Address to the Woman's Peace Party, January 9, 1916


Miss Addams said: -- "The Conference of Neutral Nations, as you know, was part of our platform a year ago because we believed that if representatives of neutral nations should sit in some European city, where they might collect and publish existing propositions and, at the same time, make propositions from one warring country to another, in the end, if we ↑they↓ were fair minded and devoted men, some basis might be found upon which peace negotiations might later be begun.

"After the Woman's International Congress at The Hague, in which American women took part, the delegates who went into various countries found that in the warring nations the notion of a Conference of Neutrals was not unwelcome; at least officials said they would not consider arrangement for it an unfriendly act and some of them went further -- the foreign office of Great Britain said, for instance, that mediation [through] the ambassadors of various nations had been offered from London throughout the whole of the first Balkan War and it was to be expected that some other nation might suggest it in regard to the present war. Five neutral countries visited were ready for cooperation with such a Conference; two of them were ready to call such a conference if they were assured that the United States would participate. We therefore came home with high hopes.

"We found, however, that the administration here, doubtless with the very best of reasons, felt that the time had not yet come for action, a decision concerning which we never for a moment felt critical as the Government has much more information than we have. As a result, however, of this decision [page 2] there developed among the members of the Woman's Peace Party, as well as among other people, a plan for a possible conference of neutrals that should be [nongovernmental], not to take the place of a governmental conference but to prepare the way for it. I should like to explain, if I may, the relation of this conference to Mr. Ford's expedition.

"We were very grateful when Mr. Ford became interested in the idea of a conference of neutrals and expressed his willingness to further it. The idea ↑plan↓ however of [inaugurating] such a conference in connection with a special peace ship was Mr. Ford's own enterprise. The Woman's Peace Party, as such, and others who urged the conference of neutrals had nothing whatever to do with the peace ship or with the slogans that ↑which↓ became attached to it. But we did greatly admire Mr. Ford's energy and devotion and several of us regretted very much our inability to take part in the effort; we are much interested in the [beginnings] of a conference now being formed in The Hague as the result of that expedition.

"At the present moment there are groups of citizens from the United States, from Sweden, from Norway, from Denmark and a group of five representative citizens are ↑is↓ being selected from Holland, we are told, so that in a few weeks there will be meeting at The Hague, we hope, a conference of citizens from at least five neutral nations. This conference is absolutely nongovernmental; but we all know how many governmental activities have started unofficially. Many things which this ↑our↓ government is now doing for education, for agriculture, for commerce were [page 3] begun by a group of people who had nothing whatever to do with the government, but when their volunteer efforts have had a measure of success the government took ↑has taken↓ over the enterprise and perhaps that was the very best way of inaugurating it.

"Whatever the result may be, the Conference of Neutrals proposes to carry on several distinct lines of effort. First, to publish all sorts of programs and suggestions in the interest of peace which have been put forth in various belligerent countries. Associations, such as the "Union of Democratic Control" in England have made definite suggestions and have published a program for permanent peace but as the war continues they find it increasingly more difficult to hold meetings or to spread their propaganda. The same thing is true in Germany; members of the anti-annexation movement are making suggestion for terms of peace and insist that Germany must hold no conquered territory as a result of the war. But they too find it very difficult to publish their programs in the German press.

"It is believed that if there is a neutral spot to which these programs may be sent in which they may be translated and republished that it will be much easier to get them into the papers of England and Germany than if they were first issued in those countries. If the suggestions of Englishmen were published in the London papers as issued from a neutral source, they would not so easily be cried down as the unpatriotic act of a group of Englishmen who had dared suggest that England would at present consider any terms of peace. The whole discussion would be taken out of the spirit of controversy [page 4] so prevalent in a nation at war and into the cooler atmosphere of a neutral country, to a conference in which none could possibly have an axe to grind and all would try to make an effort to consider the various propositions solely on their merits. That is all I can see which may be hoped for from the conference of neutrals at the present moment; that it may [reestablish] some sort of international understanding; that the men of Germany may know what Englishmen think and Englishmen may have some way of communicating with like minded people in Germany from whom they are cut off; that international public opinion may again have right of way.

"All the newspapers in the belligerent countries are under censorship; patriotic people there are afraid to mention peace, not only because they will be misunderstood if they do so, but because they fear to lessen the enthusiasm for war. In neutral countries, however, they are under no such pressure and a Conference of Neutrals might begin to put forward measures approaching peace. No one expects them to end the war. The war must be ended by the accredited representatives of the governments, but a Conference of Neutrals may make it impossible that the war should end by the secret diplomacy with which it began; [through] the Conference the people at least might ↑might↓ know what the governments are considering, and have an opportunity to make tentative propositions to the different governments. I think the governments themselves would welcome such a discussion, if only to test the peace sentiment of their own citizens. At present the editor's sentiment alone finds expression. A thousand people living in one street may be [page 5] quite ignorant of each others views, each of them talking war as a patriotic duty. and how is a Prime Minister to know them? [Through] this Conference of Neutral Nations, if the war sentiment was ↑were↓ universal, it would ↑so↓ appear but if, on the other hand, there were groups of people expressing other sentiments they would find one spot where that sentiment would be respected, would be translated and published. Some of us believe that this informal conference may be the beginning of such a thing, that it may perform the valuable social function of bringing open democratic discussion into international affairs."