** The theory that you can make peace by repealing a declaration of war is about as absurd as anything I know. **
27th President. Two-page typed letter signed (TLS) “Wm H. Taft”, May 6, 1920, personal stationery from New Haven, Connecticut, 8×11, to Gus Karger at the Post Building in Washington, D.C., discussing a wide variety of topics, including the early topics eventually formed into the Knox-Porter Resolution, written by Taft’s former Secretary of State, Philander C. Knox. The Resolution officially ended the United States’ involvement in World War I, and was eventually signed by President Warren G. Harding on July 2, 1921, in full:
I thank you for sending me Knox’s joint resolution. His speech under separate cover has not yet come, but it doubtless will come along. Knox’s legal positions have been quite unstable and unsound since he got into this treaty discussion. I don’t regard anything he says of any particular moment now, from a legal and judicial standpoint. The theory that you can make peace by repealing a declaration of war is about as absurd as anything I know. The declaration of war leads to war, and that produces a status. The only way of ending that status is by agreement between the parties carrying on the war. Of course you can have an agreement reached in several ways. I believe you can reach an agreement by joint resolutions passed by each side declaring peace conditional upon the other side’s passing the same resolutions, just as we intended to make our receiprocity (sic) agreement with Canada. And then you can have peace by silent acquiescence of both parties in a state of inaction so long continued as to raise the presumption of agreement. More than this, there is no distinction. The condition of peace or war has certain legal consequences in our own country and affects the powers of the Executive and Legislative branches of the Government to do certain kinds of things. I presume Congress by such an action as that of repealing a declaration of war and declaring peace could end the local and domestic status of war so as to prevent the exercise of war powers. Indeed where there has been actual acquiescence in a condition of peace, it helps to confirm that by either side recognizing that such a condition has actually come about. But his argument that we have made a treaty with Germany which accomplishes certain things and does not bind us to other things through the agreement of the Allies, seems to me to be ridiculous.
Since you wrote we have had the California election and the expected has happened. I had no doubt that Johnson through the primary had secured a great many Democratic votes. All the Irish and the pro-Germans and all the kicking labor people came over to him and gave him a large vote. He had the influence of two machines which of course is powerful in a primary. Hoover is likely to get somewhere near 200,000 votes, which considering everything is perhaps all that ought to have been expected. The result will make Johnson and his followers much more vociferous, but it may also frighten the regulars out of any further coddling of him on the one hand, and I don’t think it will draw many delegates from Wood to him. Wood’s support seems to be largely from the conservative Roosevelt people, and a lot of moneyed men, all of whom are opposed to Johnson and their influence will prevent a break to him, I should think. If I were betting it all, I would be willing to put my money on Lowden, than on anybody, but it is all uncertain, of course.
Misch and I are leaving on Sunday for the far West and don’t expect to return until after the Republican Convention, about the middle of June. Misch will send you my itinerary.
Warren G. Harding went into the 1920 Republican Convention as a fading candidate, with General Leonard Wood, California Senator Hiram Johnson and Illinois Governor Frank Lowden as the favorites to clinch the nomination. After a late rebound, and some back room deals, Harding secured the nomination alongside Calvin Coolidge, going on to win the election against Democratic Governor of Ohio Jame M. Cox. Interestingly, Taft doesn’t mention Harding or Coolidge in his predictions – Harding would go on to appoint Taft as Chief Justice in 1921.
Karger was the press chief of William Howard Taft’s 1908 presidential campaign and director of the Republican Party’s press bureau in the 1912 presidential election.
Creasing from original folds; top left corner of each leaf damp wrinkled, residue and loss from two paperclips on recto and verso of same; unevenly toned. Most of the Karger collection is heavily damaged – this letter much less so and filled with superior content.