Edward Mandell House


Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress; LC-B2- 3708-7 [P&P]

Diplomat and grey eminence of ­American politics. Born in Houston, Texas. His father was ­an influential businessman and local politician. In 1877 he entered Cornell ­University, which he interrupted to take care of his ailing father. Early in his career he was involved in running the family business, but over time he shifted his interests toward politics. Among other things, he was an informal but influential advisor and political patron to four Texas governors (1894–1906). One of them bestowed on him the honorary rank of colonel, hence in ­public space Edward House came to be known as “Colonel House.”

After withdrawing from local politics, he became involved in the ­victorious presidential campaign of Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1911. After Wilson took the presidential seat, he refused to accept formal office, at the same time becoming the ­new president’s chief advisor and informal representative, particularly on foreign policy issues, including during World War I and later at the ­. In 1915 and 1916 House conducted negotiations in Europe on Wilson’s behalf to bring peace, and in 1918 he was tasked with organizing a group of advisors called the . He was also instrumental in shaping Wilson’s vision of a new ­international order­. ­Peace negotiations in Paris brought strong tensions between Colonel House and President Wilson, resulting in a violent divergence of paths between the two politicians upon their return to America in 1919.

Still during the war, House established a close relationship with Ignacy ­Jan Paderewski, under whose influence he became a strong promoter of the ­Polish cause. In recognition of his contribution to Poland’s independence, the University of Poznan awarded him an honorary ­doctorate in 1924. In turn, in 1932, a monument to him, funded by Paderewski, was erected in Warsaw’s Skaryszewski Park. House left extensive diaries.


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June 24, 1915: Colonel Edward Mandell House (left) and Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States. Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress; LC-B2- 3527-3 [P&P]

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Paris, 1919: Edward Mandell House among members of the American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference (seated first from the left). Seated next to House are Robert Lansing, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, diplomat Henry White and General Tasker Howard Bliss. Photo: Lucien Swift Kirtland, National Portrait Gallery

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Warsaw, July 4, 1932: The unveiling of the monument to Colonel Edward Mandell House in Skaryszewski Park. Photo: Jan Binek, Biblioteka Narodowa

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Paris, December 16, 1918: Edward Mandell House is leaving the office of the Diplomatic Service. Source: National Archives at College Park

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Versailles, June 28, 1919: Arrival of delegates to the Palace of Versailles for the signing of the peace treaty, among them - Edward Mandell House with his wife. Source: National Archives at College Park

Practitioner of Wilsonian idealism

New York, September 20, 1914

I thought Russia should propose to Germany and Austria that Poland should have autonomy and be made an independent nation, and Great Britain should support this proposal. […]

November 12, 1915

[…] Paderewski came with Wooley promptly at 5.30. His tale of the woes of Poland is a sorrowful one. He has on his Committee such eminent persons as ex-President Taft, Joseph Choate etc., etc. and yet the amount of money that has come to them is negligible. He said that Vanderlip, who is Treasurer of the Committee, sent out 30.000 appealing letters to the banks and large corporations of America. The return was less than $8000. He averred that […] the destitution of the people [in Poland] is pitiful beyond description. He desires our government to take action in some way. He did not know how. I promised to think of the matter and to see him again on Thursday of next week. He was very grateful for my interest and expressed deep appreciation. I had an idea that Paderewski was an egoist of most violent and offensive type. He did not indicate a trace of such characteristics in his interview with me. […]

November 18, 1915

[…] I promised Paderewski I would not let up in my efforts for Poland until I found I could go no further, or until I was successful. He took both my hands in his and said “God bless you” and the tears came into his eyes. […]

December 3, 1915

[…] Mayor Newton Baker of Cleveland wished to discuss with me a project which he has on foot regarding the raising of a large sum […] to offer Europe at the end of the war to resuscitate the fortunes of the needy. […] I took this occasion to explain the condition of stricken Poland. I drew as graphic a pictures of the misfortune of that unhappy people as I could. I made him feel that Belgium, where so much money had been donated, was a garden spot in comparison, and I urged him to form a committee and to raise this large sum now and not wait until the war was ended, but give the people of Poland a helping hand. I explained if the war should end and this large sum should be raised, most of it would properly go to Poland as being the hardest hit portion of Europe. […]

December 21, 1915

[…] Among interesting callers was Paderewski. He wished to thank me for what I had done for Poland. The President’s proclamation setting aside New Year’s Day for offerings to the Polish Relief was the immediate cause of his gratitude. […]

May 26, 1916

[…] Jerome Green, of the Rockefeller Foundation, called me over the telephone to ask my help in furthering Polish relief work. The Foundation made available today a million dollars for this purpose. I promised help with the diplomatic end. […]

January 8, 1917

[…] He [Paderewski] wished to explain the trouble which would probably follow the coming of the new Austrian Ambassador, Tarnowski. The Austrian Poles plan to give him a great welcome which Paderewski thinks will be resented by the Poles in general, and that all sorts of complications may ensue.

He thought the proposals for a new Poland made by Russia and Germany were absolutely selfish. Germany proposes to take a part of Russian Poland in order to strengthen her eastern frontier, while Russia wants to create a Poland composed of Russian, German and Austrian Poland for the purpose of securing Dantzig for a Russian port. […]

April 28, 1917

[…] We first discussed Poland [with Balfour] and outlined what its boundaries should be. Of course, the stumbling block was the outlet to the sea. There can be no other excepting Danzig, and to take Danzig would be to go through East Prussia. […] Balfour thought it might be made a free port, and in that way satisfy Poland. At the moment, I do not look upon this with favor, particularly since the Germans and Poles would be antagonistic and ready upon the slightest provocation, to find grievances against one another. We came to no conclusion upon this point because none could be arrived at. However, I warmly advocated a restored and rejuvenated Poland – a Poland big enough and potential enough to serve as a buffer state between Germany and Russia. […]

September 22, 1917

[…] They [Poles] are seeking to establish a provisional government in Poland which they desire this country to recognize. Paderewski is so extravagant in his gratitude and praise of me that I am always embarrassed. If he were less naive and childlike I would be suspicious of him. He speaks of me as having been sent by God to deliver Poland, and he sees my hand, so he says, everywhere and always helping Poland. He attributes the British conversion to the Polish cause to me.

There is some truth in this last, and more in the credit he gives me for what the President has said on behalf of Poland. But his imagination takes its wildest flight, when he claims that I am the only man since Napoleon the First who has understood the importance of a reconstructed Poland to the peace of Europe. His statements leave me dumb with confusion. […]

September 4, 1918

Dmowski, President of the National Polish Council which sits in Paris, lunched with us. […] Dmowski speaks eight languages, knows the history of Europe thoroughly, and is altogether one of the most accomplished men I know. We talked of Poland and her future. […] He believes if Germany and Russia are monarchies, a polish republic would not live between them. Poland, he believes, in that case, would have to be become a monarchy, although a liberal one. He did not think a Pole could be selected for King because of factional differences. A king he thought would have to be sought in another country. […]

Paris, November 4, 1918

[…] I came to Europe for the purpose of getting the to subscribe to the President’s peace terms. I left a hostile and influential group in the United States frankly saying they did not approve the President’s terms and they were trying to incite not only the people of America, but the Allies, to repudiate them. On this side, I find the Governments as distinctly hostile to as our opponents at home. The plain people generally both in America and Europe, are, I think, with the President – surely they would be if they understood the vital issues involved. Unfortunately, it is not with the people we have to deal.

December 4, 1918

[…] Dmowski discussed Polish affairs and the formation of a Polish State. He looks with much concern upon Bolsheviki Russia on the one side, and Germany on the other which, as he expressed it, was passing through its Elizabethan period. […]. He thinks Germany is three hundred years behind the balance of civilized Europe in its thought, and it is for that reason she came to grief. I have expressed many times in the diary this same thought. I urged Dmowski moderation and a coalition government so they might at least start with a fair prospect of harmony. […]

February 2, 1919

One of the satisfactory features of the day was a letter from Prime Minister Ignace Paderewski of Poland. […] He says: “You have been the first to recognize Poland’s new Government as you have been the first to revive her hopes when she was in despair. My country is blessing your name, and the Government is sending you this message of sincere affection and profound gratitude”.

The letter was brought by Major Shelling. He tells me that in Paderewski’s first speech after being made Prime Minister, he said that the best friend Poland ever had was Colonel House, and that the Poles should heap blessings upon my head. Further than that, he hoped that the first statue to be erected in the new Poland would be a statue to Colonel House.

source: Yale University Library, Edward Mandell House Papers (MS 466), Series II, Diaries, v. 2–5.