Widely respected for his intellect and political acumen, Colonel
Edward House was
most trusted advisor - until Houseís apparent compromises at the Paris
peace treaty negotiations tore their friendship apart.
Born into a wealthy Houston, Texas family in 1858, Edward House's
cotton plantations made him financially independent for life.
Although he declined public office himself, , House devoted himself
to Democratic politics. The title of "Colonel" was honorary, given
to him by one of the several Texas governors whose election
campaigns House managed. He read widely, observed keenly, and made
few enemies. Politicians frequently sought his sage advice. In the
fall of 1911, his attention drawn to national politics, House met
then-New Jersey governor, Woodrow Wilson.
Like Wilson, the soft-spoken House had been reared in the South
in the aftermath of the Civil War. The two men found much in common
and became close friends. When Wilson sought the 1912 Democratic
Presidential nomination, House helped him secure the crucial backing
of William Jennings Bryan.
With Wilson elected president, House became his closest adviser,
providing Wilson with advice born of years of political experience.
House's chief contribution was in foreign affairs. Informally
representing Wilson in Europe in early 1914, House tried to relieve
some of the mounting tensions between the various powers. With
Europe plunged into war - and with America's neutrality slipping -
House advocated preparedness on the home front. Sent to Europe again
by Wilson to look for some means of mediation among the
belligerents, House attempted to find a "peace without victory" -
and failed. With Americaís entry into war,
House helped coordinate the American war effort with that of the Allies.
At Wilson's urging, he also set up "the Inquiry," a think tank whose
suggestions gave rise to Wilson's famous
Fourteen Points speech and the concept of a
League of Nations.
At the Paris Peace Conference, House appeared to have negotiated
away many of these same Fourteen Points in the face of British and
French opposition. When Wilson returned from a quick trip to
Washington, and realized what House had given up at the table, he
was furious. His sense of betrayal was compounded by his first lady,
Edith Bolling Galt Wilson,
who had disliked House ever since House had opposed her marriage to
the president so soon after the death of Wilson's first wife,
Ellen. When Wilson, increasingly
ill, returned from Europe in 1919, House was frozen out. Wilson
completed his presidency and died without seeing him again.
House continued to dabble in high-level democratic politics and
published several insider accounts of his experiences in political
life until his death in 1938.