Today, the Wilson Presidential One Dollar Coin remembers the correspondence from Germany and the President’s reply on October 23, 1918 regarding how to end the first world war.
Two articles from the New York Sun newspaper of October 24, 1918 provided the messages from Germany and President Wilson’s response:
Enemy Translates Note to President
Official English Text Is Prepared in Berlin for Presentation.
Washington. Oct. 23. Germany’s new note to President Wilson in official text was delivered to Secretary. Lansing at 10 o’clock this morning by Frederick Oederlin, Charge d’ Affaires of the Swiss Legation.
Secretaries Lansing and Daniels and Gen. March, Chief of Staff of the army, were called to the White House shortly after noon, just as a State Department messenger arrived to deliver the German note to the President. They remained only a short time, leaving the President and Mr. Lansing in conference.
The English translation presented by the Swiss Charge with the German text was prepared at the German Foreign Office. It arrived last night with instructions that it be delivered with the original, after Mr. Oederlin had completed a careful translation of his own.
It does not differ materially from the wireless version sent out from Germany and fails to clear up what were regarded as vague phrases In that part of the note in which an armistice is discussed.
Official Translation of Note.
The official document as made public by the state Department follows:
Translation issued by the German Government of its communication dated October 20, 1918, transmitted to the Secretary of State by the Charge d’ Affaires of Switzerland October 22, 1918:
In accepting the proposal for an evacuation of the occupied territories the German Government has started from the assumption that the procedure of this evacuation and of the conditions of an armistice should be left to the judgment of the military advisers and that the actual standard of power on both sides in the field has to form the basis for arrangements safeguarding and guaranteeing the standard.
The German Government suggests to the President to bring about an opportunity to fixing the details. It trusts that the President of the United State will approve of no demand which would be irreconcilable with the honor of the German people and with opening a way to a peace of justice.
The German Government protests against the reproach of illegal and inhumane actions made against the German land and sea forces and thereby against the German people.
For the covering of a retreat destructions will always be necessary and are in so far permitted by international law.
The German troops are under the strictest Instructions to spare private property and to exercise care for the population to the best of their ability. Where transgressions occur in spite of these instructions the guilty are being punished.
The German Government further denies that the German navy in sinking ships has ever purposely destroyed lifeboats with their passengers.
The German Government proposes with regard to all these charges that the facts be cleared up by neutral commissions. In order to avoid anything that might hamper the work of peace the German Government has caused orders to be dispatched to all submarine commanders precluding the torpedoing of passenger ships, without, however, for technical reasons, being able to guarantee that these orders will reach every single submarine at sea before its return.
As the fundamental conditions for peace the President characterizes the destruction of every arbitrary power that can separately, secretly and of its own single choice disturb the peace of the world.
To this the German Government replied: Hitherto the representation of the people in the German Empire has not been endowed with an influence on the formation of the Government. The Constitution did not provide for a concurrence of the representation of the people in decision on peace and war.
These conditions have just now undergone a fundamental change.
The new Government has been formed in complete accord with the wishes of the representation of the people, based on the equal, universal, secret, direct franchise.
The leaders of the great parties in the Reichstag are members of this Government. In future no Government can take or continue in office without possessing the confidence of the majority of the Reichstag.
The responsibility of the Chancellor of the Umpire to the representation of the people is being legally developed and safeguarded.
The first act of the new Government has been to lay before the Reichstag a bill to alter the constitution of the empire so that the consent of the representation of the people is required for decisions on war and peace.
The permanence of the new system is, however, guaranteed not only by constitutional safeguards, but also by the unshakable determination of the German people, whose vast majority stands behind these reforms and demands their energetic continuance.
The question of the President with whom he and the Governments associated against Germany are dealing is therefore answered in a clear and unequivocal manner by the statement that the offer of peace and an armistice has come from a Government which, free from arbitrary and irresponsible influence, is supported by the approval of the overwhelming majority of the German people.
Berlin, October 20, 1918. Solf. State Secretary of Foreign Affairs.
Text of President Wilson’s Reply to Germany
Washington, Oct. 23. — The text of the reply by the United States to the peace note addressed by Germany to President Wilson follows:
“From the Secretary of State to the Charge d’Affaires ad interim in charge of German interests in the United States:
“Department of State, Oct. 23, 1918.
“I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 22d transmitting a communication under date of the 20th from the German Government and to advise you that the President has instructed me to reply thereto as follows:
“Having received the solemn and explicit assurance of the German Government that it unreservedly accepts the terms of peace laid down in his address to the Congress of the United States on the eighth of January, 1918, and the principles of settlement enunciated in his subsequent addresses, particularly the address of the 27th of September, and that it desires to discuss the details of their application and that this wish and purpose emanated not from those who have hitherto dictated German policy and conducted the present war on Germany’s behalf but from Ministers who speak for the majority of the Reichstag and for an overwhelming majority of the German peoples, and having received also the explicit promise of the present German Government that the humane rules of civilized warfare will be observed both on land and sea by the German armed forces, the President of the United States feels that he cannot decline to take up with the Governments with which the Government of the United States is associated the question of an armistice.
“He deems it his duty to say again, however, that the only armistice he would feel justified in submitting for consideration would be one which should leave the United States and the Powers associated with her in a position to enforce any arrangements that may be entered into and to make a renewal of hostilities on the part of Germany impossible.
“The President has therefore transmitted his correspondence with the present German authorities to the Governments with which the Government of the United States is associated as a belligerent, with the suggestion that, if those Governments are disposed to effect peace upon the terms and principles indicated, their military advisers and the military advisers of the United States be asked to submit to the Governments associated against Germany the necessary terms of such an armistice as will fully protect the interests of the peoples involved and insure to the associated Governments the unrestricted power to safeguard and enforce the details of the peace to which the German Government has agreed, provided they deem such an armistice possible from the military point of view. Should such terms of armistice be suggested, their acceptance by Germany will afford the best concrete evidence of her unequivocal acceptance of the terms and principles of peace from which the whole action proceeds.
“The President would deem himself lacking in candor did he not point out in the frankest possible terms the reason why extraordinary safeguards must be demanded. Significant and important as the constitutional changes seem to be which are spoken of by the German Foreign Secretary in his note of the twentieth of October, it does not appear that the principle of a government responsible to the German people has yet been fully worked out or that any guarantees either exist or are in contemplation that the alterations of principle and of practice now partially agreed upon will be permanent. Moreover, it does not appear that the heart of the present difficulty has been reached. It may be that future wars have been brought under the control of the German people, but the present war has not been, and it is with the present war that we are dealing. It is evident that the German people have no means of commanding the acquiescence of the military authorities of the Empire in the popular will, that the power of the King of Prussia to control the policy of the empire is unimpaired, that the determining initiative still remains with those who have hitherto been the masters of Germany
“Feeling that the whole peace of the world depends now on plain speaking and straightforward action, the President deems it his duty to say, without any attempt to soften what may seem harsh words, that the nations of the world do not and cannot trust the word of those who have hitherto been the masters of German policy, and to point out once more that in concluding peace and attempting to undo the infinite injuries and injustices of this war the Government of the United States cannot deal with any but veritable representatives of the German people, who have been assured of a genuine constitutional standing as the real rulers of Germany.
“If it must deal with the military masters and the monarchical autocrats of Germany now, or if it is likely to have to deal with them later in regard to the international obligations of the German Empire, it must demand, not peace negotiations, but surrender. Nothing can be gained by leaving this essential thing unsaid.
“Accept, sir, the renewed assurances of my high consideration.
“Mr. Frederick Oederlin, Charge d’Affaires of Switzerland ad interim in charge of German interests in the United States.”
The Wilson Presidential One Dollar Coin shows with an image of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, circa 1910.