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Message to the Senate in Response to a Request for Records Related to the Four-Power Treaty

February 20, 1922

THE WHITE HOUSE, February 20, 1922.


Responsive to Senate Resolution No. 237, asking for records, minutes, arguments, debates, conversations, etc., relating to the so-called Four-Power Treaty, I have to advise that it is impossible to comply with the Senate's request. Many of the things asked for in the resolution it is literally impossible to furnish, because there were many conversations and discussions quite outside the conference, yet vital to its success. Naturally these are without record.

I do not believe it to be compatible with public interest or consistent with the amenities of international negotiation to attempt to reveal informal and confidential conversations or discussions, of which no record was kept, or to submit tentative suggestions or informal proposals, without which the arrival at desirable international understandings would be rendered unlikely if not impossible.

While I am unable to transmit the information requested, I do, however, take this opportunity to say most emphatically that there were no concealed understandings, and no secret exchanges of notes, and there are no commitments whatever except as appear in the Four-Power Treaty itself and the supplementary agreement, which are now in the hands of the Senate.



Note: Below is a related memorandum from Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes to Senate Minority Leader Oscar Underwood.

Washington, March 11, 1922

MY DEAR SENATOR: I understand that in the course of debate in the Senate upon the Four-Power Treaty questions have been raised with respect to its authorship. It seems to be implied that in some way the American delegates have been imposed upon, or that they were induced to accept some plan cunningly contrived by others and opposed to our interests. Apart from the reflection upon the competency of the American delegates, such intimations betray a very poor and erroneous conception of the work in connection with the conference, no part of which—whether within or outside the conference meetings—was begun, prosecuted, or concluded in intrigue. Nothing could be further from the fact.

It is, of course, wholly inconsistent with the amenities of international intercourse that the informal and confidential suggestions and conversations incident to negotiations should be stated, but the Senate may be assured that a full disclosure of everything said or done in the course of the negotiations would reveal nothing derogatory to the part taken by any of the American delegates, or involve any consideration or acceptance of any position not entirely consistent with the traditional policies of this Government.

It should be remembered that the Four-Power Treaty dealt with a subject—the Anglo-Japanese alliance—which, as an agreement between two Powers competent to make and continue it, was not, and in the nature of things could not be, appropriately placed upon the Conference agenda. Technically it was a matter outside the Conference, although the Conference furnished an excellent opportunity for conversations regarding it.

While I cannot, of course, undertake to state what was proposed or suggested in confidence by any of the delegates, I think it entirely proper to say that the negotiations relating to the Four-Power Treaty were conducted within limitations defined by the American Government. The views of this Government as to the importance of the termination of the Anglo-Japanese alliance had been communicated long before the Conference met, and it had also been clearly stated that this Government could enter into no alliance or make any commitment to the use of arms, or which would impose any sort of obligation as to its decisions in future contingencies. It must deal with any exigency according to its constitutional methods. In preparation for the Conference the American delegates reviewed the matter thoroughly, and the entire course of negotiations in connection with the Four-Power Treaty were in accord with these principles, and, as I have said, within the limits which we defined.

The treaty itself is very short and simple, and is perfectly clear. It requires no commentary. Its engagements are easily understood, and no ingenuity in argument or hostile criticism can add to them or make them other or greater than its unequivocal language sets forth. There are no secret notes or understandings.

In view of this, the question of authorship is unimportant. It was signed by Four Powers, whose delegates, respectively, adopted it, all having made various suggestions.

I may say, however, with respect to the general course, of negotiations that after assent had been given by Great Britain and Japan that France should be a party to the agreement, I prepared a draft of the treaty based upon the various suggestions which had been exchanged between the delegates. This draft was first submitted to Senator Lodge and Mr. Root, as you were then absent on account of the death of your mother. After the approval of the American delegates, who were here, the draft was submitted to the representatives of other Powers, and became the subject of discussion between the heads of the delegations concerned, and with a few changes, which were approved by the American delegates, and which did not affect the spirit or substance of the proposed treaty, an agreement was reached. Immediately upon your return I went over the whole matter with you, and the proposed agreement received your approval. I should add that, in order to avoid any misunderstanding I prepared a memorandum to accompany the treaty with respect to its effect in relation to the mandated islands and reserving domestic questions.

At this stage, while it was not strictly a conference matter, in order to insure publicity at the earliest possible moment, the treaty as thus agreed upon, and before it had been signed, was presented by Senator Lodge to the Conference in plenary session and its import and limitations stated. His statement met with the acquiescence of all.

The treaty as thus drawn and notified was deemed to embrace the main islands of Japan. Later, in view of the sentiment, both in this country and Japan, it was deemed to be preferable to exclude these main islands, and a supplementary treaty was prepared to this effect, which designated the islands of Japan which it was to include.

There is not the slightest mystery about the treaty or basis for suspicion regarding it. It is a straightforward document which attains one of the most important objects the American Government has had in view, and is of the highest importance to the maintenance of friendly relations in the Far East upon a sound basis. As the President recently said, in his communication to the Senate, it is an essential part of the plan to create conditions in the Far East at once favorable to the maintenance of the policies we have long advocated and to an enduring peace.

In view of this, and in view of the relation of the treaty to the results of the Conference, its failure would be nothing short of a national calamity.

I am, my dear Senator, faithfully yours,


To the Honorable Oscar W. Underwood, United States Senate.

Warren G. Harding, Message to the Senate in Response to a Request for Records Related to the Four-Power Treaty Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355747

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