on it on the train going West yesterday and putting the revised draft in your hands and Miss Balch's.
If you do come Monday, October 4, as they anticipated and you jointly agree on some statement, it will I feel bring clarity and power to public thinking. Your health, however, is an important consideration; and it might be possible for you to [revise] the draft and agree on a final form by mail, and so save you the trip. From the standpoint of publicity it would not be essential that it be signed at a particular meeting of the five of you; but the fact that you had been in conference, as you have, could be brought out.
There is a very practical reason also for such a statement -- that is that Dr. Villard talked with some people close to the State Department before coming to our meeting. He asked if there was anything new, and they said, No. He asked if they had decided on initiating group action of any sort, and they said, No. That is, they would act as before, through the regular channels; and he asked if they did not throw out as [invaluable] information brought them by the women from The Hague; and they gave him to understand that the assurances your delegates had in the different capitals were rather polite generalities that they did not count. [page 4]
Now such an attitude breeds inaction; and unfortunately the public has little to bring to bear upon it. The very fact that you have all been guarded in your statements as to the foreign ministers you said this or that, and what they said, has left the public without sufficient data to combat this assumption that the Government has done all that it could. Therefore if, as I gather from what these recent comers [tell us], the belligerents would not resent such a conference of neutrals, the European neutrals are ready to [cooperate] and call it if the United States would join in, and if the United States gives no assurance that it will, then the American public ought to know, and know it hard. And [that] can be said in such a way that it will not be a negative criticism of the Administration, but a positive affirmation of our opportunity.
Following up such a public statement, I should urge getting together on some one organization as a channel to push the agitation as far as can be. And as a matter of tactics the public agitation could be [round] the calling of such a conference by the President that would lay hold on people's imagination. Whether it is called by the President or even whether the United States [cooperates] in a conference called by Holland, or even whether in the actual event it becomes not an official conference of neutrals but some informal body such as you have groped toward in your thinking, is after all a matter of method which will be up to those who attempt to carry it out; rather than a question for us to decide in loosening up the primal energies which should set the thing going. Thus it is that while I sympathize with banking on what was done at The Hague and all that has happened since the coming out for a conference of neutral nations; I think your point well taken, that we make our slogan not "a conference of neutral nations", but "a conference of neutrals", which is a freer phrase.