Lot 21: Excellent William Taft Letter Signed Regarding the League of Nations
26th April 2018
Exceptional, detailed letter signed by William Howard Taft regarding the League of Nations, written while President Woodrow Wilson was negotiating the Paris Peace Conference in Europe. Datelined 31 May 1919 from Omaha, Nebraska, Taft writes to his friend, journalist Gus Karger regarding the likelihood of Senate approval of American membership in the League, with colorful analysis of the Senators and constituencies involved, such as the Jewish community; Taft, in fact, goes into detail regarding how to gain Jewish support of the League, by forming treaties with countries ''where the danger lies''. As a Republican who supported the League of Nations, Taft was at odds with his party, who generally opposed it. Lengthy five-page letter reads in part, ''...The very fact that the Senators are not able to state their views to me is a source of much satisfaction. There are a number of them who are able to state their views positively against the League, and there are a number who do state their views but don't mean what they say. [Senator William] Calder is one of them, because I know through Herbert Parsons that Calder will vote for the League, without amendments, if amendments are defeated. It seems to me that few people realize how the coming of the President with the treaty, after the Germans have signed it, is going to change the situation, and put the onus on those who wish to postpone peace. Of course, I may be awry in my way of looking at the thing, but I am not obsessed by hatred. On the other hand, I have a deep interest in the subject matter. I don't think my experience in politics has made me over-confident, and there is always a background or preliminary preparation to resist the disappointments of defeat. Still, using the lessons of experience, the atmosphere of the Senate is not always the best means of judging as to what even the Senate itself will do... In the first place, they have organized the Foreign Relations Committee with a view of tearing the treaty apart. [Senator Philander] Knox and [Senate Majority Leader Henry Cabot] Lodge and probably [former Senator Elihu] Root will be engaged in some fine work to present to the Senate for approval. [Senator William] Borah is such a four-flusher that I have concluded he will do anything that the others wish to do, on the theory that they wish to beat the treaty as much as he does, but in a less brutal way. I have no doubt, therefore, that they can count on a full majority for the plan they have, whatever it may be, in the committee. In arranging the committee as they have, they have made almost the same fatal blunder that [former Senator Nelson] Aldrich made in excluding [former Senator Jonathan] Dolliver from the Ways and Means Committee. Dolliver would have been entirely amenable to Aldrich's plan if he had been taken in, but he put himself outside the reservation, and it was Dolliver's defection as much as anything that roused the feeling of the country against the Payne-Aldrich bill. They have trampled on Frank Kellogg, who was ambitious to be put on the Foreign Relations Committee. They have done this because of a lack of orthodoxy in reference to the League. Frank told me that they would exclude him because he had made a speech in favor of the League; and [Senator Gilbert] Hitchcock, whom I saw last night, told me the same thing. He said that Kellogg was bitter. Hitchcock tells me that [Senator Charles] McNary is for the League as it is; that he told him so. [Senator Porter] McCumber is counted as a minority member of the committee, and it was to overcome his vote that the Republican majority on the committee was increased. Kellogg, I think, can carry Knute Nelson with him, because Knute was with him originally. [Senator George] Norris, whom you saw, is not anxious to express his opinion, but Burton saw him and told me that he said he would vote for the League as it was, though he was against the tri-partite supplementary agreement between Great Britain and France and the United States. [Senator LeBaron] Colt, who wishesto [sic] hear the evidence and who did not sign the 'Round Robin', will be amenable to the suggestions of the large business men of the country, who are certain to demand a ratification. Hitchcock tells me, though I don't think that Hitchcock has investigated as fully as he might, that all the Democrats but [Senator James] Reed will line up against amendments. He things that Thomas will. I doubt it. But in any event, we shall have 44 or 45 [votes], and with McCumber and McNary and Norris and Kellogg and Nelson, with chances for Colt and [Senator Arthur] Capper, I believe that as the situation changes, the prospect of a majority against all amendments will grow. I realize that when Frank Walsh and his crowd get back, there will be a tremendous Irish outburst against the League. A good many have been trying to arouse the Jews against the League, but I rather think that we can stop that by the provisions made in respect to Poland and Czecho-Slovakia, Roumania and the Ukraine, for specific treaties with them and other countries where the danger lies. Of course the Republicans are gradually lining up against the treaty. When I saw the Republicans, I mean not the rank and file, but I mean the local committeemen. While this is bad, nevertheless it has the effect of solidifying the Democrats, which, while I deprecate the partisan motive, is the exhibition of a policy which cuts both ways. The vociferousness of the Senators opposing the treaty and the claims they make have of course the effect to produce a slump in the prospects of the League, but it must be observed that this is their time. That is one reason why they want the full text of the treaty. They want to begin on it before Wilson gets home...'' Taft then discusses the support for the League in meetings and speeches he's given around the country. He continues, ''...Of course during the delays over the treaty itself in Paris the opportunities of the opponents are great, but when Wilson returns, with the solid Democratic vote behind him, and as the nervousness of the business men at the delay of peace grows, I hope the situation as you view it will change. I am always fighting a losing fight, however, so it does not make me unhappy...'' Taft winds up the letter by telling Karger that Oxford has extended an honorary degree to him, which Taft will be unable to accept, and then tells a funny story as an analogy to the ''four-flusher'' Senator he mentions earlier in the letter. Signed at the conclusion, ''Wm H Taft''. In the end, it turned out that Karger's prognostication regarding the League was correct, rather than Taft's, as the Senate failed to muster the 2/3 votes needed to ratify. Letter spans five pages on five separate sheets, each measuring 8'' x 10.5''. The first page is on Taft's embossed stationery, and Taft makes several hand-corrections to the text throughout. Rust stains from paperclip impression, otherwise near fine condition.
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