Woodrow Wilson at Versailles

The president's physician witnessed the drama behind closed doors at the peace conference.

Wilson shifted from neutrality to intervention after Germany proposed an alliance with Mexico, promising the return of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, and after German U-boats attacked U.S. merchant ships. (Associated Press)

One morning the three premiers [of France, Great Britain, and Italy] grew so passionate in their opposition to Mr. Wilson’s calmer, forward-looking policy that they accused him of being pro-German. I happened to enter the room just as they were about to recess for lunch. Mr. Wilson told me a little of what had occurred, but for the most part was quite silent at the lunch table. After lunch he asked me to ride with him … He was very silent, but I could see that he was thinking deeply and that his emotions were profoundly stirred. When we returned to the house and just before we got out of the motor, he said to me: “I want you to come into the room with me. Those men this morning accused me of being pro-German. They have gone a step too far and I don’t know what may happen.” With that he walked down the hallway, very straight, his jaw set, his eyes fixed. I could see that his fighting blood was circulating, and there was electricity in the air.

In a moment or two the others came in and all were seated, and for a few seconds there was intense silence. Contrary to his usual custom in the Council of Four, he rose from his chair and began to speak standing. I wish I had a stenographic report of what he said, for it was certainly one of the greatest speeches of his whole career. In substance, it was to the effect that he had never liked Germany, that he had never been in Germany, that he had never cared for the German methods of education, that no man in the room was less German-minded than he, and that he resented deeply the accusations which they had brought against him at the morning session. Turning to M. Clemenceau, with his eyes ablaze, he said: “And yet you this morning told me that I should be wearing the kaiser’s helmet. And why? Because I have protested against laying a taxation upon Germany which will make life so unattractive to the little children and the children yet unborn that existence would be a running sore and dreams of vengeance an obsession. I am not thinking only of Germany. I am thinking about the future of the world. I am thinking of the inevitable results of a so-called peace founded merely upon revenge … We are trying to stabilize a world that has been thrown into chaos.

“One reason why France has had the sympathy of most of the world in this terrible war is that individuals and nations have remembered with indignation the terms which Germany imposed upon France after the [1870] Franco-Prussian War, the insolence and the inhumanity of it all. This is why most of the nations have become allies of France—because she had been wronged … If we do wrong around this peace table the sympathy of the world will someday turn to Germany as it has turned to France in this war. I want to save the whole world from repetitions of such disasters as the world has experienced during the last four years. I know that you men are going the wrong way about it, and I know that I am right, because I know human nature and the processes of war. I am for a severe punishment for Germany but a just one.”

While he was speaking, M. Clemenceau made a motion to rise from his chair. Mr. Wilson whirled around toward him and said: “You sit down. I did not interrupt you … this morning.” M. Clemenceau sank back in his chair.

Then Mr. Wilson continued … “It is not only the innocent children of Germany that I am thinking of. I am thinking of the children of France, of England, of Italy, of Belgium, of my own United States, of the whole world. I see their little faces turn toward us in unconscious pleading that we shall save them from annihilation. I am not asking for a soft peace but for a righteous peace.”

Again M. Clemenceau rose from his chair and slowly approached Mr. Wilson, this time with moisture in his eyes. Taking the president’s hand in both of his, he said: “Mr. President, I want to say that you are not only a great man but you are a good one, and I am with you.” There was tense silence. In his chair, [British Prime Minister David] Lloyd George sat nodding approval, and [Italian Prime Minister Vittorio] Orlando was standing over by the window softly sobbing.

Originally titled "Memories of Woodrow Wilson"