104 Irving Street, Cambridge, December 8, 1917.
President Woodrow Wilson, White House, Washington, D. C.
It seems criminal to ask for a single moment of your time. But I
am strongly advised that it would be more criminal to delay any
longer calling to your attention a crime against American
citizenship in which the French Government has persisted for many
weeks--in spite of constant appeals made to the American Minister
at Paris; and in spite of subsequent action taken by the State
Department at Washington, on the initiative of my friend, Hon.
The victims are two American ambulance drivers, Edward Estlin
Cummings of Cambridge, Mass., and W---- S---- B----....
More than two months ago these young men were arrested, subjected
to many indignities, dragged across France like criminals, and
closely confined in a Concentration Camp at La Ferté Macé; where,
according to latest advices they still remain--awaiting the final
action of the Minister of the Interior upon the findings of a
Commission which passed upon their cases as long ago as October
Against Cummings both private and official advices from Paris
state that there is no charge whatever. He has been subjected to
this outrageous treatment solely because of his intimate
friendship with young B----, whose sole crime is--so far as can
be learned--that certain letters to friends in America were
misinterpreted by an over-zealous French censor.
It only adds to the indignity and irony of the situation to say
that young Cummings is an enthusiastic lover of France and so
loyal to the friends he has made among the French soldiers, that
even while suffering in health from his unjust confinement, he
excuses the ingratitude of the country he has risked his life to
serve by calling attention to the atmosphere of intense suspicion
and distrust that has naturally resulted from the painful
experience which France has had with foreign emissaries.
Be assured, Mr. President, that I have waited long--it seems like
ages--and have exhausted all other available help before
venturing to trouble you.
1. After many weeks of vain effort to secure effective action by
the American Ambassador at Paris, Richard Norton of the
Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps to which the boys belonged, was
completely discouraged, and advised me to seek help here.
2. The efforts of the State Department at Washington resulted as
i. A cable from Paris saying that there was no charge against
Cummings and intimating that he would speedily be released.
ii. A little later a second cable advising that Edward Estlin
Cummings had sailed on the Antilles and was reported lost.
iii. A week later a third cable correcting this cruel error and
saying the Embassy was renewing efforts to locate
Cummings--apparently still ignorant even of the place of his
After such painful and baffling experiences, I turn to
you--burdened though I know you to be, in this world crisis, with
the weightiest task ever laid upon any man.
But I have another reason for asking this favor. I do not speak
for my son alone; or for him and his friend alone. My son has a
mother--as brave and patriotic as any mother who ever dedicated
an only son to a great cause. The mothers of our boys in France
have rights as well as the boys themselves. My boy's mother had a
right to be protected from the weeks of horrible anxiety and
suspense caused by the inexplicable arrest and imprisonment of
her son. My boy's mother had a right to be spared the supreme
agony caused by a blundering cable from Paris saying that he had
been drowned by a submarine. (An error which Mr. Norton
subsequently cabled that he had discovered six weeks before.) My
boy's mother and all American mothers have a right to be
protected against all needless anxiety and sorrow.
Pardon me, Mr. President, but if I were President and your son
were suffering such prolonged injustice at the hands of France;
and your son's mother had been needlessly kept in Hell as many
weeks as my boy's mother has--I would do something to make
American citizenship as sacred in the eyes of Frenchmen as Roman
citizenship was in the eyes of the ancient world. Then it was
enough to ask the question, "Is it lawful to scourge a man that
is a Roman, and uncondemned?" Now, in France, it seems lawful to
treat like a condemned criminal a man that is an American,
uncondemned and admittedly innocent!