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Colonel Edward Mandell House


                                                                       Colonel House: A Biography of Woodrow Wilson’s Silent Partner

Charles E. Neu (Oxford University Press, 2014), 720 pp., notes, extensive list of sources, index.
Reviewed by Mark Benbow

In this new biography, historian Charles Neu takes on the challenge of Edward M. House, friend and confident of President Woodrow Wilson. There have been other biographies of the “Colonel” (the title was an honorific one), including Alexander and Juliette George’s severely flawed Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House: A Personality Study (1964) and Godfrey Hodgson’s shorter 2006 biography, Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House. There is also The Intimate Papers of Colonel House by Edward Mandell House (Charles Seymour, ed.), which is an authorized biography with the bias one would expect from such a work. Neu, an experienced scholar of American foreign policy goes much further in-depth on House and his relationship with Wilson than does Hodgson, and avoids the embarrassing psychohistory of the George work. Colonel House is a straightforward biography, covering his entire life (1858–1938), with the most attention paid to the critical years between 1911 and 1920, when House was not only Wilson’s closest confident, but his personal diplomatic representative to the European powers before, during, and after the First World War.

Edward Mandell House was the youngest of eight children (seven of whom were boys) born to a wealthy Houston businessman and his wife. With the family’s wealth, much of which was held in large tracts of land throughout the state, came political contacts, access to the powerful, and influence in state affairs. While his brothers went into business, Edward House found a role as a political kingmaker in the Texas Democratic Party. By the beginning of the 20th century, the support of his political faction, known as “Our Crowd,” was crucial for any would-be Texas Democratic politician to cultivate. House polished his skills at exerting influence not through political office, but by being a useful adviser, an indispensable man to those in elected office. Often in poor health, House decided early on that his place in life was to help other men achieve power and to influence policy through them.

Tiring of Texas politics, House looked for a larger stage, and in 1911 he found that stage with New Jersey governor and former president of Princeton University Woodrow Wilson. The Texas kingmaker was looking for a progressive leader for the national Democratic Party that he could follow. William Jennings Bryan had already lost three races for president by then, and although House and Bryan were friends, he was not the leader House was searching for. Wilson was. House met Wilson in November 1911. The would-be adviser and the would-be president bonded from the start and House began to play a small role in Wilson’s 1912 campaign. Wilson found his new aide’s advice useful, and House was able to help place several members of “Our Crowd” in Wilson’s cabinet. He also helped Wilson choose other members of his new administration. House refused any formal appointments, but became Wilson’s most important confidant and befriended First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson as well. Neu describes how House became a part of Wilson’s family circle, not only the president’s adviser, but one of his best friends.
Wilson’s proclivity for using unofficial diplomatic channels to supplement the State Department’s role has long been a topic of historical analysis (including this reviewer’s own article in a 2007 issue of Studies[1]). House was perhaps the most important member of Wilson’s unofficial diplomatic team and he fell on his new role with relish. Meeting with prime ministers and hobnobbing with diplomats in London, Berlin, and Paris gave House the place among the powerful that he so desired. Unfortunately, as Neu notes, he “overemphasized person-to-person contacts.” When meeting with Wilson upon his return to the US after European tours in 1913 and 1914 he “exaggerated his accomplishments, and engaged in wishful thinking rather than analyze the historical forces” that shaped how the European powers behaved. (136). This was a critical fault that House would display again and again: having achieved success in Texas and on the national stage by using his individual contacts, he thought he could duplicate that success internationally. In this he ignored the larger influences that shaped the European power’s policies, and interpreted polite non-committal diplomatic comments as concrete commitments. Then he would report his successes to Wilson, who lacked enough accurate reporting from his own ambassadors that could have placed House’s reports in a more realistic light.

House’s downfall was slow to come, but it came at an especially inopportune time. Ellen Wilson had died in August 1914, just as Europe was going to war. House became the single most important friend and confidant to the grief-stricken president. In March 1915 Wilson met a pretty, local, wealthy Washington widow, Edith Bolling Galt. The meeting had been arranged by members of Wilson’s family and friends, not including House, in hopes that Edith might alleviate the grieving man’s loneliness. She did. Wilson fell madly in love, and he soon proposed marriage. House approved of the president’s new romance, but advised him to wait until after the 1916 election to get married. Wilson and Edith instead married in late 1915. The president’s new wife joined his ranks of advisers, a role to which she was ill-suited. Neu describes her well, she was “lively and stylish, but poorly educated and intolerant of the president’s closest advisors.” (200) She began to resent House and denigrated him to her husband, once writing “I can’t help feeling that he is not a very strong character.” (201, emphasis in original) Edith would eventually manage to alienate and separate Wilson from some of his most loyal counselors, including House.

At the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference, House would play an even bigger role than he had before, but it would be a Pyrrhic success. He accompanied Wilson to Paris for the talks, supplanting Secretary of State Robert Lansing as the president’s most important foreign policy advisor. House set up The Inquiry, a group of over 100 academics and other experts who gathered information and wrote briefings for Wilson to help plan the peace for the end of the war. It was, in effect, a temporary intelligence agency, a precursor in many ways to the CIA’s own Directorate of Intelligence.

When Wilson left the conference to return to the United States, he left House to take his place among the Council of Ten to negotiate as the American representative. House feared that growing impatience for a peace treaty among some of the European peoples might lead to increased instability and provide an opening for Bolshevism. Accordingly, he rushed to quickly complete a final treaty to present to the Germans. In doing so, House seemed to agree with France’s demands for a harsh treaty, including the creation of a Rhenish buffer state between France and Germany. Instead of being pleased that so much had been decided, Wilson was appalled when he returned, telling a friend, “House has given away everything I had won...I will have to start all over again...” (406). To make matters worse, the London Times had printed a story that praised House’s role at the conference, which was picked up by an American newspaper. The reporter was close to House so it looked to Edith as if her husband’s advisor was pumping up his own reputation at the expense of the president. She made certain that Wilson saw the story. When she confronted House over the matter he fled the room and the two never met in person again, validating her opinion of him as a “weak vessel.” (412). In the end there was no sudden final break between Wilson and House. They continued to meet and to exchange letters, but the president grew noticeably cooler and House found himself firmly shunted out of Wilson’s circle of advisors. The “grandiose expectations” that Neu notes both men shared for the peace agreement collapsed. (511). House lived for another 14 years after Wilson died in 1924, and he spent much of that time defending his own—as well as Wilson’s—legacy.

House’s failures were, at least in part, the president’s as well. In Neu’s estimate, Wilson sent House “abroad with only vague instructions and carelessly monitored his negotiations on the capitals of Europe.” He left “a void for [House’s] self-importance to fill.” (511). House was positioned to accomplish much more than he did. He was skilled at negotiation and was happy to act outside of the spotlight. Given specific instructions and kept on a tighter leash, he could have been a trustworthy adviser who might have provided Wilson with perceptive insights into European leaders’ personalities and priorities. When he moved from policy advisor to policy creator in Paris, however, House overstepped both his role and his skills.
The book reflects the author’s long experience as a researcher familiar with the relevant sources. House destroyed most of his personal documents dealing with his earlier career as a king-maker in Texas politics, but he left a detailed diary of his years on the national political stage. His diary, however, is a potential minefield for historians, as House used it to reassure himself of his own intelligence, influence, and wisdom—all of which he often embellished. Neu noted how House developed “a streak of vanity…an exaggerated sense of his own importance.” (510). Ironically, House need not have inflated his influence and historical importance: he actually did play a crucial role during a critical point in American history as the United States began to wield its influence as a world power, and Neu expertly captures both House’s strengths and his weaknesses. Neu’s work deserves to remain the standard work on Colonel House for years to come. He mined the relevant archives, knows the secondary literature as well as anyone in the profession, and has been gathering material for this book for years; however, for the intelligence professional, the book is very light on details about The Inquiry. Lawrence E. Gelfand’s book remains the standard work for that subject.[2]Nonetheless, Colonel House is a worthy capstone to a long, distinguished career and a welcome addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in this pivotal era in American foreign policy.

                                                                     Colonel House and Woodrow Wilson: Paving the Way for War
TAGS U.S. HistoryWar and Foreign Policy
03/29/2017T. Hunt Tooley
[Editor's Note: This is part 4 of a multi-part series.]

In reconstructing the American decision to enter the Great War, the relationship between Colonel Edward Mandell House and his "alter ego," Woodrow Wilson, is crucial. Robert Higgs has called the Colonel "one of the most important Americans of the twentieth century."House played the central role in choosing and grooming Woodrow Wilson to become a presidential candidate, a role he relished. We could regard him as a significant historical actor even if this achievement had been his only one. But the rest of the story is that House became an "intimate" friend of Woodrow Wilson, Wilson's "alter ego," as the two liked to say. Wilson's chief of staff, Joseph Tumulty, testified to this close relationship, as did dozens of others. Ultimately, House would become a special roving emissary of Woodrow Wilson in Europe from 1914 onward. In this capacity, and through a large private network of highly influential friends, House's influence on American intervention in World War I can hardly be exaggerated. So who was this very important American?

House was a Texan. His father had immigrated to Texas in the early years of the state and had made a fortune as a blockade-runner during the American Civil War. Edward Mandell House was born in 1858 in Houston and attended elite secondary schools in England and the northeastern United States. Eventually, he ended up at Cornell University. When his father died in 1880, House returned to Texas and took over management of the family fortune of $500,000, something like eleven million dollars today. Not chicken feed, to be sure, but not a fortune that put him in the league of the individuals with whom he would soon be rubbing shoulders. Doing business in banking and railroads, House crossed paths with the J.P. Morgan more than once, and many other leading individuals of the day. 

Before long, he left business to work in politics, but his aim was to work behind the scenes, to influence politics rather than leading as a figurehead. It may have been, as some biographers have suggested, that House considered his constitution as lacking the physical stamina for electioneering. But he certainly had a predilection for being the man behind the curtain in any case.

In Texas, House decided to back a gubernatorial candidate in 1890. For all House's railroad and oil connections, he chose the "trust-busting" populist Democrat "Big Jim" Hogg, and he was successful. Incidentally, it was a grateful Governor Hogg who appointed him an honorary state "Colonel," designation which House adopted proudly. But the Colonel had only just begun. Masterminding the elections of four Texas governors, House decided to go East just after the turn of the century to seek out a national candidate to groom for President.

House had long since collected a very large circle of wealthy individuals, including many in the rarefied world of J. P. Morgan — by all accounts he combined a kind of introverted public view and amazing social skills, including a very sharp sense of humor. Indeed, in his later years, a short memoir dwelt lovingly and in detail on the many elaborate practical jokes of his youth and indeed through his college years, almost all of them played in such a way as to demean and control. It is worth noting that many of them were essentially double manipulations which ended by tricking his own partners in crime. "Cruel sport if you like," wrote House in memoir years later, "but one fascinating to a half grown boy." In any case, he saved his most manipulative pranks for "some boastful, arrogant, conceited boy." Actual psychologists have pondered these passages House wrote. For the armchair psychologist, it is fascinating as well, considering House's manipulations recorded in his diaries for later historians.
By the time he entered politics, he had begun to embrace Progressivism, a doctrine of efficiency and wise leadership which was informed by the Positivist doctrine of French sociologist Auguste Comte. Progressivism became a widespread political movement in American life (as in the world as a whole), and in America it emanated from and came to characterize the wealthy and wise men of "efficiency" and "capital," chiefly from the Northeast. Indeed, in 1912 the Colonel would write a didactic novel ("not much of a novel," commented House himself to a friend). The book was Philip Dru, Administrator, whose protagonist would reshape the government of the United States, freeing it for reform by freeing it from the corrupt and ignorant element of an elected legislative branch, a constitutional element Comte himself saw as roadblock to "Positive" administration.

Living in New York, House found Woodrow Wilson, a Progressive one-term governor of New Jersey who had been an academic. Wilson served as President of Princeton, but entered New Jersey state politics, having left Princeton under heavy criticism for his high-handed reform of the curriculum and direction of the institution, condemned by many as a self-righteous, authoritarian leader who hated compromise. In late 1911, after a first "delightful visit" with Wilson, House wrote to a confidant, "He is not the biggest man I ever met, but he is one of the pleasantest and I would rather play with him than any prospective candidate I have seen."

House and Wilson were opposites in many ways. The quietly jovial, supercilious House and the formal, earnest but "pleasant" Wilson. The non-religious Texan admirer of heroic frontier men of violence and the Presbyterian minister's son whose life was circumscribed by a long line of church ladies. House, who reveled in recounting the practical jokes of his youth designed to belittle and control those around him, and Wilson, whose humor was of the quietest, most conventional kind. House, whose diary and letters universally groan with gourmet meals in the best restaurants with wine flowing, and the abstemious Wilson, who ate and drank little, preferring indeed to do that little within a quiet family circle.

Yet the two men had much in common. As many historians have pointed out, both were outsiders in terms of national politics, both late-comers to the Progressive political movement, both middle-aged Southerners, and both admirers of "vigor" and efficiency in individuals and government. Both men admired Great Britain with passion. Both men hoped to make a mark in life larger than the very respectable marks that each had already made. Both House and Wilson embodied those Comtean, Positivist elements of Progressivism that relied on the certainties of social science as a means of ruling. The great project of this odd couple and their Progressive associates was the efficient organization of the world in conjunction with the needs of the many, the few, the state, and the modern mind as a whole. Both House and Wilson consistently put their faith in wise men who would LEAD, as opposed to mere representatives of the people, such as congressmen and senators and the outmoded institutions these represented.

Whether we look at the fervid correspondence between House and Wilson, or the equally high-minded soul-directing correspondence between House and world financial visionary Willard Straight, or between wealthy dilettante roving statesman Charles R. Crane and Wilson, the same certainties and fervent enthusiasm for "the great work" emerge.

To make a long story short, the two became "intimates," as they were both fond of saying. After House helped get the one-term Governor elected President in 1912, a Washington insider asked the new President about House's apparent authority to make political commitments about the future. Wilson replied:"Mr. House is my second personality. He is my independent self. His thoughts and mine are one."

And from behind the scenes House ramrodded the new administration's legislation implementing the Federal Reserve and much else. His communications with the Governor, as he continued to address his presidential friend, were always flattering, always indirect, always purposeful, and full of sage advice. His role in managing William Jennings Bryan was especially important: gaining Bryan's endorsement the election, persuading Wilson to appoint him Secretary of State, keeping the unpredictable but powerful populist off balance and isolated from the President's inner circle.

But soon House found a still larger stage and with Wilson's agreement, roamed Europe with the full authority of the President's intimate and special emissary, meeting with kings, prime ministers, intellectuals, and others, "planting," as he said, “the seeds of peace." As Walter Millis pointed out in his 1935 analysis of House's "diplomatic" efforts, the Colonel was a supreme political operative in the United States, but knew European international politics a little, and the craft of diplomacy not at all. Millis suggested that for all the "seeds" the Colonel planted with European leaders, none of them had the least chance of germinating.
Once the war broke out in August 1914, House concentrated on putting Woodrow Wilson in a position to mediate the terrible war raging in Europe, a feat that would have made Wilson in some ways the chief benefactor of the world. Theodore Roosevelt had brokered the end to a much less extensive war (the Russo-Japanese conflict of 1904-5) and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Both House and Wilson considered Wilson the far greater man.

Of course any mediation by Wilson would come from a country that was supplying one side of the conflict exclusively with money, arms, ammunition, food, and other necessities of war. Even so, the Germans seemed tempted to take up Wilson's mediation offers at several points. Indeed, from Wilson's point of view, he made progress in mediation in the coming months and after more U-Boat sinkings of armed civilian vessels in designated zones. In the spring of 1916, he was able to pressure the Germans to drop their unlimited submarine warfare program.
In spite of increasing talk of "preparedness" and anti-German sentiment in the United States, Americans were on the whole far from ready to see their country intervene directly in the war. There was in any case, an election campaign to wage in 1916. But the stage was being set for American intervention in "the great crusade for democracy" being carried out by Britain, France, and the Russian "Tsar and Autocrat of All the Russias."
Yet long before 1916, three months before the Lusitania sinking, House had met in London with the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey, and made an amazing commitment. The Colonel had vague instructions from Wilson to persuade the British to lift the Blockade. Instead, as historian Justus Doenecke has commented, "Secretly defying the President, House uncritically supported Britain's war effort. More significantly, he committed his nation, under certain conditions, to enter the conflict on the Allied side."

                                                                                                        Edward Mandell House

 In 1913, Colonel Edward Mandell House helped to pick the charter members of theoriginal Federal Reserve Board.Edward Mandell House (originally “Huis” which became “House”) was born July 26,1858 in Houston, Texas. He became active in Texas politics and served as an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson, particularly in the area of foreign affairs. Housefunctioned as Wilson's chief negotiator in Europe during the negotiations for peace(1917-1919), and as chief deputy for Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference. He diedon March 28, 1938 in New York City.Edward and his father had friends in the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan dispensed vigilante justice after the Civil War. In 1880 a new legitimate group was in charge of dispensing justice in Texas -- the Texas Rangers. Many of the Texas Rangers weremembers of the Klan. Edward was the new master. Edward gained their loyalty bystroking their egos. Edward would use his money and influence to try and make themfamous. Edward eventually inherited the Texas Ku Klux Klan.Edward Mandell House helped to make four men governor of Texas: James S. Hogg(1892), Charles A. Culberson (1894), Joseph D. Sayers (1898), and S. W.T. Lanham(1902). After the election House acted as unofficial advisor to each governor. Hogggave House the title "Colonel" by promoting House to his staff.Edward wanted to control more than Texas, Edward wanted to control the country.Edward would do so by becoming a king maker instead of a king. Edward knew thatif he could control two or three men in the Senate, two or three men in the House;and the President, he could control the country.Edward would influence the candidate from behind the scenes. The people wouldperceive one man was representing them, when in reality; an entirely different manwas in control. House didn't need to influence millions of people; he need onlyinfluence a handful of men. Edward would help establish a secret society in Americathat would operate in the same fashion -- the Council on Foreign Relations.Edward Mandell House was instrumental in getting Woodrow Wilson elected asPresident. Edward had the support of William Jennings Bryan and the financialbacking of the House of Rockefeller's National City Bank. Edward became Wilson'sclosest unofficial advisor.

Edward Mandell House and some of his schoolmates were also members of CecilRhodes Round Table group. The Round Table Group, the back bone of the SecretSociety, had four pet projects, a graduated income tax, a central bank, creation of aCentral Intelligence Agency, and the League of Nations.Between 1901 and 1913 the House of Morgan and the House of Rockefeller formedclose alliances with the Dukes and the Mellons. This group consolidated their power and came to dominate other Wall Street powers including: Carnegie, Whitney,Vanderbilt, Brown-Harriman, and Dillon-Reed. The Round Table Group wanted tocontrol the people by having the government tax people and deposit the peoplesmoney in a central bank. The Group would take control of the bank and thereforehave control of the money.

The Group would take control of the State Departmentand formulate government policy, which would determine how the money was spent.The Group would control the CIA which would gather information about people, andscript and produce psycho-political operations focused at the people to influencethem to act in accord with Round Table Group State Department policy decisions.The Group would work to consolidate all the nations of the world into a single nation,with a single central bank under their control, and a single International SecuritySystem. Some of the first legislation of the Wilson Administration was the institutionof the graduated income tax (1913) and the creation of a central bank called theFederal Reserve. An inheritance tax was also instituted.

These tax laws were used torationalize the need for legislation that allowed the establishment of tax-exemptfoundations. The tax-exempt foundations became the link between the groupmember's private corporations and the University system. The Group would controlthe Universities by controlling the sources of their funding. The funding was moneysheltered from taxes being channelled in ways which would help achieve RoundTable Group aims.

Mandell House had this to say in a private meeting with PresidentWoodrow Wilson:

“[Very] soon, every American will be required to register their biologicalproperty in a national system designed to keep track of the people andthat will operate under the ancient system of pledging. By suchmethodology, we can compel people to submit to our agenda, which willeffect our security as a chargeback for our fiat paper currency. Every American will be forced to register or suffer being unable to work andearn a living. They will be our chattel, and we will hold the securityinterest over them forever, by operation of the law merchant under thescheme of secured transactions. Americans, by unknowingly or unwittingly delivering the bills of lading tous will be rendered bankrupt and insolvent, forever to remain economicslaves through taxation, secured by their pledges. They will be strippedof their rights and given a commercial value designed to make us aprofit and they will be none the wiser, for not one man in a million couldever figure our plans and, if by accident one or two should figure it out,we have in our arsenal plausible deniability. After all, this is the onlylogical way to fund government, by floating liens and debt to theregistrants in the form of benefits and privileges. This will inevitablyreap to us huge profits beyond our wildest expectations and leaveevery American a contributor to this fraud which we will call “SocialInsurance.” Without realizing it, every American will insure us for anyloss we may incur and in this manner, every American will unknowinglybe our servant, however begrudgingly. The people will become helplessand without any hope for their redemption and, we will employ the highoffice of the President of our dummy corporation to foment this plotagainst America.