Object of the Month

"All the time we have been here, I have been unable to get any clear statement of our ends in this conference": Charles Moorfield Storey at the Paris Peace Conference

Charles Moorfield Storey journal, pages 48-54, entry for 14 December 1918

Charles Moorfield Storey journal, pages 48-54, entry for 14 December 1918


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  • On 14 December 1918, the day that President Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris to participate in the peace conference that would bring a formal end to the First World War, Charles Moorfield Storey, a young lawyer from Boston, had a conversation about the proceedings with Walter Lippmann and William C. Bullitt. He recorded the discussion in his journal, noting that, after an hour, he "had the truth . . . and the truth was not good to see."

    Who was Charles Moorfield Storey?

    Charles Moorfield Storey was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1889, the son of Moorfield and Gertrude Curtis Storey. After graduating from Harvard College in 1912 and the Harvard Law School in 1915, he joined the Department of Justice. In 1918, he was appointed to a commission sent to Switzerland to negotiate with German representatives over the treatment of American and German prisoners of war. Armistice Day made the work of the prisoner commission moot and Storey travelled to Paris to work in a new Bureau of Political Intelligence, formed to gather information in Germany and Eastern Europe on behalf of the American Commission to Negotiate the Peace.

    The American Commission

    In the journal that he kept from his arrival in Paris from Switzerland on 14 November 1918, immediately after the Armistice, until he departed to take up a post in Budapest in January 1919, Storey became increasingly dismayed by what he observed. After his conversation with Lippmann and Bullitt, two only slightly more experienced American diplomats, Storey continued:

    There has been total lack of definiteness, in what the fourteen points actually mean when applied to a given situation. I have felt that we have been drifting, waiting for the President to come and put concreteness in his abstract propositions. It is of course, a costly business, and we have lost much that is priceless. Aside from the loss of certain points, which we should have had, we have lost a more substantial thing than any single concrete point – we have lost the confidence of our allies in our political wisdom. They have always thought we were children at the game; now they know we come to the Peace table with four hearts, and a diamond tucked up our sleeve. As [Edvard] Beneš said "You have a purpose; have you a plan?" They know we have no plan, and that if we are given the form of that for which we have fought, we will go home like children, happy in a toy, and let them have the substance. From now on, therefore, it is the object of them all to take the cake away, and leave us the candles.

    Americans (from Boston) in Paris

    Storey's journal describes the triumphant but chaotic conditions that existed in Paris in the aftermath of the First World War. His attempts to aid the work of the large entourage of diplomatic, military, and political advisors to the American peace commission which arrived in December on the former German ocean liner, George Washington, were stymied by political infighting, bureaucratic inertia—and a fair amount of incompetence. At the same time, the American diplomats and their advisors were "camped out" in famous hotels and dining in fashionable restaurants that overlooked a series of parades for visiting heads of state—usually kings who each received a 101-gun salute, but including President Wilson who received an ecstatic greeting on 14 December. Storey recorded the details of Wilson's arrival in the journal entry displayed here before ruminating on the bleak prospects for a lasting peace.

    A striking aspect of Storey's Paris journal is his description of an ongoing "reunion" of young, talented Americans (often Bostonians and usually fellow Harvard graduates) who were in Paris during the war; had—like Storey—arrived there in the immediate aftermath of the Armistice; or had come to France with President Wilson aboard the George Washington. Many of these young men (and some women) had been members or had assisted in the work of the "Inquiry," an advisory group, primarily made up of academics, that President Wilson had formed in September 1917 to advise the government, while the war still raged, on how to plan for the peace. Among them were rising stars like Walter Lippmann (Harvard 1910), who was at the beginning of a long career as a journalist and political commentator and twenty-eight-year-old William C. Bullitt, Jr. (a Yale graduate who had attended Harvard Law School) who soon departed for Russia where he negotiated with the Bolshevik government. When the president rebuffed Bullitt's attempt to find common ground with the Russian revolutionaries, he resigned. Later, with the assistance of Sigmund Freud, Bullitt got his revenge by writing a psychological study of Wilson's character and career—and became the first American ambassador to the Soviet Union. Christian Herter (Harvard 1915), a young American diplomat who was born in Paris, would become an assistant to the secretary of the American commission at the 1919 Peace Conference. "Chris" Herter had, according to Storey, been the last American diplomat out of Germany when the United States entered the war and the first to return after the Armistice. Herter later was the governor of Massachusetts and secretary of state.

    In the hectic weeks before the Peace Conference began, Storey still found time to make a flying visit—having risen to the exalted rank of having his own automobile and driver—to the nearby American battlefield at Belleau Wood. He dined with Nora Saltonstall, a Red Cross volunteer from Boston who had been awarded the Croix de Guerre. In a letter home from Paris, amidst the "festivities, and so many people passing through," she had more to say about the contents of their Italian dinner together than "Moorfield Stor[e]y." Storey even managed to get invited to lunch with Edith Wharton on Christmas Day, 1918.

    On to Budapest

    In 1913, Charles Moorfield Storey had married Susan Sweetser; when he went to Switzerland and then to Paris in 1918, he left two young sons and a pregnant wife at home. Concerns about his family clearly influenced his decision not to remain in Europe for an extended period, but after his political intelligence duties in Paris were folded into the work of the American peace commission, he briefly served as a political attaché in Budapest (the subject of a second volume of his journal, January-March 1919), where, under a revolutionary government, Hungary was emerging from the former Austro Hungarian Empire.

    Storey returned to Boston in April 1919 where he practiced law with his father before joining Rodman Peabody, the law firm that would become Peabody Brown Rowley & Storey (now Peabody & Brown). Storey practiced law in Boston for 60 years and devoted much time and energy to education, philanthropy, and the reform of Boston's finances. He died, at the age of 91, in 1980.

    Further Reading

    Andelman, David A. A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

    Chase, Theodore. "Charles Moorfield Storey." Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 92 (1980). Boston, 1981, 151-156.

    Gelfand, Lawrence. The Inquiry: American Preparations for Peace, 1917-1919. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963.

    Herter Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Christian Herter's personal papers are part of the Herter Family Papers.

    Lovin, Clifford. A School for Diplomats: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Lanham, New York: University Press of America, 1997.

    Saltonstall, Nora. Nora Saltonstall Papers and Photographs. Massachusetts Historical Society.

    A sampling of Nora Saltonstall's letters and photographs are available at the MHS website as part of an online exhibition of Highlights from the Saltonstall Family Collections.

    ---. "Out Here at the Front.": The World War I Letters of Nora Saltonstall. Edited by Judith S. Graham. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004.

    Storey, Charles Moorfield. Charles Moorfield Storey Journal, 1918-1919, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Storey, Moorfield. Moorfield Storey Papers, 1848-1935.

    The papers of Moorfield Storey (1845-1929) contain correspondence with his son, Charles Moorfield Storey, who donated his father's papers to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1969.

    Walworth, Arthur. Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.