During the 1912 election, Woodrow Wilson preached unity amongst the nation’s diverse interests. Although class interests concerned the presidential candidate, ethnic interests greatly concerned Wilson. Wilson strongly desired to have all Americans united as one people. “The first Americanism is that we must love one another – foreign race and creed.”1 Wilson applied this philosophy throughout World War I to weld together the country’s mindset. Ethnic interests would not divide the United State’s policy.
Poles and Polish-Americans, campaigning for an independent Poland, fostered difficulties for Wilson’s adherence to this policy. The Administration endured constant pressure to not only recognize Poland’s independence but to persuade the belligerents to do the same. Being an idealist, Wilson favored the principle of self-determination. The President, at heart, supported Polish independence. Yet Wilson also was a practical politician. Many other ethnic groups in America expected their native lands to be recognized as sovereign nations. If one nation received recognition, then others would demand the same, or would be bitter towards the President. Therefore Wilson promoted self-determination and the independence of Poland, but he would not grant official recognition in order to preserve the unity of the nation during the war.
Poland began as an independent state around 966. In 1385, Poland and Lithuania united, forming a “Commonwealth of Two Nations.”2 During the eighteenth century, Poland became victimized by three dominating bordering powers: Prussia, Austria, and Russia. These three powers took advantage of internal divisions within the Polish- Lithuanian state. As a result, they decided to divide up Poland amongst themselves. Between 1764 through 1795, the state went through three partitions. The third partition completely eliminated Poland-Lithuania as a sovereign commonwealth. Other European powers decried this action but did nothing to persuade these three hungry powers from carving up Poland. Although Poland-Lithuania ceased to exist as a nation, the desire for Poland’s independence carried on through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century.3
Russia, Germany (Prussia), and Austria-Hungary cooperated with each other in the 1795 division of Polish territory. However things changed with the start of World War I. In 1914 Russia became enemies with Germany and Austria–Hungary. Russia allied itself with Great Britain and France in fighting the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey). Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary all made promises of an autonomous or independent Poland. Grand Duke Nicolas, Russia’s Commander in Chief from 1914-1915, asked for the Pole’s wartime support in exchange for a united, self-governed Poland. Germany and Austria-Hungary made the same gestures to Poles in order to get all Poles to fight against Russia. The belligerents used such statements as a means to obtain the support of Poles under their enemy’s control.4
Although the United States remained neutral during the first few years of the War, the Wilson Administration kept itself involved in the diplomatic discussions regarding terms for peace. Wilson believed that the belligerents would turn to the United States as a mediator for peace, since the U.S. kept its cool during a time of heated emotions.5 The restoration of Poland was often offered as a condition for peace. In November of 1914, Wilson was informed that two associates of Field Marshal Sir John Denton, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, predicted that the War would reach a stalemate by mid-1915. In regards to a settlement, the two firmly believed that, “[e]very country must maintain its nationality.” The two went on to list nationalities they felt should have their own sovereignty, one of which was Poland.6
Throughout 1915, German and Austrian diplomats met with Wilson or one of his associates to discuss peace terms. Both Germany and Austria offered a “restoration” of the Kingdom of Poland as a condition of peace.7 Restoration is a very vague term. Did it mean an autonomous or independent Poland? After meeting with Constantin Theodore Dumba of Austria, Wilson’s unofficial advisor, Colonel Edward Mandell House, warned Wilson that restoration meant a Polish kingdom “under the suzerainty of Austria- Germany.”8 Due to its control over Russian Poland by the winter of 1915, Germany was unwilling to give up its conquered Territory.9
On 5 November 1916, the Central powers issued a proclamation that promised an autonomous kingdom. They promoted it as a decree of freedom for Poles from Russia. Autonomy, however, would not take effect until the war had ended. Critics of Germany viewed this news as a means for Germans to recruit those in conquered Russian Poland into their army. In the meantime, on 8 December 1916, the Central Powers set up a Provisional Government in Warsaw to manage their war prize.10 Not wishing to be outdone by the Central Powers, the Russian Tsar stated on 25 December 1916 that one of Russia’s war aims included a free and united Poland.11 The game of empty promises continued, with Germany as the front-runner, exploiting its control over the Poles.
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson publicly declared that all people have a right to self- determination. However, Wilson wouldn’t commit the United States to the game of promising an autonomous and independent Poland. Wilson’s 27 May 1916 speech at a League to Enforce Peace banquet did provide a step in that direction. Wilson listed three international creeds that he believed all should respect. The first creed is the right of people to choose their own sovereignty. Respect of others’ sovereignty and territorial integrity is the second creed. The global right to peace is the third creed.12
Wilson made a very vague speech. He did not utter any names of nationalities he regarded as deserving sovereignty. Wilson could have made a remark about Polish independence in this speech. The first and second points certainly pertain to Poland. Wilson knew of Ignace Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist, before he gave the speech. The two had met at a White House dinner held 22 February 1916 in honor of the Speaker of the House James Beauchamp Clark. Paderewski performed for the guests after dinner. The Polish pianist also acted as an agent for the National Democratic Party, an organization lobbying for an independent Poland. Once Paderewski had finished, he spoke to Wilson about the Poles’ desire for independence.13 Wilson, however, was not yet willing to commit the U.S. to this policy. Being a neutral in the war, Wilson and Secretary of State Lansing mainly concerned themselves with freedom of the seas and the respect of belligerents to neutral states.14 The speech, however, was a step in that direction.
1916 was an election year for Wilson. Democrats worked to get Wilson the support of various ethnic groups, including Polish-Americans. Wilson had scored points with Polish voters by appealing to the various belligerent powers to allow the U.S. to send food, goods, and money to the war-torn Polish provinces. Wilson did this at the request of the Polish Central Relief Committee, a united organization comprised of various Polish-American groups. Wilson did not manage to secure a guarantee by any of the belligerents ensuring protection of the relief shipments. Joseph Patrick Tumulty, the President’s private secretary, advised Wilson to make public the news of the inability of the belligerents to agree to relief efforts. Tumulty didn’t want the President to appear as though he was hoarding the bad news until after the election, as “a play for votes.” Wilson followed Tumulty’s advice and his efforts carried favor with Polish-Americans.15
Wilson showed a willingness to use his powers to assist the Polish relief effort. He still, however, refused to publicly support Polish independence before the election. Democratic Party operative Norman Hapgood notified the President at the end of October 1916 that Jean Horodyski, a Polish nationalist active in the U.S. and Britain, sought to have the President give at least a general reference to the right of nationalities in the peace settlements during a campaign visit in Buffalo, New York. Horodyski, in Chicago for a meeting with Illinois Polish leaders, felt such action, which would be reported in America’s Polish newspapers, would deliver to Wilson the Polish and Czech voters.16
Wilson did not acknowledge this request. The President did not make any reference to Polish independence before the election, nor any general reference to self-determination. Wilson instead stuck to his belief in a united America. In a campaign speech he made at Buffalo, Wilson told his audience that “The great challenge to the people of the United States just now is to cultivate unity of spirit and unity of object.” The President reminded his audience that many in America have “every sort of native interest connected with the places of their birth, with the connections to which they are tied by affection and old traditions.” “[R]ival interests” of different ethnic groups cause disunity. Wilson summed it up by saying, “if men of different nationalities are going to look upon each other with suspicion, there will not be the unity in the United States which ought to bind it together in order that it may have a singleness of heart and unity of purpose.”17
There is no documentation available that states Wilson intended these words to be directed to Horodyski, Paderewski, and Polish-Americans. These words, however, do foreshadow the President’s future remarks in 1917 and 1918 that it would be unfair to recognize Polish independence at a time when other nationalities demanded the same for their homeland. If one country gets recognition, then others will want it. If only one or a few countries get recognition while others do not, then jealousies and divisions could occur. As Wilson stated, he wanted unity in the country and would not allow this goal to be disrupted by one interest group.
In the beginning of 1917, Wilson wished to make public his opinions of a peace settlement. Mention of an independent Poland would be included. Did this mean Wilson caved in to Paderewski’s and Horodyski’s demands? Colonel House and Woodrow Wilson discussed the matter. House recorded in his diary that both men “thought that since Germany and Russia had appeared to free Poland that it should be put in.”18 House referred to Russia’s and Germany’s vague promises of self-government in exchange for Polish support. Count Bernstoff, the German Ambassador to the U.S., told House a week before Wilson’s speech that the Germans wanted to have Wilson submit a program for a peace conference. House reported to Wilson that Bernstorff felt the Germans could be counted on to support, not only an independent Poland, but also an independent Lithuania.19
So, on 22 January 1917, Wilson promoted self-determination and sovereignty in his “Peace without Victory” speech. The President singled out Poland, claiming “that statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a united, independent, and autonomous Poland.”20 The first public statement that mentioned Polish independence as an issue in a peace settlement caused quite some excitement among Poles in Warsaw. They wanted to display their gratitude by presenting to the President a million signatures. The Germans put an end to that plan by removing any notices promoting the signature drive.21
The “Peace without Victory” speech also excited Polish-Americans and Poles living in America. Ignatius Valerius Stanley, a chemist of Philadelphia, requested a meeting with Wilson. Stanley and representatives of the Polish National Defense Committee wanted to present the President with a memorandum that endorsed what they viewed as Wilson’s position on Poland. Wilson feared that if he allowed Polish-Americans to congratulate him publicly, then “it would create the impression that I believe the whole thing is likely to be settled by our dictum or influence.”22
Wilson expressed confusion towards the gratitude received from The Provisional Council of State in the Kingdom of Poland, the government created by the Central Powers to manage Poland until “the future state” of Poland was to be formed. The Council praised Wilson for being the first leader to state “officially that according to his conviction[,] an independent State of Poland is the only right way to solve the Polish question,” and for Wilson’s statements to be a “preliminary condition for a lasting and just peace.” Feeling pinned down, Wilson had to ask his Secretary of State for his opinion for a proper response to this letter.23 Why did the President exercise such caution?
Being a neutral in the war at this time, the United States had some, but not much, influence with the belligerents. Wilson did not want to get peoples hopes up too high. The President may also have felt that his comments have been misinterpreted. Although his speech promoted self-determination, Wilson only used Poland as an example. In a memorandum on the bases of peace Wilson drafted in February of 1917, the first two of four terms involved a mutual guarantee of “political independence” and “territorial integrity.” Neither Poland, nor other nationalities were mentioned.24 Belgium, Serbia, Bohemia, and other regions craving their own nation, had surely been on Wilson’s mind at this time. The President displayed his shrewdness by being cautious in setting high expectations for an independent Poland. He also wisely followed his philosophy of uniting his country’s diverse ethnic interests, not dividing them. Wilson stated he supported independence of all who desired their own sovereignty, not just Poland.
As previously noted, House reported to Wilson that the Germans appeared ready to talk peace and accept an independent Poland. The message Wilson received from the Provisional Council gave hope that the Central Powers were going to uphold their promise of Poland’s independence. Bernstorff met with House again a few days after Wilson’s speech. House reported to Wilson that Bernstorff was anxious for peace. The Count and House agreed that “the final terms will leave the map of Europe pretty much as it was before the war, with the exception of perhaps a new Poland.”25 No mention was made of an independent or even an autonomous Poland. Were the Germans backing away from the Count’s statement to House of an independent Poland? Berlin instructed Bernstorff on 29 January 1917 to accept mediation. The German terms included freedom of the seas, which the U.S. desired, but also wanted to keep the upper portion of Alsace, and to have German property loses restituted. Nothing was mentioned of Polish independence, or autonomy. Only a demand for a secure frontier of Germany and Poland against Russia was stated. So the prospects of peace broke down, for the belligerents could not compromise on the German demands.26 With the internal disruptions Russia encountered in the end of the 1917 winter, it appeared that Germany would be able to retain its 1795 partition holdings, plus those of Russia’s.27
In the spring of 1917, due to the disintegration of Russia, Germany’s aggressive desire to enlarge its power, and the entry of the U.S. into the war, the independence of Poland gained more importance as a term for peace. Ignace Paderewski had the Colonel’s graces for Poland. House not only gave Paderewski access to Wilson, he always brought up Poland whenever he met with British diplomats. The British diplomats accepted a new Polish state with access to the sea. They, however, preferred an autonomous Poland under the jurisdiction of Russia. British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour firmly believed that an independent Poland would cut Russia off from a means to attack Germany should the Prussian state ever attack France. When House met with Balfour in April 1917, he recommended that the British should not view Germany as the likely enemy fifty years from now, but Russia as a possible enemy. House himself viewed Poland as a buffer state between Russia and Germany. Even with Russia in chaos, Balfour and the British refused to accept this view at that time, wishing instead to preserve the status quo.28 However, by the end of the summer of 1917, the U.K. began to accept the benefits of Polish independence to the war cause.
President Wilson continued to promote self-determination after the U.S. entered the war during April 1917. Without making any reference to Poland, Wilson informed the Provisional Government of Russia that “We are fighting for the liberty, the self-government, and the undictated developments of all peoples.”29 Yet Wilson‘s message made clear that he would not allow Russia to obtain via a peace treaty the German and Austrian partition of Poland. With Russia becoming more involved with internal struggles and withdrawing itself from the war effort, Wilson would not have to deal much with Russia in any future discussion of an independent Poland.
Wilson, however, had to deal with the biggest obstacle in Polish independence: Germany. To House, peace with Germany became hopeless because the Kaiser took “the gambler‘s chance” that they could hold on to their conquered territory, including Russian Poland. Therefore, both men agreed that Wilson should give a speech on Flag Day 1917 to drum up American support for the war. In the “Flag Day Address,” given on 14 June 1917, the President stated that the U.S. must fight the German plan “to throw a broad belt of military power and political control” over Central Europe, to the Mediterranean and into Asia without regard to “[t]he choice of peoples.” As he did in the “Peace without Victory” speech, Wilson mentioned Poland as being a victim of German aggression but he also included mention of Belgium, France, and Serbia.30 Wilson wanted to continue the policy of retaining unity among all. With his country now at war, Wilson absolutely could not have division among Americans. Favoring one ethnic group‘s wishes over that of another could not be shown by the U.S. Government. Paderewski, however, made this principle difficult for Wilson to retain.
Once the U.S. entered the War, Poles and Polish-Americans began to bombard Wilson and the War Department with requests to form a Polish legion, composed of recruited Polish-Americans, to fight in the war under the U.S. army. Wilson had Secretary of War Newton Diehl Baker seriously look into the matter. The President told Baker that “we should show the utmost consideration and appreciation” to those who made the request, for they “are some of the most influential Poles in this country.”31 Baker replied to Wilson that the advantage of such a plan would be the attraction of Polish nationals in German and Austrian regiments to a united Polish regiment. Baker, however, felt the disadvantages outweighed the advantage. Baker first believed that other nationalities, such as the Czechs, Serbians, and Irish will want the same. Baker wanted a “homogenous”, united American army, not one divided by nationalities. More important, Baker wanted to wait until the U.S. Army became better organized. He feared possible criticism of using foreign-born citizens to fight the war while natives stayed at home. Such opinion could cause division in the U.S. and aid German propaganda. Wilson completely agreed that immediately granting this request would be a “mistake,” but wanted to keep the proposal “in store.”32
Paderewski would not allow the proposal to be shelved. He obtained Britain’s support for the measure. Anxious for the one hundred thousand troops Paderewski claimed he could recruit and the effect they would have on Pole in the Central Power’s armies, the British Government placed in the Poles’ disposal two Canadian training camps, equipment, and training forces. Yet Paderewski showed some sensitivity to President Wilson’s concerns. Paderewski compromised by requesting only the enlistment of U.S. resident but non-citizen Poles to a Polish regiment. Secretary of War Baker brought this proposal to Wilson’s attention, giving his approval, and wishing the President would do the same.33
Wilson and Secretary of State Robert Lansing were receptive to this idea. However, to legitimately fund the Polish army, the U.S. Government proposed that a Polish Provisional Government be recognized by all Allies as the independent government of Poland. This proposal by the U.S. would force all the Allies to agree to Poland’s independence as a war aim. The plan also allowed Wilson to appease Paderewski and Polish-Americans. France was already considering recognition of a provisional government.34
The British, having not been receptive in the past to suggestions of an independent Poland, also decided to go along with the idea. They had reached a point at this time to accept anything that aided Germany’s defeat. Having Polish troops on the Allied side could, in their view, have an effect on Poles within the power of Austria and Germany. So the British jumped on the bandwagon.35
The Russians stayed off the bandwagon. The Russian Provisional Government did not want a separate Polish Army in its territory. As a result, recognition was held up. With Paderewski and Polish Americans continuing their pressure on Wilson, on 6 October 1917, the President and the War Department granted their request to recruit un-naturalized Poles residing in the U.S. before recognizing the Polish National Committee.36 With Russia being distracted by the Bolshevik Revolution, Wilson decided to proceed with recognition of the Polish National Committee as the official Polish government in exile on 10 November 1917. Paderewski wanted more. In January 1918, he burdened the Wilson Administration with requests to provide the Committee, located in Paris, with more money and to allow them to recruit Polish-American citizens for the Polish Army. The Wilson Administration did not budge on either. To Wilson, loans requested by others for the war effort had already overburdened the U.S. Treasury.37 It would also set a precedent in which other regions desiring sovereignty would request the same.
By the end of 1917, all Allied Powers had recognized the Polish National Committee but had not committed themselves to an independent Poland. At the Inter- Allied Conference held at the end of autumn 1917, Colonel House attempted to get a firm declaration of Allied war aims, including an independent Poland. Failing to get anywhere with the Allies, the Colonel suggested that Wilson should formulate the war aims of the U.S., “which, by inference, would be the war aims of all the Allies.”38
In December, Colonel House had the executive committee of The Inquiry present to Wilson suggestions for U.S. war aims and peace terms. Suggested war aims included “AN INDEPENDENT AND DEMOCRATIC POLAND” with boundaries that provided for “ADEQUATE ACCESS TO THE SEA.” The Inquiry admitted access to the sea would cut East Prussia from Germany, which would cause tensions between a Polish state and Germany. The Inquiry stated that “the experiment must no doubt be made,” for without access to the sea, Poland would be economically subjected to Germany, especially if a weak Russia existed. The Inquiry suggested a democratic Poland due to reports of friction between Poles and Jews. A nation with internal divisions could not be expected to be able to survive “in the presence of Germany.”39
As a promoter of democratic nations, Wilson surely embraced the creation of a Polish democracy. Did it become a necessity to demand that Poland form a democratic government? The Jewish population in America feared that a new Polish state would harm Polish Jews. Anti-Semitism did prevail in Poland, with Roman Dmowski, the leader of the Polish National Committee, possessing a political record containing such beliefs. Supreme Court Justice and Wilson advisor Louis Brandeis brought his concerns to Wilson‘s attention. This issue concerned the President and requested Brandeis to write up a memorandum on the topic. Jewish-Americans, up to this time, had not lobbied the President on this matter as much as Paderewski and Polish- Americans had lobbied for an independent Poland. Wilson, however, had to ensure that his actions did not displease one ethnic group at the expense of another.40
Once the New Year commenced, Wilson began to work on his announcement of the U.S. war aims, which became known as “The Fourteen Points” speech. In the first draft of the speech, written 5 January 1918, Wilson’s section on Poland was an exact copy of the Inquiry’s recommendation for an independent and democratic Poland with access to the sea. However, in a later draft written that day, Wilson wrote the following as a completely new statement in regards to Poland:
An independent Polish state to be established whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity shall be guaranteed by international covenant; which shall include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations; and which shall be accorded a free and secure access to the Sea.
Why did Wilson leave out mention of a democratic Poland? Wilson’s decision to omit that term is not known. The President may have decided that the time was not right to demand a democratic Polish state. The main focus may have been an independent nation of Polish people possessing free access to the sea.41
Before completing a final draft of the Fourteen Points, on 6 January 1918, Wilson met with Colonel House for his input. The Colonel brought with him a memorandum authored by the Polish National Committee to be included in the Inter-Allied Conference House attended the previous autumn. The National Committee was very specific in the territory they desired, such as Silesia and a portion of the Baltic Coast. They also stated a Czech state should be created. Wilson and House agreed not to be as specific as this memorandum. The two men therefore worked with the statement Wilson wrote the day before. However, the word “should” replaced the words “must” and “shall” throughout the statement. House convinced Wilson that Americans might not be willing to support the war in order to readjust European territory. Therefore, he felt it was wise to use “should” in such points, with the exception of Belgium.42
On the 5th of January, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George gave a statement of war aims which included an independent Polish nation.43 Three days later, Wilson delivered his Fourteen Points. The Thirteenth Point declares that a new independent state in Poland “should” be created with access to the sea. Paderewski was very appreciative of Point Thirteen.44
Germany, however, did not accept the Thirteenth Point. Such acceptance meant the loss of the Russian partition they captured during the war. It also meant losing the partition they had controlled since 1795. Germany stubbornly kept this position until it accepted complete military defeat on 11 November 1918.45
Wilson attempted to persuade Austria-Hungary to sign a separate peace. The President believed that they would support an independent Poland. Wilson, however, realized Austria’s dependency on Germany did not allow them to negotiate their own peace settlement. By the end of June, Wilson viewed the Austrian-Hungary Empire as a collapsing entity and saw no need to bother to discuss terms with them.46
Throughout the war, Paderewski had been the main source of information to the Wilson Administration in regards to Poland’s independence. However, in January of 1918, Woodrow Wilson received word, through the Copenhagen legation, that a committee of Russian Poles worked to unite German, Russian, and Austrian Poles. Although Josef Pilsudski, the leader of the German Poles, had been imprisoned due to his attempt to overthrow the Germans in Poland, many of Pilsudski’s agents were available to join in the revolution. This committee wanted a joint declaration from England, France, and the U.S. stating their intention to “stand by as Allies for an independent Poland.” Once word is received of such a declaration, they’d “precipitate a revolution in entire Poland at any time decided on.” These Poles wanted to be assured that the Allies were not going to partition Poland themselves. Wilson asked Lansing to corroborate the situation and ask the British, French, and Italian governments if they’d jointly declare their desire for an independent Poland.47
Eager to end its involvement in the War, Bolshevik Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, giving Germany control of Russia’s Poland partition.48 With the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk being viewed by the Allies as another partition of Poland which would give Germany more control in Eastern Europe, most of the Allies wanted to jointly support an independent Poland as a war goal. France, viewing a new Polish state as the only ally in postwar Eastern Europe, took the initiative to get a joint Allied declaration. French Ambassador to the U.S., Jean Jules Jusserand, informed Lansing it was time to cement Wilson’s plea for Poland’s independence in order to promote Polish resistance against the Central Powers. The British, French, and Italians accepted the declaration. On 6 June 1918, the Supreme War Council published the declaration for an independent Poland as one of the war aims of the Allies. Despite being the cheerleader for Poland’s independence, the US had to back away from being involved in this joint declaration.49 Why did the U.S. do so?
The Irish, Jewish, Lithuanian, Serbian, Czech, and other hyphenated Americans desired the U.S. to recognize the independence of their homelands. Attempting to keep the nation united in the war effort, Wilson knew that if one group was recognized, all others would want recognition. When Helena Paderewski, wife of Ignace, asked Wilson to declare a “Polish Day,” a day to raise money for the Polish Army in France, Wilson refused her request. Wilson was “sympathetic” to the cause. However, “[i]n view of the many national elements of which our population is composed and by which it is enriched, and of the many controversial matters which have sprung up, not only in regard to similar matters affecting their nationalities,” Wilson felt it was best to leave this matter to a “private initiative.”50
Congress was also pressuring the President to state the creation of an independent Poland with access to the sea as one of the country’s war objectives. Representative Thomas Gallagher, a Chicago Democrat whose district contained a large Polish-American constituency, proposed the first such resolution. Wilson felt such legislation regarding a final settlement was unwise. Because of his past speeches and the U.S. recognition of the Polish National Committee, Wilson was of the opinion that “[o]ur attitude is clearly spoken by our actions.” Although the President admitted Poland had a somewhat definable territory, others, such as the Yugoslavs and the Czechs, did not. “If we are to be definite in the case of this particular national aspiration, why not in the case of others, and where shall we stop, definition being at each step increasingly difficult.” The legislation was dropped. Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge then picked up the issue and pressured Wilson to accept an independent Yugoslav, Czech, and Polish states as war aims. The President did not budge. To Wilson, these matters would have to wait until a peace conference took place.51 Did Wilson’s reluctance to officially recognize the independent state of Poland as a war aim hurt this cause?
Wilson’s cautious policy did not affect the Polish issue. With the defeat of the Central Powers in November 1918 and with Russia out of the war, the Polish people, with Josef Pilsudski at the lead, took matters into their own hands. They immediately began to create an independent Polish nation. What role did Wilson have with this accomplishment? Wilson’s policy of self-determination and his references to an independent Polish state brought the issue front and center. The ruthlessness of Germany and the revolutions in Russia certainly aided the issue, for the Allies desired to accept any plan to hurt Germany and win the War. The creation of an independent Poland was seen as a means to accomplish this goal.
Wilson promoted Poland but never officially stated this issue as a war aim. The Thirteenth Point stated an independent Poland “should” be created, not “must” be created. The President believed his speeches and efforts had shown his support for a Polish state. He was anxious to satisfy Paderewski and Polish-Americans. However, Wilson’s main goal during the war was to keep the country united in support of the war. Wilson kept to this ideal. Unlike the other Allies, Wilson represented a constituency of various ethnic interests, many of whom desired the independence of their homelands. To prevent internal division within the United States, Wilson would not commit the U.S. to recognize the independence of one nation as a war aim. Wilson knew if one nation wanted recognition then others would want the same. Such a situation would divide America. Therefore, the more general policy of self-determination was promoted by Wilson. In the end, Poland did receive its independence via the Paris Peace Conference, but not at the expense of wartime unity in the United States. Wilson’s objective had been achieved.
1. “A News Report of Three Addresses in Milwaukee,” 24 March 1912, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), ed. Arthur S. Link (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966-1994), 24: 260-261 (p. 261 contains quote). Citations from this collection will hereafter be cited as Wilson Papers followed by volume and page numbers.
2. Poland: A Country Study, ed. Glenn E. Curtis (Washington D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1994), 8.
3. For a brief history of Poland from its beginnings up to 1989, see “Chapter 1: Historical Setting” in Poland: A Country Study; For a more detailed history of Poland up to the 1960’s, see Oskar Halecki, History of Poland (New York: Daniel McKay Company, Inc, 1976).
4. H. H. Fisher, America and the New Poland (New York: Macmillan Company, 1928), 62-69; Louis L. Gerson, Woodrow Wilson and the Rebirth of Poland 1914-1920. A Study in the Influence of American Policy of Minority Groups of Foreign Origin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 16; Martin Gilbert, First World War (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994), 44. The full name of Grand Duke Nicholas is Nikolai Nikolaevich Romanov.
5. For an overview of the Wilson Administration’s foreign policy as a neutral, see Chapter 7 “Neutrality and War” in Kendrick A. Clements, The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson (Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas, 1992).
6. Quote is in words of Walter Hines Page in his letter to Wilson on his conversation with the two Denton associates. Excerpts of a Letter from Walter Hines Page to Woodrow Wilson, 10 November, 1914, Wilson Papers, 31: 294n1.
7. Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice to Sir Edward Grey, 3 June and 6 June 1915, Ibid., 33: 333 (contains “restoration” quote), 347 (“Poland restored” is the wording used by this correspondence).
8. Edward Mandell House to Woodrow Wilson, 10 August 1915, Ibid., 34: 159 (contains quote). For more on the relationship between President Wilson and Colonel House, see Alexander L. George and Julliette L. George, Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House: A Personality Study (New York: John Day Company, ; New York: Dover Publications, Inc., ).
9. Fisher, 71; The German Chancellor in a speech to the Reichstag promised that Poland would never be given up without security provisions. Wilson Papers, 36: 444n1-445 & 37: 44n1.
10. “Germany’s Promise to Poland. Proclamation by the Central Powers Promising Autonomy to Conquered Provinces,” Current History 5(3) (December 1916): 470-472; “The Teutonic Attempt to Solve the Polish Question,” Current History 5(5) (February 1917): 861-864.
11. Titus Komarnicki, Rebirth of the Polish Republic. A Study in the Diplomatic History of Europe, 1914-1920 (Toronto: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1957), 148.
12. Woodrow Wilson, “America’s Creed of War and Peace,” Current History 4(4) (July 1916): 736-738; Betty Miller Unterberger, “The United States and National Self-Determination: A Wilsonian Perspective,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 26(4) (Fall 1996): 930.
13. Wilson Papers, 36: 207n3; Gerson, 69.
14. Lansing, Robert, “Our Foreign Policy in This War,” Current History 4(4) (July 1918): 739-740.
15. For the appeals to Wilson for assistance in Polish Relief, see “An Address from the Polish Central Relief Committee,” 12 July 1916, and “A Dialogue with John Franklin Simulski,” [12 July 1916], both in Wilson Papers, 37: 404-407. For the response of the belligerents to Wilson‘s request, see Wilson Papers, 38: 64-66, 106-107, 391; Joseph Patrick Tumulty to Robert Lansing, 11 October 1916, Ibid., 396-397 (p. 397 contains “a play for votes” quote; Wilson publicly admitted on 17 October 1916 his failure to get belligerents to agree to protect shipments of Polish relief. Woodrow Wilson, “A Statement,” 17 October 1916, Ibid., 458; Gerson credited the Polish vote for Wilson in several key states as a factor in Wilson’s re-election. Gerson, 64-66.
16. Norman Hapgood to Woodrow Wilson, 30 October 1916, Wilson Papers, 38: 564.
17. Woodrow Wilson, “A Campaign Address in Buffalo,” 1 November 1916, Ibid., 580-582. All quotes from page 581, except “men of different nationalities” quote which is from page 582.
18. “From the Diary of Colonel House,” 3 January 1917, Ibid., 40: 404.
19. Edward Mandell House to Woodrow Wilson, 15 January 1917, Ibid., 477.
20. “An Address to the Senate,” 22 January 1917, Ibid., 536-537 (quote contained in p.537).
21. Fisher, 95n3-4; “Poland’s Share in Russian Freedom,” Current History 6(3) (June 1917): 488-489.
22. Woodrow Wilson to Joseph Patrick Tumulty, 30 January 1917, Wilson Papers, 41: 68 (contains quote) 68n1.
23. Woodrow Wilson to Robert Lansing with Enclosure (Krommarschall W. Niemojowski to Woodrow Wilson, c. 31 January 1917), 7 February 1917, Ibid., 138-139n2; By the time Lansing was able to review the matter, Germany was showing signs of disregarding its promise of a new Polish State. Lansing, therefore, informed Wilson that any replay would not be wise. Robert Lansing to Woodrow Wilson, 14 February 1917, Ibid., 224-225.
24. Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States. The Lansing Papers 1914-1920, (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1939-1940), 19-23.
25. Edward Mandell House to Woodrow Wilson, 26 January 1917, Wilson Papers, 41: 25.
26. Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg to Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, Translation, 29 January 1917, Ibid., 61-62; Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff to Edward Mandell House, 31 January 1917, Ibid., 80.
27. For more information about the Russian Revolution, see David R. Marples, Lenin’s Revolution: Russia, 1917-1921 (Harlow, England ; New York : Longman, 2000).
28. Edward M. House, “Paderewski: The Paradox of Europe,” Harper’s Magazine 152 (December 1925): 30-31; Arthur James Balfour to Woodrow Wilson, 18 May 1917, with Enclosure (Balfour’s statement to the Imperial War Council, 22 March 1917), Wilson Papers, 42: 335-338; “From the Diary of Colonel House,” 28 April 1917, Ibid., 155-156, 157; Edward Mandell House to Woodrow Wilson, 20 May 1917, Ibid., 354.
29. “To the Provisional Government of Russia,” 22 May 1917, Ibid., 365-367 (quote contained on pages 366-367).
30. Edward Mandell House to Woodrow Wilson, 30 May 1917, Ibid., 425 (contains “gambler’s chance” quote); Woodrow Wilson to Edward Mandell House, 1 June 1917, Ibid., 433; “A Flag Day Address,” 14 June 1917, Ibid., 498-504 (all quotes contained on page 501).
31. Colonel House urged the president to consider the request, Edward Mandell House to Woodrow Wilson, 11 March 1917, Ibid.: 41, 388; Woodrow Wilson to Newton Diehl Baker with Enclosures, 31 March 1917, Ibid., 507-509 (“influential Poles” quote contained on p. 507).
32. Newton Diehl Baker to Woodrow Wilson, 19 May 1917, Ibid., 42: 352-353 (p.353 contains “homogeneous” quote); Woodrow Wilson to Newton Diehl Baker, 21 May 1917, Ibid., 357 (contains Wilson’s quotes).
33. Newton Diehl Baker to Woodrow Wilson, 31 May 1917, Ibid., 431-432.
34. Arthur James Balfour to the Foreign Office, 23 May 1917, Ibid., 385-386; Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice to the Foreign Office, 14 June 1917, Ibid., 520; Sir William Wiseman to Sir Eric Drummond, 19 June 1917, Ibid., 543-545; Robert Lansing to Woodrow Wilson, 19 June 1917, Ibid., 552-553; Woodrow Wilson to Robert Lansing, 5 October 1917, Ibid., 44: 318.
35. Frank Lyon Polk, with Enclosure, 28 July 1917, Ibid., 43: 300-302; Woodrow Wilson to Frank Lyon Polk, 2 August 1917, Ibid., 344; Robert Lansing to Woodrow Wilson with Enclosures, 11 September 1917, Ibid., 44: 187-189; Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice to Sir Eric Drummond, 5 October 1917, Ibid., 316-317.
36. Komarnicki, 172-176; Alesander Debski and Bronislaw D. Kulakowski to Woodrow Wilson, 8 August 1917, Wilson Papers, 44.: 6-7; Ignace Jan Paderewski to Woodrow Wilson, 4 October 1917, Ibid., 303-305; “Paderewski’s Appeal to His Countrymen,” Current History 7(2) (November 1917): 299.
37. “Memorandum by the Representative of the Polish National Committee (Paderewski),” Foreign Relations, 2: 86-89; Robert Lansing to Woodrow Wilson, 28 January 1918, with Enclosure (Ignace Jan Paderewski to Robert Lansing, 19 January 1918), Wilson Papers, 46: 120-123; Woodrow Wilson to Robert Lansing, 29 January 1918, Ibid., 149; Komarnicki, 170-176.
38. House, 31.
39. Memorandum by Sidney Edward Mezes, David Hunter Miller, and Walter Lippmann, “THE PRESENT SITUATION: THE WAR AIMS AND PEACE TERMS IT SUGGESTS,” Wilson Papers, 45: 459n, 470-471. The Inquiry, created in September 1917, prepared the United State’s platform for peace. Academics participated in the Inquiry, providing their advice in creating the platform. Many continued to provide advice during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Colonel House directed the activities of the Inquiry. For more information about the Inquiry, see Lawrence E. Gelfand, The Inquiry: American Preparations for Peace, 1917-1919 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963).
40. Memorandum by Jacob Judah Aaron de Haas, 5 June 1917, Ibid., 42: 234-235; In going through the Wilson Papers, most Jewish-Americans were more concerned about a Zionist state than the Jewish population of the Polish partitions. Only after the war had ended did Jewish-Americans lobby Wilson with requests to protect the Jewish population in Poland. Ibid., 51: 625-627 & 53: 79-80, 104-105, 141; Wilson complied with their concerns by requiring representatives of new nations to sign minority protection clauses at the Paris Peace Conference. Carole Fink, “The Paris Peace Conference and the Question of Minority Rights,” Peace & Change 21(3) (July 1996): 273-288.
41. The First Versions of the Fourteen Points, [5 January 1918], Wilson Papers, 45: 480 (contains excerpt), 481, 485.
42. From the Diary of Colonel House, 9 January 1918, Ibid., 553; Wilson’s Transcript of His Shorthand Draft [of the Fourteen Points Address, 6 January 1918], Ibid., 515; Arthur S. Link, Wilson the Diplomatist, A Look at His Major Foreign Policies (New York: New Viewpoints, 1974, a reprint of Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1957), 103.
43. Wilson Papers, 45: 487n2.
44. An Address to a Joint Session of Congress, 8 January 1918, Ibid., 538; Telegram: Woodrow Wilson to Ignace Jan Paderewski, 11 January 1918, Ibid., 569.
45. See Wilson Papers, 46: 162, 164, 221, 224, 226, 274-275, 277, 318-319, 567-568; 51: 334-335, 411.
46. Gordon Auchincloss to Woodrow Wilson with Enclosure (Memorandum to Colonel House from Bullit, 3 February 1918), 3 February 1918, Ibid., 46: 221, 224, 226; An Address to a Joint Session of Congress, 11 February 1918, Ibid., 318-324; Draft of a Telegram to Alfonso XIII, Ibid., 486-487; Woodrow Wilson to Robert Lansing, 26 June 1918, Ibid., 48: 435.
47. Woodrow Wilson to Robert Lansing with Enclosure, 20 January 1918, Ibid., 46: 47-49 (quotes on p. 48); Komarnicki, 209-210.
48. Marples, 57-61.
49. Jean Jules Jusserand to Robert Lansing, with Draft of a Declaration, 8 March 1918, Wilson Papers, 46: 587-588; Komarnicki, 209-213.
50. Woodrow Wilson to Helena de Rosen Paderewski, 9 May 1918, Ibid., 47: 576, 577n.
51. Robert Lansing to Woodrow Wilson with Enclosure, 14 June 1918, Ibid., 48: 312; Woodrow Wilson to Robert Lansing, 8 July 1918, Ibid., 551 (contains quotes); Woodrow Wilson to Gilbert Monell Hitchcock, 11 July 1918, Ibid., 51: 591; Robert Lansing to Thomas Gallagher, 11 July 1918, Foreign Relations, 2: 139; Robert Lansing to Woodrow Wilson, 19 August 1918, Wilson Papers, 51: 157n (contains reference to Henry Cabot Lodge’s speech of 23 August 1918).
About Woodrow Wilson
This page provides a brief biography of Wilson. You’ll also find Wilson quotes, works by or about Wilson, and other institutions honoring Woodrow Wilson. This page is part of The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Hathi Trust Digital Library
This digital repository makes available collections from numerous research libraries. Use it to locate items about the United States and Poland during World War I.
PBS - American Experience: Woodrow Wilson
The PBS companion website to the American Experience Woodrow Wilson documentary. The site provides brief background information about Wilson. Primary Sources, a Timeline, and other interesting features are also available.
Poland: A Country Study
A good introduction to pre-1990 Polish history.
World War I Resources (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress)
A gateway to online resources at the Library of Congress pertaining to World War I. A list of other WWI sites are also provided.
The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library
The Library and Museum, situated in beautiful Staunton Virginia, are on the grounds of Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace.