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Letter to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge on Opposition to Calling an International Economic Conference

December 27, 1922

My dear Senator Lodge:

Replying to your inquiry relative to the proposed amendment to the pending naval bill authorizing and requesting the President to call an economic conference to deal with conditions in the war-torn nations of Europe I write to say that I know of no prohibition against such an expression on the part of the Congress, but I do frankly question the desirability of such an expression. I think it is undesirable because of the false impressions which may be conveyed thereby to Europe, and even more undesirable because of the wrong impression it conveys to our own people.

On the face of things it is equivalent to saying that the executive branch of the Government, which is charged with the conduct of foreign relations, is not fully alive to a world situation which is of deep concern to the United States. As a matter of fact, the European economic situation has been given most thorough and thoughtful consideration for many months. Without questioning the good faith of the proposal I am very sure it would have been more seemly, and the action of the Congress could be taken much more intelligently, if proper inquiry had been made of the State Department relative to the situation in which we are trying to be helpful.

Of necessity the communications of the State Department relative to delicate matters among nations can not be bulletined from day to day, but the situation is never withheld from Members of Congress who choose to inquire for confidential information in a spirit of cooperation. Such inquiry would have revealed the futility of any conference called until it is understood that such a conference would be welcomed by the nations concerned within the limits of discussion which the expressed will of Congress compels this Government to impose.

In ratifying the treaty of peace with Germany the Senate made a reservation that the United States should not be represented on the Reparations Commission without consent of Congress, and no such consent has been given. Moreover, in creating the World-War Debt Funding Commission that body was restricted to explicit terms for rates of interest and ultimate time of payment. If Congress really means to facilitate the task of the Government in dealing with the European situation, the first practical step would be to free the hands of the commission so that helpful negotiations may be undertaken.

It is quite generally accepted that the adjustment of the question of reparations must underlie any economic rehabilitation of Europe, and reparations can not be settled without the consent of governments concerned. The United States can not assume to say to one nation what it shall pay in reparations nor to another nation what it shall accept.

In discussions with foreign governments the previous administration and the present administration have insisted that the question of European debts to the United States is distinct and apart from the question of reparations, but European nations hold a contrary view, and it is wholly inconsistent to invite a conference for the consideration of questions in dealing with, which the Government is denied all authority by act of Congress.

So far as the limitation of land armaments is concerned, there seems to be at this time no more promising prospect of accomplishment than when the conference was held in Washington a year ago. Here, again I venture to warn the Senate against the suggestion to our own people or a gesture of promise to the world which can not be fulfilled until nations directly concerned express their readiness to cooperate to such an end.

With respect to a limitation of auxiliary types of naval craft, which are not limited by the present naval treaty, it is to be said that such an agreement is much to be desired, whenever practicable, but we may reasonably postpone our further endeavors along that line until the agreements made at the Washington conference secure the final sanction of all governments concerned.

Very truly yours,


THE WHITE HOUSE, December 27, 1922.

Warren G. Harding, Letter to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge on Opposition to Calling an International Economic Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/329332

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