Who's Who - Colonel House

"Colonel" Edward House Edward Mandell House (1858-1938), self-styled "Colonel" House (colonel in nickname only) served as President Woodrow Wilson's closest confidant during the four years of the First World War.

A politician from a prominent Texan family, House established a reputation as a notable behind-the-scenes Democrat political operator in Texas during the 1890s.

An ambitious man, House sought to exert influence at the national level, an aim he achieved with his alliance with Wilson, whom he first met in November 1911 and whom he backed in the following year's presidential election.

Initially one of numerous advisors, House's increasingly close relationship with Wilson boosted his influence until he was widely acknowledged as the president's closest confidant.  At home, House was instrumental in bringing onside moderate political journalists such as Walter Lippmann.

Remarkably self-confident in his ability to understand and shape international affairs, House initially focussed his enthusiasm and drive on Latin America before turning his attention to the war in Europe from August 1914 onwards.

A prominent early advocate of the president's policy of 'limited preparedness', House made his first visit to Europe in January 1915, where he remained until June as Wilson's intermediary.

Not especially reliable in his reports to Wilson - he was prone to exaggerate his own influence in addition to that of the U.S. - House quickly came to understand that the Allies weren't particularly keen on U.S. mediation in settling the war.

Thereafter embracing the Allied cause, House courted potential personal and political disaster during his second visit to Europe in January-March 1916.  There, he met and agreed with the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey in February 1916 what amounted to an ultimatum to Germany: submit to American mediation on pain of U.S. military intervention.

Such an approach went far beyond anything that Wilson himself would have considered.  However, House was spared from a likely breach with Wilson when the British government itself disavowed the agreement (commonly known as the House-Grey Memorandum).

House was similarly unable to negotiate meaningful positive responses from the belligerent nations in response to Wilson's peace note of December 1916.

Responsible with Wilson and Lippmann for drafting the former's Fourteen Points, House worked with America's European allies in the policy's modification to ensure its agreement in European parliaments.

Despite House's abundant self-belief in his diplomatic abilities, he was to be found wanting in these at the Paris Peace Conference following the armistice.  He was inclined to side with the European Allies when placed under pressure, rather more so than Wilson who proved less open to compromise.

Similarly, House - perhaps rather more realistic in this respect than his president - urged co-operation and compromise with Wilson's Republican political opponents in delivering ratification of the Versailles treaty in Congress.

The Republicans, led by Wilson's nemesis Henry Cabot Lodge, would only agree to ratify America's part in the Wilson-designed League of Nations if specific provisions were included limiting U.S. obligations within the organisation.  Wilson refused to compromise; the bill consequently failed in Congress.

Wilson and Lodge separated in June 1919 (for reasons unknown).  House subsequently attempted (and failed) to carve a similar role as intimate advisor to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

Edward Mandell House, who published four volumes of The Intimate Papers of Colonel House between 1926-28, died on 28 March 1938 at the age of 79.

An Armlet was a cloth band worn around the arm to identify a particular duty or function.

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