Edward Mandell House, American diplomat. member American Commission to Negotiate Peace, 1918-1919; member Commission charged by the Peace Congress to make the Covenant for the League of Nations; member communications of Mandates, London, 1919.
He was born July 26, 1858 in Houston, Texas, the last of seven children. His father, Thomas William House, Sr., was an immigrant from England by way of New Orleans who became a prominent Houston businessman with a large role in developing the city and served a term as its mayor. An ardent Confederate, he had also sent blockade runners against the Union blockade in the Gulf of Mexico during the American Civil War.
House attended Houston Academy, a school in Bath, England, a prep school in Virginia, and Hopkins Grammar School, New Haven, Connecticut. He went on to study at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1877 where he was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. He left at the beginning of his third year to care for his sick father, who died in 1880.
House managed the family plantations for a while and then sold them for a tidy profit. As a Texas Democrat he helped to elect Governor Jerries S. Hogg, who bestowed upon House the title of colonel, which stayed with him. In November 1911, House met Woodrow Wilson and the so-called colonel not only helped to swing the support of Texas Democrats behind the professor, but also was instrumental in securing William Jennings Bryan's support for him. Wilson, in turn, was impressed by House's moderating influence and looked to him for the selection of the cabinet and for intimate advice. In 1913 House met Sir Edward Grey and the following year persuaded the British foreign secretary to withdraw support from Mexico s dictator Victoriano Huerta.
For the first two years of the Great War, House loyally supported the president's strict neutrality, but earlier than Wilson he urged "preparedness" upon the nation. Early in 1915 and again in 1916 House visited London, Paris, and Berlin in efforts to bring about a negotiated peace. With Grey he drafted a memorandum, in February 1916, proposing American mediation of the conflict and threatening American intervention on the side of the Entente should Germany refuse to sit at the peace table; Wilson approved the action, but the London government rejected it. Thus House's attempts to pave the way for "peace without victory" fell by the way.
In 1917/1918 House was the president's chief agent in all negotiations with the Allies. Specifically, the "colonel" was appointed chief of the American mission to London and Paris in December 1917, and at the Interallied Conference House provided for effective coordination of American war efforts with the critical needs of the Allies. He reported to Wilson the startling "lack of unity of control and action among the Entente partners: "None of them at heart like each other, and I doubt whether any of them like us." That same fall, House helped to establish an agency known as The Inquiry to gather facts and to formulate policies relative to the future peace settlement. This agency came up with the final draft of the later Fourteen Points, and in the spring of 1918 Wilson asked House to put together a tentative "Covenant" of a proposed League of Nations.
The Pre-Armistice Agreement of October 1918 proved to be House's ultimate triumph. While many members of the Entente opposed the Fourteen Points, especially Clemenceau of France who claimed never to have read them, House also ran into trouble with the British over the old American principle of "freedom of the seas." In fact, at one point House threatened the British that, if need be, the United States would build a navy and an army second to none: "We had more money, we had more men, and our natural resources were greater."
The British ultimately accepted the logic of this argument, if not the principle of the "freedom of the seas." Throughout the peace discussions, House was Wilson's chief deputy in Europe and, more a realist than Wilson, urged compromise with Great Britain and France. House managed to survive General Pershing's unexpected demand for "unconditional surrender by Germany at the Supreme War Council, but he began to drift away from Wilson. The colonel in particular urged the president in the summer of 1919 to approach the Senate in a spirit of compromise and to allay the fears and suspicions of Henry Cabot Lodge, the powerful chairman of the foreign relations committee; Wilson refused and, in June 1919, saw House for the last time. No public rupture ever took place and House, discreet to the point of taciturnity, died on March 28, 1938, in New York City as a staunch supporter and admirer of Woodrow Wilson.
House threw himself into world affairs, promoting Wilson's goal of brokering a peace to end World War I. He spent much of 1915 and 1916 in Europe, trying to negotiate peace through diplomacy. He was enthusiastic but lacked deep insight into European affairs and relied on the information received from British diplomats, especially the British foreign secretary Edward Grey, to shape his outlook. Nicholas Ferns argues that Grey's ideas meshed with House's. Grey's diplomatic goal was to establish close Anglo–American relations; he Deliberately built a close relationship a close connection to further that aim. Thereby Grey re-enforced House's pro-Allied proclivities so that Wilson's chief advisor promoted the British position.
After A German U-boat sank without warning the British passenger liner Lusitania on 7 May 1915, with 128 Americans among the 1198 dead, many Americans called for war. Wilson demanded that Germany respect America neutral rights, and especially not think merchant ships or passenger liners without giving the passengers and crew the opportunity to get into lifeboats, as required by international law. Tension escalated with Germany, until Germany agreed to Wilson's terms. House felt that the war was an epic battle between democracy and autocracy; he argued the United States ought to help Britain and France win a limited Allied victory. However, Wilson still insisted on neutrality.
House played a major role in shaping wartime diplomacy. Wilson had House assemble "The Inquiry", a team of academic experts to devise efficient postwar solutions to all the world's problems. In September 1918, Wilson gave House the responsibility for preparing a constitution for a League of Nations. In October 1918, when Germany petitioned for peace based on the Fourteen Points, Wilson charged House with working out details of an armistice with the Allies.
Member American Commission to Negotiate Peace, 1918-1919. Member Commission charged by the Peace Congress to make the Covenant for the League of Nations. Member communications of Mandates, London, 1919.
“In the 1916 presidential election, House declined any public role but was Wilson's top campaign advisor: "he planned its structure; set its tone; guided its finance; chose speakers, tactics, and strategy; and, not least, handled the campaign's greatest asset and greatest potential liability: its brilliant but temperamental candidate."”
Married Loulie Hunter, August 4, 1881. Children: Mistress.