Herbert Hoover to Woodrow Wilson




Hoover-Wilson Correspondence, Hoover Institution, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford, California


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum





Dear Mr. President

I have taken the liberty of sending you an extensive telegram on behalf of myself and the American Members of this Commission. Our reasons for doing this are:

1. The fear on our part that some feeling of responsibility that America might jeopardize the feeding of these nine millions of people and thereby you might find in this fear some limitation to otherwise freedom of action. It is our belief we can carry on in any event.

2. In adding thereto our views as to the present situation, we have been mved entirely by a desire to be helpful. There can be no body of men in the world which has such a deep appreciation of the horrors of war as those of us who have had to deal hourly with the aftermath of battle during these last eight months. Our one desire is to help to find some solution which would prevent our own country from being joined in this holocaust, but the belief on our part is that only a strong line of constructive character could prevent this catastrophe, and at the same time contribute something towards the ultimate redemption of Europe from barbarism into which it is slowly but surely drifting from all sides. We all of us count our country as being most fortunate in possessing at this critical time, in its President, a man of such lofty ideals and in whose wisdom we are prepared so implicitly to trust. We have no doubt whatever that the course which is taken will be the wisest course that could have been adopted. 

We may not have contributed anything to the combined wisdom which is so essential at such a time but an intimate contact with the peoples with whom these dealings must lie, some knowledge of their temper and of the means which must be used to bring a successful issue, justify us in adding our mite to the host of suggestions which you will no doubt have received.

Association with German authorities and German methods during the last eight months convinces us beyond all question that there is a curious mixture of two factors which count with these people. One of them is the conviction that force will be applied; the other, and superficially contradictory one– is the enunciation that a higher ideal is at stake upon which this action will be taken. The leaders of Germanyto-day are convinced that they are themselves acting in the name of civilization and they are extraordinarily anxious to maintain the confidence of the people throughout Germany that they are guided by these motives. The enunciation of a high ideal, or in effect a correction of their ideals from an exalted source such as yourself is bound to penetrate the whole of Germany and through their own public opinion in itself act as a deterrent to future transgressions. More especially is this so if it be coupled with a stern assurance that we intend to see such ideals lived up to so far as their relations with us are concerned. It is our belief that such a course would save us from the necessity of further steps. On the other hand, it is our dread that this situation may be dealt with in such a manner that German attention is held only to incidents. We fear this will fail to bring the German people to a right appreciation of our cause, and by repetition of such incidents arouse a flood of feeling on the part of our countrymen such as manifested itself at the time of the Spanish war and which could not be controlled by the sane minds at the heaed of our government.

You will forgive our directness of expression in the attached telegram because of our disinterestedness and our anxiety.

Yours faithfully,
Herbert C. Hoover

To Hon. Woodrow Wilson, 
   President of the United States,

This Commission being responsible for the relief work carried on in Belgium and France, upon which the lives of nine millions of people are dependent, has a great concern in the present crisis on behalf of the whole of these people and bearing in mind this deep responsibility we wish to state frankly our views to you in this emergency.

This Commission is international in character and embraces several other neutrals, principally Dutch and Spanish. American influence with Germany has sunk to such a low ebb that American members in Belgium and France no longer constitute any particular protection to the foodstuffs which we distribute, which in fact rests solely on German good faith. We think we should be able to withdraw the Americans and subsititute other neutrals therefor and thus continue the work. We should if such circumstances arose, continue to ship foodstuffs into Belgium and France just so long as the Germans do not interfere with their destination, and such interference, in any event, would cause the Allied Powers to bring the whole enterprise to an end. We cannot say positively that a break of relations between America and Germany would not jeopardise the feeding of these people, if the Allied Governments continue their approval and if the Germans continue to respect the destination of the supplies, the work could go on and it must be borne in mind that the Germans are anxious that the food supplies should be maintained. In any event, important as this work of humanity is in our minds, it pales, however, into insignificance in proportion to the other issues to the whole furture of humanity. We also take this opportunity of expressing to you our views as to the whole situation, based upon some intimate knowledge of these countries and the issues at stake. We are certain that unless Americato-day takes a strong lead in the vindication of the rights of neutrals and the upholding and enforcement of international agreements, the world will have slipped back two hundred years towards barbarism. Since this war began one agreement after another has been set aside by one belligerent after another, and as the sanctity of international undertakings and the proof of their ability to stand in fundamental to the world’s ultimate peace, any deviation from the insistence by neutrals of these undertakings undemines irretrievably the whole future hope of civilization. We believe that the hour has struck when America must stand on this issue. We do not believe that our country should go to war over the incidents which have occurred so far, but we believe that the American Government to-day must, while not condoning anything, enunciate a policy which will not necessarily lead to war but which in its vigor might bring to an end at least some phases of these violations of international law and humanity. It is our belief that you should sharply define the distinction between violations against property and violations against life. The former can be compensated for in money and the collection of this money can well be deferred if necessary until times are propitious to securing it without violence. Continued transgressions against life, however, can only be met by punishment, and if the American Government would announce that from to-day forward they would demand that the actual perpetraters and those responsible for such violence should be handed over to them or to some independent tribunal, for trial and execution, and that the whole of our resources would be pledged to secure this, it is our belief that these acts would be brought to an end. It is not our belief that we should make war on a people for the crimes of the individuals, and we should sharply make this distinction.

Every American to-day in England is filled with humuliation at the interpretation which has been placed here on your Philadelphia speech: that we are too proud to fight. We do not believe that you ever intended a construction to be placed upon this which has been universally assessed to it; that we are prepared to submit to the continued cold-blooded murder of our women and children and not fight. It is not upon this doctrine that the American Republic has been built up, maintained, and can endure.

The foreign trade of the United States is as important as any other function of the American Government. This foreign trade cannot be carried on without the presence of numbers of our citizens abroad and on the high seas. We disregard all extreme claims that we have a right to call upon our Government to go to war in support of our rights of property, but we do insist that the agreements carefully developed and entered upon over the whole history of our Republic, which gives us the right to escape with our lives, shall be maintained, and that, for instance, no ships shall be sunk where the safety of the lives of our citizens is not provided for. We strongly protest that any demand for compensation in money for the lives lost on the “Lusitania” and the assurances of the German Press that Americans can be satisfied in this manner are degrading to American ideals. We believe that all such diplomatic inventions as the withdrawal or dismissal of Ambassadors are puerile. We believe that if the American Government will take the strong line in support of the ideal that international agreements must from this day forward be upheld so far as they affect neutrals, with the above definitions, you will have the unqualified support of all the neutral powers and will have restored the prestige of America to the position we have a right to demand for it and we do not believe that there will be a repetition of these actions, but if so we shall have gone to war for an ideal which history will justify. We believe you could secure the adhesion of other neutrals to this course and thus strengthen your demands.

Original Format






Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964, “Herbert Hoover to Woodrow Wilson,” 1915 May 13, WWP19042, Hoover Institute at Stanford University Collection, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.

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