The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982

Book Reviews

Colonel House in Paris: A Study of American Policy at the Paris Peace
Conference, zgr9. By Inga Floto. (Princeton: Princeton Univer-
sity Press, 1981. Pp. ix+374. Foreword, preface, introduction,
notes, sources and literature, index of names. $16.50.)
Ellen Maury Slayden called Colonel Edward M. House "the Veiled
Prophet of Austin" in sarcastic tribute to the Texan's reputation as a
backstage manipulator in the Wilson years. Until recently historians
have taken the colonel's sizable and apparently detailed diary and his
account of his influence with President Woodrow Wilson largely on
their face. In the 1960s Arthur S. Link criticized House's diplomatic
performance in 1916-1917, but his overall standing has remained sur-
prisingly high. A Danish scholar, Inga Floto, published in 1973 a
devastating assault on House's record at the Paris Peace Conference
of I919, a work that appeared in Denmark and had only a small sale
in the United States. Now the Princeton Press has made it more easily
available.
The resulting book strips away most of House's claims to diplomatic
competence in this episode. He emerges as a shallow operator whose
major aim was to be close to the action, irrespective of how the diplo-
matic negotiations turned out. The celebrated "break" with Woodrow
Wilson occurred because House, in the president's absence in Febru-
ary-March, i919, moved too close to the French in shaping a peace
settlement. When Wilson came back, he learned of House's intrigues
and permanently lost confidence in his one-time friend. Floto's analysis
of their rupture is subtle and convincing.
Floto also captures well the internecine feuds and maneuvering that
marked the American side of the peace talks. She understands how
domestic political pressures influenced Wilson's actions, and she does
much to explain the later outcome of the treaty fight in the Senate.
Arthur Link is right when he calls this book one of the best single
studies of the Peace Conference.
Colonel House has become an important figure in Texas history
largely on the basis of his own claims in his carefully pruned and con-
trolled personal papers. It is now time to pull away more of his veils
and look at his early career with the same critical eye that Floto brings
to the end of his public life. To paraphrase Stanley Baldwin, House
sought power without responsibility, and his political behavior in
Texas may well reveal the same duplicity, prevarication, and amorality
that he displayed at Paris. Such a fresh analysis will help toward un-
raveling the central issue of House's life: How did an intelligent and

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/. Accessed December 25, 2014.