The House-Grey Memorandum, 1915-1916

October 1915 - February 1916
The House-Grey Memorandum

From Colonel Edward House's Diary

October 8, 1915: I outlined very briefly a plan which has occurred to me and which seems of much value. I thought we had lost our opportunity to break with Germany, and it looked as if she had a better chance than ever of winning and if she did win our turn would come next; and we were not only unprepared, but there would be no one to help us stand the first shock. Therefore, we should do something decisive now -- something that would either end the war in a way to abolish militarism or that would bring us in with the Allies to help them do it. My suggestion is to ask the Allies unofficially, to let me know whether or not it would be agreeable to them to have us demand that hostilities cease. We would put it upon the high ground that the neutral world was suffering along with the belligerents and that we had rights as well as they, and that peace parleys should begin upon the broad basis of both military and naval disarmament. . . -

If the Allies understood our purpose, we could be as severe in our language concerning them as we were with the Central Powers. The Allies, after some hesitation, could accept our offer or demand and the Central Powers accepted, we would then have accomplished a master-stroke of diplomacy. If the Central Powers refused to acquiesce, we could then push our insistence to a point where diplomatic relations would first be broken off, and later the whole force of our Government -- and perhaps the force of every neutral -- might be brought against them.

The President was startled by this plan. He seemed to acquiesce by silence. I had not time to push it further, for our entire conversation did not last longer than twenty minutes.

October 11, 1915: Frank Polk took lunch with me. I told him something of the plan I had outlined to the President, concerning our enforcing peace before the Allies reached a position where they could not be of assistance in the event we had war with the Central Powers. I am looking at the matter from the American viewpoint and also from the broader viewpoint of humanity in general. It will not do for the United States to let the Allies go down and leave Germany the dominant military factor in the world. We would certainly be the next object of attack, and the Monroe Doctrine would be less indeed than a scrap of paper. . . . Polk thought the idea was good from every standpoint, and he hoped the President would finally put it through. . . .

Memorandum of Sir Edward Grey

(Confidential )

Colonel House told me that President Wilson was ready, on hearing from France and England that the moment was opportune, to propose that a Conference should be summoned to put an end to the war. Should the Allies accept this proposal, and should Germany refuse it, the United States would probably enter the war against Germany. Colonel House expressed the opinion that, if such a Conference met, it would secure peace on terms not unfavourable to the Allies; and, if it failed to secure peace, the United States would [probably] leave the Conference as a belligerent on the side of the Allies, if Germany was unreasonable.

Colonel House expressed an opinion decidedly favourable to the restoration of Belgium, the transfer of Alsace and Lorraine to France, and the acquisition by Russia of an outlet to the sea, though he thought that the loss of territory incurred by Germany in one place would have to be compensated to her by concessions to her in other places outside Europe. If the Allies delayed accepting the offer of President Wilson, and if, later on, the course of the war was so unfavourable to them that the intervention of the United States would not be effective, the United States would probably disinterest themselves in Europe and look to their own protection in their own way.

I said that I felt the statement, coming from the President of the United States, to be a matter of such importance that I must inform the Prime Minister and my colleagues; but that I could say nothing until it had received their consideration. The British Government could, under no circumstances accept or make any proposal except in consultation and agreement with the Allies....

(initialed) E. G.
Foreign Office
22 February 1916

Return to World War I Document Archive

d Comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome:
      Richard Hacken (hacken @
      or Jane Plotke (cd078 @ .

Last Updated: April 29, 1996.