Morgenthau & Grayson

WWPL2506
Courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library

After returning from the Paris Peace Conference, Woodrow Wilson was determined to see the United States join the League of Nations. Still, many in Congress were unsure of whether entry into the League of Nations would be good for the Unites States. Thus, Wilson began a public speaking tour of the country in order to convince the American people of his plan.  He suffered a collapse in Pueblo, Colorado and was forced to return to Washington D.C. after only completing part of his speaking tour. Shortly after returning to the White House, he had a stroke that debilitated him for the remainder of his life.

Born out of concern for Wilson’s recovery and the morale of the country, a decision was made to hide the severity of the president’s condition. Both Dr. Cary T. Grayson and Edith Bolling Wilson thought that it would be best for the government and for the people to be kept in the dark. In keeping with normal treatment at the time, they insisted on rest and isolation thinking it would help the president recover more quickly.

On February 24, 1920, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau sent a telegram to the ailing president asking if he would attend and speak at a citizens meeting to protest against the Turks being left in control of Constantinople. While the telegram seems like a simple request, there is something unusual about it. Underneath the telegram is the handwriting of Mrs. Wilson with the sentence “Thinks it well to postpone speaking on such subjects.”

Dr. Grayson personally replied to Morgenthau’s telegram on February 27, 1920. Grayson explained simply that he had “taken up matter referred to in your message. [Woodrow Wilson] believes it would be well to postpone speaking on subjects of this kind for the present.” His second and final sentence was eerily similar to what Mrs. Wilson wrote on the original message from Morgenthau.

Now whether or not Wilson was consulted on the matter remains a mystery. Edith is nicknamed “The First Female President” as she was heavily involved in Wilson’s work before and after the stroke.  It is also a known fact that there were times where she would let only certain people speak to the president. It is possible that she had taken charge of the president’s messages and made the decision for him. Many would use Grayson to get information or the request to the President as well and this telegram could be an example of just that.

There is no supporting evidence to prove that they discussed Morgenthau’s telegram with the president. It is possible that they did, but it is also possible that both Mrs. Wilson and Dr. Grayson believed Wilson’s health was too poor to be bothered.

These telegrams and many other documents can be viewed in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library’s Digital Library here.

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