Jane Addams: Chicago's Pacifist

Jane Addams’ Testimonies before Congress on World War I

Addams on to Capitol Hill

Jane Addams was no stranger to Washington, D.C. and on occasion conferred there with presidents and members of Congress.  In January of 1916, she sat before two Congressional committees and gave testimony on war preparedness, as well as the results of her meetings with public officials and peace activists in various European capitals, following the 1915 Hague conference of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.  The gathering of women in The Hague called for the convening of a conference of neutral countries as the first step in ending the First World War.

<a href="/items/browse?advanced%5B0%5D%5Belement_id%5D=50&advanced%5B0%5D%5Btype%5D=is+exactly&advanced%5B0%5D%5Bterms%5D=160113WWI-JA%3A+Addams+opposes+military+preparedness%2C+testifies+before+House+Military+Affairs+Committee">160113WWI-JA: Addams opposes military preparedness, testifies before House Military Affairs Committee</a>

Henry Flood- Chairman of the Committee

Addams’ Testimony Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding H.R. 6921 & H.J. 32

On January 11, 1916, in conjunction with a national conference of the Women’s Peace Party in Washington, D.C., Addams, together with other party members, gives testimony before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives on the matter of war preparedness.  Congress had taken up H.R. 6921, legislation that calls for major increases in defense spending.  The bill is supported by foreign policy hardliners, who maintain that, if the United States is drawn into World War I, it would be susceptible to enemy attack in the absence of significant increases in the size of the Army and Navy.     

An Alternative to War

Addams and her fellow members of the Women’s Peace Party call upon Congress to oppose war preparedness and instead support their proposal for an international conference of neutrals.  Invoking the logic of the security dilemma, they maintain that a major increase in defense spending by the United States would increase mutual fears and suspicions between America and other countries and thus make both sides less secure. States Lucia Ames Mead: “The world is now beginning to see the futility of the old doctrine of force; that you cannot get ahead of your neighbor without provoking that neighbor to rivalry, and finally to bring about such intolerable pressure and such an accumulation in the flow of munitions, that there is bound to be an explosion and a conflagration.”[1]  As an alternative to war, the women call for a conference of neutral countries, led by the United States, to draw the belligerent countries of the Great War into peace negotiations. The women argue that this conference will perhaps bring the war to an end and give rise to the creation of international organizations charged with keeping the peace among nations. Additionally, they say the Women’s Peace Party supports creating a world legislature, an international peace force, and an international court of arbitration.  There is an alternative form of coercion to “bombarding…great cities,” declares Sophonisba Breckinridge, a professor at the University of Chicago and the first women to graduate from the University’s law school.  She calls it “drastic nonintercourse,” as a “preliminary to the use of a joint police.”[2] This alternative to war, which is spelled out in House Joint Resolution 32, includes economic embargos and sanctions and “cutting off all passports, copyrights, and patents” as well as “railroads and shipping connections” and “telegraph and postal connections.”[3]

Addams underscores that the Women’s Peace Party has been behind the idea of a conference of neutral nations for some time and applauds the bill introduced by Representative London that urges the president to lead the charge for it.  Addams summarizes her travels to European capitals in the weeks that followed the international women’s conference at The Hague, and relays to the committee the news that the leaders of nonaligned countries are on-board with the idea of a conference of neutrals, provided that the U.S. guarantees its participation. Additionally, Addams notes that the prime ministers of two warring countries had directly communicated to her their belief that such a conference might have the ultimate effect of convincing the belligerent countries to join them.  Addams cites two potential benefits of a conference of neutrals.  Even if it did not result in a larger conference involving the belligerent nations and a negotiated end to the war, the meeting of neutrals would at the very least serve as a “public forum where these peace measures could be discussed,”[4] welcoming “all sorts of propositions for peace” and thereby functioning as a clearing house for ideas to end the war.  Addams also believes that the “moral pressure of the neutral nations” might “bring [the belligerents] together,” and hasten an end to the war.[5]  The United States, Addams insists, is in a rather unique situation.  Because it is “more outside than other nations,” it “would be safe [for the United States] to act without compromising itself and without in the least saying what the terms of peace would say.”  Imagining herself as a spokesperson for the United States before the belligerent nations, Addams says: “’Here we are to serve you, and let you climb down, so to speak, with as much dignity as possible.’” [6]

Women are Expressing Themselves

Under questioning, Addams rejects the suggestion of Representative Henry Cooper that, according to some press reports, the women had been greeted with “ridicule” by some European government officials.  “[W]e were received politely because we [are] ladies,” she responds.  She recalls her interview with German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg who, only several weeks before, had been informed of his son’s death in battle.  Addams words are impassioned and prescient: “[The] Imperial Chancellor of Germany…was a solemn, sad, overwhelmed man, and to say that he received us lightly, or in a merely polite way as you bow ladies in and out, is perfectly absurd.  If people only know how the men in those countries feel.  This war is no light matter, and the men who are responsible for their government are not handing out complements to anybody.  They are not doing anything lightly; they are doing everything in the shadow of death and destruction.”  To counter the notion that her meetings with European leaders – and the efforts of the other women peace delegates – had been a waste of time, Addams invokes the words of the pope, with whom she also met.  “He said,” she recalls, “’For heaven’s sake, why do not women express themselves; it is woman’s business to oppose war.’”[7]

<a href="/items/browse?advanced%5B0%5D%5Belement_id%5D=50&advanced%5B0%5D%5Btype%5D=is+exactly&advanced%5B0%5D%5Bterms%5D=160111WWI-JA%3A+Addams+testifies+before+House+Foreign+Affairs+Committee+on+Hague+Conference">160111WWI-JA: Addams testifies before House Foreign Affairs Committee on Hague Conference</a>

James Hay- Chairman of the Committee

Addams’ Testimony Before the House Committee on Military Affairs

Several days later, on January 13, 1916, the House Committee on Military Affairs meets to consider testimony on military preparedness and changes to the military establishment.  In her testimony on this day, Addams again speaks on behalf of the Women’s Peace Party.  She also claims to represent “women all over the United States…. who in time of war, as in peace, are very much affected by the national policies of this country.” Addams opens her remarks by asking for the committee’s pardon for a woman’s presence before them, an odd request when considered through our modern lens.  “[W]hile I realize that it is more or less absurd for women to appear before the Committee on Military Affairs in connection with a bill concerning the Army,” she says she is compelled to speak before them given that “the general policies of the United States are very much determined by committees of this sort.” [8]

Addams Opposes Preparations for War

Echoing Lucia Ames Mead’s statement before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs several days earlier, Addams invokes the logic of the security dilemma in her effort to persuade the members of the committee to oppose the bill before them.  She says the bill has little if anything to do with the security requirements of the United States.  Rather, it “is simply the result of what is happening in Europe” and “that the sentiment of the United States is unconsciously affected by the conditions on the other side of the Atlantic.”  She likens America’s “war contagion” to a man in Kansas, who upon hearing about a rise in burglaries in far-away New York City, “immediately arm[s] himself…” His “panic,” she continues, is “purely subjective” and not at all a reflection of the objective conditions in Kansas, where there are no burglaries. [9]   The United States, she says, is “not now in danger of being attacked.” Consequently, “it would seem foolish”[10] for Congress to authorize the spending of large sums of money to defend itself against “hypothetical enemies.”[11]  In another reference to gender and war, Addams observes that it is men – and not women – who are being emotional and acting in haste.  “[M]en feel the responsibility of defending the country and they feel that it is ‘up to them’ to protect the women and children, and therefore they are much more likely to catch this war spirit and respond to this panic.”[12]  Meanwhile, women, who are “not so easily excited” and not the least bit alarmed by talk of such enemies go about their “household duties, occupied with the great affairs of birth and death” and, also unlike men, do “not so quickly have [their] apprehensions aroused because possibly sometime, somewhere, somebody might attack the shores of the American republic.”[13]

Addams Invokes her "New Internationalism"

Addams argues that there are sure to be two certain outcomes of the war in Europe.  The first is a “proportional reduction of armaments.”  By postponing an increase in the size of the U.S. military, Addams argues the United States can exert tremendous influence over other countries and, “with clean hands,” encourage them to follow its lead.  By pursuing the alternative path, however, the actions of the United States would result in similar actions by other countries – she mentions Japan and republics in South America.  The implication is that this action-reaction dynamic will not improve America’s security and impair America’s moral authority to reduce armaments after the war.  In effect, she fears that if the United States, a neutral country, increases its armaments, other nations will feel the need to do so as well and that it would make it difficult to convince the warring nations to take up proportional disarmament.  The second outcome of the war is a day of reckoning for the world – countries can either choose the familiar and discredited path of “a policy of armed peace” or they can, with the war still fresh in their minds, build an international mechanism to adjudicate international disputes.  Addams draws upon her work among poor immigrant communities in Chicago – and her claim that cooperation among these disparate peoples serves as a useful model for cooperation among countries, what she has previously called the “new internationalism” – to highlight her hope that America can avoid the militarism that infects Europe and both avoid war and, more importantly, lead the world toward lasting peace.  Addams suggests the appointment of a commission to consider the practicality of preparedness as well as to investigate the efficiency of the current military expenditures. She also suggests that this commission should look into who exactly the enemy is that the United States must prepare to defend itself against.[14]

Gender and War

Addams ends her prepared remarks with yet another foray into the matter of gender and war.  She identifies what she calls an “old difference” in the gender roles of women and men.  She credits a woman with keeping her cool in trying times.  “[S]urrounded by a group of helpless children,” a woman – the “calmer element of the community” does not react hastily in moments of “supposed danger.”  A man, however, first “paralyzed with fear…rushes into the danger before [he is] quite sure that the danger is there.”  In fact, as “soon as the bushes begin to move,” she observes,” a man is “quite convinced that the enemy is in ambush.”  The implication is that, if men are emotional and hasty by nature and if war is caused by misunderstanding, then by exercising greater patience and benefitting from closer scrutiny of the facts, as women are inclined to do, then war can be avoided when circumstances permit.  Perhaps sensing that she has dug herself into a hole, Addams concludes her remarks by seeking to assure members of the all-male military affairs committee that they are the “exceptions” to the “unbalanced tendency” she has attributed to other men.[15]

Congressmen Question Addams

In response to the questions posed to her by eight committee members, Addams extends her remarks.  Several representatives take issue with to her opposition to military preparedness. Representative Kahn reads the statement of a French senator who claims that inadequate war preparations by France encouraged German aggression.  Kahn suggests to Addams that America ought to avoid a similar fate.  Addams affirms her conviction that war preparations spur war.  She cites a member of the French Chamber of Deputies who, she says, shared with her his view that the United States ought “not become infected with the militaristic spirit,” lest the militarists take “control over the leading nations of the earth.”[16]  Indeed, she rejects the comparison altogether, stating that, unlike France, the United States faces no sure enemy and would nonetheless have plenty of warning of an imminent threat to the American homeland. 

Representative Tilson presses Addams to consider the circumstances under which she would support America’s undertaking military preparations.  He asks her to consider this hypothetical: Congress creates her commission, and the commission’s members reach the conclusion that America’s military defenses are “not suitable for any sort of defense.”  What would she recommend? Addams declines to answer, stating that it “would be impossible to tell until we know whom our hypothetical enemies are.”  Tilson continues, “What assurance have we...if we go on and do nothing until a war should develop?” If, instead, the U.S. were to wait until an enemy’s army was upon our shores, he opines, “it would then be too late to prepare.”  Addams repeats her previous response.  “I should wait until I could see who our enemies are, and I would use every possible means to overcome the enmity of other nations…”[17] Tilson responds, “But you will admit if war should come, provoked or unprovoked, that the consequences to the people of the country would be very much more serious in case of a lack of proper preparations?”  Addams remains on message. “I think we cannot tell at this moment what the preparations…what our protection[s] should be.”  She urges Tilson to resist the “war contagion and panic” of his constituents, who, she promises, will later thank him for having done so.[18]  In sum, Addams concludes that, barring the emergence of an imminent threat on America’s doorstep, America’s best strategy would be to take no additional military preparations at all. 

In addition to war preparations, Addams also extends her remarks on other matters in response to the questions posed to her by various committee members.  She endorses what we now know as the democratic peace thesis, arguing that had the citizens of Germany had a deciding role on matters of war and peace, then perhaps war might have been averted.  She cautions against the use of force for the purpose of protecting the private interests of Americans and maintaining peace and order overseas, opposes military training in American schools, and blames the newspapers and munitions makers for stirring war excitement when the country supports an isolationist policy.  She objects to the notion that it is the United States’ job to intervene militarily to keep the peace in another country. In response to Representative Anthony’s question as to whether the United States should “carry light into dark places,” Addams states: “I think it is always easy for the strong to see a duty to the weak when the proposed action is of advantage to the strong. I think that is something to be guarded against in all national undertakings.”[19]

In June of 1916, Congress passed the National Defense Act, which increases the size of the Army and the National Guard, and creates the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.  Most disturbing to the peace movement, however, the bill authorizes the executive branch to ensure the United States military has available to it the necessary weapons and equipment in the event of war.  

[1] "Statement of Miss Jane Addams and Others." Commission for Enduring Peace. Hearings Before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sixty-Fourth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 6921 and H.J.32, Tuesday, January 11, 1916 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1916), 104. In Marilyn Fischer and Judy D. Whipps, eds., Jane Addams’ Essays and Speeches (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005).

[2] Commission for Enduring Peace, 113.

[3] Commission for Enduring Peace, 105.

[4] Commission for Enduring Peace, 115.

[5] Commission for Enduring Peace, 116.

[6] Commission for Enduring Peace, 117.

[7] Commission for Enduring Peace, 118.

[8] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams, of Chicago, Illinois, Representing the Women’s Peace Party.” United States House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs, Sixty-Fourth Congress, First Session, on the Bill to Increase the Efficiency of the Military Establishment of the United States, Thursday, January 13, 1916 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1916).  In Marilyn Fischer and Judy D. Whipps, eds., Jane Addams’ Essays and Speeches (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), 121.

[9] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 121.

[10] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 123.

[11] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 124.

[12] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 123-24.

[13] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 124. 

[14] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 122.

[15] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 124.

[16] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 129.

[17] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 133.

[18] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 134.

[19] “Statement of Miss Jane Addams,” 131.