Edward Mandell House

Edward Mandell House (1858-1938), American diplomat, was President Wilson's most intimate counselor for several years.

Edward M. House was born on July 26, 1858, in Houston, Tex., the son of a prosperous planter and exporter. Edward was educated in England and at Cornell University. After 10 years of managing his inherited properties, he sold them and lived comfortably off the interest and other investments for the rest of his life.

Though outwardly self-effacing, House was driven to become influential. "I have been thought without ambition, " he noted autobiographically. "That … is not quite true. My ambition has been so great that it has never seemed to me worthwhile to strive to satisfy it." In truth, he did try to satisfy it by counseling men of power and by writing a political novel, Philip Dru, Administrator (1911), under a pseudonym. Philip Dru was the story of a man who became dictator of the United States, imposed an enlightened reform program upon the country, and then voluntarily relinquished his power. The hero of the novel, House admitted, "was all that he himself would like to be but was not."

House became the close adviser of a string of Texas politicians. Four times between 1892 and 1902 he successfully managed the campaigns of Texas gubernatorial candidates. In the first of these, he acquired the honorary title "Colonel, " which he kept throughout life.

House supported Woodrow Wilson's successful bid for the presidency in 1912. The key to his relationship with Wilson was his penetrating insight into the President's character and personality. Further, his own views coincided with Wilson's on most substantive issues—House was a conservative progressive in domestic policy and an internationalist in foreign policy—and it seems fair to conclude that he served as much as a confidant and representative of the President as a true counselor. Moreover, he smoothed Wilson's relations with congressional leaders and with the Allied powers both before and after American entry into World War I.

During 1915 and 1916 House performed the fruitless task of sounding out the British, French, and Germans on ending the war through mediation. He concluded that the United States should expand its armed forces, and he may have influenced Wilson's decision to come out for "preparedness" in 1915. When the United States entered the war, House became chief of the American mission to London and Paris, serving as the President's spokesman. He also took charge of the preparations for the Paris Peace Conference and drew up a preliminary draft of the League of Nations Covenant. House's most striking success was in persuading the Allies to accept Wilson's Fourteen Points program as the basis for peace shortly before the armistice.

As one of the five members of the United States peace commission in Paris, House continued to consult intimately with the President. He evidently persuaded the President to be conciliatory toward the British and French; yet Wilson was already beginning to turn against House. After June 1919 House and Wilson never saw each other again; nor did the President respond to House's urgent recommendation to compromise with the Republican moderates during the Senate fight over ratification of the League of Nations.

House continued to play a behind-the-scenes role in Democratic politics until his death in New York City on March 28, 1938, but his influence was negligible. His wife and two daughters survived him.

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Further Reading on Edward Mandell House

For House's own story, Charles Seymour, ed., The Intimate Papers of Colonel House (4 vols., 1926-1928), is indispensable. House lacks a full-scale biography, but a perceptive work is Alexander L. George and Juliette L. George, Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House: A Personality Study (1956). See also Rupert Norval Richardson, Colonel Edward M. House, vol. 1: The Texas Years (1964). The interested reader should also consult the many works of the Wilson scholar Arthur S. Link, including Woodrow Wilson (1963).